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Based on the high-end Doyle Dykes Signature Model, the DDX delivers superb playability and quality sound at an affordable price

$1498 MSRP; $1199 street

by Jon Chappell

 

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The Taylor DDX Doyle Dykes Deluxe, a maple back-and-side Grand Auditorium.

 

Taylor Guitars and fingerstyle virtuoso Doyle Dykes have had a long and productive association with each other. Much of Dykes’s stellar rise to the top of the fingerpicking pantheon is tied to his playing of Taylor guitars, as both player and instrument are known for clear, brilliant tone and virtuosity. Dykes worked with Taylor for years to get an instrument that would best suit his playing style, offering design modifications and suggestions on everything from the electronics to materials to playability. In 2000, Taylor released the high-end Doyle Dykes Signature Model (DDSM), which embodied all the work and refinements Dykes and Taylor had collaborated on over the years. The model even featured a white rose inlay, which figures significantly into Dykes’ life and music, as his fans well know.

 

As beautifully rendered as the DDSM was, though, it was beyond the reach of many guitarists on a budget. So Taylor has released the Doyle Dykes Deluxe (DDX), which retained the spirit of the higher-end DDSM, but costs well less than half the price—about $1200 street.

 

The homage to its high-end inspiration is immediately obvious: it’s an all-black-finish, gleaming Grand Auditorium acoustic-electric guitar with the distinctive half-moon pearl thumbprint position markers along the fingerboard, white binding and white headstock inlays. The only real obvious differences are that the ornate rose on the headstock of the DDSM has been replaced by the signature of the artist, and the cutaway on the DDX is Venetian (rounded) versus Florentine (pointed).

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The DDX features Doyle Dykes signature instead of the ornate white rose in the DDSM.

 

OVERVIEW

Built in Taylor's Mexico factory, the DDX is a laminate maple back-and-sides Grand Auditorium model drawn from Taylor’s 200 series. It features laminated maple back-and-sides, a solid spruce top, maple neck with an ebony fingerboard sporting Chet Atkins-style “half moon” inlays, an ebony bridge and Taylor’s ES-T electronics, which consists of a single under-saddle pickup and three side-mounted rotary controls: bass, treble, and volume.

 

The scale length on the DDX is the standard 25.5" versus the DDM’s short scale of 24.875". The neck is 1-11/16" wide at the nut and the string spacing is 2-3/16" at the saddle. It feels perfect for fingerpicking, both when using a thumbpick for that Chet Atkins/Merle Travis country ragtime sound, as well as for a more free-form arpeggio and strumming approach using an unadorned right hand. Flatpicking is a pleasure too, thanks to that legendary Taylor neck. The DDX is outfitted with the Taylor-branded chrome tuning machines and an endpin jack for connecting to an amp or P.A. The 9V battery is also accessible in a latch near the jack. It comes strung with Elixir Lights, and plays smooth and fast under the fingers.

 

Aesthetically, the DDX is beautiful, with its gleaming and reflective black scheme offset by white accents (binding, rosette, and neck and headstock inlays). It looks like the guitar is outfitted in a tuxedo. The workmanship is flawless, as is typical and expected in a Taylor guitar, and though the top is an opaque black, the character and grain of the wood show through, adding a nice organic dimension to the otherwise formal all-black presentation.

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The all-black scheme is nicely set off by white accents in the binding, rosette, and half-moon neck inlays.

 

ACOUSTIC PLAYTHROUGH

From the moment you touch it—picking it up and bringing it into playing position—the DDX feels light, sleek, and responsive. It seems to almost want to play itself. The hard rock maple body, spruce top, and forward-shifted bracing all contribute to a sparkly, buoyant sound. Doyle Dykes has stated that he prefers maple for its crisp attack, and that maple guitars seem more responsive to fast and virtuosic playing, where the articulation of rapid notes seems to read better. That character is in abundance here, coupled with the fantastically playable neck that just begs for some speedy fingerpicking, chicken pickin’, and other fleet-fingering romps.

 

Played acoustically, the sound is quite balanced in the midrange while providing high notes that speak clearly above thumb-picked bass notes or plucked inner-voice chords. Access to the upper frets is well accommodated, making this guitar a good lead instrument for flatpickers.

 

IN ELECTRIC MODE

I plugged the DDX into a Fishman Loudbox Artist to test the electronics. The ES-T, while not as full-featured as Taylor’s higher-end Expression System, nevertheless produced a nice tonal signature that was balanced in the lower and middle registers. The clarity of the treble notes I heard in acoustic mode were well represented when the guitar was plugged in. In fact, it’s noteworthy how close the amplified sound matched the acoustic sound. The ES-T does not deliver quite the acoustic realism and range of the Expression System, but it sounds very, very good, and for enabling the guitar to cut through a busy or muddy mix, or for being heard over a large ensemble, the DDX’s ES-T system works fine. The three controls on the guitar’s upper bout are bass, treble, and volume, and I like how Taylor put the volume control closest to the face of the guitar, where you can more easily see it and make quick adjustments, as this is the control you’ll access most often in a live or studio setting.

 

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The DDX is outfitted with Taylor's ES-T system, which consists of an under-saddle pickup and preamp sporting three controls: bass, treble, and volume.

 

I went through my repertoire of fingerpicking classics, from Chet and Merle to Dave Matthews and original compositions that employ strumming, harmonics, and hybrid picking along with straightforward fingerstyle playing. The Taylor neck is always a joy to play, especially for more modern styles that bring you far up the neck. The transition in the cutaway area, from the regions below, was transparent and effortless. The tone was clear and crisp, and even on the high strings among the upper frets, never got plinky. You can hit the guitar fairly hard, too, without the dreaded “quack” that other guitars in the same price range will produce, due to inferior electronics. I found I did need external EQ to bring out the mids, but that’s a personal preference.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The DDX is, for the money, an incredible guitar—a fully professional instrument that can not only withstand the rigors of the road, but can satisfy musicians who plays a significant portion of their sets instrumentally.

 

The maple construction produces a sharp, bright sound with a rapid decay that is especially at home in a country-rock setting, and for guitarists playing lickety-split fingerstyle music. The rhythm sound is not as deep or mellow as some other grand auditoriums, but what it lacks in mellowness it makes up in focus. The guitar’s upper-midrange thrust and brilliant high end make it fairly easy to place in a mix and very handy for stage work. This is a really solid, pro-level guitar that pays homage to one of the best fingerstyle players the world has ever seen, and is a great instrumental axe to boot.

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