Alright! Vacation is over, and it’s time to get back to work. On my first day back I fixed up a non-functional Taylor Expression System. Boy, this one wasn’t fun!
At first it seemed simple enough: there was no sound coming out of the output jack. Nine time out of ten the output jack itself is the culprit, which is usually very easy to diagnose. And here, at the very first step, is where the problems started presenting themselves. The output jack is housed in a big plastic box that also functions as the battery compartment, and connects to the preamp with a ethernet plug. There’s no way to disassemble this, nor is there a really good way to test it, so I had to abandon that idea for the time being. Next I moved on to checking the preamp, and noticed upon closer listening that there was actually output at the jack – when I turned up the treble on the preamp I got a slight hiss coming through the amp, which revealed two things: that the jack was working, and that the preamp was most likely not the cause of the trouble. My next step was to check the pickups themselves, but first I had to unplug them from the preamp. I pulled the knobs off the preamp to reveal this:
The preamp is attached to the inside of the guitar via these ferrules around the pots, which are attached to the preamp directly. Taylor must use some sort of special custom tool to tighten these down, as a standard screwdriver won’t work. After a great deal of fiddling and some cursing, I figured out a way to loosen the ferrules and remove the pre. Success!
I pulled the pickups off the pre one by one and checked them with an ohm meter, and discovered that one of the pickups was completely dead. This is a rare problem – pickups don’t have moving parts, so they rarely ever go bad, which is why I looked at that possibility last. After consulting with Taylor, I learned that the pickups on the Expression System are wired in series, which means they kind of function like a string of Christmas lights: if one goes out, all of them go out. So it was a simple matter of ordering a new pickup and tossing it in there.
Well, it wasn’t that simple. In order to remove the pickup, the entire neck has to be removed! Fortunately, Taylor opts to build it’s guitars with bolt on neck, with the bolts hidden by a conveniently placed sticker on the neck block inside the guitar. I was lucky to get this one off without tearing it:
Here’s the bolts underneath the sticker:
Once the neck was off, I discovered that one of the pickup magnets had come unglued and was stuck in the neck. I had to chisel a tiny bit of wood away so I could get under the magnet to lift it out:
Taylor was kind enough to supply a new pickup free of charge, and I dropped it in and installed it in the preamp, and everything was working again! Hooray! I put the neck back on and installed a fresh set of strings and it was ready to go.
I have to hand it to Taylor: they engineer some pretty serious guitars, but they don’t exactly make it easy if something needs to be fixed. It almost feels like working on a computer instead of a guitar, which is certainly a unique challenge. All in all I spent a lot of time working around some of the design issues on this guitar, but since I charge by the job rather than by the hour the owner is getting a great deal. Hey, you win some, you lose some.
A big thank you goes out to my friend Megan Younce at Taylor Guitars, for helping me sort this out and getting a replacement pickup to me quickly. You rock!