From the July 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
About 15 years ago, Yamaha mothballed its CSF line of compact and modest steel-strings, pitched at the student or casual folk musician. But now the CSF series is back, adding constructional upgrades but maintaining good value. The new, all-solid-wood CSF3M boasts scalloped bracing for enhanced tone, projection, and loudness.
At the same time, the always-diverse Yamaha has been spreading its TransAcoustic electronic technology from higher-end guitars, like the LL we reviewed in 2016, to less expensive guitars, including the dreadnought-sized FG-TA, which has also received scalloped bracing.
While having entirely different characters, both the CSF3M and FG-TA show that Yamaha is helping to remove the stigma of the budget acoustic guitar with instruments that are thoughtfully designed and well built—and fun to play.
I personally gravitate toward the CSF3M. Weighing under four pounds, it’s a bit lighter than the FG-TA and, though slightly less expensive, it has solid mahogany back and sides, paired with a Sitka spruce top. (Yamaha also offers a similar guitar with laminated back and sides—the CSF1M model—for $399.) And while a case is optional for the FG-TA, the CSF3M includes a hard gig bag.
It’s a nice-looking instrument. Our review model sports a rich, dark, sunburst finish on the top; simple but classy ornamentation, such as a rosette that incorporates a single pearl ring; and wooden body binding and heel cap. An asymmetric bridge lends a nice modern flourish to an otherwise traditional design.
Having a lower bout of around 13-1/2 inches, the CSF3M is close in size to a typical single-0. The guitar has a short-scale neck—23.5 inches, compared to 24.9 on a standard 000-style guitar or 25.4 on an OM or dreadnought. This might deter players accustomed to the feel and sound of longer-scale guitars, but the closer confines, along with a subtle V-neck profile and low action, make the guitar super easy to play—and difficult to put down.
The guitar works quite well for old-timey fingerpicking, as I discovered when preparing the notation for Mississippi John Hurt’s “Coffee Blues” in this issue. The sound was clear and dry, heavy on fundamentals, with a punchiness and responsiveness that more than made up for a lack of sustain.
The CSF3M’s dryness was an asset when it came to strumming. Whether I played open cowboy chords or jazzy drop-2 voicings, the sound was nicely uncluttered, good for accompanying a singer or tracking with other instruments in the recording studio.
Included in the package is what Yamaha calls its passive “zero-impact” pickup, designed not to interfere with the guitar’s natural woody look (as built-in preamps often do) or excessively color its sound. The pickup includes an individual piezo element for each string. I plugged the guitar into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier and found that it delivers a natural representation of the guitar’s acoustic sound and is free from unwanted noise.
I first tried Yamaha’s uncanny TransAcoustic system—a preamp with built-in reverb and chorus effects, which can be engaged even when the guitar is not plugged in to an amp—when I reviewed the LL-TA in the December 2016 issue. That guitar, with its solid rosewood back and sides, costs around a grand, but Yamaha has since extended the TransAcoustic to more affordable models like the FG-TA and its concert-sized companion, the FS-TA.
Like all of the recent Yamaha guitars I’ve auditioned, the well-built FG-TA is handsome and, most important, a pleasure to play. With its slim, C-shaped neck, relatively narrow nut (1.6875 inches), and longer scale-length (25.5 inches), it boasts a playability just as good as that of the CSF3M. But, at more than five pounds, the FG-TA feels body-heavy, presumably owing to the electronics assembly inside the guitar.
When played unplugged, without the effects engaged, the FG-TA sounded pretty good. It probably comes as no surprise that a guitar at this price doesn’t have the exciting bass and overall presence and drive of a fine all-solid dreadnought. The TransAcoustic electronics are the major selling point on this guitar. Still, it had good acoustic balance between registers, and notes sounded true and clear in all regions of the neck. The guitar responded equally well to fingerpicking and flatpicking, in standard and open tunings.
As on other TA-equipped Yamahas, the FG-TA’s built-in modulation effects are useable without any external amplification. This unique onboard system is powered by two AA batteries and is adjustable via knobs on the upper bass bout. (For more on how this works, see the videos on AcousticGuitar.com.) The reverb and chorus can be used individually or together, and offer nice color and shimmer to arpeggiated passages and single-note lines alike. With the LL-TA, I noticed an unwanted feedback-like sound when the effects were on and I played a low Bb, but I experienced nothing like this on the FG-TA.
Using the chorus on its own, I dialed in a pretty convincing 12-string effect that sounded great for a tune like Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” The reverb was surprisingly natural-sounding and, when used judiciously, it added an attractive shimmer to arpeggiated passages and lead lines. Also, the handful of people I played the guitar for were quite mesmerized by the unexpected sounds emanating from it.
Like the CSF3M, the FG-TA is equipped with a piezo pickup system and sounds quite natural when played through an amp. With the reverb and chorus conveyed through the amp, the FG-TA edges out its counterpart in terms of versatility as an acoustic-electric. Still, judging from the design and execution of both instruments—and, more important, their playability and sound—it seems that Yamaha is making some of its best budget guitars to date.
BODY 14-fret parlor; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; solid mahogany back and sides; rosewood bridge with 11 mm string-spacing and black ABS bridge pins; gloss tobacco brown sunburst finish
NECK 23.5″-scale nato neck; rosewood fretboard; 1-11/16″ urea nut; die-cast chrome tuners; satin finish
EXTRAS SRT Zero-Impact piezo pickup; Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze Light strings
(.012–.053); hard gig bag; vintage natural finish available
PRICE $880 (MSRP); $549.99 (MAP)
Made in China
BODY 14-fret dreadnought; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; laminated mahogany back and sides; rosewood bridge with 11 mm string spacing and black ABS bridge pins; vintage tint finish
NECK 25.6″-scale nato neck; bound rosewood fretboard; 1-11/16″ urea nut; die-cast chrome tuners; satin finish
EXTRAS System 70 TransAcoustic preamp with SRT piezo pickup; Elixir Nanoweb 80/20 Bronze Light strings (.012–.053); optional hardshell case; brown sunburst or black finishes available
PRICE $939 (MSRP); $599.99 (MAP)
Made in China
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.