Big Ideas

Acoustic gi­ant Yamaha down­sizes and gets travel-friendly with a new com­pact elec­tro that has a sur­pris­ingly big heart

Guitarist - - FIRST PLAY - Words Rob Laing Pho­tog­ra­phy Olly Cur­tis

The rise of the com­pact travel acoustic has been sur­pris­ingly me­te­oric. The two dom­i­nant Amer­i­can mak­ers, Tay­lor and Martin, have re­cently en­joyed huge hits in the bur­geon­ing mar­ket for small acous­tics. For Martin, Ed Sheeran’s pref­er­ence for its diminu­tive LX1E ‘Lit­tle Martin’ meant the com­pany could barely keep up with de­mand in the wake of his com­mer­cial break­through. He’s had three sig­na­ture mod­els since.

Mean­while, the suc­cess of Tay­lor’s trail­blaz­ing Big Baby con­cept led to the de­vel­op­ment of its GS Mini au­di­to­rium gui­tar un­der the de­sign vi­sion of luthier Andy Pow­ers. Launched in 2011, it de­fied ex­pec­ta­tions about how big a small gui­tar can sound and met with huge com­mer­cial suc­cess.

Not wish­ing to be left out of the party, Yamaha has now en­tered the ring with its own take on the genre. Yamaha has made mod­els that could be termed as ‘travel guitars’ in the past with the APXT2 cut­away and JR mini folk se­ries, but those were three-quar­ter size guitars, with 579mm (22.8-inch) and 538.5mm (21.2-inch) scale lengths, and seemed meant for smaller hands. Now, the re­turn of Yamaha’s CSF se­ries af­ter 15 years marks its most de­ter­mined move yet into the com­pact acoustic mar­ket, but it’s telling that de­spite

the mar­ket­ing images of camp­fires and tents, the ‘travel gui­tar’ phrase isn’t men­tioned, with the de­scrip­tion in­stead be­ing ‘com­pact folk gui­tar’. Its scale is 600mm (23.6 inches) and the no­tion of a gui­tar that could oc­cupy mid­dle ground in the Yamaha line emerges. So does the idea suc­ceed in prac­tice?

The orig­i­nal CSFs pre­dated the mod­ern resur­gence of par­lour-sized mod­els, and the To­bacco Burst gloss fin­ish here is a re­flec­tion of one of­fered on that orig­i­nal run. There’s a nat­u­ral op­tion avail­able, but this ’burst sets the de­sign apart here from the satin fin­ishes of­ten seen in the com­pact acoustic mar­ket. The at­trac­tive com­bi­na­tion of the cloudy gloss hues and min­i­mal but ef­fec­tive abalone rosette on the body, with the prac­ti­cal com­fort of a satin neck is very well-con­sid­ered. This isn’t the slimmest of necks, com­pared to some of its ri­vals in the com­pact acoustic mar­ket, but we think that’s a strength – and the 406mm (16-inch) fret­board ra­dius will be wel­come news for any­one alien­ated by the more cramped play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of some so-called travel guitars. A rose­wood ’board is also a wel­come fea­ture on a mid-priced model, post-CITES reg­u­la­tions.

Like many of Yamaha’s cur­rent builds, the CSF3M fea­tures scal­loped brac­ing with the aim of pro­duc­ing a “louder, richer acoustic sound” but that’s not the only spec fea­ture that could be to its ad­van­tage on pa­per; the 105mm body depth is deeper than most of the com­pact com­pe­ti­tion, but strikes a com­fort­able bal­ance with the neck di­men­sions in play. And, as we soon dis­cover, that equi­lib­rium is well re­flected in the tonal char­ac­ter of the gui­tar, too.

The re­turn of the CSF se­ries rep­re­sents a de­ter­mined move into the com­pact acoustic mar­ket

Feel & Sounds

If your past ex­pe­ri­ence of com­pact trav­el­friendly, or in­deed par­lour-sized guitars, has been char­ac­terised by sounds on the boxy and com­pressed side with mid­heavy re­sponse, this gui­tar will be quite a sur­prise. Its voice is strong with a rich bot­tom end that’s im­me­di­ately re­ward­ing for fin­ger­style bass notes. The sinewy high end makes for a great def­i­ni­tion in choppy folk rhythm work with sur­pris­ingly pow­er­ful pro­jec­tion on sin­gle notes, while the sat­is­fy­ing neck di­men­sions also help to mask the sense this is a scaled-down in­stru­ment in terms of its playa­bil­ity.

Both this solid ma­hogany CSF and the cheaper lam­i­nate CSF1M fea­ture an­other un­usual fea­ture for travel-size guitars: pas­sive piezo pick­ups. In terms of ease of use, the com­pany’s SRT sys­tem is as stream­lined as it gets with in­put through the strap but­ton and no on­board con­trols.

So, there’s no bells or whis­tles but the out­come is im­pres­sive. The CSF3M’s full and open sound is very well rep­re­sented through our acoustic combo with the amp’s EQ set flat. There’s no hint of any pla­s­ticky piezo ‘quack’ here. In­stead its low-end qual­i­ties give it a much truer elec­tro sound, com­pared to its un­plugged acoustic voice, than you’d ex­pect.

Play­ers may want to dial back a lit­tle bass, es­pe­cially for fin­ger­style, which will re­quire ex­ter­nal EQ via a preamp pedal, amp or sound en­gi­neer. Also un­sur­pris­ingly, the out­put here is sig­nif­i­cantly lower than an ac­tive sys­tem. But over­all the gui­tar de­liv­ers the goods where it mat­ters.


The CSF3M walks the line be­tween a stan­dard par­lour and a light­weight com­pact trav­eller in both spec­i­fi­ca­tion and feel, and it does so con­fi­dently. The de­sign choices in neck shape, fin­ger­board ra­dius, body depth and brac­ing add up to an in­stru­ment with im­pres­sive pro­jec­tion and bot­tom end that’s dis­tinct in an ever-ex­pand­ing mar­ket, and po­ten­tially a very us­able gui­tar for many dif­fer­ent play­ers.

The per­for­mance and build rise above any niche con­cept and it could be an in­stru­ment you keep re­turn­ing to both at home and away, al­beit some­thing you may trea­sure too much to risk dent­ing at that camp­fire sing-along.

De­spite be­ing an af­ford­able strum­mer there’s plenty of nice ad­di­tions, such as the die-cast chrome tuners sub­tly mak­ing an im­pres­sion on the clas­sic headt­stock out­line 2 The CSF3M of­fers solid ma­hogany back and sides. Af­ter com­par­ing it to a cheaper CSF1M and be­ing im­pressed by both, the more ex­pen­sive model en­hances the richer low-end and pro­jec­tion af­forded by the di­men­sions and brac­ing

The gui­tar’s bass-rich char­ac­ter and the fin­ger­board ra­dius of 16” make a great com­bi­na­tion for fin­ger­style, bring­ing a poised feel com­pact acous­tics rarely of­fer 3

The bridge here is rose­wood, and the 55mm string spac­ing feels com­fort­able for fin­ger­style

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