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by Mal McCallum

Guitar Review: Yamaha A3M Acoustic/Electric

by Mal McCallum

Guitar Review: Yamaha A3M Acoustic/Electric

Yamaha have recently released a new series of eight models in their A series acoustic/electric guitars, the A likely standing for America, where they were designed. There are four A Series 1 models, and four A Series 3 models, with two ‘R’ (for rosewood) and two ‘M’ (mahogany) in each.

They all come with Yamaha’s new SRT pickup on board, the Series 3 System 66 SRT having a few more features than the Series 1 version. The cheaper Series 1 guitars come at a pretty good price point here in NZ, around the $1000 mark. For this review though I was lucky enough to have the higher specced A3M model, which has a Sikta spruce top, mahogany body, with mahogany neck, ebony fretboard and bridge. The rrp for this one is $1595.

It is beautifully put together, understated but with nice trim and finish. Yamaha have brought back an old look tortoise shell scratchplate from the ’70s and the headstock is simple, the guitar neck largely unadorned compared to other more artistically inlaid guitars.

I like the practicality of this instrument which is squarely aimed at being a performance guitar. The acoustic sound is rich, and even right up the neck it still sounds like a Yamaha. The A3M came with own-brand new non-rust strings on, and these proved to be pretty good, more like a bronze string, so I left them on to start with, then tried my usual phosphor bronze strings, which are not quite as zingy.

The A3M’s neck is easy to play, quite slim. The action out of the box is fine, the cutaway great, all in all a very useable guitar that plays and sounds like a top end instrument. The non-scalloped cross-end bracing and light gloss finish make it a lively, warm sounding instrument. Tuners are a chrome enclosed Grover-style, maybe slightly smaller, but they work just fine.

yamaha a3m sideYamaha’s new SRT pickup system is a “back to the drawing board” design that involved a couple of years work, recording with about 60 different mics, lots of comparative testing and the involvement of some heavyweight players. Steve Lukather no less. Was it worth it? You bet!

They have come up with what feels and sounds like the next generation of guitar pickup, at least at this price. I have a custom-built guitar in which the very good top end pickup costs about half the price of this whole guitar. So it is a bit of game changer to get something that sounds this good (guitar included) for this money. I tried recording it on a couple of song demos I was doing for a client, and used the mic in the guitar, rather than my usual miking set up. It sounded great.

Live it is pretty bright, compared to say a Maton system. After a bit of getting used to what everything did, I found a couple of good settings to work from, one for strumming and one for finger picking. For a good strum set up, I started with the 1 setting on SRT, and Focus on the field position, added a little bottom EQ and took a little treble EQ off, with the mic vs pickup control at about 2 o’clock.

I’m sure the playing professionals consulted had a strong input on the layout of the controls. They all have a half-way notch, with different sizes for volume and tone, so you can grab the right one with a fair amount of confidence without really looking, once you know what is where. Top row is Volume and three tones, the middle row is the SRT 3-position switch and the 2-position Focus and Wide button. The bottom row has the Tuner button, AFR (anti-feedback) button, Pickup/Mic blend, and smaller Resonance knob.  Now that sounds like a lot, and it is, but the layout let’s you deal with it all just as you might need it. Volume is easy to find and being slightly larger, easy to adjust too.

The SRT gives you three top end mic options depending on what you’re wanting to play. One is a Neumann U67, two a Neumann KM56, a vintage small diaphragm mic, and third is a Royer R122 ribbon mic – warmer, wider and smoother. You can then use the focus/wide switch to add some room in the wide position, or tighten it up if you’re in more of a band situation. Add these six settings to the pickup /mic blend below it, and the resonance, which adds a nit more of the body sound, and you have one very pleasant, easily tweakable sound system. 

The tuner cuts out the output signal and the Tuner button gives about an hour warning on the battery life too – nice attention to detail. Incidentally the whole pickup system runs on two AA batteries instead of a 9 volt, which means less distortion and creates a wider dynamic range according to Yamaha. It certainly sounds top rate on a pair of Genelecs. It sounded bright through an AER acoustic amp, but very easy to trim for that set up.

The remaining control is AFR for Auto Feedback Reduction. It will provide up to five notch filters to automatically suppress any feedback. I found it had very low feedback tendencies anyway, but YMMV. One important line to read in the accompanying paperwork is “to rest the AFR, hold the button down for a couple of seconds,” or words to that effect. The guitar also comes with a rubber feedback buster as a standard accessory.

Well, you’re sure getting a lot for your buck with this guitar, even in today’s highly competitive mid-priced guitar market. It took me over a year to actually find out about these guitars after having read a webpage on Yamaha’s website at the start of 2011. So they are truly tried and tested before we’ve got a try at them, and I think they are standout, especially for their recording capabilities. If you are looking for your first, or next, acoustic you really need to give them a good try out, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Mal McCallum is an Auckland-based producer, singer and songwriter, and performs solo, duo and with all-star band The ConRays. To hear his original music visit http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/malmccallum or drop him an email malmccallum@xtra.co.nz