Fam­ily Val­ues

Two con­trast­ing acous­tics from Yamaha’s pres­tige range take their place in the spotlight on Gui­tarist’s test bench

Guitarist - - Contents - Words David Mead Pho­tog­ra­phy Phil Barker

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.

Ver­dict

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

4

2

3

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

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