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This article was originally published in issue #41
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Believe it or not, Yamaha hasn’t actually released a completely new electric guitar design for 20 years now. The Japanese company has, of course, updated its superb double cut SG, Pacifica, RG and SA ranges extensively, but the new Revstar guitar is its first brand new design for two decades. For this new guitar, Yamaha decided to do things a little differently and work with a leading external design agency for the first time in researching and developing pretty much every detail of the Revstar range. Yamaha came to the conclusion that, whilst almost every other product we use these days is designed this way, for some reason guitars are not and the results of that consultation are certainly interesting. Yamaha says that a design process of this calibre allowed every aspect of the Revstar series to be debated and questioned to the point where every aspect of the guitar is what they believe to be right for the series. Throughout this process they interviewed hundreds of players and produced dozens of prototypes. Needless to say the GI team had high hopes for the Revstar series after hearing this!
Drawing design influence from London and Tokyo’s vintage street-racing motorbikes, Yamaha has put together an extensive and diverse range of guitars from the outset with various hardware and finish options to suit a wide gamut of budgets and tonal requirements, from very budget friendly starter models to high-end, Japanese made variants at four figure sums. For our review model Yamaha sent an RS720B, third from the top of the range, sporting high end hardware and design aesthetics.
The RS720B features a solid mahogany body with a flame maple top and a set-in mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard. The top is flat, with a subtle forearm contour, but the back is heavily contoured for comfort thanks to a deep belly cut and very generous double cutaways. The top is finished with steel wool for an industrial feel that matches well with the motorbike aesthetic and the satin nickel hardware. Yamaha has chosen a very handsome three-per-side headstock design, sporting the usual Yamaha logo and the company's Hanko mark on the back as a seal of approval. The body shape is something akin to a larger version of Yamaha’s SG range but with slightly offset horns for a more contemporary look and it works very well indeed, looking good both on a stand and whilst being played. This is definitely a ‘cool’ looking instrument.
For the 720B, Yamaha has opted for high end hardware with a pair of custom wound VT5+ Tron style pickups with satin Nickel covers, 22 Jumbo frets, locking die-cast tuners, Tune-o-matic bridge and a genuine Bigsby B50 tremolo. It’s a small shame that the Bigsby is finished in Chrome whilst all of the other hardware is satin Nickel, but it really doesn’t detract from the overall aesthetic too much. Tonal options come in the form of a three-way switch and master volume and tone controls. Yamaha has also developed what they call a dry switch, integrated as a push-pull into the tone pot. This acts like a coil split, but does this function with a high pass filter applied to the signal so that some of the low end is filtered out in the ‘split’ position. In this way, you get the tonal benefits of a single coil but none of the noise issues associated with them. It’s a great idea and means that the technology can be applied to humbuckers and P90s for some really unique sounds.
The RS720B is an exceptionally well made guitar. We’ve come to expect this from Yamaha now where even the lowest priced Pacifica models have been made to the same exacting standards for years now. Yamaha changed the landscape of what quality at a low price meant with the Pacifica range and though the RS720B is not a cheap guitar by any means, its build quality and hardware far outweighs the modest price tag. Fretwork is superb and the steel wool finish is expertly done and very attractive. Yamaha also put its guitars through an artificial ‘maturing’ process known as ‘Initial Response Acceleration’, designed to emulate many hours of playing, allowing the parts to resonate together more freely. Whether it actually makes a difference we can't say, but the RS720B is a highly resonant guitar with plenty of sustain and is very comfortable to play with its contoured body, familiar feeling neck profile and jumbo frets. Those locking tuners handle tuning stability superbly too, even matched with the often troublesome Bigsby trem.
Tonally, the RS720B is just as good as its looks would suggest. The VT5+ pickups have a lovely, airy quality that permeates clean and dirty sounds, adding an excellent level of detail and breathiness to everything you play. These pickups are surprisingly versatile and excel particularly at medium gain Rock tones and Blues/Jazz tones where plenty of dynamics are required. The ‘Dry’ switch works extremely well at cutting the lower end of the frequency range for simulated single coil-esque tones and remain noise free throughout.
Our 720B was near the top of the Revstar range, but reports suggest that the sort of quality and design flair found in this model is also there in the less expensive models, which is very good news. The 720B is a superb guitar with high quality design choices, a great aesthetic, superb tones and excellent playability. It might be thought a tad expensive for an Indonesian made guitar but if you forget where it was put together and just judge it as a guitar in its own right then it doesn't seem so pricey and, if it does, well, the less costly Revstars look very appealing indeed. With a model to suit most tastes, budgets and hardware requirements, this first new design from Yamaha in 20 years is something that should definitely be checked out. Highly recommended.