Review: Yamaha AC3R and LL16M

Yamaha knows acoustic guitars.
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Yamaha knows acoustic guitars. With their classic FG series alone they’ve gotten millions of people strumming and fingerpicking. The guitars reviewed here represent decades of know-how that add up to excellent instruments.

AC3R

The first thing I noticed about the AC3R was how great the neck feels. The mahogany has a light, semi-open-pore finish on the back and rolled-over top edges (see Gary Brawer’s Get Smart column on p. 124) that instantly make you think you’ve been playing it forever. The low and even action keeps chording comfy and really lets you burn on single-note lines. The cosmetics are all very pretty and clean, with the natural wood binding and cool rosette being particularly nice.

Tonally, the AC3R pumps out a tone with a sweet top end and a pronounced midrange. This gives it the ability to cut in a pleasing way, and is in keeping with a vibe that is more vintage than modern. It’s a sound that would stand out when playing alongside, say, a dreadnought, although the AC3R might have a challenge keeping up with the dreadnought’s acoustic volume.

What is decidedly modern about the AC3R, however, is the pickup system. It comes with Yamaha’s SRT (Studio Response Technology) System 63 Modeling Preamp and SRT undersaddle pickup. This is a wildly flexible system that gives you a truckload of different tones at your fingertips. It combines three different microphone models with the piezo (infinitely variable with the Blend knob) and a 3-band EQ. There is also a Focus/Wide switch that controls the proximity of the mic model, and a Resonance knob to further tailor the low end. It’s a head-spinning amount of options, but I tended to leave the EQ mostly flat and favor the Mic side of the blend knob. You also get Yamaha’s AFR feedback reduction, which is very effective, as well as an onboard tuner. Dang!

This guitar is a great choice for anyone who wants a ultra-flexible gigging acoustic. It plays super-easy, has a ton of sounds available, and represents a nice blending of vintage and modern elements.

LL16M

Right out of the box, the LL16M seems to impart a more traditional vibe than the AC3R, with its non-cutaway larger body, beautifully yellowed Engelmann top, classic pickguard, and gold hardware. Although it does feature Yamaha’s SRT Zero Impact pickup, the lack of any preamp or even a volume control keeps the look completely uncluttered and old-school.

Hitting a few chords on the LL, it’s clear that it has good volume and a full sound with a brilliant top-end zing. It is not quick to compress and I felt like I could pretty much hit open chords as hard as I wanted. Single-note runs sound sweet and certainly benefit from the guitar’s treble response, but digging in hard brought about some buzzing and I felt like I had to be at least a little bit more restrained. The LL really shines in a fingerpicking setting, because the combination of sweet lows and sparkly highs provided a great separation and dimensionality. Guitars are recipes, and there’s just something about how Yamaha matched up the spruce top with the mahogany back and sides that really works. Plus, the woods have undergone Yamaha’s proprietary A.R.E. (Acoustic Resonance Enhancement) technology. According to their site: “Through precise control of temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure, the molecular properties of the wood can be manipulated into a more acoustically ideal condition, similar to the molecular characteristics of woods in instruments that have been played for years.” I didn’t hear these woods pre-A.R.E., but it all goes together great now.

If you want to plug in, the LL16M has got you covered, although any tone shaping or level control will need to take place on the floor. I have nice-sounding acoustic processor/DIs and I’m a volume pedal guy, so I can work around the lack of controls pretty easily, but it seems like an unobtrusive little volume wheel in the soundhole would be a huge addition to this guitar without detracting from the beautiful cosmetics at all.

That small complaint notwithstanding, the LL16M is a beautiful sounding guitar with a sweet look to boot. If you haven’t checked out a Yamaha lately, it’s time to do so.

AC3R

CONTACTusa.yamaha.com
PRICE $1,360 retail
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Mahogany
FRETBOARD Ebony, 25 9/16" scale
FRETS 20
TUNERS Die-cast chrome
BODY Solid rosewood back and sides, solid Sitka spruce top
BRIDGE Ebony with compensated saddle
WEIGHT 4.8 lbs
FACTORY STRINGS Proprietary Yamaha, .012-.052
PICKUP System 63 SRT
WEIGHT 5.4 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Superb playability. Sweet cosmetics. Flexible electronics.
CONCERNS None.

LL16M

CONTACTusa.yamaha.com
PRICE $1,099 retail
NUT WIDTH 1 3/4"
NECK 5-ply mahogany and rosewood
FRETBOARD Ebony, 25 9/16" scale
FRETS 20
TUNERS Die-cast chrome
BODY Solid mahogany back and sides, solid Engelmann spruce top with A.R.E.
BRIDGE Ebony with compensated saddle
WEIGHT 4.3 lbs
FACTORY STRINGS Proprietary Yamaha, .012-.052
PICKUP SRT Zero Impact
WEIGHT 5.4 lbs
BUILT China
KUDOS Beautiful looks. Great tones.
CONCERNS No volume control.

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