Ratings

Pros:
High quality and great attention to detail. Excellent playability. Sparkling high-mid tones. Superb tonal balance. Accessible price

Cons:
Some low-mid tones can be boxy.

Street:
$549

Yamaha CSF3M
usa.yamaha.com



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On days where every guitar you touch feels alien, a strum on a parlor-sized acoustic can be a very grounding and elemental experience. In both proportion and sound, parlor guitars are very much human-scale instruments, leading to musical interactions that can feel a lot more intimate and conversational. Yamaha’s delightful CSF3M parlor possesses all of those qualities. But it also has an air of refinement and modest luxury, as well as a musical liveliness that surprises when you consider the sub-$550 street price.

A Joy to Hold
There’s a real ease about the CSF3M. It’s light. It tends to feel like an extension of yourself from the moment you pick it up. And the playability is positively inviting. Each of these virtues seems aided by an attention to detail that’s plain to see. The guitar is, for the most part, outwardly flawless. The frets are smooth and seated perfectly. So are the nut and saddle. The gloss polyester tobacco sunburst finish (which has a softer, warmer amber hue than most ’bursts likened to old Virginia’s favorite cash crop) seems a bit thick in places, but not egregiously so given the price and the nature of poly finishes.

It’s a lovely compliment to the solid Sitka spruce top, too, which doesn’t have a ton of figuring or character in the grain, but which assumes honey-toned glow behind the sunburst finish. The solid mahogany back and sides and rosewood fretboard are also very nice pieces of wood. And though the guitar is minimally adorned, the abalone rosette and maple binding add dashes of subdued flash and style. In total, it’s a very handsome little flattop that, in many respects, looks more expensive than it is.

Pop and Precision
One of the reasons the CSF3M feels as inviting and approachable as it does is the guitar’s near-perfect setup. Action is relatively low—something of a rarity on guitars in this price category. Intonation, meanwhile, is spot-on over the entirety of the neck’s expanse. The two factors conspire to make the guitar sound and feel fluid, lyrical, and welcoming to adventurous and extended chord shapes and fingerpicking patterns.

Individual notes tend to pop—even bristle—with clarity and in perfect balance to each other.

Fingerstyle techniques are also rewarded by the Yamaha’s sparking high-mid-forward voice, which takes on pleasing harpsichord shades in arpeggiated patterns. Unlike a lot of inexpensive, small-bodied guitars, the CSF3M is more than just midrange-y. It’s easy to hear the warm, dry, and naturalistic tones of the solid mahogany back. And the earthy mahogany tone colors both seamlessly compliment and organically contrast the sparkly top end, even when they tend toward the boxy side of the frequency spectrum.

Another welcome byproduct of the Yamaha’s cohesive tone signature is the guitar’s capacity for detail. Individual notes tend to pop—even bristle—with clarity and in perfect balance to each other. And while some players (who perhaps shouldn’t bother with parlor-sized instruments in the first place) will lament a lack of body in the low-frequency range, the trade off is a string-to-string evenness that enlivens fingerpicking patterns and feathery strumming with a light pick.

The little Yamaha’s balance also translates to a cool heavy-strumming voice, which, in spite of lacking low-end heft, is punchy and potent without feeling compressed, distorted, or harmonically blurry. In fact, in many ways the CSF3M is an ideal guitar for recording strummed rhythm parts—particularly if you’re multitracking rhythm parts or like to situate the rhythm guitar in a specific, focused frequency band. The CSF3M’s controlled presence makes this style of arrangement easier. And if it doesn’t quite have the tough, outsized dreadnought thump that an aspiring Steven Stills or Neil Young might prefer, budding Jeff Lynnes will love the Yamaha’s concise presence in a dense mix.

The Verdict
Though I’ve encountered some great acoustic guitar values over the years, I can’t remember a flattop that betters the CSF3M in terms of bang for the buck. It delivers almost everything you could want from a small-bodied guitar: detail, balance, playability, and comfort that make interaction with the instrument feel natural and effortless. The guitar’s shortcomings—most notably some midrange tones that are boxy and dull where they could be a little huskier and characterful—are few, and even typical of a guitar of this size. This little Yamaha’s virtues, however, are many. And the ease with which you can imagine it excelling in the studio, onstage, or just as the musical muse on your couch makes it a very appealing proposition, even before you consider the very nice price.