With more than 50 years of making guitars under its belt, Yamaha has long been known for instruments that guitarists like. By bringing in modern, player-friendly features like a broken-in feel and improved electronics—while also ratcheting up vintage vibe and feel—Yamaha is making guitars that guitars players will love.
We recently received a pair of guitars that show what Yamaha is excelling at: well-built, attractive six-strings at prices that might send other makers scrambling to match. One is from Yamaha’s A series, the company’s flagship made-in-Japan line; the other is a limited-edition signature model from the more affordable L series, made in China.
The AC5R has a 14-7/8-inch-wide cutaway concert body and active electronics—onboard microphone modeling that can blend with the undersaddle pickup. Scalloped bracing is used to give the A series a stronger low-mid presence.
With an inclination for scorching solos and high-gain electric guitar tones, Billy Corgan, the Smashing Pumpkins front man, might not seem like an obvious candidate for a signature acoustic guitar. However, as a songwriter, especially on his recent solo album, Ogilala, Corgan builds on a framework of acoustic guitar. For the limited edition LJ16BC—150 in vintage natural finish, like our tester, and 50 in sunburst—Corgan worked with Yamaha on a model that features modified non-scalloped bracing, which the company claims helps produce a bright tone with enhanced low-end, and a five-piece mahogany/rosewood neck with a flattened-V headstock.
Both guitars have onboard electronics and touches that lend a comfy, played-in feel, namely rolled fingerboard edges and a straighter, less tapered neck. Each is made from the winning tonewood combo of rosewood back and sides and spruce top—all solid. The soundboards—Engelmann on the Corgan and Sitka on the AC5—have received Yamaha’s proprietary A.R.E. treatment (Acoustic Resonance Enhancement). Though somewhat similar to the torrefied woods seen on other makers’ guitars, A.R.E. is Yamaha’s patented process for wood seasoning aimed at creating a warmer, more vintage-like tone.
Aside from its oddly shaped pickguard (borrowed from Yamaha’s 1970s N1000 steel-string), the AC5R has an elegant appearance, with a simple wooden mosaic rosette, complemented by mahogany binding and back strip. The top has a rich amber tone; and the back and sides are a deep, chocolaty brown.
The guitar is nicely built. Its medium frets are cleanly dressed and seated and smooth at their edges; its bindings are tight and flush. The body’s glossy finish is cleanly applied, and so are the braces and kerfing inside the guitar.
The satin-finished neck has a relatively shallow C profile, which, combined with low action and those rolled fretboard edges, makes it strikingly sleek and comfy. It feels just as effortless to hold barre chords for extended stretches as it does to play brisk single-note runs and even bend the strings. Though the nut is on the narrow side at 1.6875 inches, it feels roomy enough for the fretting fingers and for fingerpicking. My only complaint is that a strap button came installed on the neck heel, and it kept digging into my fretting hand when I played past the 12th fret.
When I strummed some basic chord progressions in standard and dropped-D tunings, I appreciated the guitar’s strong but not overpowering low-end presence, not to mention its overall clarity. Meanwhile, some fingerpicked arpeggios revealed its warm sustain, though the AC5R doesn’t necessarily deliver the thrilling voice you find with the best modern and vintage steel-strings. Still, its sounds are very good and versatile, whether played with a pick or the fingers.
Yamaha’s SRT2 pickup-and-preamp system comes standard on the ACR5. The preamp’s four controls—volume, bass, treble, and blend—are situated on the upper bass bout, and their shallow dials make them unobtrusive. The controls on the guitar’s preamp are not labeled, but they were easy to use, thanks to the instructions on the removable cheat-sheet overlay. The SRT2 allows you to blend the sound of an under-bridge piezo with the preamp signal, which models the sound of the guitar being miked with either a Neumann U 67 or Royer R-122 in the studio.
I tested the AC5R through a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier and found that a 50/50 blend of the pickup and preamp’s Neumann setting yielded a satisfyingly natural sound, while using the pickup on its own yielded a cutting sound that would work well for lead work.
The bottom line is that the Yamaha’s AC5R is an excellent-playing and good-sounding modern guitar that would definitely be an asset for a gigging singer-songwriter. Some guitarists might balk at spending more than a grand on a Yamaha, but you’re likely to shell out a lot more for a guitar with a smooth cutaway; all-solid spruce-and-rosewood construction; a genuine mahogany neck and ebony fretboard and bridge; and deluxe electronics. Yamaha has not just come quite far from its 1960s steel-string guitars, it’s making instruments that stack up quite favorably to its competitors’—and sell for much less. —A.P.
Yamaha LJ16BC Billy Corgan
Seeing that anthemic, angsty songs are his bread and butter, it’s natural that Billy Corgan went with a jumbo-style body, which rewards big strums with a deep, powerful voice. Though the acoustic sounds of the Corgan’s 15-3/4 inch-wide body aren’t as massive as a full-size jumbo (typically 16-7/8 inches wide), this Yamaha is enough to rattle your ribs when strummed energetically, but not so big that it will quickly feedback onstage.
The five-piece neck has a fairly flat 23-5/8-inch radius ebony fingerboard, with ivory-colored binding, smoothly rounded edges, and a luxurious satin finish. Unique touches on the Corgan include brass bridge pins and a Graph Tech Tusq nut and compensated saddle, which, in conjunction with the L-series top bracing, are said to increase the low- and upper-midrange presence. Cosmetically, there’s a stylized zero logo on the headstock and a print of Corgan’s signature on the label.
Onstage use was one of Corgan’s primary requirements and the BC’s undersaddle pickup and downsized jumbo shape help to give a live tone less inclined toward feedback. The passive pickup has no onboard controls, so adjustments to tone and feedback frequencies are best left to a skilled soundperson or your outboard preamp. Plugged into a Henriksen Bud combo and a PA-type amp from SWR, the Yamaha had a classic acoustic-electric tone, complete with a little high-end clack from the piezos.
Far from being a highly spec’d-out guitar for hardcore Corgan fans, the new Yamaha LJ16BC tastefully mixes classic features with a few elegantly updated appointments to create a guitar that offers a lot of return for your dollars. With an all-solid-wood body, flawless construction and finish, a pickup, and cool touches like brass bridge pins, Tusq nut and saddle, and abalone inlays, the Billy Corgan signature medium jumbo is a real value for players looking for a striking and good-sounding stage guitar. —G.O.
Body 14-fret concert-size cutaway; torrefied solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; solid rosewood back and sides; ebony bridge with 2.125″ string spacing; natural gloss finish
Neck Mahogany neck; ebony fretboard; 25.6″ scale length; 1.6875″ Tusq nut; chrome Gotoh tuners; satin finish
Other Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze Light strings (.012–.053); hardshell case
Price$2,300 (MSRP); $1,399.99 (street)
Made In Japan
Yamaha LJ16BC Billy Corgan
Body 14-fret medium jumbo body; solid Engelmann spruce top (treated with Yamaha’s A.R.E. process); solid rosewood back and sides; maple and black plastic binding on the top and back; abalone rosette; ebony bridge with Graph Tech Tusq saddle and brass bridge pins; high-gloss urethane natural finish on top, matte back and sides
Neck 25-9/16″-scale 5-ply mahogany and rosewood neck with truss rod; ebony fingerboard with abalone position markers; 1-3/4″-wide Graph Tech Tusq nut; chrome open-gear tuners; satin finish
Electronics Yamaha SRT piezo undersaddle pickup
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Other Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze Light strings (.012–.053), hardshell case, sunburst finish (optional)
Price $1,600 (MSRP); $999 (street)
Made In China
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.