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Yamaha A3M and A1R

February 14, 2012
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These two single-cutaway dreadnought guitars are part of Yamaha’s new A Series instruments, designed by the company’s American team and built in China. The eight models in the series fall into two basic groups: those with rosewood backs and sides and those with mahogany backs and sides. They are further distinguished by whether those backs and sides are solid, whether the guitars have rosewood or ebony fretboards, and which of two types of onboard electronics are included. Beyond that, all eight instruments are esentially identical— sporting solid Sitka spruce tops, ebony bridges, rosewood fretboard binding, mahogany body binding, and die-cast chrome tuners. According to Yamaha, both guitars were designed to be “workhorses” capable of functioning in diverse applications—and that’s a fair description. I tested them through Fishman and Genz-Benz acoustic amps, a Rivera Venus 6 guitar amp, and directly into a MOTU 828MkII audio interface, listening through JBL LSR28P monitors.

A3M

 
The A3M
The A3M is representative of the mahogany side of the A Series line—hence the M in its name. Although not particularly fancy looking at first glance (except perhaps for its somewhat flambouyant pickguard), a closer examination reveals nicely patterned inlay work on the rosette and the understated elegance of the mixed-wood body and neck binding. The workmanship is quite good all around, from the perfectly clean body and neck joints to the evenly applied gloss finish. The fretwork, too, is excellent, leaving no uneven surfaces or jagged edges to contend with. The frets, along with the silky finish on the neck, make for exceptionally smooth playing. The instrument is relatively lightweight and well balanced, hanging evenly and comfortably on a strap.

Acoustically, the A3M’s solid mahogany back and sides combine with the solid Sitka spruce top to give it a warm, rich tone. The sound is full bodied, yet nicely balanced across all frequencies, and there are no dead or uneven spots anywhere on the fretboard. The intonation is also consistent throughout. Although the guitar responded nicely when strumming or playing fingerstyle, the 1.69" nut width suggests it was designed primarily for the former.

The A3M sports Yamaha’s Studio Response Technology (SRT) onboard electronics— in this case the System 63 model, which combines an undersaddle piezo pickup and proprietary modeling technology with control over a surprisingly wide variety of parameters. Yamaha experimented with lots of different microphones during the design process, eventually settling on a choice of three classics: a Neumann U67 large-diaphragm condenser, a Neumann KM56 small-diaphragm condenser, and a Royer R-122 ribbon. Besides being able to select the microphone type (via the Type switch), you can also use the Focused/Wide switch to toggle between the sound of a single mic placed close to the guitar and a close mic combined with a room mic placed a few feet away. Those sounds can then be blended with the sound of the piezo pickup using the continuously variable Blend control, and the overall tone tweaked using the nicely voiced 3-band EQ. You can also engage an A.F.R. circuit that automatically detects and filters out frequencies that are feeding back, and adjust the Resonance control, which increases or decreases the perceived resonance of the guitar body, affecting low-frequency response much like the proximity effect resulting from placing a mic closer to a source. Finally, there’s a simple but effective onboard tuner, an LED that lights when the battery is getting low, and a master Volume control. The electronics are powered by two AA batteries that reside in an easily removeable, snap-out cartridge located on the upper bout.

When played through an amp, the difference between the three microphone sounds and the single/dual mic configurations were relatively subtle—but when monitoring in the studio they became much more distinct. Were the sounds exactly what you would expect from a U67, a KM56, and and R-122? Of course not. But they did convey the essential qualities of large-diaphragm condenser, small-diaphragm condenser, and ribbon microphones, and toggling from Focused to Wide did, in fact, add appreciable air and roominess to the sound. The piezo saddle pickup sounded good through both amp types and in the studio, and brought a focused edge and presence to the overall tone when blended judiciously with the modeled microphone sound.

Considering its great sound, excellent build quality, nice cosmetic touches, overall playability, and sophisticated onboard electronics, the A3M is a bargain at $799 street.

A1R

 
The A1R
As its name suggests, the A1R’s back and sides are constructed of rosewood. Like the A3M, the overall workmanship on this guitar is excellent, and all of the same comments apply, except that there is no wood inlay work on the rosette. The A1R’s playability and intonation are also basically identical to the A3M’s, which is to say that they are excellent. Sonically, the rosewood gives the A1R a brighter acoustic sound than that of its mahogany bodied cousin, and it was also slightly more resonant, despite its laminated back and sides.

Other than the difference in woods, the A1R’s System 66 Analog electronics also differ significantly from the A3M’s System 63. The S.R.T. pickup is still part of the equation, but there are no mic models and associated controls. Instead, there’s a 3-band EQ, a Volume control, a tuner, and a low battery LED.

The difference in sound when playing through amplifiers and the studio system was much less pronounced with the System 63 electronices, and I got good results in both cases. The balance of frequencies was quite good with the EQ set flat, though the nicely voiced High, Low, and sweepable Mid (80Hz-10kHz) controls provided lots of additional tone-shaping power when necessary, be it adding a touch of bottom and/or shimmer to compensate for particular amplifiers, or attenuating pesky feedback-prone mids. The simple tuner worked well as with the System 66, though for some reason the output signal wasn’t muted when it was engaged, which I found a little puzzling.

The A1R is an excellent value for nearly all of the same reasons as the A3M, though given that you can get an instrument with solid sides and back, nicer cosmetics, and fancier electronics for a mere $100 more, I’d suggest shelling out the extra cash unless those things are of little consequence to you. Either way, however, you really can’t go wrong.

Specifications

CONTACT Yamaha, (714) 522-9011; usa.yamaha.com

A3M

PRICE $1,250 retail/$799 street

NUT WIDTH 1.69"

SCALE LENGTH 25.59"

NECK Solid mahogany

FRETBOARD Ebony

FRETS 20

TUNERS Die-cast chrome

BODY Solid mahogany

TOP Solid Sitka spruce

BRIDGE Ebony

ELECTRONICS System 63 S.R.T. with mic and saddle/piezo pickup

FACTORY STRINGS Yamaha FS3OBT, .012-.052

WEIGHT 5 lbs

BUILT China

KUDOS Great sound, playability, and workmanship. Versatile, good-sounding electronics.

CONCERNS None

A1R

PRICE $1,050 retail/$699 street

NUT WIDTH 1.69"

SCALE LENGTH 25.59"

NECK Mahogany

FRETBOARD Rosewood

FRETS 20

TUNERS Die-cast chrome

BODY Rosewood

TOP Solid Sitka spruce

BRIDGE Ebony

ELECTRONICS System 66 S.R.T. with saddle/piezo pickup

FACTORY STRINGS Yamaha FS3OBT, .012-.052

WEIGHT 5 lbs

BUILT China

KUDOS Great sound, playability, and workmanship. Goodsounding electronics.

CONCERNS Tuner doesn’t mute output when engaged.

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