Taylor 150e: An Affordable 12-String Acoustic

I needed a 12-string acoustic in a hurry for a session, so I picked up a new Taylor 150e for under $700. It wasn’t a review model or anything — I just ordered one online, sight unseen and sound unheard.

This model has been generating much buzz as an affordable yet good-sounding 12-string. It’s savvy positioning on Taylor’s part: I suspect there are many players who, like me, would love to have a nice 12-string, but aren’t about to spend $2,000+ for that occasional color. Anyway, I’m duly impressed. Have a listen!

I’ve got it strung with a super-heavy set from Pearse, and it’s a bit too macho for me. I dig the volume and harmonic richness, but it’s a beast to maneuver, at least for complex fingerstyle stuff. Either I’ll restring with something lighter, or consider testosterone supplements.

I haven’t owned a 12-string acoustic since I was 13. My first decent acoustic guitar was a late-’60s Fender Villager 12-string purchased for under $200. I loved it, but unfortunately, the shop that worked on it removed the tone bar, an essential brace. Uh oh — after a couple of weeks, I opened the case to find that the guitar had imploded on itself overnight. Instead I got a Yamaki 6-string, a crappy Yamaha knockoff. I’ve spent years in therapy working through the trauma.

The 150e is a Mexican-made instrument with a solid spruce top and a layered sapele body. I didn’t even realize till I received the guitar that it included onboard electronics. I almost never use that stuff, but before typing this, I went to plug it in. And guess what? It’s a surprisingly decent-sounding system that relies on an internal microphone. It doesn’t sound as good plugged in as it does in the video, but it’s totally acceptable for stage use. I didn’t expect it to sound half as good.

Anyone tried one of these? Any other acoustic 12-string recommendations, observations, or rants? What’s the coolest 12-string riff? And who’d win in a fight: Leo Kottke, Ralph Towner, or Leadbelly?

32 comments to Taylor 150e: An Affordable 12-String Acoustic

  • Victor Krothe

    Fantastic playing! Thanks much, Mr. Gore.

  • Preston

    Inspiring stuff. Makes me pick up and go, shit, I gotta practice more…

  • Beautiful playing Joe! And a nice arrangement.

    The answer to the last question; Leo Kottke.

  • Thomas Türling

    Beautiful playing indeed Joe

  • NotSoFast

    Sounds really good – cnc machines make nice guitars. Robots from Mexico guitars all come to America. Hopefully not all and some Mexican kids get this, too.

  • NotSoFast

    Speaking of cnc machines, your approach to experimentation reminds me of Tim from the movie Tim’s Vermeer. See it if you haven’t – its inspirational. Thanks again for all the insights and examples.

    • joe

      I hadn’t heard it it — but just read up on it, and I’ll definitely check it out! (BTW, a related book of interest is David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge, where he argues that Renaissance painters used mirrors and other optical tricks more extensively than commonly believed. It sounds like most experts don’t buy Hockney’s theories, but still, it’s a fascinating argument.)

  • Oinkus

    The answer is Leo Kottke , has topped my list for 12 strings with a pinky slide for years. Sounds good , think I have something really light on my 12 string like 10s or 11s.Cheaper guitar and an ebony fretboard , got to love that. I have been planning on a low end Taylor for awhile now for those exact reasons.I always put Cleartones on a 12 string too just because it doesn’t get played as much and they will last longer. Good stuff , hope it works out for you.

  • I’ve got an old Seagull 12 with a shallow neck with a fretboard as wide as an aircraft carrier deck. It’s gotten me by pretty well for that sorta thing for years. I think your Taylor sounds nicer, but there’s the big strings and the issue of the driver. My Seagull does have something of its own personality that I’ve gotten used to, though.

    Leo is odder than people realize, IMO. I hear him and I hear stride piano and some Art Tatum, which is weird stuff to hear on a “folk” instrument, but that’s kind of why Leo has always been a bit fringe in that world. The angular driving sound is too modern for most folk sensibilities that are older than, say, the last 25 years have started bringing in.

    • joe

      Kottke and his Travis-on-steroids style was a HUGE influence on me at age 13 or so, when I first got a 12-string. (In fact, his work is one of the reference points for the session that prompted me to pick up this guitar.) But I haven’t used metal fingerpicks (like Kottke used back in the day) in decades. Also, I’m genuinely uncertain whether to try to practice and build up strength to play this guitar more aggressively, or avoid doing that to protect my aging hands.

      Like a lot of players, I used the phrase “Travis picking” long before I’d actually heard Merle Travis. He was so ridiculously good, and of course, that style is TOTALLY influenced by stride piano. Same with the ragtime-influenced blues players like Mississippi John Hurt. I’ve always imagined the style was born when some poor guitarist had to sub for an AWOL piano player at a brothel gig.

    • joe

      I’ve got to say, recording this made me appreciate anew how cleanly Towner plays 12-string. While I was recording this, every little scrape and unevenly struck string-pair drive me nuts. Really, I considered not posting this at all because I was embarrassed by how loose it was. Listening back, it doesn’t sound THAT bad.

      But it was a perfect example of something I almost always experience when recording: Getting so focused on the quality of each note that I lose perspective. I’ve learned to compensate for it, and not make definitive judgments until I have the opportunity to listen back with fresh ears and big-picture perspective. But it’s interesting that so many folks are saying nice things about this performance (thanks, everyone!), while I was ready to discard it.

  • That does sound pretty good. Is that standard tuning? I thought it was accepted practice in the 12 string world to tune down at least a tone to make the damn things a bit more playable.

    I’ve been dithering about buying a Paul Brett 12 string from JHS for a while now. And the National Resophonic 12’s are real hurricanes.

    It’s Leo Kottke for me. I love that rattling buzzy sound he gets and that off kilter syncopation. As I understand it he gave up playing 12 string for a few years because it screwed up his left hand. Then Taylor built a less stressfull 12 model for him.

  • Ryan

    Very nice! Great playing and nice projection on that; don’t envy your fingers with that fence wire you’re using though. I wanted a 12 string acoustic, but also couldn’t justify the price tag. I bought this instead:


    …and Leo Kottke would crush all comers.

  • Nick

    Nice Playing as always! Ledbelly would win with or without a guitar. He could sound like he was playing 2 guitars at once! (and he was involved in at least a couple knife fights). I actually learned to play on a 12 but never owned one of my own. I keep thinking about it and this might be a good option. Coolest riff – “Over the Hills and Far Away”.

    • joe

      I would have bet on Leadbelly too — though Kottke and Towner have the advantage of not being dead for 65 years.

      I was trying to think of my 12-string riff pick. I was going to go with Byrds, but the fact is, all my fave Byrds songs are the ones without the killers riffs (“Eight Miles High,” “Why,” “She Don’t Know About Time”). But you answered the question for me: Of course, “Over the Hills!” 🙂

  • Paul Conway

    Cheaper guitars are getting (have gotten?) very good of late. Which is fortunate given that mid- to -high-end stuff is going in the opposite direction to wages. (Clue: not down).

    • joe

      Did everyone hear about Gibson’s big 2015 price increases — and the simultaneous announcement that they’re dropping some of their relatively low-cost models, like the still-recent Melody Maker? I guess they’ve concluded that there’s more profit in servicing the high-end market than in trying to compete with low-cost Asian axes, including their own Epiphones.

  • May I add Anthony Phillips (yes, Genesis' original guitarist) to the fight? Not so flashy, but very beautiful. He has an album called "Twelve", played on 12 string, with twelve pieces dedicated one to each month.

  • Maei Elizabeth Thomas

    Wowers, as per usual…the gorgeous musicianship and technical prowess..delicious.

  • Jay Quackenbush

    Is that the new model neck with the screws? Ive been really impressed with the neck stability on my big baby and if this is built similarly i may spring for it.

    • joe

      I’m not sure which screws you mean — I’ve never owned a Taylor, except for a little first-gen Baby Taylor. I’ll take a look, though, if you tell me what to look for. BTW, I had to do a big truss-rod adjustment when installing these bridge-cable strings, and the neck responded perfectly. It seems super-stable to me! 🙂

  • Oinkus

    Baby Taylors have 2 screws in the fretboard into the body , it is really weird and the first thing you see. After the shock is over , they are not a factor ion any way when you play one. Nice stable little guitars , with ebony boards too!

  • I bought one recently here in the UK – it's the most playable 12 string I have ever owned and the plugged in sound is great. I think Taylor have really hit the spot with this one.

  • Randy

    Wow, loved this! “America” is one of my fav tunes of all time (huge Paul Simon fan). Beautiful playing of a very cool arrangement.

  • Randy

    Also have to add that in the context of cool 12 string riffs and Paul Simon, the intro riff of “Hazy Shade of Winter” deserves mention… (I think that may have been the first thing I learned on a 12 string.)

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