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?
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.
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.
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
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
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