Yamaha a3r are & a5r are

Yamaha con­tin­ues to tackle the age-old elec­tro dilemma with its up­date to the pop­u­lar A Series. Has it found the an­swer?

Guitarist - - Contents - Words Rob Laing Pho­tog­ra­phy Olly Cur­tis

Any acous­tic player want­ing to play on stage will know it can lead to a fun­da­men­tal com­pro­mise. There is tra­di­tion­ally a gap be­tween how we en­joy the sound of our gui­tars and the way they’re rep­re­sented plugged in. Piezos, trans­duc­ers and mag­netic sound­hole pick­ups are all av­enues play­ers can take, based on their tastes and needs, but none can rep­re­sent the char­ac­ter and tonal de­tail of their gui­tars like a large di­aphragm con­denser mic. It’s the recordist’s choice, but one that presents too many ob­sta­cles of feed­back and po­si­tion­ing in live per­for­mance to be prac­ti­cal. Even piezo/ mic blend sys­tems can fall vic­tim to the is­sue.

So where now in the search for im­proved acous­tic tone? En­ter Yamaha, a leader in stage-ready acous­tic tech­nol­ogy for decades – and in an up­date to its A Series, it may have just of­fered us a very de­sir­able so­lu­tion. This is a series with a clear aim: “nat­u­ral am­pli­fied tone”. So the A3R and flag­ship Ja­panese A5R model are built for stage use, but the con­sid­er­a­tions to gen­eral play­ing en­hance­ment made here go fur­ther than the

new SRT2 (Stu­dio Re­sponse Tech­nol­ogy) pickup sys­tem. We’ll get to that in due course.

Both tops have been treated with Yamaha’s ARE (Acous­tic Res­o­nance En­hance­ment), its take on tor­refac­tion, to of­fer more vin­tagevoiced warmth. If the ef­fect of tor­refac­tion on a model’s tone is some­times hard to dis­tin­guish, the rich dark gold hue of the A5R’s vin­tage nat­u­ral solid Sitka spruce top sug­gests the process played a cos­metic role, too.

Scal­loped brac­ing is em­ployed on the top board and shorter brac­ing for the back, and Yamaha claims this will re­sult in a louder and stronger midrange. Both builds feel re­as­sur­ing in weight for road use, and the mahogany bind­ing adds a pre­mium qual­ity. We es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ate the way the A5R head­stock’s rose­wood face sub­tly ties with the back and sides. It doesn’t just feel like a pre­mium Yamaha build; it has a her­itage qual­ity to its look. In­deed, if Yamaha’s build and elec­tron­ics tech­nol­ogy are look­ing for­ward, there’s clearly a con­scious ef­fort to keep the cos­met­ics tra­di­tional – even the pick­guard shape of these mod­els nods back to the de­sign of the com­pany’s 1975 N1000 model.

The Chi­nese-made A3R is ad­di­tion­ally avail­able in the Ja­panese model’s nat­u­ral fin­ish, too, but its dark To­bacco Brown Sun­burst is an ap­peal­ing al­ter­na­tive. Where our test A3R dis­ap­points is with fret­work that needs fur­ther pol­ish­ing in numer­ous places, caus­ing un­wel­come friction for bends. It’s a sur­prise to find and a flaw we hope is iso­lated.

Feel & Sounds

The ‘hand-rolled’ fret­board edges here turn out to be a very pleas­ant discovery in play, adding to a but­tery smooth ex­pe­ri­ence with the A5R’s ebony ’board that’s cou­pled with a low ac­tion that elec­tric gui­tar con­verts should take to quickly. Even with the more af­ford­able model’s higher ac­tion and rose­wood ’board, the rounded fret­board edges of­fer an en­joy­able play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that mim­ics the feel­ing of gui­tars that have been played in to a de­gree.

It’s worth not­ing that our two re­view mod­els dif­fer in di­men­sion: while the A3R is deeper, the A5R is shal­lower but wider. It may well contribute to an in­ter­est­ing tonal trait on the A3R, and Yamaha’s talk of rich midrange with quick re­sponse doesn’t quite do jus­tice to what we dis­cover. In the up­per mids and tre­bles, there’s a darker de­cay in the res­o­nance than ex­pected that’s akin to a phased ef­fect, and it adds real char­ac­ter to chord­work, es­pe­cially

with open strings. For the brighter A5R it yields more of an ethe­real qual­ity in the high ranges, even though some tre­ble res­o­nance is traded with the lower ac­tion. But this char­ac­ter is more pro­nounced in the darker tonal­ity of the A3R. It’s dy­nam­i­cally in­ter­est­ing to switch em­pha­sis in strum­ming be­tween the low-end and this up­per-range sound.

But we need to put the spot­light on the plugged-in ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause it emerges as the pri­mary sell­ing point for these gui­tars. The SRT2 isn’t a new con­cept for Yamaha. Like the orig­i­nal SRT launched in 2011, it’s the com­pany’s take on a mic blend sys­tem with a piezo, ex­cept the sec­ond tone source isn’t a phys­i­cal mic – it’s a digitally pro­cessed sig­nal with two mic mod­els on of­fer. Type one is a Neu­mann U67 large di­aphragm con­denser and type two of­fers a Royer R-122 ac­tive rib­bon mic. Yamaha has stream­lined the SRT preamp op­tions and con­trols: four knobs on the up­per shoul­der with one choos­ing the bal­ance be­tween piezo and mic sim­u­la­tion; push­ing it in chooses be­tween the mod­els.

So the mics aren’t real, but we do en­counter some low-end feed­back when plug­ging in the A3R that puts the on­board Auto Feed­back Re­duc­tion (AFR) con­trol to the test. It’s also

ac­ti­vated by a push-in con­trol (on the bass) and ap­plies a -12dB notch fil­ter that deals with the is­sue im­me­di­ately. This re­vised sys­tem en­cour­ages tweak­ing and makes it fast and in­tu­itive. You’ll soon find each gui­tar has sweet spots for you de­pend­ing on the ap­pli­ca­tion.

The con­denser model for both proves best for chord­work with more head­room for hard strum­ming, while the rib­bon of­fers lower-end pres­ence that gives fin­ger­style more girth. Do they sound like the real thing? There’s the nat­u­ral feel of lower-end pres­ence with air and de­tail here that doesn’t sound ar­ti­fi­cially pro­cessed. Cru­cially, dialling in the mic cap­tures the char­ac­ter traits of these gui­tars that we men­tioned ear­lier. In­evitably, the A5’s su­pe­rior res­o­nance and brighter bal­ance is the best show­case for the SRT2 – we ac­tu­ally couldn’t dial in a ‘bad’ sound on it be­cause the tre­ble and bass con­trols mirror the nat­u­ral sub­tlety of the pickup/mic dy­namic de­sign. For play­ers that are used to dread­ing the com­pro­mises of plug­ging in, the blend­ing scope here could be lib­er­at­ing.

Ver­dict

An elec­tro ex­pe­ri­ence that cap­tures the sound of an un­plugged acous­tic? The SRT2 is one of the clos­est to get there yet, an up­date that marks the A Series out as an es­sen­tial con­sid­er­a­tion for play­ers who rely on a con­sis­tent and con­trol­lable stage sound. This won’t be an av­enue for per­cus­sive play­ers, but for the rest of us, just add some re­verb and com­pres­sion on tap and new horizons await. This im­proved sys­tem up­date un­der­lines that acous­tic tone should be about more than just the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of live per­for­mance; if you feel good about your sound be­cause you sound bet­ter, you play bet­ter. And in terms of aid­ing that and up­hold­ing its rep­u­ta­tion as a leader in the elec­tro side of the acous­tic mar­ket, Yamaha is still on its ‘A game’ here.

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3 One of the most in­ter­est­ing op­tions the SRT2 presents is the idea of chang­ing the mic model with the touch of a but­ton ac­cord­ing to the user’s needs. Dialling the bal­ance be­tween mic and pickup to around 60/40 is a good start­ing point to tweak from with these gui­tars We tested both mod­els dur­ing a rare Bri­tish heat­wave and they per­formed very sta­bly, the A5’s Go­toh Open Gear tuner pro­vid­ing an es­pe­cially smooth and pre­cise ac­tion, as we’d ex­pect from the Ja­panese fac­tory The SRT2 mic sounds are cre­ated by tak­ing the sound of the fea­tured gui­tars recorded in a stu­dio by pro­fes­sional en­gi­neers us­ing high­end pro mi­cro­phones. This is then con­verted into data and then elec­tron­i­cally pro­cessed in the preamp for re­pro­duc­tion

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4 While the A3R fea­tures plain dot mark­ers and a rose­wood fret­board, its Ja­panese sta­ble­mate has snowflakes in ebony. The satin fin­ish of the A5R’s neck is also a silkier af­fair that con­trib­utes to its su­pe­rior play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence Adding mahogany as a third wood in the mix for the bind­ing and rosette is an in­ter­est­ing move that’s ac­tu­ally sub­tler in ap­pear­ance than one might ex­pect

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6 Un­like most piezos, Ya­hama’s SRT pickup isn’t fit­ted un­der the bridge sad­dle but within it. It also uses in­di­vid­ual el­e­ments for each string to im­prove the dy­namic re­sponse and tonal ac­cu­racy

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