Yamaha A3R Review

AG 229 January 2012 Cover

Posted by Mike Levine

Yamaha's acoustic guitars have long been known for their excellent, affordable value. The guitars in the company’s new A series are designed as working musicians’ instruments—durable and versatile enough to provide good results in both acoustic and amplified applications. There are two lines within the A series, the less-expensive A1 and the top-of -the-line A3. Each offers acoustic-electric, cutaway instruments in concert or dreadnought sizes with mahogany or rosewood bodies, but the A3 guitars feature Yamaha’s System 63 SRT electronics system. This full-featured electronics package combines an undersaddle pickup with digital signal processing (DSP) that emulates the sound of the guitar when miked by classic microphones. We took a look at the A3R, the rosewood-bodied dreadnought in the line.

Rosewood and Spruce Dreadnought

The A3R’s dreadnought body has a Venetian-style (rounded) cutaway and is constructed with a solid Sitka spruce top and solid rosewood back and sides. The rosette consists of an elegant, interweaved rosewood-and-mahogany pattern. The binding is also mahogany, and three thin black purfling strips surround the guitar’s top. The unusual-looking pickguard comes to a point in two places, a throwback to a design used on Yamaha’s N1000 guitar, which was first released in 1975.

Action Hero

One of the noteworthy aspects of the A3R is its playability. Our review guitar arrived strung with light-gauge strings that feel as close to the ebony fingerboard as the strings do on a typical electric guitar. I found the mahogany neck to be very playable in all positions and it was easy to bend strings. The tradeoff for the low action was some occasional fret buzzing, mainly on the third string. But I was pleasantly surprised that the action was not too low for slide playing, which I do a lot of. There was a tad more fret noise with a slide than on my Martin D-28, but not as much as I expected, considering the A3R’s low action. And the intonation is spot on.

Bright, Balanced Acoustic Tones

Acoustically, the A3R’s tone is bright and not particularly bassy. Considering that this guitar is primarily designed for acoustic-electric use, its tonal signature makes sense. There’s less bottom end to resonate and potentially cause feedback, and plenty of treble for cutting through a band mix. The acoustic tone is well balanced, and the bass notes ring cleanly and without muddiness. I tried out the A3R in a variety of playing styles. For fingerstyle guitar, it was warm and pleasant, and for flatpicked bluegrass it was crisp and concise. In both instances, the A3R’s lack of bottom was the only negative. The guitar’s tone was also satisfying for intense, rock-style acoustic strumming on open and barre chords (in standard and dropped-D tuning).

Onboard Mic Modeling

Yamaha’s new SRT (Studio Response Technology) electronics system is the A3R’s most versatile and impressive feature. Sound is picked up by the undersaddle SRT pickup, which is outfitted with individual piezo elements for each string. The signal is then routed through the onboard preamp, which contains the DSP modeling chips and circuitry. The preamp’s Blend dial mixes the pickup signal with one of the six modeled mic algorithms, rather than between a piezo and an actual mic, as some systems do. From a practical standpoint, this presents less potential for feedback, since there is no open microphone inside the guitar.

To construct the modeling algorithms, Yamaha recorded the guitar acoustically at several commercial studios through three classic microphones—a Neumann U67 large-diaphragm tube condenser, a Neumann KM56 small-diaphragm tube condenser, and a Royer R-122 ribbon mic. The idea was to emulate how the guitar sounded through these mics in a good studio and impart that sonic signature to the sound of the preamp. A selector switch on the control panel lets you choose a mic type, and a two-position push-button lets you further modify that by selecting Focus or Wide mode. Focus gives you a close-miked version of the selected mic model (recorded eight to 12 inches from the guitar) and Wide mode gives you one recorded farther back (four to five feet). A Resonance knob adjusts how much body resonance is in the modeled sound.

I got the best tone with the Blend knob turned mostly toward the modeled mic side, with a little bit of the straight pickup signal thrown in. I liked the Royer model best, because it was a little rounder and warmer (as is characteristic of a ribbon mic), but all three sounded good. I also preferred the presence of the Focus (close-miked) mode. This was especially helpful for fingerpicking and single-note flatpicking.

Overall, the A3R’s mic modeling does a good job of simulating the sound of a miked acoustic guitar. For sound reinforcement situations, especially in a band context, it will be quite convincing. For recording, unless the guitar is buried in the mix, it still sounds like a guitar with a pickup. But in recording situations where there’s a lot of leakage from other instruments, going direct through the A3R’s electronics would be a good solution.

In addition to the mic modeling, you can also shape the pickup’s sound with standard bass, middle, and treble preamp controls. Each of these has a center detent to indicate when it’s set flat. That makes it easy to set them by feel, which is good considering they’re tiny knobs with nearly invisible indicator lines. A larger volume control knob controls the overall output. The electronic system includes an impressive chromatic tuner, which mutes the guitar’s output when activated, and its AFR feature (Automatic Feedback Reduction) is an effective one-button feedback detector/eliminator.

Versatile, Full Featured Acoustic-Electric

If you’re looking for a guitar that will give you excellent playability, decent acoustic tone, and versatile and fully featured electronics, the A3R is a good choice, especially if you’re planning to use it primarily as an onstage instrument.

SPECS: Cutaway dreadnought body. Solid Sitka spruce top. Solid rosewood back and sides. Mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. Urea nut. X-bracing. 25.61-inch scale (650 mm). 111/16-inch nut width. 21/8-inch string spacing at saddle. Chrome die-cast tuners. Natural gloss finish. Yamaha System 63 SRT electronics with mic modeling. Light-gauge Yamaha FS50BT strings. Made in China.

PRICE: $1,350 list/$899.99 street.

MAKER: Yamaha: (714) 522-9000; usa.yamaha.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar January 2012

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