Premier Guitar

Yamaha A-Series A3M Acoustic Guitar Review

September 20, 2011




Though some might not immediately think of Yamaha when asked to list the biggest and most enduring acoustic guitar brands of all time, the fact is that Yamaha has built acoustic guitars for more than a half century. And in that time, the company has thrived by maintaining a line of guitars for everyone from beginners to professionals. Countless guitarists cut their teeth on the beautifully built and affordable FG series in the ’70s and ’80s, and some of the world’s best players—including folk fingerstyle veteran Bert Jansch—have used Yamaha’s high-end L-series guitars to craft masterpieces.

This well-established commitment to serving players of every stripe continues to fuel Yamaha’s success, as evidenced by the new A-series guitars, which are a worthy inheritor to the company’s reputation for affordable performance. The A3M cutaway dreadnought reviewed here features solid tonewoods and an S.R.T (Studio Response Technology) microphone-modeling preamp, making this a guitar for serious gigging players, but at a price that won’t leave you destitute.

Pretty and Smart
The A3M is a subtle and simple design—very tasteful and organic looking. I am a sucker for wood bindings and wood inlays, so I immediately liked the look. The small fret-marker dots and die-cast chrome hardware are equally functional, attractive, and subdued. The pickguard, which looks inspired by Gibson’s flashier acoustics, seems like a less natural fit, given the understated nature of the rest of the design. The solid mahogany back and sides and solid Sitka spruce top all have the look of well-selected timber. The mahogany is rich and dark, while the ebony fretboard and bridge and the lighter wood binding all complement each other wonderfully—and the wood-inlay rosette is charming, too.

My first impression after picking up the guitar was that it’s built extremely solid—it feels like a little tank. The guitar isn’t heavy, though the pickup system does add some heft, but it feels of a piece and is exceptionally well balanced. While slightly chunky, the mahogany neck is super comfortable. While string spacing at the saddle is slightly wider than usual, the 1 11/16" nut is a little narrow for my taste, and narrower than most fingerstylists prefer, which suggests the A3M is aimed more at strummers. Nevertheless, the guitar plays very nicely and easily, and flatpickers will love the narrower neck.

Beautiful Plugged in and Unplugged
The A3M has a great acoustic tone that’s clear and complex. Bass tones are not woofy, but well defined. Trebles are both brilliant and detailed. In standard tuning, the A3M sounds tight and focused and capable of great range—sweet when played fingerstyle, and punchy with a flatpick. And in DADGAD, the guitar takes on a lovely, almost growling resonance that can be delightfully dark. With a capo, the A3M keeps its mojo intact and stays resonant and rich.

The S.R.T System 63 Modeling Pickup System is impressive, too. It features models of three killer microphones—a Neumann U67, a Neumann KM56, and a Royer R-122—with two mic-placement options for each (selected with the Focus/ Wide button), a 3-band EQ, a Blend knob, a Resonance knob, a built-in tuner, and a feedback-control system. Easy to use and navigate, it offers rich, deep, natural tone, offers a really cool way to mix up your amplified tones. The Focus (close-mic) option models the sound of a microphone situated a few inches from the guitar. The Wide option emulates the sound of two mics—one close and another a few feet away. The models are accessed via a 3-position slider. You can EQ the tone to taste as well, but I loved the sound so much flat that I rarely did. Each model is truly unique, and you can really hear a difference between Focus and Wide, too, so you have a lot of jumping-off points for achieving a mood or playing to the acoustic qualities of a performance space.

My favorite model was the Neumann U67 in the Wide position, which added oomph, sizzle, bite, power, and gorgeous resonance. It’s perfect for solo gigs. Though I can imagine the KM56 in the Wide position working well for acoustic ensemble gigs and the R-122 in the Focus position lending punch if you were playing with a bassist and drummer.

There are two additional shaping tools— Blend, which facilitates a mix between the basic pickup sound and the model, and Resonance, which sounds like a really tasty and realistic reverb reacting to the guitar’s body vibration. Turning the Resonance knob clockwise increases the body resonance, and turning it counterclockwise decreases it. I liked it at about 2 o’clock, but I can imagine some live situations where you’d want to decrease the resonance significantly—especially in a particularly lively room. Moving the Blend to slightly favor the model, meanwhile, helped alleviate some piezo quack and add a little extra character and space to the tone.

The anti-feedback function works pretty seamlessly, as well—and I noticed no change in tone when I engaged it. Further, I had to turn up really loud to get any feedback in the first place. The tuner is easy to use, cuts the pickup off when engaged, and is accurate and responsive.

The Verdict
I would not hesitate to make the Yamaha A3M my only gigging guitar if I was on a budget. It’s an all-solid-wood workhorse. It’s easy to use and understand, and exceptionally playable. But the sound shaping potential of the S.R.T. system places this Yamaha among the standouts in its class. And at around 800 bucks, it does a lot for the money. If you’re looking for a deal on a strictly acoustic guitar, the A3M may have more bells and whistles than you need. But if you’re a gigging guitarist on a moderate budget, the A3M is worth putting on your short list.
Buy if...
you need a great-playing, terrific-sounding, performance-ready guitar on a budget.
Skip if...
you don’t need electronics or you’re a fingerstylist in need of a wider fretboard.
Rating...


Street $800 - Yamaha - yamaha.com