Koa! Koa! Koa! Taylor's K20c Dreadnought Cutaway
- 1999 7 Jul
It's funny how things bounce sometimes. I was in El Cajon, California, touring the remarkable manufacturing facilities of Taylor Guitars and had planned to pick up a pair of the Taylor 25th Anniversary models (one's a dreadnought and the other is a jumbo shape) for review. They are a matching set and currently there are only two of these pairs in existence. In talking with TJ Baden (VP of Sales and Marketing at Taylor) he explained that the first pair was held up at the photo shoot and that if I didn't mind he would like to send the second pair Fed Ex to the Frankfurt, Germany NAMM Show. I wasn't about to hold up Taylor from exhibiting their new centerpieces of fine craftsmanship so I politely said, "Sure, go ahead, send those guitars to Germany, I'll think of something else to review." All the while my mind were reeling over the fact that the only other thing I had in the office to review was a broken kazoo and the article was due in three days. But as providence would have it, TJ was set on taking care of me. "How about a Koa?" he asked. I had seen one being built during the factory tour and it was beautiful. So TJ had a guitar case delivered to me in minutes and I happily drove back to the hotel with thoughts of Koa wood running through my mind. Koa is a tonewood grown in Hawaii; it is hard and dense (kind of like some of your band members heads), producing a tone somewhere between maple and rosewood. Koa exhibits a range of warm brown wood colors, often with beautiful figure.
After arriving back at the room it took me about two minutes (there was no restraint) to pop that baby out of its brown hard shell luggage case and sit down to play. The thin neck (a Taylor trademark) was very comfortable and the fretboard played with ease. The frets themselves felt great to glide your fingertips over. This was a "wow" guitar. The tone was brilliant and the dynamics very responsive.
I've played some of the best quality acoustic guitars out there in my lifetime (top-of-the-line Martins, Langejans, Goodalls, Lowdens, LarrivT, etc.) and this guitar was immediately up there in the "this may be one of the top five guitars I've ever played" category. I was more than surprised! The quality of the sound was amazing, it rang true and smooth from bass to mid-range to treble. Being a hardwood it has this kind of shimmer to it, a brilliance that fills the room. The kicker was that as I played the instrument, I was playing better guitar licks than I'm capable of - this is when you know you're in the presence of a world class guitar. It was inspiring.
The next question was why is this guitar so good? I decided to take a good look at the model number and the price list to see what was going on. A quick look into the sound hole and I read K20c (the "K" is for Koa, the "c" denotes cutaway). I also read Bob Taylor's signature along with the guitar's serial number. I picked up the price list and things start making more sense. The Koa Series by Taylor features all solid wood construction, Koa backs and sides and this model also has a Koa top. The cutaway is a Venetian (rounded) type and the binding is a beautiful tortoiseshell. Add to this a gloss finish and you have a knock-out of a beautiful guitar in your hands. The retail with that brown hard shell luggage case is $3,826.00. Aha, that's why is sounds, looks and plays so well. But when you start putting it in with the other top-of-the line guitars I mentioned earlier, it really isn't all that expensive for a guitar in this league.
The Taylor brochure let another interesting disclosure out of the bag: "due to the increasing scarcity of Koa of this high caliber, we cannot guarantee the availability of these models beyond the current year." Could Koa be going the way of Brazilian rosewood? Time will tell, but I did unearth one important clue in our tour of the factory. I was discussing choice tonewoods with Taylor's wood purchaser and the person who makes the decisions on which quality of woods go to which series of guitars made by Taylor when I posed the question "how much does a set of Koa cost (wood for the top, back and sides) compared to your other tonewoods (mahogany, ovangkol, Indian rosewood etc.)?" The answer was considerably higher than the others.
Fine crafted acoustic guitars are similar to coastal land properties - they just keep going up in price. But whether you're just overlooking the water or strumming an incredible-sounding instrument, you can fully appreciate why they are so highly esteemed by man. For more info you can reach Taylor at 619-258-1207 or visit their website at www.taylorguitars.com.