Taylor, along with Gibson and Martin, is one of the great American giants of acoustic guitar building. The craftsmanship of a Taylor guitar is the stuff of legend among acoustic guitarists who speak in reverent, hushed tones of tremendous projection and balanced, harmonically rich tones.
Because most Taylors far exceed the price range of the average guitar player, the brand has extended its reach into a budget market. With a few concessions on construction, such as using laminated back and sides, and making smaller guitars, Taylor has officially entered its instruments in a lower price range.
Those who want a full-sized Taylor, of course, can still get one. In this article, however, I’ll take a close look at two of Taylor’s diminutive offerings: the Baby Mahogany, or BT2, and the GS Mini Mahogany.
Why Buy a Smaller Acoustic Guitar?
I’m quite partial to small acoustic guitars. My number one acoustic is the Takamine New Yorker, a petite parlor-sized guitar.
However, most acoustic players agree that larger bodies mean larger tone. Bigger acoustic bodies throw the guitar’s voice further and louder, and provide greater harmonic resonance.
Bigger guitars tend to feel more durable and respond better to harder strumming, which in turn means that your dynamic variation will feel much smoother and more effective.
During the mid-20th century, before electric guitars dominated the market, guitar players looking to compete with horn sections and fill large spaces were all about larger bodies.
The names of big acoustic guitar bodies reflect this: there’s the Grand Auditorium or Concert body, for example. The other main type of big body, the dreadnought, was named for the massive battleships of World War Two.
However, some guitarists, like me, appreciate the finer points of a smaller acoustic body. They’re easier to cart around to gigs, for one.
You might even be able to travel with one: I don’t know anyone who’s managed to bring a full-sized Martin dreadnought as carry-on luggage for a long flight.
Sometimes, smaller-framed individuals find smaller acoustic guitars easier to play than larger ones.
I also appreciate the more focused, subdued tone of a smaller body. I often find they handle fingerstyle and hybrid playing very well, two styles that I often use when performing in smaller venues like cafes or restaurants.
The GS Mini and Baby Taylor, judging by their price points, are clearly aimed at travelers and those with smaller hands and frames such as learner guitarists.
Direct Comparison: Baby Taylor vs GS Mini
It’s only fair to judge a guitar’s quality by its success in meeting its aims. Considering the price of these guitars, I’d place them squarely in the realm of a travel or learner guitar, and evaluate them based on these concerns.
It would be unfair to compare the sound or playability of either instrument to a top-end Taylor dreadnought, regardless of what Taylor’s marketing spiel says about their lower-priced offerings. A miniature laminate acoustic just isn’t going to compete with a full-sized solid back and sides guitar.
I’ve compared a few key aspects of these guitars, namely:
- Durability/Build Quality
I also looked at the versions of both guitars with no outboard electronics, judging them as pure acoustic instruments.
Ordinarily, I’d say that a guitar’s tone is its most important feature. However, I’ve placed playability as the paramount virtue for these guitars.
In my opinion, these small-bodied acoustic guitars are built to be more playable than larger ones, particularly for smaller people. I’m over six foot tall, so I rarely have issues with larger guitars, but I’ve had no shortage of students, particularly younger teenagers, over the years lamenting their issues playing big-bodied instruments.
The Taylor GS Mini feels very comfortable in the hand. The string spacing matches that of a full-sized guitar, so chords don’t feel crowded. The shorter scale of the guitar takes some getting used to, but that’s to be expected with a guitar of this size.
The Baby Taylor Mahogany, as a true ¾ guitar, does feel a little more crowded to play. The strings felt closer together than on the GS Mini, with an ever shorter scale. When playing, it’s clear that the guitar just isn’t built for bigger individuals.
I was happy to see the classic Taylor ebony fretboard on both guitars. The gorgeous black wood feels nicely hard and slick under my fingers, without any “dryness” or stickiness you sometimes get with more porous woods.
Both guitars responded well to strumming. I picked out a few bluegrass and country rhythms on both, and the guitars are about evenly matched in terms of flatpicked playability.
However, I felt that for fingerstyle playing, the GS Mini far outstripped the Baby Taylor. I ran through a few bars of “The Chain” on both, and that famous Travis picked riff simply felt better on the GS Mini.
It could just be the string spacing making the GS Mini easier for me to run on muscle memory, but I felt that the GS was streets ahead of the Baby Taylor for that style of playing.
Perhaps the Baby Taylor is more of a student’s guitar than the GS Mini, given its slightly lower price. Regardless, I’d give the GS Mini a slight edge when it comes to playability.
These guitars have surprisingly similar acoustic tones. That’s probably the near-identical construction. A mahogany top and sapele back and sides on both means they’re very similar-sounding.
Sapele, also known as African mahogany, has a very similar tonal profile to full mahogany. It’s a popular choice for smaller-sized guitars, particularly given American spruce’s increasing rarity. This is largely because of its warm, mid-forward character.
Both guitars boasted surprising brightness, particularly when strummed. While neither matched the balanced, goosebumps-inducing tone of a full-sized dreadnought as promised, but the sound is classic Taylor. Bright, clear, and more mellow than you’d get from a spruce top.
I should point out that the guitars lack volume. Neither projects well enough to play a venue acoustically. They might even struggle with an outdoor environment, like around the campfire at a loud beach. However, for at-home playing and practice, the volume level is probably enough.
For tone, the two guitars are evenly matched.
Durability & Build Quality
Taylor builds durable, strong guitars. That much is clear with both the GS Mini and the Baby Taylor. The mahogany top feels nice and solid. The X-bracing gives the guitar a pleasantly durable feeling. The ebony fretboard feels appropriately luxurious.
The Baby Taylor does feel, to me, a little more fragile. It’s a little lighter, which might be why.
I probably wouldn’t gig with either of these guitars too regularly. They might be OK for occasional performance, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a guitarist playing more than once or twice a month.
Another issue I had in both cases is that, although Taylor advertises the guitars as travel-friendly, both come with a soft gig bag rather than a hard case.
No soft case will do much to protect any guitar from moving around in the trunk of a car, random dings and bangs on the subway, or, even worse, the ruthless handling of airport baggage.
For a weekend away camping, these cases might work. But for any real traveling you’ll need a hard case, purchased separately.
Both will work well for smaller individuals or students looking to practice on an easy-playing acoustic guitar that sounds good and is durable enough to take on a camping trip.
I wouldn’t recommend either guitar to a regularly gigging guitarist looking for the Taylor name on a budget.
Of the two, I felt that the GS Mini had the edge in terms of playability for fingerstyle and hybrid picking, making it a more versatile guitar to learn on.