Two contrasting acoustics from Yamaha’s prestige range take their place in the spotlight on Guitarist’s test bench
Yamaha has been turning out quality acoustics for many, many years, but still the company’s expertise in the area goes largely unsung. Owners will attest to the calibre of workmanship, the sound and excellent playability to be found in its instruments, not to mention innovative pickup design and, more recently, its ARE heat treatment for soundboards. So, what exactly is the deal here? We took two models from the range in order to discover the current state of play – and were drawn in by the charms of Yamaha’s high-end work.
The LS26 is from Yamaha’s small-bodied series – if we were to use Martin body sizes as our yardstick, it’s around the OM area with a slightly deeper body – and the LLX26C is a cutaway dreadnought, although Yamaha itself refers to it as an ‘original jumbo’. It also has a pickup fitted in the form of the excellent
three-way ART system, which, in plain English, stands for ‘Acoustic Resonance Transducer’ that sees a series of three transducers under the soundboard, the outputs of which are mixed together in the onboard System 60 preamp. More on that in just a minute. First of all, let’s take a gander at the spec of both instruments.
The LLX26C, like its stablemate, is handbuilt in Japan, which explains immediately why neither of these guitars is anyway near cheap. But Yamaha takes pride in its hand-built range and rightly so, because the look of this pair simply reeks of class and quality from the outset. The 26C follows the acknowledged route of the cutaway dreadnought virtually to the letter – and if this brown sunburst is not to your liking, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the guitar is also available in both black and the more conservative natural finishes.
The top wood here is an Engelmann spruce that benefits from Yamaha’s own in-house ARE heat treatment, with solid rosewood back and sides. The spec doesn’t say whether this is Indian rosewood or not, although you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The neck is Yamaha’s wellknown five-ply sandwich of mahogany and rosewood for added strength and general durability. It looks very classy, too. Gold-
coloured open back tuners add a little vintage chic into the picture and the ebony ’board completes the overall aesthetic nicely. Other accoutrements include bone for both nut and bridge saddle, maple and stained wood for the body binding, tortoiseshell pattern for the pickguard and a very subtle but stylish black/white rosette around the soundhole. In the hands, the neck profile, a generous but shallow C, fits the hand well and the 44mm (1.75-inch) nut width is decidedly fingerstyle-friendly.
Swapping over to the LS26, the spec here is practically identical to the LLX down to the last full stop, the only real difference being the obvious change in body shape. As we mentioned, this is Yamaha’s small-bodied range, which the company describes as “Concert”, but our tape measure confirms that it checks in around the OM/ OOO area with a very slightly increased depth. The rosewood back and sides here – again from an unrevealed source – are more towards the milk chocolate colour, where the LLX’s livery is decidedly darker. The LS’s Engelmann spruce top has a cosmetically agreeable grain pattern with complex lines and an attractive shimmer when held to the light. Again, it’s both classy and subtle at the same time – we’re beginning to notice a theme here.
Feel & Sounds
Choice of body size, then, is the real discerning factor here. Some players love the bulk and bombast of a good dreadnought, others prefer something a little more lap-friendly and concise. Yamaha’s dreadnought delivers an immediate sonic surprise in that instead of the lower-mid heavy punch we were expecting, we find instead a demure, even and finely balanced voice. Of course, this could upset some traditionalists who are after the dreadnought’s distinctive takeno-prisoners sonic offensive, but after the initial surprise, we actually like it a lot. It’s like someone has already taken off a sliver of midrange mud and added a slight compression to the sound. That’s not to say that the guitar lacks dynamics – far from it. You can dig in and bash out a belter if so desired, but there’s that additional edge of subtlety that’s unusual to find on a body shape like this. Think of it as an extra.
Turning to the LS and what a contrast. Replacing the somewhat reserved sound picture of the LLX is a puppy-like enthusiasm that gives all its got from the first strum. The instrument simply bursts to life on our laps and gives us the second surprise of the day. Despite the reduction in body size, we’d swear that the LS was louder than its bigger brother, too, with a pleasant youthful vigour that you just know will mellow with age as the years roll by and maturity takes hold.
The LS is lighter than the LLX, too. Sheer size is obviously a factor, but the LLX has the onboard electrics and preamp to take into consideration as well, and completing the stage-readiness, there’s an extra strap peg fitted to the heel of the LLX, whereas the LS has just the one on its lower end.
Swapping between them, each displays a startlingly different personality, but with quality as the family coat of arms. The LLX handles chords like a pro – any style you want, from Poison to James Taylor (we tried both) – with nothing falling outside of its considerable range. Fingerstyle sits prettily with it, but tradition insists that dreadnoughts were built for chordal accompaniment when onstage microphone
Each displays a startlingly different personality, but with quality as the family coat of arms
technology, such as it was, was the only way of getting heard. Fingerstyle wasn’t necessarily part of the plan – although Michael Hedges didn’t have any problems in this area with his D-28. But the LLX will step up and take a bow here without a problem. However, if fingerstyle is your thing exclusively, then the LS might just be your new best friend as it sits up and begs for some deft finger work, rewarding the player with sweet, well-balanced and vibrant tones in the process.
As to the electric character of the LLX, Yamaha’s home-grown ART system guarantees that there’s no Jekyll and Hyde change in personality from acoustic to electric domains; you really do get more of the same – only louder. In the LLX’s case, this is decidedly a good thing. Its wellmannered voice needs to be heard and the three-way tone controls (push-push and cunningly concealed in the woodwork of the upper bout) make sure that you have maximum and effective control readily at hand. Furthermore, there’s a master volume to ensure that once your sound is set up, you can dial in more or less of it as required.
This has been a story of contrasting guitars, plucked from a range of acoustics that has literally something to offer every style of player. The LLX is probably the most well behaved and sweetly voiced dreadnought we’ve encountered in recent years, and the LS has all the pep and skip in its step that a fingerstyle player could ever want.
Build quality on both instruments is beyond excellent, the only dark cloud on the horizon is the price. Both are in the range where custom builds are beginning to become a valid option and the mainstream high-end market is replete with guitars that fall into the £3k to £4k range, too. So hard choices and much research would have to be made accordingly, because the price tags here represent an investment that only professional and dedicated semi-pro players might make.
Still, as we’ve said, Yamaha has an outstanding reputation for quality that has existed for many decades and, as such, you would do well to include both these instruments on any shortlist you might be making before taking the plunge.
2. The ARE-treated Engelmann spruce top on the LS26 boasts an attractive grain pattern 3. Solid rosewood back and sides with stained wood binding adorn the back of the instrument 4. An ebony board with a 44mm nut width and virtually flat radius ensures comfort for any style of playing
1 1. Gold coloured openback tuners give both the Yamahas a handsome vintage vibe
6 6. The LLX’s System 60 preamp controls are push-push, sitting virtually flush with the top bout’s surface when not in use
5 5. An ebony bridge with a bone saddle and ABS bridge pins complete the LLX’s sunburst soundboard furnishings
7 7. Yamaha’s five-ply neck is a sandwich of rosewood and mahogany tonewoods for added strength and stability