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Review

Yamaha LL16 ARE

Issue #46

Unlike the all-laminate FG-180, the new LL16 ARE is made of solid woods and features the traditional Engelmann spruce top, solid East Indian rosewood back and sides and a mahogany neck that features two padauk inserts.
Bob Thomas

Pros:
Open, warm, articulate sound
Comfortable neck profile makes it easy to play
All solid wood construction
Quality lightweight case as standard

Cons:
None

Yamaha LL16 ARE

Delightful as a brand new, top-end acoustic can be, an aged or played-in one usually sounds better. Which is why some manufacturers have developed new techniques aimed at making brand new guitars sound nicely aged. Bob Thomas checks out the results of Yamaha's 'ARE' process on a stunning newcomer.

The new Yamaha LL16 ARE is the latest example of that company’s involvement in the acoustic guitar market. Although Yamaha’s role in acoustic instrument manufacturing stretches right back to its founding in 1887, I think that it is fair to say that it was the original FG-180, first manufactured in 1966, that really established the company's name in the acoustic guitar market. I remember buying a FG-180 in 1969 for the princely sum of £40 (approx. £450 in today’s money!), which still survives and remains relatively unscathed by the passing years.

Unlike the all-laminate FG-180, the new LL16 ARE is made of solid woods and features the traditional Engelmann spruce top, solid East Indian rosewood back and sides and a mahogany neck that features two padauk inserts.

Padauk is an interesting wood that, so the story goes, was used by King Solomon in the 10th century BC to make the pillars in his temple. In more recent times, padauk has been used, especially by custom builders, for electric guitar bodies and acoustic guitar backs and sides. In the LL16 ARE, Yamaha has made use of this wood’s strength and stability to reinforce its neck. The neck itself (excluding the padauk) is made up of three pieces – the main body of the neck and a grafted headstock and heel – in order to minimise wood wastage and maximise sustainability. Modern adhesives ensure that the joins in the neck are, in reality, stronger than the woods themselves so that there is no downside in this method of construction.

There are a couple of really interesting features in the construction of the design and construction of the LL16 ARE. The first is the ARE suffix, which denotes that the wood has been treated using Yamaha’s proprietary Acoustic Resonance Enhancement process. This is essentially a temperature and pressure based method of ageing the Engelmann spruce top designed to artificially produce the changes in the physical internal structure of the wood that take place during many years of ageing as part of a guitar. There are other ways of attempting to produce the same result – apparently Stradivarius used to leave his wood underwater for many years – but, so far, I haven’t come across a process quite as complex as that used by Yamaha.

The other feature that I’ve found to be relatively uncommon in steel-string guitars is the LL16’s “slipper” or “Spanish heel”, which is an extension of the bottom of the neck block back towards the first transverse back brace. This style of neck block is used extensively in classical guitar construction and, in addition to maximising the transfer of vibration from neck to body and vice-versa, also improves overall stability by reducing (pretty much to zero) the likelihood of the neck moving relative to the back of the guitar.

Otherwise, the LL16 ARE follows the usual conventions of high-quality guitar construction – ebony fingerboard and bridge, binding on headstock, neck and body and abalone dots plus an abalone ring in the soundhole rosette. The ARE-treated top is braced with the L-series 90-degree non-scalloped bracing pattern and, despite the fact that the Yamaha “modified-dreadnought” body shape feels quite compact, the scale length is a full 650mm, which is not only longer than I had anticipated that it would be, but also is slightly longer than that of the Gibson J45 and Martin OO scale lengths that I usually play on.  There are no on-board electronics, however the LL16 ARE is equipped with Yamaha’s new SRT Zero-Impact passive pickup that features an individual piezo crystal under each string and which is designed to minimise its impact on the tone (and appearance) of the instrument.

As I hope that you’ll be able to hear from the video soundtrack, the Yamaha LL16 ARE is, acoustically, a very good guitar – its sound is open, clear, articulate, warm and very well-balanced overall. For a new guitar, the sound is remarkably mature in character and, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this LL16 ARE sounds like a vintage instrument, it certainly has a much wider frequency spectrum and a much fuller tone than I’d expect to hear from a brand new guitar - all of which points to the efficacy of Yamaha’s ARE process. The other upside of the ARE process is that it gives you a very good idea of how the guitar will turn soundwise as it matures. I think that this particular LL16 ARE is going to be a very good guitar indeed.

On its own, the SRT Zero-Impact passive pickup is also quite impressive although, as you’ll hear from the video soundtrack (and as Yamaha recommend), it will definitely benefit from being run through a specialist pre-amp.

In terms of playability, the action straight out of the box was a good compromise between the differing requirements of fingerpicking and flatpicking which, combined with the guitar’s comfortable neck profile, made playing on it an absolute pleasure. Although the 650mm scale length is longer than I’m accustomed to - it’s the same length as that of a full-size classical guitar, 24.5mm longer than a Gibson J45, 17.5mm longer than a Martin OO and 4.5mm longer than a Martin dreadnought – I didn’t have any problems adapting to it thanks to the neck profile and good action and I’m pretty sure that the additional length helps towards giving the LL16 ARE its excellent articulation and tone.

Finally, the LL16 ARE comes with a good quality, lightweight hard foam case as a standard accessory.

The Yamaha LL16 ARE is that rare beast – an attractively-priced, beautifully-built guitar that sounds far better than its price would suggest, that plays easily and one that is, overall, a bit of a bargain. I don’t think that I’ve ever previously come across a better-sounding brand new guitar in this price range so, whether you’re looking for a guitar to fingerpick, flatpick or for one that does both, I’d recommend that you head down to your nearest Yamaha acoustic guitar dealer and demand an audition.

 


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Issue #48

Tosin Abasi

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