Yamaha A-Series Guitars - Complete Comparisons and Reviews
(Complete Comparison table of all A series models below - (A1R, A1M, AC1R, AC1M, A3R, A3M, AC3R, AC3M)
After researching this guitar thoroughly, much of the online information surrounding this guitar is incomplete or incorrect, even on the Yamaha USA website - so I called them to get the straight facts - Yamaha USA.
I called in and had an extensive discussion (with Ed- one of Yamaha's USA guitar technical experts) about the new SRT technologies as well as the 8 different A-series models that Yamaha offers to get the real scoop on these great guitars.
*There are even some errors on the Official Yamaha guitar site that are cleared up (below) in this review.
The Yamaha A-Series of guitars is the first "American Made" Yamaha series designed with the United States engineering team, and the collaboration between the Japanese and American teams has created a combination of the highest acoustic guitar craftsmanship with the un-matched S.R.T. (Studio Response Technology).
The SRT Technology, for the A-Series only appears in the A3 and AC3 models and not in the A1 or AC1 models, and this is a big deal if you plan on plugging your guitar into an amp or any system.
Most acoustic electric guitars lose their acoustic beauty when plugged in, because they use only a transducer (piezo) technology or an inferior piezo / mic blender, but not the Yamaha A3 and AC3 -Series with S.R.T. (Studio Response Technology)
I honestly wish I had this kind of pickup system bundled with solid tonewoods for under $1,000 when I was purchasing my last guitar.
This SRT technology is like having a professional microphone and studio built in. . .
(Listen to Josh Gooch play some Amazing blues riffs and a detailed description of the SRT system)
We'll get to the differencese between Yamaha A-series models below, but first we have to discuss why the SRT pickup system blows the other pickup systems out of the water for guitars in this "under $1000" crowd (and even most in the "above $1000" crowd).
Many acoustic guitar pickups are a simple piezo pickup, located under the saddle, picking up the vibrations of the strings and converting them to an electrical signal. When you play on a "piezo-only" system, you lose all of the "air and wood" quality of the tonewoods and body style of the acoustic guitar (100% lost), ending up with a disappointing, electric and tinny sound that barely resembles the beautiful tones and overtones one would desire when playing an acoustic guitar or amping with just a studio microphone.
Not only does the SRT have both an onboard microphone for picking up the natural acoustic sound of the guitar, but it has a blender to balance between the loudness or "gain" from the piezo pickup without sacrificing that true acoustic sound you would expect from an acoustic guitar.
The microphone also has different modeling capabilities for replicating a close microphone or wide microphone setup.
The Professional SRT (Studio Response Technology) combines. . .
- Advanced Digital Signal Processing
- Real-world insight into professional audio technology (from recording professionals and engineers)
- Real professional studio recording modeling techniques at the flip of a switch
- Three different high-end mic types
- Two mic positions that let you use professional recording studio techniques
- A total of 6 setting patterns
- A blender knob between the piezo and microphone
- Complete control of body resonance sound for authentic, rich acoustic tonewood sound (reverb of tones and overtones)
- AFR - Automatic Feedback Reduction at the push of a button
- 3-Band Equalizer (Eq) for projection any sound profile you need
- On-board tuner for ease of string tuning, reliability and accuracy
"Sounds that were only attainable by professional recording engineers using old-world vintage microphone set ups in world-class recording studios are now available with this built in SRT system, whether playing live or in your home studio."
The SRT preamp and pick up offers 3 different microphone modeling types at the flip of a switch to match any playing style (each microphone would cost several thousand dollars to gain this kind of sound in a professional recording studio)
- The Neumann U67 - great for wide EQ and any playing style, giving the player a large diaphragm condenser studio mic sound
- The Neumann KM56 - great for crisp, high end where detailed playing must stand out- including crisp lead guitar, scales, finger style picking, and flat-picking where clarity and distinction are needed.
- The Royer R-122 - a ribbon style microphone is great for rounding out and smoothing the tones for Jazz and Blues playing - this microphone model gives a warmer, wider and smooth tone response for the more mellow acoustic sweetness
Regardless of your playing style, you can switch between 3 professional, built-in microphone settings which allow you to amp the true sound of the acoustic guitar through an on-board microphone.
A regular "piezo-only" pickup cannot capture the true acoustic guitar sound like this SRT.
And, other leading blenders on the market, boasting a blend between on-board microphone and piezo pickups do not carry this kind of studio realism.
The on-board microphone has 3 different professional microphone models with the 2 most commonly used studio mic settings for professional studio recording and live play realism.
Using the "Focus" setting, one can hone in on the close and crisp sound of the acoustic guitar tonewoods and strings as thought the guitar were miced right near the soundhole for direct, up front, real acoustic sound.
Switch to the "wide" setting and instantly gain the advantage of being miced both close and wide for more room resonance and "airyness", adding distance, depth, and reverb while picking up subtle nuances of the overtones of the tonewoods of the guitar body.
Complete Resonance Control allows the player to gain body resonance, tones and overtone vibration from the acoustic guitar body for a richer tone and experience. However, if too much feedback occurs at any time, simply dialing down the resonance to the left will reduce the resonance / reverberation pickup for a cleaner, more straight-forward acoustic sound. This setting gives the player a fine-tuning on the perceived "distance" of the microphone settings between "focus" and "wide", opening up an endless fine-tuning capability of the perceived studio microphone set up.
The On-Board Microphone and Piezo Blender allows you to hone in on the perfect amount of microphone and piezo gain you want for the perfectly blended acoustic or electric sound depending on your project, sound, playing style or performance needs. While the microphone preserves the true tonewood quality captured only by studio microphones, the piezo can add more gain or volume without picking up feedback or muddling the sound. The complete control is at the "blend" dial for any desired microphone / piezo pickup blend combination.
For sensitive environments, recording, and live play, the AFR (Automatic Feedback Reduction) is another great feature that is like having a live sound operator knocking out feedback at the push of a button. In the old days, feedback from an instrument, including an acoustic guitar could wreak havoc on a performance or recording, sending a building and annoying squeal of sound through the audience. With 1 push of the A.F.R. button, the pickup system instantly identifies the resonating frequency of the feedback that is occuring and notches it out of the output frequencies (Eq) for instant cancelling of any annoying or sudden feedback caused by ambience or environmental cues and feedbacks. This is a great feature for keeping the sound going in diverse playing environments without destroying or interrupting the natural acoustic amplified sound of the guitar.
Not only does the SRT have an on-board tuner, but it is engineered to match the subtleties of each acoustic guitar model for the most accurate string tuner. Even if you have a great ear for tuninng, this feature is great for re-assurance or for quick and accurate re-tuning between gigs or songs to keep the playing going and sounding great. If you have ever been in the middle of a performance and began to lose tuning of a string or two, you may have had the annoying or even embarassing realization that your music was beginning to go sour beyond your ability to quickly fix it. With the accuracy of the on-board tuner, you can tune each string with ease and precision even in the middle of a performance.
The tuner also has a distinct alternating lighting signal which will notify the player 1 hour before the batteries of the pickup lose their power, giving plenty of warning to change the internal power suppply without interrupting or distorting the output sound or performance.
Although all acoustic guitars have a set sound profile, EQ range and projection qualities based on the body size, tonewoods and bracing patterns, this built-in 3-Band EQ is like icing on the cake. Having fine tuned control of the bass, mid, and treble outputs of the guitar frequencies give the more advanced player the ability to emmulate different frequencies to suit any plying style or gig. If you need the punchiness of a bluegrass, Mahogany sound, you can accentuate the mid and treble ranges and back the bass off a bit. If you are looking for a more mellow, bassy and warm sound, you can back the mid and high ranges off while accentuating the bass a bit. Or, simply leave the EQ settings in the middle somewhere to resonate the true natural beauty of the tones and overtones which come naturally from the air moving in and around the guitar body.
Most internal pickups carry a 9V battery (called a PP3 systems=)which reduced voltage during play and over time. The actual average playing voltage of a 9V (PP3) system is around 7.5 V. While playing with a slightly weakened 9V battery, one can experience distortion and interruption of the sound as the voltage begins to drop, well before the battery is dead.
On the flip-side, the SRT uses 2 "AA" batteries with an on-board circuitry that literally "ramps" the voltage up to 11V, giving not only a better and more consistent performance, but giving a more stable battery life and reliability up until the batteries are nearly dead. Coupled with the built in visual signal, the player will know at least 1 hour in advance when the "AA" batteries need to be changed before performance is interrupted.
It will be hard to find an equal match to this kind of microphone and piezo pickup quality on any acoustic electric guitar, even on guitars costing several thousands of dollars. However, Yamaha also offers several different models of quality acoustic bodies to provide the best in tonewoods and playability.
There are currently 8 Yamaha A-Series acoustic models on the market as follows:
A-1 Series- (4 models)
Distinction # 1:
The A3 Series has 2 distinct advantages:
- The A-3 Series includes solid tonewoods for the sides and back of the acoustic guitar body whereas the A-1 Series uses cheaper laminated versions of the sides and back which means the A-1 Series will not improve with age though they may be a bit more resilient to humidity and temperature changes (not an advantage if you take proper care of your guitar).
- The A-3 Series offers the SRT professional preamp and mic onboard electronics where the A-1 series does not. *** This is incorrect on the Yamaha USA website at the time of this post (they said they were working on clearing up the info on their site). Getting an A-1 series and expecting a studio quality mic blender pickup like the SRT, one will be greatly disappointed.
*** Note *** The A-1 Series does not include the SRT pickup detailed above, but a simple piezo A66 Analog Pickup. If you are looking to preserve the true acoustic sound of the gutiar when pluggin in or recording through the on-board pickup, you will be disappointed with any of the A1 series (A1M, A1R, AC1M, or AC1R) because of this distinct diffference.
On average, there is about a $200 difference between the A-1 Series and the A-3 Series, but the A-3 Series is well worth the extra $200 if you have the money.
Distinction # 2:
The "C" in the naming system does not mean "cutaway", as all of the A Series are currently cutaways (sometimes call Venetian Cutaway). It does, however, mean a smaller, "Concert" model which may be a bit easier to hold and play for mid to small size players. However, the C models will not put forth as much of a "bass end" because of this size difference when the guitar is unplugged.
The "non-C" models are the standard "Dreadnought" size which is the most popular and universal size for acoustic guitars, which may prove to be a bit more difficult to hold and play for smaller players. The "non-C" models will definitely give more of a bass response than the "C" models because of this "Dreadnought size and design. Unplugged, the Dreadnought size is more universal in sound, and the "C" models are better for people who need a slightly smaller guitar with a bit more favor for fingerstyle playing.
Distinction # 3:
The "R" stands for Rosewood and the "M" Stands for Mahogany, but look closely.
The A1 Series offers laminated sides and back whereas the A3 series offers solid tonewood sides and back, so the difference between "R" and "M" in this series will be more significant if you are looking to buy an A-3 Series.
With lamintated sides and back (cheaper A-1 series), the tonewood difference is not as noticeable in the sound, and affects the color and visual appeal moreso than the sound.
If you prefer the reddish brown, lighter color, then the "M" or Mahogany might be for you.
If you prefer the richer, darker brown color, then the "R" or Rosewood might be for you.
However, if you are leaning toward the slightly more expensive A-3 Series, not only do you get a far superior onboard studio with the SRT, but you get solid tonewoods whether you choose Mahogany or Rosewood.
With the A-3 Series, or any solid tonewood acoustic guitar, Mahogany and Rosewood sound distinctly different:
- Mahogany sounds more punchy in the mid-range and treble or higher ranges, lacking a bit in the bass projection
- Rosewood sounds more full and balanced in all ranges, offering the best eq response and projection (also being a favorite of many world class luthiers or guitar makers).
It is this guitar player's choice to prefer Rosewood over Mahogany as well, whenever I have the choice between two guitars of equal craftsmanship, size and model. Rosewood is simply the most robust and supportive tonewood for projecting a full EQ response and giving the fullest "wood and steel" sound that one would expect from a genuine, quality acoustic guitar.
Additionally, the final disctinction between the A-1 and A-3 Series is the fingerboard (fretboard) wood used.
The A-3 Series features ebony fingerboards which are dark black, distinct, and a bit more resilient to the wear and tear of fingering chords over the life of the guitar. Ebony is a bit more expensive than Rosewood as well.
The A-1 Series features Rosewood fingerboards which is a bit lighter in color, a bit cheaper than ebony and a bit less resistant to wear and tear. The tonality differences between fingerboard woods is negligible, and often completely un-noticeable by even the most discerning and professional ear.
In all, the fingerboard difference is more of a visual distinction to 99 % of guitar players. Some professional guitar players may actually prefer one wood over the other, but for most players, it does not have an affect other than color preference.
|Model||SRT Pickup||Analog 66 Pickup||Solid Tonewood||Laminated||Mahogany||Rosewood||Dreadnought||Concert|
Having reviews all of the SRT technologies and the 8 different model choices, our top 2 picks of all 8 Yamaha A-Series are
- The Professional SRT pickup technology
- Solid (non-laminated) Rosewood back and sides
- Dreadnought Body Size (most universal, full size acousic body)
- The Professional SRT pickup technology
- Solid (non-laminated) Rosewood back and sides
- Concert Body Size (not as large as the Dreadnought, but a full size guitar that can carry any gig as well)
The reason I choose Rosewood over Mahogany is a personal preference that is also backed by the creators of many high-end professional guitars. Rosewood is simply unmatched in its ability to project well in all 3 basic Eq registers (Bass, Mid and Treble) and this gives the guitar a wider Eq, more bass projection, better balance, and more overall volume and projection over it's Mahogany competitors.
Additionally, if I were budgeting to buy a guitar in this price range, I would opt for the extra $200 and pick the A3R over the A1R because the SRT technology is worth far more than the $200 difference. There is simply no comparison between the studio mic capabilities of the SRT pickup system and the inferior piezo only pickups installed in the A1 series.
This A3R is also better (in my opinion) than any model that Taylor, Martin, Takamine, or any of the other leading guitar manufacturers are currently producing in the "Under $1000" line because the others are using lamintated tonewoods and inferior onboard electronics.
Though both Taylor and Martin make some fine higher-end guitars, they cut costs with their "below $1000" line by using inferior laminated woods for the sides and back so you lose a bit on the age-ability of the guitars and the richness and complexity of tones and overtones you can only get from solid tonewoods. Laminated just simply cannot compete in this sound quality category.
The A3 series will easily give more quality in craftsmanship as well as amplified technology than any of the other leading brands currently producing guitars in this "Under $1000" crowd.
Because of this, I would not hesitate to buy or promote the Yamaha A3R as our #1 pick in acoustic or acoustic electric guitars in the "under $1000" range.
All online marketplaces seem to project the same retail pricing for a new A3R acoustic electric guitar at about $899.00 USD.
However, the product bundle only costs a mere $1 more and you get a lot of accessories with it (about $80 worth).
The MSRP (Yamaha's suggested retail price) is $1,360, and would still be an unbeatable deal at the inflated MSRP.
If you buy this guitar here through Amazon, it will go through a 3rd Party Music Supply Vendor with an A+ BBB rating and for just $1 extra dollar you can buy the bundle which includes over $80 worth of guitar accessories including
- Hardshell case (comes standard with all of them)
- Beginning Guitar DVD
- 2 sets of strings
- On Stage XCG4 Guitar Stand
- Guitar Strap (for shoulder)
- Ernie Ball polish
- 1 Dozen Guitar picks
- String Winder
- Free inspection before shipping
- Free Shipping
The best deal, getting the guitar bundle with all of the extra accessories for an extra $1 is at Amazon.com here
Yamaha Inc. already has a lifetime limited warranty over the entire guitar wood features, including craftsmanship on the neck, top, back and sides for any manufacturing defect that might show up later.
Yamaha Inc. also has a built-in 1 year warranty on the on-board electronics and the attached hardware.
Their exact warranty language taken from their website is this:
Some guitar retailers online offer a 1, 2 or 3 year warranty. The warranty insurance providers must be the same or similar online because the pricing seems to be about the same at $130 extra for 3 years of coverage, but you have to be sure to purchase the extra coverage if you want it.
However, if you take care of your guitar, you Yamaha's MFG warranty should be sufficient and you should have not problems getting the warranty covered by the online vendor through Amazon.