Taylor Guitars has been successfully producing its Baby Taylor model for almost 15 years, so it's safe to say that it's an unqualified success. But the folks at Taylor just can't leave well enough alone, and so when they approached the idea of re-imagining a smaller guitar, they kept the twin pillars of the Baby's winning architecture in mind: portability and great sound.
Enter the GS Mini, a scale version of Taylor's Grand Symphony line that adheres to the lessons learned in the Baby while boasting greater projection, a full NT neck, and a pickup option. First, the GS Mini remains portable. Compared to the Baby, the GS Mini is longer overall (36-5/8" vs. 33-3/4"), slightly wider (14-3/8" vs. 12-1/2"), and slightly deeper (4-7/16" vs. 3-3/8"). Virtually any space that can accommodate a Baby (overhead bin, overstuffed car hatch, etc.) will also fit the GS Mini. Second, though the GS Mini is only slightly bigger with regard to dimensions, in the tonal sense it's significantly louder than the Baby. In other words, with just a negligible enlargement, the guitar's projection capabilities became exponentially magnified—positively booming! Third, the GS Mini is built to accommodate an easy upgrade path to electrification with an optional user-installable soundhole pickup and with a volume-knob-equipped cord. You don't have to electrify the GS Mini, but if you choose to do so, you can purchase the pickup separately and install it yourself. Let's see what makes this Mini so mighty.
The GS Mini, is constructed of sapele (similar to mahogany) back and sides with a solid Sitka spruce top, an NT neck, and ebony fingerboard. With a body length of 17-5/8", the GS Mini is roughly an 88% version of Taylor's standard Grand Symphony models. The 23-1/2" scale length is longer than a Baby's, so in standard tuning the strings are stiffer, responding more like a standard guitar and allowing you to dig into the strings without overpowering them. Alternate tunings—where strings are typically detuned to lower pitches—fare better with the higher tension too. I play many tunes in drop-D, open D, and DADGAD, and the GS Mini produced notes from even hard-struck strings with complete integrity without distorting the strings' vibrations and causing them to go momentarily out of tune.
One nice aesthetic touch is the purfling on the top. Its black/white/black design lends a bit of design complexity to the top's edges and is a nice counterpart to the three-ring rosette that encircles the soundhole. In all other aspects the GS Mini displays the typical appointments found on standard Taylor models, including an ebony bridge, tortoise-style pickguard (in a shape unique to the GS Mini), NuBone nut and compensated saddle, and chrome tuners. The neck sports dot inlays for fret markers and has a great feel: the combination of its shallow profile and low action allows you to play up or down the neck with equal ease and for long periods, without incurring left-hand fatigue.
As a solo guitar, the GS Mini plays beautifully with its balanced mids and sparkling highs shining through in fingerpicking and flatpicking passages. As mentioned, it's plenty loud to provide full-strummed rhythmic support for spirited vocal work as well. In an ensemble, despite the fact that it has "Mini" in the name, the GS Mini can hold its own with any full-size instruments you're likely to find in acoustic jams. While the smaller body doesn't deliver as big a bass sound as its standard-body-size counterpart, the mids and highs cut through at parity with the various guitars and other instruments I played against (including mandola, upright bass, and a 6-string dreadnought). This is a great lead and up-the-neck chording guitar.
It's important in any mini or portable guitar to factor in cost, and especially with the GS Mini, because cost was carefully considered in the upgrade path to electrifying the instrument. But for those who do need to electrify their acoustic, Taylor wanted to provide for an elegant and user-friendly upgrade path.
To that end, Taylor came up with not one, but two accessories. The first is the ES-Go soundhole pickup. It attaches by way of a clip to a brace inside the guitar—it doesn't touch the actual top, as most soundhole pickups do—thus allowing the top to vibrate unimpeded. A single shielded wire clips in along the interior of the top and travels down to an endpin jack that readily swaps out with the existing endpin. The user simply removes the three existing screws, fits the jack in where the pin used to be, and replaces the screws. It takes about five minutes. The result is an attractive, floating pickup whose connecting wire is hidden within the guitar's body.
To complete the plugged-in picture, Taylor also has an optional V-Cable. The endpin jack will take any standard guitar cord, but the advantage of the V-Cable is that it includes a volume knob that sits flush against the jack. Control the volume of the pickup via this knob, or turn the signal off completely with the knob's silent click-off switch. You can't really even tell that the knob is there, and it's conveniently located for making level adjustments on the fly.
The GS Mini is a little more expensive than its smaller counterpart, the Baby, but due to its outstanding projection, can serve double-duty as a full-sized guitar in many musical settings (e.g., plugged-in and for lead duties), and has an easy upgrade path for making it gig-ready with inexpensive and purpose-built components.
The more "guitar-like" shape of the Grand Symphony looks particularly nice on a smaller instrument—exhibiting more of the "parlor guitar" appeal. And of course, it is more comfortable to play if a full-sized guitar feels a bit out of your reach or if you just want to curl up and get small. Not only is the GS Mini a great guitar for smaller hands and scaled-down situations—travel, vocal rehearsals in the dressing room, songwriting on the hotel bed—it's a viable and delightful tonal alternative to a standard-sized guitar. If you've already got one full-sized guitar in the group, but want a strumming companion for life on the go, grab a GS Mini. It competes on the volume level just fine, and it brings its own sparkling and clarion-clear voice to the sonic party as well.