Why all this hoolpa about 12th Fret (TF) guitars? Simply put, because they’re AWESOME! But the point of an article is to explain, so here we go:
Though it didn’t used to be that way long, long ago in a Martin far, far away, these days most guitars are joined to the body at the 14th fret, with a neck that is about 25.4″ long from the saddle to the nut. Martin nuts are 1 and 11/16ths wide, Taylors are 1/16th wider at 1.75″ (though other widths are available by special order from both companies.) This is the age of retro and rethinking, though, so we go back AND to the future at the same time.
Concert size guitars, being smaller bodied, tend to lack the room needed to make much low end. The lack of mids can be gotten around by choosing mahogany or changing bracing, but the only way to get more low end is to move the bridge into the middle of the lower bout. And that’s EXACTLY where it ends up when you move the neck down towards the tailpiece and join it at the 12th fret instead of the 14th. So in a Concert size body, which is popular for people of smaller stature, this gives one instant bass power. But it goes a bit farther than that. The shorter scale also reduces string pressure, making it a LOT easier to play! Win-win, pretty much. Give it a cutaway, and you’re not missing much of the fretboard either.
That’s what’s behind Taylor Guitars’ 12th fret offerings the past couple years. Easier to play, more bass in a smaller guitar. But that’s the springboard, not the end of the tale.
Inquiring minds, like that of yours truly, couldn’t help but ask “Hrm.. then what happens if we make a Grand Auditorium size body but make *it* 12th fret?” The result is by formula; even more bass, on a guitar that’s easier to play. So we went for it.
I got together with a few people and hashed out a few of the ideas and theoreticals, thought out the tonewoods and tops, and ordered a custom Grand Auditorium 12th fret made of Tazmanian Blackwood (see http://acousticguitarnews.com/?p=323 ) with an Adirondack top. The result was EVERYTHING we’d ever hoped for in a guitar!
A loud instrument with more bass readily available than literally anything this side of a baritone model, full mids, clear highs, and no muddying. Not even opened up yet, fresh out of the box, this was already a masterpiece and a dream to play — Literally the next best thing in guitars. I held it in my hands, played it, and realized I was holding the Future for myself and many other players.
While I’ll readily admit it looked a bit odd at first, the shorter neck, it grows on one very quickly. The two missing frets came off the top end, so they’re all that much easier to play still!
For this guitar, we opted for the standard peghead. Taylor’s GC TFs have been offered as slotted headstock, but recently this became an option, and I much prefer to have choices of tuners and gear ratios. Probably makes the strings last a little longer too, for that you’re not overstretching them so much.
It’s hard to express just how amazing this guitar is. The ease of playing, the incredible tone, the shimmer of the Blackwood (akin to that of koa, but without the brittle edge.) and the budding harmonics of Adirondack. But the big question wasn’t whether these would be there. That much was pretty much formula. Even the way the Adirondack took care of potential for overdrive/distortion was expected. But would the guitar be so much less in string tension that it was mushy or felt slinky to strum… and the answer is… NOT ONE BIT! While some consider the GC 12th frets primarily a picker/fingerstyle guitar without customized support for strumming, the GA 12th fret with its Adirondack top can handle a solid strum (or even a beating) with ease.
I was blown away, to say the very least, and realized that this was the future for me and many other players. It would also be a boon for the rest of the Baby Boomers, now coming to that age where arthritis and such make it tougher to play.
Indeed, this GA TF was the answer to many prayers. But what about the cost? This one was thousands of dollars — a pretty big investment! Could we cut corners without sacrificing these very qualities that made it so great? So I reached out to Andy Powers, now heading up Taylor Guitars, and asked for his opinions and thoughts on it. Yes, we could use sitka with Adirondack bracing and still expect to avoid Overdrive/Distortion while saving cost. Yes, we could use blackwood with that reliably. And guess what else? Seems Taylor was very fond of the idea as well because their Fall Limited line-up (I can now tell you,) includes an ALL KOA GA 12th Fret! K24ce FLTD!
Indeed, the slightly shorter neck takes a little getting used to seeing, but in actuality, that’s the way Martins began. The 14th fret was something that came later (mid 40’s?) to accomodate all the banjo players coming over to guitars who were used to such longer necks.
And so, you see, 12th frets are indeed awesome, and both the past and the future!
At this time, there is no Grand Auditorium 12th fret as a standard model.
WARNING: Shameless plug ahead: Being a Taylor dealer and well versed in this concept, I’m happy to work with you to get an amazing and affordable 12th fret Grand Auditorium ordered for you. END OF PLUG ( Please do forgive the plug. We intend to have no bias here but these are really exciting and ya can’t get them any other way right now.)
So… what’s the big deal about this 12th fret craze? Well… everything!