The LJ16 ($1,299 retail/$899 street) simply looks the way an acoustic should. The finish on the solid Englemann spruce top has the perfect tint to make the instrument appear vintage and new at the same time. The gold hardware fits right in without a trace of the gaudiness that can sometimes accompany the same tuners on an electric. The fret ends are clean all the way up the neck. One slight cosmetic bummer was on the top’s inlay. The triple binding was slightly uneven in places, particularly around the soundhole. That being said, the 16 still exudes dignity and quality, and these subtle blemishes don’t detract from that.
Yamaha uses an interesting bracing system in the L Series. The non-scalloped, 90-degree X-bracing pattern is designed to produce a tighter midrange, as well as improve the guitar’s overall resonance. These guitars also employ Yamaha’s NC neck block that provides a more solid coupling of the neck and body for greater sustain, volume, and projection. Although builders and players can debate the relative merits of bracing ad infinitum, the only thing I would say to Yamaha is: Don’t change a thing. They’ve definitely settled on something that not only works, but works beautifully.
The tone of this guitar is gorgeous—full and incredibly well balanced. The neck is very comfortable with a low but strong action that works for power-chord riffing or open-chord strumming. The LJ16 intonates sweetly all over the neck, and it tunes up very smoothly thanks to the perfectly slotted nut.
The LJ16 doesn’t seem to compress at all under violent strumming. It just gets louder and louder, with a taut low end and a glorious, screaming top. The treble response, combined with the open tone, makes this a great guitar for Michael Hedges-style kung fu, with slapped harmonics ringing out in a loud and sparkling fashion. It adds up to a very inspiring playing experience. You definitely get the sense you can do anything on this guitar and it will hang right there with you.
Just when you think the L Series can’t get any better, Yamaha springs the LL36 ($4,999 retail/$3,299 street) on you. Another stunning example of Yamaha’s handcrafted line, the LL36 sports a solid Englemann spruce top and Indian rosewood back and sides. It also has a five-ply mahogany/padauk neck with an ebony fretboard that add up to a neck that is attractive from any angle, with the layers on the back complementing the dark fretboard. The ebony bridge adds to the LL36’s powerfully elegant aesthetics. But the good looks don’t stop there. The abalone trim on the top and on the rosette would look great all by themselves, but against the natural wood binding they are positively magical.
The guts of this guitar differ slightly from the LJ16, in that the LL36 has Yamaha’s proprietary SQ Frame Side Bracing. The sides of the 36 are outfitted with square bracing that connects the sides to the brace nearest the soundhole as well as to the corresponding back brace. This adds rigidity, helping the 36 maintain its tonal complexity during very hard playing. This not only adds volume but, more importantly, musical volume.
Hitting an open chord on the LL36 is like doing so on a grand piano. It’s loud, vibrant, and incredibly rich sounding. The guitar exhibited the same even balance as the LJ16, but with even more depth. The LL36 is capable of very delicate fingerpicked timbres, with great projection and amazingly varied dynamics. It’s hard to explain, but great guitars just seem to get more and better frequencies out of chords, and the LL36 can flat out do that. Close voicings don’t clash, open voicings sound expansive, and regular old cowboy chords take on a whole new life.
Like its sibling, the LL36 intonates perfectly throughout its range. It’s also a very capo-friendly acoustic. Lots of guitars sound cool in the higher positions, but this one really seems to sound like other instruments when you capo up. It definitely has a better faux-mandolin tone at the seventh position than any of my guitars. No matter how high I set the capo, the notes remained sweet and full of sustain. Fascinated by this, I decided to check out the other end of the 36’s tonal spectrum and tuned down to open D—and even to dropped-C—and it dealt with it magnificently. The low end wasn’t woofy at all, but it was loud. It’s rare to hear notes this low really speak on an acoustic.
In a nutshell, it’s hard to find anything bad whatsoever to say about the LL36. The cosmetics, workmanship, and tones are musical and inspiring. This guitar looks, plays, and sounds like a beautiful classic. Well done.