A leap forward in playability and sound quality
By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
With its new A-Series acoustic-electrics, Yamaha has ventured to address two classic problems of acoustic guitars that have to function in an electrified world: playability and plugged-in sound quality. Adding beauty, great design, and affordability, Yamaha has met the challenge brilliantly, as its A3R model proved in recent playing tests.
Dressed to kill
The A-Series acoustic-electrics differ by wood choice (mahogany or rosewood) on the back and sides, and by preamp models in the guitars’ electronics sections. A-Series guitars also come in dreadnought or concert body sizes, and all are single-cutaway models. The Yamaha A3R is a dreadnought model with a solid Sitka spruce top, mahogany neck, and ebony fingerboard. The back and sides are solid rosewood, and there’s an ebony bridge and new mahogany binding as well as a rosewood-mahogany soundhole rosette. Yamaha has brought back the flashy pickguard and headstock shapes from the ’70s L Series. Chrome die-cast tuners complement the mahogany headstock.
The A3R utilizes Yamaha’s Studio Response Technology (SRT) System 63 modeling preamp and SRT saddle/piezo pickup. The system requires two AA batteries inserted in the battery compartment by the neck. This allows for built-in mic modeling that the company has refined by using a special technique in analyzing four acoustic elements conventional pickup systems don’t address: string and body resonance, ambience, vintage microphone characteristics, and professional miking techniques.
The control panel on the Yamaha guitar’s upper side lets you fine-tune the sound with controls for volume and three-band EQ, along with a blend switch for mixing the direct piezo-generated sound with the sound of the mic models. You use a three-position slider switch to choose mic type (large- or small-diaphragm condenser or ribbon mic). You can then use a Resonance control to dial in more or less body sound or the Focus/Wide control to help isolate the sound (good for playing with a band) or expand it (better for a solo setting). There’s also an AFR switch that identifies and trims frequencies when feedback occurs. And there’s a built-in tuner. Its readout, along with mic-model and AFR data, are displayed by an LED under the volume knob. Yamaha supplies a rubbery cover that fits perfectly in the A3R’s soundhole for aiding in feedback control.
Unplugged and plugged
I was impressed with the playability and natural sound of the Yamaha A3R right out of the box. Yamaha has given the guitar a tapered neck with rounded corners that feels great and is an easy wraparound for small hands. The neck has a semi-open pore finish that feels like natural wood but lets your hand glide freely as on a matte finish. More important, the action is set at 2.3mm (lowered from Yamaha’s usual 2.7mm) at the 12th fret. Even without extra-light gauge strings, this is an incredibly easy guitar to play. Also, because string spacing has been widened to over 11mm (traditionally 10mm on Yamaha acoustics) at the soundhole, the A3R is a good choice for fingerstyle players.
The A3R’s sound is even more exceptional. Its natural sound is a medium-rich tone that’s not too heavy on the bottom, like some jumbo acoustics, and not too boxy or bright like some newer solo-oriented flattops. The A3R would sound fine with just the right mic. But once I inserted a guitar cable into the endpin jack and connected the axe to my mixer and studio monitors, the possibilities of this guitar really became apparent. The mic models have subtle variations and EQ settings that never become boomy or harsh, giving you lots of different choices for the perfect stage or studio sound. I recorded a range of music with the Yamaha A3R, from ballads with mellow fingerpicked chords to zinging double-tracked rock solos and was able to quickly find a good mic choice every time. This is a guitar with enormous versatility.
I highly recommend the A3R and every guitar in Yamaha’s A-Series. If you’re a serious recordist or performer, whatever your style, you’ll definitely be looking at one of the most playable and great-sounding acoustic-electric guitars available.
Features & Specs:
- Dreadnought with cutaway body
- Solid Sitka spruce top
- Solid rosewood back and sides
- Mahogany neck
- Ebony fingerboard
- Ebony bridge
- Rosewood/mahogany soundhole rosette
- Rosewood fingerboard binding
- Mahogany body binding
- Die-cast tuners
- SRT System 63 modeling preamp
- SRT saddle/piezo pickup
- Includes Yamaha hardshell case
Check out the exceptionally playable and versatile Yamaha A-Series acoustic-electric guitars with SRT mic modeling, including the A3R.