Review: Yamaha CSF3M

Yamaha’s CSF3M will appeal to troubadours, home-studio rats, strummers and fingerpickers alike.
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Fifteen years after discontinuing its initial run of CFS guitars, Yamaha has re-introduced and upgraded its line of compact acoustics in the form of the new CSF1M and the CSF3M, which is on review here. They have similar features, including a solid Sitka spruce top, with the primary difference being the CSF3M also features solid mahogany back and sides and mahogany body binding. The basic design goal is achieving a full, detailed sound from a parlor-sized instrument.

The CSF3M is classy looking, with modest appointments. Other than an abalone soundhole inlay and a rather unique boat-shaped bridge, its snazzy appearance is all about quality woods. The flowing amber waves of its solid mahogany back and sides are particularly aesthetically pleasing, and the lighter-colored mahogany binding creates an almost seamless connection to the slightly tan-colored “vintage natural” stain of the Sitka. Its shape is simultaneously sexy and super ergonomic.

It certainly feels cozy to place the light little Yamaha on your lap, tuck it into your chest and under your arms, and give it a solid strum with a pick. The sonorous, vivacious sound of strumming that first open E chord truly opened my ears. Right away, it’s obvious that this travel-friendly instrument was not constructed in the way so many similar-sized acoustics are, meaning that the construction isn’t too heavy for the body. Yamaha used a new top bracing design that’s scalloped, with a forward-shifted X pattern for maximum resonance, and it seems to have made a difference. The CSF3M sounds less boxy than many small acoustics, and it’s evenly balanced from the low strings to the high strings, with a punchy presence across the board. It’s no baby, either. You can wail away without worrying about the tone compressing. While its low end is not going to threaten a dreadnought, the highs truly sparkle.

I found great satisfaction in the degree of nuance delivered by the CSF3M, and its lively spirit is infectious. Fingerpicking patterns sprang forth, and playing on the parlor-sized instrument influenced my plucking in such a welcome way that I wound up creating fingerpicking parts unique to playing the CSF3M. Standard tuning had sort of lost its appeal to me recently, but playing the CSF3M made me appreciate it again because of the way the guitar influenced my fingers to do different things, particularly in the plucking hand. Playing a parlor guitar simply changes the angle of the dangle. From a fretting hand perspective, the factory action felt friendly and remarkably consistent from positions one through 12, which is no small achievement on a short-scale, compact instrument.

CSF3M (bottom) and CSF1M (right)

CSF3M (bottom) and CSF1M (right)

It’s easy not to notice that the CSF3M comes equipped with a pickup because it has Yamaha’s SRT Zero Impact passive piezo mounted under the bridge, and there are no controls for it. I plugged into a Fishman Mini Charge acoustic amplifier and delighted to a pretty big sound from the top strings. Unfortunately, a faulty connection somewhere in the pickup system interrupted the signal from the lower strings, so I couldn’t get a sense of the full spectrum from its amplified tone.

Good-sounding small instruments are rare to find at such a supremely reasonable price, but Yamaha has found a way to manifest such an acoustic in the form of the CSF3M. It’s particularly handy when sitting at your desk as well as when packing up the car for a trip to the woods for a mountain jam or campfire sing-along. The bottom line: Yamaha’s CSF3M will appeal to troubadours, home-studio rats, strummers and fingerpickers alike.



PRICE $549 street

NECK Nato, 16" radius
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 23.6" scale
TUNERS Die-cast chrome
BODY Solid mahogany back and sides, solid Sitka spruce top
BRIDGE Rosewood
ELECTRONICS Yamaha SRT Zero Impact passive piezo pickup
FACTORY STRINGS Elixer Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze Light .012-.053
WEIGHT 3.2 lbs

KUDOS Vibrant sound, fine playability, classy look, solid value
CONCERNS Faulty pickup connection on this unit