Ever since the 1960s, when stompboxes like the Maestro Fuzz-Tone were developed, electric guitarists have enjoyed access to a wide range of sonic possibilities, while steel-string players have seen far fewer effects dedicated to their acoustic instruments. In recent years, however, the tide has started to turn, with such offerings as L.R. Baggs’ Align series of acoustic pedals and amplifiers like AER’s MM200 and Compact 60 offering onboard reverb, chorus, and delay.
In another interesting development, in 2016 Yamaha debuted its TransAcoustic series of acoustic-electric guitars with built-in effects—sounds that can be accessed whether the guitar is played unamplified or plugged in. AG has reviewed a few TransAcoustic steel-string models—the LL-TA (in the December 2016 issue), FG-TA (from July 2018), and the CSF-TA. Yamaha recently introduced a nylon-string version, the CG-TA, which I took for a spin and found to be quite nice all around.
At a glance, Yamaha’s CG-TA looks like a typical classical guitar, with its slotted, crown-shaped headstock; 12th-fret neck junction; nylon strings; and intricate rosette. The guitar sports the traditional tonewood choice of a solid spruce top, while the back and sides are made of laminated ovangkol, an African relative of rosewood known for its wide tonal spectrum.
Though the CG-TA is an acoustic-electric guitar, I appreciate that its electronic elements do not detract from its timeless design. The actuator, or effects unit, is nicely hidden inside the body on the guitar’s back, and the battery compartment is integrated with the endpin/output jack in a way that is discrete and compact. Meanwhile, three electronic control knobs are mounted directly on the upper bout and have a low profile.
The CG-TA is a very well-made guitar, especially for the price. I scrutinized the review model inside and out and couldn’t find any obvious flaws. The frets are perfectly dressed and polished, and there is no evidence of excess glue inside the box. It might not have a hand-rubbed French polish finish like a fine concert classical guitar, but the body’s gloss finish is smooth and free from imperfections.
When I first played the CG-TA, I noticed that it felt slightly heavier than the typical nylon-string; I could feel the presence of the electronic gadgetry inside. However, I soon forgot about any extra mass, given how comfortable the guitar was to play. The neck has a standard classical scale length of 650mm (25-9/16 inches) and a 52mm (2.04 inches) nut. With its matte finish, it is inviting in all registers, and it feels as smooth as butter to play scales and chords up and down the fretboard.
I noticed at first that the string tension felt a bit tighter than normal, but that actually proved an asset in terms of sound projection, as I found that I could really dig in without distorting the sound. Also, as a jazz guitarist first and foremost, I like playing at the highest frets, so I wish a cutaway were an option. But that’s certainly not a deal-breaker.
The CG-TA doesn’t necessarily have the richness and sonic depth of a concert classical—of course, you wouldn’t expect it to—but it does have a very attractive voice. Whether I played a fingerstyle tango piece or a Carcassi etude, the sound was clear and warm, with a good dynamic range—full and sustaining when I hit the strings harder, and beautifully delicate when I backed off on the attack. When I switched to a jazz mode, playing a walking bass line in tandem with compact barre chords, I really appreciated the guitar’s full bass and midrange response.
All TransAcoustic guitars are equipped with Yamaha’s actuator—a device that vibrates air in response to the strings to create natural reverb and chorus effects. The actuator is powered by two AA batteries, and its three controls are assigned to reverb, chorus, and volume. Engaging the actuator changed my world. Both the reverb and chorus effects sounded quite natural. Everything I played projected and sang more, with greater sustain and volume. I could hear each note echo inside the body and feel it vibrating the guitar. The instrument became so touch-sensitive that when I rubbed the strings, I could hear reverberations inside the soundbox. This is some cool technology—playing unplugged has a new meaning.
When I plugged into my trusty Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amp with the CG-TA’s effects disengaged, the feel of the guitar seemed to improve twofold. It sounded full and organic, and it was especially nice that I could play through the amp at a high volume, plenty loud for playing in a small jazz ensemble without experiencing any feedback. This is obviously a great asset when it comes to live situations.
I’m accustomed to having EQ at my fingertips on acoustic-electric guitars, and while I did miss having this convenience on the CG-TA, I was able to adjust the EQ controls on the amp to avoid the so-called dreaded-direct effect and dial in a nice, warm tone, with plenty of depth and body. Some years ago I decided to remove the Hot Rod’s built-in reverb unit, and I didn’t know how much I missed having this effect on the amp until I turned on the CG-TA’s reverb, which added a rich, natural shimmer to the sound, as did the guitar’s chorus effect. Amazingly, it felt less like I was plugged into an amp than playing in a concert venue with good acoustics.
There are many types of nylon-string guitars on the market for both students and professionals, but none are quite like the Yamaha CG-TA TransAcoustic. It’s well built, very playable, nice-sounding and, most unusually, has those nifty built-in effects. The guitar might not be for the professional classical guitarist, but it would make an excellent gateway instrument for the steel-string player looking to explore the classical world, or one who likes to add nylon-string sounds to his or her tonal palette—without breaking the bank.
BODY 12-fret classical; solid Sitka spruce top with fan bracing; laminated ovangkol back and sides; rosewood bridge; natural gloss finish
NECK 650mm-scale nato neck; rosewood fretboard; 52mm urea nut; gold tuners; satin finish
EXTRAS System 70 TransAcoustic electronics with onboard reverb and chorus effects; Yamaha S-10 Grand Concert strings
MADE IN China
PRICE $729 street
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.