By Emile Menasché
Few musical pleasures compare to playing well-made small guitars. They’re comfortable. They resonate easily. They reward a subtle touch in ways few of their big siblings can match.
But they’re called parlor guitars for a reason. Their intimate overtones don’t exactly project across a large room without good mics and amplification. Sure, nowadays many come equipped with electronics. But even good piezo pickups can make a plugged-in parlor guitar sound like pretty much any plugged-in guitar.
Enter the CSF-TA—a mid-priced parlor guitar equipped with Yamaha’s TransAcoustic technology. Available on a range of models, like the LL-TA (reviewed in AG’s December 2016 issue) and FG-TA (reviewed in the July 2018 issue), the TransAcoustic system is powered by a pair of AA batteries and uses onboard electronics to process and project sound from the instrument itself. After having seen some product demos at trade shows, I was looking forward to putting it through its paces.
Tonally Balanced and Player-Friendly
For a system like TransAcoustic to work, the guitar has to play well and sound good sans effects, and the CSF didn’t disappoint on either count. The example I tested had all the hallmarks of a standard CSF model: a solid Sitka spruce top, mahogany back and sides, a nato neck with a 16-inch radius, 23.63-inch scale rosewood fingerboard, and an understated but tasteful finish. After being shipped across the country, the action was a little on the high side, but overall, the test instrument was very player-friendly. And if the electronics added weight, it was barely noticeable.
When played without its onboard effects engaged, the CSF-TA delivered plenty of overtones. It was especially well-suited to fingerstyle playing and quiet vocal accompaniment. With a tight bass response and a warm midrange, the CSF offered good tonal balance. This was especially welcome on single-note lines. Based on the guitar I tested, the CSF, even without effects, would shine as a lead instrument for blues, country, and jazz. For pop and rock, strummed open chords rang nicely with a light to moderate attack. But as with many small guitars, it got overwhelmed and sounded a bit boxy when I laid into it too hard.
Lush Onboard Effects
Using controls unobtrusively mounted on the upper shoulder, you can add chorus and your choice of hall or room reverb—while remaining completely unplugged. The instrument itself acts as a sort of speaker, so the processing becomes part of the acoustic sound. In addition to its unplugged processing, the CSF-TA sports a 1/4-inch endpin jack that sends the processed sound (including effects) to a PA, recording interface, or amp.
You activate the TransAcoustic processing by pressing and holding the volume control. Though the controls are mostly intuitive, I did need the owner’s manual to figure out that the volume knob is only supposed to control loudness when the instrument is plugged in—and that you have to peer inside the soundhole to see the on/off/battery indicator LEDs. But once activated, the TransAcoustic processor works extremely well.
One knob moves you through room and hall reverbs, increasing the level of the effect as you move clockwise. Likewise, the chorus knob simply controls the mix of a preset effect. This may seem limiting compared to outboard processors, but it’s a good choice here. The effects integrate into the instrument’s natural sound without overwhelming it. The hall reverb’s long decay worked well for lead lines; I preferred the tighter room reverb for a more percussive attack. I don’t usually use chorus on the acoustic guitar, so I was surprised by how much I liked it here. It’s rich, but never quite enters Pat Metheny territory.
Plugging into an amplifier reroutes the effects through the quarter-inch output, so the instrument itself operates as a standard acoustic-electric. Tested with a Trace Acoustic Cube amp, I preferred the sound to standard piezo systems. Although there are no onboard EQ/tone controls, the amplified sound delivered good timbral balance that reflected the instrument’s natural tone. The onboard effects added some welcome color, but they can be disabled if you choose to go dry or use external processing.
At around $700 street, the CFS-TA is a solid value in a cleanly built, highly playable acoustic guitar that delivers good sound and can handle a surprisingly wide range of musical situations. The TransAcoustic system adds sonic power without detracting from the simplicity that makes parlor guitars so appealing in the first place.
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BODY 14-fret CSF (parlor); solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; laminated mahogany back and sides; rosewood bridge; natural gloss finish
NECK 23.63″-scale nato neck; rosewood fretboard; 1.692″ urea nut; die-cast chrome tuners; satin finish
EXTRAS System 70 TransAcoustic preamp with onboard reverb and chorus effects and SRT piezo pickup; gig bag; Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze Light strings (.012–.053)
PRICE $699.99 street
MADE IN China