December/January 2020

by Jarni Blair

Guitar Review: Yamaha TransAcoustic FG Acoustic-Electric

by Jarni Blair

Guitar Review: Yamaha TransAcoustic FG Acoustic-Electric

Arriving in a sealed box, straight out of the warehouse so not set up since shipping, the Yamaha TransAcoustic FG took a little time for me to warm to. However once I ‘broke her in’ I found my initial negative thoughts about the sound of the 6-string acoustic-electric guitar being eaten up.

Not just a flashy name, Yamaha’s new TransAcoustic technology allows players to enjoy effects-processed sounds directly from the guitar’s sound chamber – without any externally powered boxes, devices or equipment – and without changing the overall aesthetics of an acoustic-electric.

TransAcoustics come in several different sizes, the one I had for review being the small dreadnought FG model, a medium-sized guitar if you will. It comes in three colour options; black, vintage tint (vanilla wood) and a beautiful brown sunburst, retailing for $1295 here in NZ.

Mahogany back and sides, a solid sitka spruce top (treated spruce that is supposed to sound like aged wood), bound rosewood fingerboard and bridge, scalloped bracing to improve punch and projection, and a slim tapered nato neck that’s easy to play.

Electronics are powered by a pair of AAs that mount unobtrusively in a compartment below the endpin jack, a clever hassle-free design.

The reverb effect automatically switches from room to hall at the corresponding control knob’s halfway point, and there’s a subtle effect dropout at dead center to let users know where the change crosses over. (The dropout is more obvious when the guitar is plugged in.)

Yamaha TransAcoustic FG Acoustic-ElectricThe look, compared to say a standard Martin Dreadnought, is slightly different where the curves on the body are more inward toward the soundhole, making the bottom of this guitar look wider and fatter. Die-cast silver tuning heads and the Yamaha logo are the only things worth mentioning about the headstock. Overall with the brown sunburst, it looks like a very attractive acoustic.

Playing an unplugged acoustic guitar is one of life’s greatest simple, uncomplicated joys. But then sometimes (like when songwriting for instance) a guitarist wants just a little more than the raw, naked sound of the acoustic strings resonating in the guitar’s body. A song or situation warrants some reverb or chorus to add depth and dimension to the overall sound. One could always plug into an amp or use an app and headphones, but extra equipment and cables tend to distract from that freewheeling feeling of just picking up a guitar and playing.

Which leads us straight to this guitar’s most important feature – the ‘TransAcoustic’ mode – and the built-in technology that offers a compelling reason to check one of these new acoustics out.

Located on the upper bass bout are a triangle of low profile black control knobs that turn the TransAcoustic feature on / off; adjust the level of a room or hall reverb effect; adjust the level of a chorus effect, and adjust the level of the line output when the guitar is plugged into an external amplification system.

Note, however, that no external amplification is needed to hear the reverb and chorus effects, which instead are amplified internally by the guitar’s natural resonance chamber. The TransAcoustic technology achieves this via an actuator mounted inside the resonance chamber on the guitar’s back that senses string vibrations, amplifies and processes them, and transfers the processed sound via the guitar’s natural vibrations. It’s sort of like a transducer in reverse – instead of picking up vibrations from the guitar body the actuator transfers vibrations to the body.

A green LED light appears on the circuit board inside (upper side) to let you know the TA mode is on. A red LED shows when it is plugged into an amp.

The reverb and chorus effects are also amplified through the guitar’s piezo saddle pickup when the guitar is plugged into an external amp, which sounded great through my Australian Monitor 15” PA speakers. I own a Strymon Big Sky reverb pedal (the best on the market in my opinion) and a robust Boss Chorus ensemble, so it’s very easy for me to be dismissive of anything else reverb or chorus related. But as I played this guitar more I found myself partial to the tones it was producing – even though you can’t manipulate much of the reverb or chorus parameters. The convenience of having it at the tip of my fingers was great.

Once I became conversant with the technology involved I appreciated the onboard effects much more. Kudos to Yamaha for seeking to evolve the humble acoustic in this way.

There is also a mid-frequency EQ mode that can be initiated by holding down the TA knob for five seconds. A flashing green LED lets you know it’s on. With this, you can adjust the mid-frequency EQ of the reverb and chorus respectively, giving you more options to manipulate the sound.

At $1295 rrp this guitar seems fantastically priced for the quality of instrument you get, and well-suited to a variety of players. Whether you’re a seasoned pro, a weekend covers muso, an aspiring singer/songwriter, or simply a hobbyist, you’ll find a lot of joy and opportunity here. “The ultimate campfire guitar” made an appearance in my online research, and I can’t help but agree somewhat with that statement. It would also hold great appeal for unplugged buskers and for kapa haka competition guitarists who (so I’m told), aren’t allowed to use amplification in performances.

While the focus of this review was on the relatively budget FG, I was lucky enough to also try the full dreadnought LG (rrp $1995) as a comparison. It has a some nice ‘gold’ touches to the tuning heads and also lovely looking paua inlays with a circle design around the soundhole.

Basically it operates the same as the FG model but naturally has a bigger overall tone and volume due to the larger size. I enjoyed both equally as much!

Overall, these guitars have really led me to agree with popular international opinion, which is that TransAcoustics are innovative and sound great. My few gripes include that the TA mode can very easily be left on as there is no light indicator on the outside of the guitar, just the inside. As proof, I left it on for two hours in the afternoon without realising when I first played it! A simple LED near the control knobs to tell you it’s on would be handy and sensible.

The guitars are a little weighty, but then my comparison is my Cole Clark Fat Lady, which weighs close to a feather. There is also no onboard EQ, so manipulation of sound when plugged in is limited to your mixer or desk. The Cole Clark has a ‘mid scoop’ fader that when increased to 100% creates a wonderful acoustic tone and takes away the ‘straight pickup’ sound. That said, the Yamaha’s pickup still sounds great, and EQ manipulation can still occur via your desk or mixer.

Lastly, I would’ve liked a strap hook installed around the base of the neck where most guitars have them, but it is missing here. This means having to buy one to be installed, or connect one via string around the neck, which is not my choice for a strap.

It’s amazing what a bit of time can do. I was really not liking this guitar initially, but it has grown on me considerably, and now I’m sad to part ways with it. Great playability with impressive features, thanks to Yamaha for creating something a little out of the ordinary!

In August 2019 Auckland musician Jarni Blair released his second EP, ‘Sparkle In My Eye’, on Spotify, Apple Music and all other digital platforms. He is looking to expand his profile and become successful as an artist in NZ and beyond.