Yamaha’s A series electro-acoustics might not get the attention of some of the top American makers but they really deserve consideration if you’re looking for a player’s guitar says Ben Morgan-Brown
Yamaha A5M ARE
So ubiquitous and successful are Yamaha’s lower priced acoustic guitars that it may be tempting just to think of this maker in that context. This would be a mistake because Yamaha has decades of experience making top-end acoustic guitars too and its instruments have been played by some of the finest acoustic guitar players in the business at one time or another.
Take the A series models as a case in point. These are Japanese made, with all that implies for top quality craftsmanship, and feature some interesting ideas, not least of which is the latest incarnation of Yamaha’s mic-modelling software contained in the SRT2 pre-amp, which is mated to Yamaha’s SR2 piezo pickup. This is a major selling point and could be important to the right buyer, for reasons we will explain later.
Constructionally, the Yamaha A5M s a very workmanlike Dreadnought/’western’ cutaway with a nicely straight grained Sitka spruce top with a solid mahogany back and sides, The neck is of African mahogany and the fingerboard is ebony. The nut is made from Tusq, as is the saddle, the latter sitting on a handsome ebony bridge. The top, by the way. benefits from what Yamaha calls its A.R.E. process which is its take on torrefaction, the enhanced wood ageing process which is becoming increasingly common and which claims to give a new guitar some of the qualities of an older, played-in model.
Tonally, as you can hear from Ben’s video, the A5M’S sound is really very impressive – particularly so when you hear the effects of the mic modelling in operation, This allows the player to blend the sound of the piezo pickup with a choice of two modelled microphones, in the case of this model a small diaphragm Neumann condenser and a Royer active ribbon mic. Once you have selected which ‘mic’ you wish to use, you simply blend that sound in with the output of the piezo. Alternatively, you can use it on its own if your ears think it sounds better. We think the results are pretty impressive and are very audible on our video.
None of this would be any use if the guitar itself didn’t produce a good starting point tonally, which it certainly does. As Ben shows, acoustically the Yamaha performs very well. It’s a well balanced sound that would suit a lot of styles, from solo performing to band work and Ben felt it would be particularly effective with a singer/soloist as its relative lack of the dominant overtones that can sometimes emerge from this size of guitar means it would allow a voice to project and cut through well. It’s got plenty of bass and a great snappy attack at the top end, so it’s going to appeal to a lot of players. As always, put on your best headphones and have a listen.
The mic modelling aspect of the Yamaha’s pre-amp is a major selling feature for what is already an impressive guitar. At one extreme, with the modelling dialled out, the piezo sound from the SR2 is pretty much what a piezo is always going to sound like and though Ben felt you could always hear that it was ultimately a piezo at work, by the time you had added the mic sound the whole tone had opened up considerably and the overall effect is very different. For a guitarist who plays amplified a lot of the time his could be a major plus to the Yamaha over some of its competitors.
In terms of playability, the slim neck with a low action will help this guitar appeal to electric players but traditional fingerstyle players too are going to feel at home with it. In fact the only criticism Ben had of the A5 was minimal – that the controls on the pre-amp could have benefited from being marked to indicate what they do. Yamaha includes some small stickers in the case (which is included in the price, we’re pleased to report) but Ben felt it would be a shame to use those when the maker could just as easily have put small markings on the pots. That aside, the Yamaha really impressed.
This would would be an ideal workhorse guitar. It’s very well made, strong, versatile, and bound to be reliable even given hard use, making it a good buy at the price. For this sort of money you might be tempted to head straight for the racks of famous US brands but our feeling was that you really shouldn’t overlook this A series, among which, incidentally, there are many choices and variations. This is a good, versatile, guitar that would work well in a lot of different musical contexts. Ben also got the feeling that it is one of those guitars that will only get better with time (thanks, in part, to the use of solid quality woods throughout).
Reviews are recorded in a top quality studio with the finest equipment. To get the best from our reviews and really hear the instruments perform make sure you listen on good quality speakers or headphones!
Yamaha A5M ARE £1,428
Body Shape: Traditional Western Body Cutaway
Scale Length: 650mm (25 9/16”)
Body Length: 505mm (19 7/8″)
Total Length: 1046mm (41 3/16″)
Body Width: 412mm (16 1/4″)
Body Depth: 100-118mm (3 15/16”- 4 5/8″)
Nut Width: 43mm (1 11/16”)
String Spacing: 11.0mm
Top Material: Solid Sitka Spruce A.R.E. w/Scalloped Bracing
Back Material: Solid Mahogany
Side Material: Solid Mahogany
Neck Material: African Mahogany 3ply
Fingerboard Material: Ebony
Fingerboard Radius: R400mm (15 3/4″)
Bridge Material: Ebony
Nut Material: TUSQ
Saddle Material: TUSQ
Bridge Pins: Black ABS with White Dot
Tuners: Open Gear Chrome(Gotoh)
Body Binding: Mahogany + Cream
Soundhole Inlay: Rosewood + Mahogany + Black + White
Pickguard: Tortoise Pattern
Body Finish: Gloss
Neck Finish: Matt
Electronics: SYSTEM71(SRT2 System) + SRT Piezo Pickup
Controls: Vol/Mic Select(2 types)/Treble/Bass/SRT-Piezo Blend/AFR
Connections: LINE OUT
Strings: Elixir NANOWEB 80/20 Bronze Light
Accessories: Soundhole Cover, Hex Wrench
Case: Hardshell Case