- Yamaha’s lineup of TransAcoustic guitars combines superb build quality with cool built-in effects.
- I sampled a concert-size FS-TA that sells for about $US940.
- The Yamaha FS-TA features onboard reverb and chorus effects.
A confession: My number-one guitar is a Yamaha from the 1970s, an FG-170 that I bought for $US5 at a yard sale. It’s not my best guitar, and it has only five strings, and it’s made of plywood, but it gets picked up the most. I’ve written numerous songs with it and will probably use it to write many more.
It sounds wonderful and it’s easy to play, despite being pretty banged up. But that’s Yamaha for you. In a world of glorious Martins and gritty Gibsons, not to mention shimmering Taylors, the Japanese maker has always held its own.
I was reminded of this last year when Yamaha loaned me one of its new TransAcoustic guitars to sample. It was an FS-TA model, which is a “concert” size instrument, smaller than the familiar dreadnought. Cost? About $US940 – on the high side for a beginner guitar, but a sweet spot for more experienced players. My tester arrived in an attractive brown sunburst finish, which definitely encourages some old-school blues picking.
The Yamaha TransAcoustic trick: reverb and chorus without an amp or pedals
The TransAcoustic trick is to provide the type of sonic effects that are familiar to anyone who has ever plugged a guitar into an amplifier with onboard effects or used pedals for the same purpose. The difference is that with the TransAcoustic, there’s no amp and no pedals (the TA can, of course, be plugged in, and more on that later). Instead, according to Yamaha, “[a]n actuator installed on the inner surface of the guitar back vibrates in response to the vibrations of the strings.” The vibrations “are then conveyed to the body of the guitar and to the air in and around the guitar body, generating authentic reverb and chorus sounds from inside the body.”
I know what you’re thinking: How can you get decent reverb and chorus without an amp or pedals? If you like reverb and chorus, chances are you favour it because you’ve worked out amp or pedal settings that provide what you’re after, with either an acoustic or electric guitar.
With the FS-TA, however, the effects are so enticing that they literally made me giddy. The reverb in particular is incredibly cool, ranging from an intimate room effect to a larger, concert-hall tone. Everything is controlled via three small, unobtrusive knobs on the FS-TA’s side; a retractable battery door resides beneath the guitar’s jack/strap pin.
The upshot is that the FS-TA is good for hours of couch strumming, picking, or soloing, creating the illusion of a live performance venue. Think of it like singing in the shower – the effects make you sound better. Your chords are bigger, and your single-note lines are more resonant.
Outstanding build quality
What about the rest of the FS-TA? Well, as acoustics go, it’s a made-in-China instrument, and the build is superb. The top is solid spruce; the back and sides are mahogany. That’s what you’d expect for an acoustic in this price range. What really jumps out with this instrument is the playability. It isn’t quite as suave as, say, Martin’s more affordable guitars, but with the TA lineup, Yamaha has truly shown what it can do with a sub-$US1,000 acoustic.
Yamahas are sort of tricky on tone. With Martins, you get rich bass and a lovely spread of crisp mids and highs across the instrument. With Gibsons, the tone is more dry and dirty, although it can also sparkle. Taylors are like pianos, with dazzling dynamics. Yamahas are balanced, and in my experience, if they have a single drawback, it’s that they don’t like to be driven hard. They can sound brittle.
Not the FS-TA. I hit it hard, using heavy picks, and it maintained its composure.
You can plug in if you want to
I plugged into a couple of amps, and in each case, the FS-TA’s performance was solid. If you want a guitar to take on stage, without much worry that it can stand up to the rigors of that environment, the FS-TA is a fine choice. The smaller size also makes it quite comfortable to use with a strap, or to play while sitting on a stool.
Honestly, the Yamaha FS-TA is an exciting guitar to live with. The effects mean that it won’t ever get boring, and the overall quality suggests that it will perform well for amateurs and professionals. You can’t call it a budget instrument, but Yamaha makes plenty of those. The TA lineup also has larger guitars, if the concert size isn’t your bag. For many intermediate players, this thing is perfect.
They will never regret the investment, and the FS-TA is solid enough to support improvement. And by the time you get really good, you might want to keep your Yamaha forever.
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