It’s a wonderful and uncanny experience to take a spin on Yamaha’s LL-TA TransAcoustic guitar. I’m in my office and not plugged into an amp, but it sounds and feels like I’m playing in a large, warm hall, thanks to the instrument’s built-in reverb and chorus. Then with the click of a button, the guitar sounds crisp and dry like a conventional steel-string—and a nicely balanced one at that.
The LL-TA is great fun to play, whether or not its effects are engaged. The guitar has a relatively shallow neck and a perfect factory setup, with low action and super clean fretwork, which makes it easy to do anything I want. It feels just as effortless to play stretchy barre chords for extended periods as it does to improvise fast, single-note lines and chord melodies. And the neck’s rolled fingerboard edges give it a broken-in feel—like an old pair of jeans.
The idea of built-in effects on an acoustic guitar is nothing new—the wooden Virzi Tone Producer in some 1920s Gibson mandolins and guitars, and the metal bodies and cones of acoustic resonator instruments are some of the innovations that spring to mind. But the LL-TA marks the first modern acoustic designed to sound as if it’s amplified with effects when unplugged.
At the heart of the TransAcoustic system is what Yamaha calls an actuator, which is a metal contraption mounted inside the body that, when activated, reflects the string’s vibrations, causing reverb and chorusing effects. The reverb and chorus levels are controlled by two small knobs mounted on the upper left bout, which also has a push-pull knob for turning the actuator on and off, and doubling as a volume control for the under-saddle pickup. The system is powered by two AA batteries, which are accessible through a sliding compartment near the endpin.
The actuator delivers effects that are quite convincing—and very musical. The reverb, which has a spectrum from room to hall sounds, is rich and adds a generous amount of sustain, while the chorus lends a gorgeous shimmer that’s especially nice for playing ringing arpeggios. The effects can be used individually or simultaneously, making for a broad palette of useable sounds. They also sound impressive when the guitar is plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier.
One drawback to the actuator is that it adds mass to the LL-TA. Our review model weighs about 5.75 pounds. Another drawback is that, oddly, when both the reverb and chorus are turned all the way up and I play a chord having a low BG root, either on the fifth string or the sixth, that note somehow feeds back, but it’s as if the guitar is turned up loud and positioned close to an amp.
A Solid Acoustic Performer
Though the actuator is the main selling point of the LL-TA, the instrument is a nicely made guitar by any yardstick, built entirely from solid woods. The solid Sitka spruce soundboard has been subject to Yamaha’s A.R.E. (acoustic resonance enhancement) treatment. As is becoming increasingly common, the torrefied wood has essentially been baked, to mimic the structural changes and sonic properties of wood that has spent decades on an instrument.
Inside and outside, the LL-TA is meticulously built. The bracing and kerfing are applied cleanly and the body’s finish is rubbed to a faultless gloss—the nut and saddle are both slotted with precision. It’s a nice-looking guitar, too, with maple body binding, a fancy abalone rosette, and gold tuning keys.
As a conventional acoustic instrument, the LL-TA has an attractive enough voice. It’s perfectly intonated, has a good balance between fundamentals and overtones, and a consistently strong sound between registers. Yet, the LL-TA isn’t pitched at the guitarist looking for the ultimate acoustic tone. Instead, it’s for a singer-songwriter looking for an inspiring instrument to write with, or a player looking to get into effects without having to deal with the hassle of external gear.
Yamaha dreadnought size
Solid Engelmann spruce top with an A.R.E. (acoustic resonance enhancement) treatment
Solid rosewood back and sides
Gloss vintage tint or brown sunburst finish
Mahogany and rosewood five-ply neck
25 9/16-inch scale
Die-cast gold tuners
Yamaha TransAcoustic system with built-in chorus and reverb
Hard gig bag
$1,600 list/$999.99 street
Made in China
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.