With its treated Engelmann spruce top, Yamaha’s new LS16 ARE boasts the impressive projection and responsiveness of a guitar that’s been broken in over many decades. The instrument’s excellent tonal balance makes it satisfying to play in a range of styles, and its solid build is a far cry from the typical imported budget guitar.
The small-bodied LS16 likely owes its fine sound to Yamaha’s Acoustic Resonance Enhancement (ARE) technology, which the company first used on violin-family instruments in the late 1990s. ARE is a version of torrefaction, an organic process in which wood is essentially cooked in order to remove the oils and resins that would naturally leave over time. (Read more about torrefaction in the September 2014 issue of AG.) The wood-stabilization process, commonly used for boat-making and outdoor-building materials, has recently gained traction in the acoustic-guitar world, as luthiers seek to replicate, both sonically and aesthetically, the woods used on prized prewar instruments.
The difference between a torrefied and conventional soundboard is evident simply by tapping on two tops made from the same piece of Engelmann spruce. The ARE specimen sounds noticeably more resonant than its conventionally dried counterpart, and the enhanced top takes on a warmer and darker coloring as well.
Built for Comfort
The LS16 boasts other quality tonewoods. Its back and sides are made from solid rosewood, quartersawn and a lovely deep brown color. (The guitar also is available in a mahogany version, the LS16M ARE, for $699.99.) To discourage warping and twisting, the neck is fashioned from three layers of mahogany and two of rosewood. The ebony used for the fingerboard and bridge is dark brown, evidence that it has not been dyed black to resemble the inkiest wood.
The LS16 has what Yamaha refers to as a “high comfortable traditional neck profile” and a sleek satin finish, making it smoothly playable in all of its regions for both single notes and stretchy chords.
The body (roughly a concert size) feels comfortable to cradle and is well balanced between the neck and body. The guitar has excellent note separation and clarity, not to mention impressive sustain, and its overall voice is bright but full, with a sturdy bass equaled by a crystal treble.
Versatility and Value
The 13/4-inch-wide nut makes the LS16 great for fingerpicking, and the guitar sounds as sweet in slackened tunings like DADGAD and open G as it does in standard, and also responds well to being played with a pick. Whether strummed in the Carter style or subjected to single-note bluegrass lines, the instrument has the authoritative presence of a larger-bodied guitar.
The LS16 comes standard with Yamaha’s SRT Zero Impact Pickup—a passive under-saddle system with a separate piezo element for each string. Though it requires an external preamp, it does away with the hulking plastic preamp often mounted on the sides of an electric-acoustic guitar, detracting from an instrument’s look and sound. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp via an LR Baggs Gigpro preamp, this guitar faithfully reproduces its acoustic sound.
At well under a grand, Yamaha packs a lot of value into the LS16, and thanks to the ARE treatment, the guitar nicely approximates the sound of a fine prewar guitar. It’s impossible to say how an instrument with a prematurely aged soundboard will fare over many decades, but the LS16 is a worthwhile choice for a player who wants a vintage-sounding guitar with modern playability and a modest price tag. If the LS16 is any indication, Yamaha, which has been offering guitars since the early 1940s, is at the top of its game when it comes to steel-string acoustics.
BODY: Concert size; solid Engelmann spruce top treated with ARE technology; solid rosewood back and sides; ebony bridge; high-gloss urethane finish.
NECK: Five-piece mahogany and rosewood neck; ebony fretboard; 25 9/16-inch scale length; 1 3/4-inch nut width; gold die-cast tuners.
OTHER: SRT Zero Impact Pickup; Yamaha phosphor bronze strings (.012–.053); hardshell case.
PRICE: $799.99 street
MADE IN: China