The battle between tonewoods is never-ending. This guy says Adirondack Spruce is the perfect balance of tone and class, while that guy says Indian Rosewood’s beauty alone puts it at the top of the list. It may be relative, each having their own personal preference of sound and style, but few will argue that among the top contenders belongs the beautiful, the resonant – Hawaiian Koa.
As I sit and watch Bob Taylor drive across privately owned, nationally protected forests in the hills of Hawaii, I can’t manage to rid of the grin on my face. Mr. Taylor and his team have traveled the world, literally, in this series of videos to check on old projects and inquire about new ones and they’re now behind the wheels of two white jeeps being guided across thousands of acres of Koa forest, taking an up close and personal look at a new venture. As they come to a stop, the two jeeps empty and congregate around a towering, thirty-plus inch diameter, giant Koa tree that looks to be on its last leg. Like petting a cattle before a looming steak dinner, I watch as these men dissect the timber’s fate. The men aren’t just there to search for their harvest, however, they’ve stayed true to their efforts reflected in their Ebony Project and have once again promised to contribute just as much to conservation and replanting as they do to their yield.
Bob Taylor voices a budget of over 300 thousand dollars just to fencing as they discuss the threats to seedlings and young, replanted Koa trees. Bordering farmland cattle and wild sheep turn young Koa to breakfast in no time flat. To protect their efforts, proper management and protection have been planned from the beginning. The product Taylor is after is not one to be found around the world. Koa is endemic to Hawaii and found no where else in the world, making it one of the rarest woods on earth as far as guitar tone woods are concerned, but what makes it so special?
This picture shows you half the answer. This is the face of the Taylor K24ce Koa with V-Class Bracing. In the right hands, this rare (more often than not) wood can be transformed from a fallen Acacia into one of the, if not the most beautiful tops available for an acoustic or electric guitar. For Koa to have significant grain worthy of re-purposing into a Taylor tonewood, it’s believed the tree must root above 5,000 feet of elevation. This guitar is one of many from Taylor’s Koa line of instruments that clearly meets the requirements as the combination of color, grains and glow is visually awe-inspiring.
Hawaiian Koa doesn’t stop with it’s dazzling complexion, no. Taylor’s explanation of the wonderful sound Koa produces puts it best: “A tropical hardwood, Koa’s tone blends the mid-range of mahogany with the top end of maple. Due to its density, a new Koa guitar tends to start out sounding a little bright and tight, somewhat like maple. But the more a Koa guitar is played, the more the sound opens up, expanding the mid-range and rewarding the player with a richer, sweeter, more resonant tone. A common mistake is when a bright player buys a Koa guitar in part for its visual beauty, finds it to be too bright, and doesn't play it enough to allow the wood to warm up.” So this portrait-worthy presentation has tonal characteristics that fit snugly in between the high end of Maple and the lower, mid-range of Mahogany. Not only that – Koa is known to develop over time, taking months or even years to fully stretch its range of low and mid tones. These qualities make it ideal for a finger-style player. Hawaiian Koa is a truly complex and magnificent hardwood and it’s no wonder it’s so passionately sought after.
Whether from a Taylor Guitars Dealer or straight from the workshop, you'll find there's an absolutely stunning collection of Koa guitars from Taylor that are equally as impressive to the ear as the they are the eye. Here are a few that you'll find today at Heartbreaker Guitars, a proud Taylor Guitars dealer in Las Vegas, Nevada.
First up is this ravishing Taylor K24ce Koa with V-Class Bracing. This acoustic-electric sports an all-Koa, Grand Auditorium Body. Binding the top, back and sides of this guitar is a smooth Spring Vine Maple which you'll also find in the trim and the flowering inlays as well. Figured maple makes up the fishbone-style rosette, complimenting the solid Koa top and sides. Golden tuners surround Taylor's inlaid logo on the headstock. Included is the ES2 (Expression System 2) pickup system with simple volume, bass and treble knobs for the player's controls. The V-Class bracing Taylor has introduced in the last few years has integrated into most of Taylor's model's as an option for the buyer, and it's one of Taylor's biggest and most innovative contributions to the industry to date. The added volume, sustain and resulting intonation pushes this K24ce to the top shelf where it belongs. I dive much deeper into the wonder of V-Bracing here in a previous blog.
Do all Koa guitars look the same? Looking at this Taylor 214ce Koa/Sitka combination you'll quickly see how widely one cut of Koa can vary from the next. To compliment the nuetral tones of the beautiful Sitka Sprice top of this acoustic electric, Taylor chose a much more calm color of Koa for the back and sides of this guitar. This specific model includes Italian acrylic dot inlays, a faux tortoise shell pickguard, an ebony peghead overlay and a satin-finish over the back and sides to counter the glossy top. This Grand Auditorium has the onboard ES2 system and upgraded internal bracing giving it an increased dynamic range.
One final model I need to show you at Heartbreaker is this last and my personal favorite Koa model, the Taylor 224ce-K DLX. The combination of interlocking fishbone-pattern and edge-burst coloring along with the incredible grain of this Koa just blows me away. On this solid Koa top you'll find a single-ring faux pearl rosette with the neck displaying beautiful Italian acrylic diamond inlays.
I can't say enough about this incredible collection of guitars from Taylor. I'll put a couple videos that Brendan and his team have been kind enough to share, featuring the beautiful Taylor Koa Collection guitars. For more details or a look at the rest of Taylor's extensive variety of instruments, visit Heartbreaker Guitars online or in person in the amazing Las Vegas, Nevada.
Heartbreaker Guitars Contributor