With their subtle retro styling and quality construction, Yamaha’s AES series solidbodies have proven popular with players who prefer a mix of vintage and modern esthetics. Recently, two new models have been added to the line—the AES720, a streamlined hot-rod that offers great performance and value, and the 920, which is more nicely appointed and features a beautiful quilted maple top. I tested both models using 50-watt Marshall and Komet heads, a Fender Twin Reverb, and a THD Flexi-50.
Featuring a solid mahogany body and a glued-in mahogany neck, the AES720 gives a nod to the Les Paul Junior. But with its twin DiMarzio humbuckers, six-section tailpiece, and through-body stringing, the 720 is a very different animal. The two-tone color scheme of blue metallic with a black-painted center looks hip, and the theme is echoed throughout by the use of black plated hardware. The tail end of the guitar sports dual strap buttons and a recessed opening for the output jack. Due to its upward angle I found the jack a bit difficult to use with some cords. Also, it would appear that the plug end receives more stress than it would if the jack was pointed in a downward direction (of course, that’s not a problem if you loop your cord around the strap as Yamaha indtends). The die-cast Grover tuners operate with buttery smoothness, and the synthetic nut prevents string binding and is accurately notched for consistent string height. A slight drag is that the nut’s sharp corners dig into your hand when you pick up the guitar from a stand. The 22 jumbo frets are cleanly set and finished, and the small abalone dot inlays are perfectly set into the fretboard without a trace of filler.
You can’t argue with the robustness of this guitar. There are no rattles or string buzz, just pure solidity. The medium-thick neck, low action, and beveled cutaway are also welcome attributes. However, the playing feel is somewhat stiff. Yamaha says this is due to running the strings through the body, which provides a better feel when the guitar is detuned. If you don’t tune down, you can always switch to a lighter string gauge to make bending easier. The 720’s pickups have exposed tops and tape-covered coils, and are mounted directly to the body instead of being suspended in plastic or metal surrounds. I like the silky feel of the Volume and Tone pots, which are fitted with easy-to-grip knobs that are recessed into the top for a clean appearance.
Plugged in, the 720 sounds dense and meaty. In cleaner modes, its tones are clear and crisp with a slight upper-midrange emphasis that allows it to stay just on the brown side of brightness. The highs remain present when you turn down, which is great, and the Tone knob is well voiced and very accommodating to jazzier neck-pickup textures. The 720 really roars when given some distortion, churning out killer tones that have a touch of Junior-style squawkiness, good low-end tightness, and a sweet treble voicing. This guitar loves to be played loud, and its strong pickups yielded gobs of tough, gutsy grind from all of the higher-gain amps. Bottom line: If you like the warmth of an all-mahogany guitar, but can dig having a little more snap and sustain, the 720 is a cool choice.
The fancier AES920 adds a carved maple top finished in a dark gray toner (other colors are available) that really sets off the chrome-plated hardware. The top’s exposed maple edge creates a nice border for the mahogany back, while little touches like the recesses for the knobs and 3-way switch give the 920 the classy air of a high-end custom. The pots rotate with velvety smoothness, and unlike the 720’s, they’re fitted with textured rubber rings that make them even easier to manipulate with a pinky. Adding some upscale flair are the abalone fretboard dots, which are highlighted with thin pearl surrounds. In standard fashion, the 920’s output jack is located on the lower edge of the body and is fitted with a chromed-metal support plate. The 920’s frets are better finished than the 720’s, offering a tad more polish along with precisely filed ends that can barely be felt as you slide your hand along the neck. The bone nut is also rounded off to prevent jabs.
The 920 also feels super-solid, and its neck is very comfy, but it too has a slightly stiffer playing feel than a ’68 Les Paul Black Beauty reissue I used for comparison (strung with a .010-.046 D’Addario set). Picked acoustically, you can hear the enhanced brightness afforded by the thick maple cap, and this quality stands out noticeably when amplified. For a humbucker guitar with no coil-splitting function, the 920 offers impressive clarity. Its piano-like presence makes cleaner parts ring out beautifully, and when pushed with distortion, the 920 turns into a powerful, articulate tone machine with great sustain and an ability to remain dynamic and focused regardless of how much gain you’re running. Whether you favor the glistening wail of Duane Allman or the searing bite of Slash, this guitar should satisfy your cravings for hot Les Paul-style tones. Traditionalists may balk at losing the classic stop tailpiece, but anyone who digs sustain (and who doesn’t?) should appreciate the benefit of the enhanced string-to-body coupling that this system provides. As usual, Yamaha has done its own thing in the pursuit of tone, and the result is a guitar that embodies many of the best elements of vintage and modern design.