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I just finished my morning set of a three-day weekend youth retreat. Except for one set where I used my Gibson J-45 because I thought something had gone wrong with the T5z, I used the T5z for all the other sets throughout the weekend.

To give you a bit of context, this is an annual retreat for my parish’ youth ministry. It’s an incredible retreat that is planned by the teen leaders themselves and music is a core component of it. We don’t do long sets at a time – usually about 15-30 minutes each set, depending on the activities; except for Saturday night where we play for three hours straight (with 15-20 minute breaks, so it’s not bad).

And though we don’t play long sets, there are lots: 4 on Friday, 5-7 on Saturday (sometimes we need some filler – this year we did 6), and 2 on Sunday, though the first set is a free-for-all warm-up set where we do pop and classic rock songs while the participants socialize and write “love lines” which are little notes to different people.

It’s an exhausting retreat. I write the theme song every year and plan out all the sets with the teen leaders leading up to the event to get lighting and lyrics hammered out, so it’s a lot of work even beforehand; not to mention the audio setup as my band configuration changes from year to year. But it is one of the most rewarding things I do as a musician and praise & worship leader and I look forward to this retreat every year.

This year, I was excitedly anticipating putting the T5z through its paces because I knew that this would be the ultimate test of the guitar as I would use it as both an electric and an acoustic. And now that I’ve finished the retreat and have had time to chillax, I’m smiling just thinking about the T5z. After this gig, it’ll probably become my #1.

But let’s make no bones about it: It’s an electric guitar. Yes, even Taylor places it in its electric guitar lineup. But after I heard Eric Rachmany playing it, and having now experienced it myself, the acoustic tone from the acoustic setting on the guitar has had me all conflicted since I got it.

But don’t take my word for it, here are some clips I recorded this morning, running the T5z directly into my audio interface. I didn’t touch EQ at all. After you listen to the clips, you’ll understand why I’m a bit conflicted.

Now you can see why I’m a bit conflict as to what the T5z is. The flat sound is great. It sounds like a raw, plugged-in acoustic guitar. But when I add reverb and room ambience, it sounds like a mic’d acoustic! At least to me, Taylor hit the ball out of the park with this.

Now, considering the title of this article, let’s not mistake this particular post and equate it to my original review of the T5 back in 2007. Back then, the acoustic sound was only okay. And the electric sound was… well… not very pleasing to me, and I ended up kind of bashing the guitar. But it’s a whole new ballgame for me with the T5z. The acoustic tone – which you heard in the clips – is very acoustic.

And the electric tone, well, there’s no mistaking that it’s an electric guitar, but in the electric guitar settings, I can get a variety of tones out of it from Tele to Semi-Hollow Body tones. It’s such a FUN guitar to play.

But this is where I get a bit conflicted, especially when I play in acoustic mode. I consciously know that the T5z is an electric guitar. It feels like an electric, it plays like an electric, and though I’m playing 11s for a beefier string feel, the short scale length lets me bend notes like an electric. The jumbo frets force me to fret super-light, just like on an electric guitar.

But when I hear the acoustic sound coming out of my amp, my subconscious mind puts me into an acoustic-guitar-playing mode. In that mode, especially when I’m strumming, I can get a bit violent with my playing, something I picked up from studying Michael Hedges’ technique 40 years ago. That causes a few problems; mainly knocking my guitar out of tune. I’ve had to make a conscious adjustment to back off my percussive style and just let the guitar do the work.

So to be perfectly honest, I’m still getting used to playing the T5z. But despite that, the sound it produces is SO incredible that I’m looking forward to putting in the hours to discover what sounds the guitar can produce.

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Summary: Let’s get this out of the way first: The T5z is an electric guitar that has acoustic capabilities. But its acoustic sound is killer! Unlike in the past where I felt that Taylor couldn’t decide whether the T5 was an electric-acoustic or acoustic-electric, now, I feel the dichotomy between the two is much more clear now.

Pros: You get the best of both worlds with the T5z: A great acoustic sound and lots of tone-shaping capabilities in both electric and acoustic modes. It’s also super-light and incredibly playable with the Les Paul-like scale length. The separate bass and treble knobs give the guitar lots of tonal range.

Cons: Now this really isn’t necessarily bad thing, but it takes a while to dial in the right sound and especially EQ balance. The very thing that’s a pro with the separate bass and treble knobs also can get you in a bit of trouble during a performance if you haven’t done your homework; and yes, that’s from personal experience.

Features:

  • Body – Hollow body, mahogany with a mahogany burst stain and satin finish
  • Back – Mahogany, two-piece, no wedge
  • Neck/Heel – Sapele
  • Fretboard – Ebony, black binding, small diamond inlays
  • Fretboard Radius – 12″
  • Frets – 21
  • Scale length – 24 7/8″
  • Nut – Tusq
  • Saddle – Micarta
  • Tuners – Taylor Nickel
  • Controls – 5-way switch system, Volume, independent Bass and Treble
  • Pickups – 3 pickups: Concealed neck humbucker, Stacked bridge humbucker, Body sensor behind the saddle.

Street Price: $1899 ~ But you can get a deal. I got mine for $1600 at Guitar Center. Granted it was their floor model, but they had just pulled it out and set it up a couple of days before. Chances are, no one played it. 🙂

Tone Bone Score:

Hands-down, by its very nature, this is the most versatile guitar in my arsenal. I’ve been playing it daily since I got it and have performed with it three times. I couldn’t be happier with the T5z.

Can Two Wrongs Make a Right?

It’s a funny thing where two things that individually aren’t very appealing can be combined to create something beautiful. That’s the T5z for me. I was really meh about the T5 when it first came out, and I have never liked Elixir strings. But here I am now with a T5z, strung with Elixir Nanoweb 11s and they feel perfect together!

In demo videos I’ve seen, pretty much every demonstrator I saw mentioned the guitar being strung with Elixirs. That had me raising my eyebrows a bit. It’s not that I didn’t like the feel of Elixirs. I just never liked their sound on any guitar I strung them on. But with the T5z, they’re perfect, and it seems as if Taylor tuned the guitar to work with these strings.

Since I’ve purchased the guitar, I’ve been playing it almost daily and the more I play it, the more I’m loving it for what it brings to the table. Especially for leading praise and worship, where I play a wide range of styles, being able to seamlessly switch between acoustic and electric is pretty freakin’ cool.

Combine that with my BOSS Katana Artist, and it’s simply the flick of a switch on the guitar and a press of a button on my foot controller to go between acoustic and electric and vice-versa. This is the promise of the T5 since its inception that kind of fell flat with me twelve years ago. But today, that promise has been fulfilled.

Fit and Finish

True to Taylor’s reputation for building high-quality instruments, the T5z is no exception. There’s nary an uneven joint nor uneven finish on the guitar. My particular guitar has this wonderful variegation in the grain, that even with the flat, satin finish gives it a 3-D quality.

There are three knobs: Volume, Bass and Treble. For the volume, there’s a detent notch which sets the volume at line level, making it very easy to set the gain going into an amp or PA.

The ebony fretboard is smooth as silk and feels oiled despite being completely dry. The jumbo fret wire really makes the guitar so much more electric in feel and combined with the shallow-C neck profile, yeah, this is an electric guitar.

The ONLY thing I wish the guitar had was a clear pickguard to add a bit of protection to the top. Though my strumming technique is pretty good, I use very thick, beveled picks, plus I keep the fingernails of my right hand long for fingerstyle playing.

I damaged the top of my Simon & Patrick with just my fingernails, but that was exacerbated by my thick pick occasionally striking the soundboard. The T5z top is mahogany so it’s much harder than spruce, but I can see rub and smudge marks on the guitar (not gouges, mind you) and for something this pretty, I want to protect it as best I can.

You can find a clear plastic guard on EBay here. It’s static cling, so you don’t have to worry about adhesives. Nice. I ordered a set today. EDIT 1/2/2020: I just found out from the seller that the static cling pickguard will not work with the satin finish. He was very gracious and refunded my money.

Playability

Yowza! This guitar is incredibly approachable whether I’m playing acoustic or electric. The smooth fretboard allows my fingers to just glide up and down the neck. Because it’s an electric guitar, the action is low, but not so low that it causes string buzz.

The jumbo fret wire took me a little while to get used to as I only have to use a light touch to fret a note or play barre chords. I actually had to make the most adjustments playing barre chords, ensuring that my index finger was flat. If I roll my finger too much to the side, my knuckle would bend the string. This actually forced me to lighten up my grip, which was a good thing.

From a soloing perspective, the jumbo frets make playing similar to playing scalloped frets; not quite, but they’re big, so a light touch is necessary. But digging in with jumbo frets provides for so much expression.

The most incredible thing with the T5z’s playability is that without a neck heel, reaching the upper bout of the neck is SO easy. My mate and I were doing some jamming before Mass the other day and I worked my way up the neck. I started chuckling at how easy it was to get to those high notes and not have to stretch!

A note on the string gauge. The guitar comes standard with Elixir Nanoweb 11s. The thicker gauge gives a slightly acoustic feel to the strings. But the Les Paul-like scale length makes bending super easy. It really feels like playing an electric guitar with thicker gauge strings. Also, the thicker gauge prevents too much bending while just fretting notes. Going any lighter on the gauge, at least to me, would make the guitar very difficult to play.

How It Sounds

I have yet to record demo clips for the guitar. With my kids home for the holidays, that was relatively impossible. I’ll post some in the next few weeks. Despite that, I’ll do my best to describe the T5z tone.

Tone Controls: Complicating Things

This is NOT a bad thing. But the independent bass and treble knobs kind of complicate things because not only do you get a wide range of tones just from the various switch positions but the EQ controls give you lots more range within a single position. Because of this, it takes a bit of time to dial in the guitar. Though I like pretty much every sound I’ve discovered thus far, I don’t know if I’ve found my personal sweet spot for each position. That said, let’s continue, shall we?

There are 5 switch positions. When describing the sound, it’s best to do it per pickup position as each engages the pickups in different ways, thus providing different tonal possibilities.

Position 1: Neck HB and Body Sensor

This is the only position that engages the body sensor and is considered the “Acoustic” mode. The body sensor is what gives the T5z that natural sound while the guitar’s plugged in. I really don’t know how it works, but it sounds way better than a standard, under-saddle transducer. When I saw Eric Rachmany playing his T5z, I was amazed at how gorgeous his acoustic tone was.

And having played the guitar myself, up close and personal, I know I’m playing an electric guitar, but the acoustic tone is incredibly rich. With more bass, I can get a dreadnought tone; backing it off and turning up the treble will give me more of a concert body tone. Mind you, it’s important to keep in mind that this a plugged-in acoustic sound, not an exact reproduction of an acoustic guitar.

Position 2: Neck HB

I have to admit that I haven’t really played with this position that much. Without the body sensor, which provides treble much like the way the Seymour Duncan Mag Mic’s microphone works, the neck pickup is warm and a little dark. Even cranking up the treble in this position, the tone is still very warm. It would be perfect as a rhythm, playing-in-the-pocket setting.

Position 3: Bridge HB

This is definitely the rock position, and I love it. It’s bright and a little filthy when played with overdrive. I have been using this setting almost exclusively for solos. But clean, I love the Tele-like tones I can get out of this position.

At Christmas Eve Mass last week, we closed out with a country/bluegrass-style arrangement of Joy to the World. I set my amp to clean with a little slapback delay, boosted the Treble on the guitar, and I got this great, twangy tone that was perfect for the song!

Position 4: Neck and Bridge HBs in Parallel

So far, this has been my favorite setting. Taylor implies that this is more of a Jazz setting. I can see that, but I love how versatile this particular setting is. Pump up the bass and back off the treble and you get a tone that’s reminiscent of an ES-335. Do the opposite and you get that jangly tone of a Gretsch Country Gentleman.

Throw some overdrive in this setting, and for me, this is the perfect position for classic rock. For doing solos, I crank the gain on the guitar past the detente (line level), and the overdrive is smooth and creamy.

Position 5: Neck and Bridge HBs in Series

Running the ‘buckers in series creates a FAT tone, as the gains of each pickup stack. I actually prefer using this position clean. It’s almost like Position 1 but simply lacks that natural, woody tone that the body sensor provides.

Last Sunday at Mass, I used it as my soloing position and pumped up the treble. It was quite pleasing.

Like I mentioned above, I’m still discovering the different tones that the T5z can produce and I really haven’t found my sweet spot for each switch position. But that’s part of the fun in playing this guitar!

Overall Impression

As with anything I give 5 Tone Bones, it’s obvious I love this guitar. And playing it through my BOSS Katana Artist is like the perfect marriage. I now have flexibility in both guitar and amp to get any sound I need!

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