Yamaha LLX16 Acoustic-Electric Guitar
$1,699.00; LLX16TBS sunburst finish (as shown), $1,799.00
Originally published in Guitar World, 30th Anniversary 2010 issue
Yamaha's LLX16 is a very welcome addition to the company’s outstanding L Series guitars.
In 2004, Yamaha performed a significant overhaul of its popular L Series of acoustic guitars, a handmade line of instruments built from high-quality materials that delivered outstanding sound quality at affordable prices. While Yamaha’s L Series was always popular (finger-stylist Bert Jansch, a major influence on Jimmy Page and Neil Young, has remained a devoted L Series player since the Seventies), the improvements made the guitars a better value than ever, providing sound quality and playability comparable to instruments costing significantly more.
The LL16 is Yamaha’s most popular “new generation” L Series model. It’s so popular that it’s the only L Series model that is also available in a left-handed version. But one common complaint was that Yamaha did not offer an acoustic-electric version of this outstanding noncutaway guitar. With the introduction of the new LLX16 acoustic-electric model, Yamaha offers the acoustic-electric that L Series fans have been waiting for since the LL16 made its debut.
With the exception of its built-in preamp/pickup system and new sunburst finish option, the LLX16 is identical to the LL16. The list price is slightly higher as well, but there’s only a $400 difference between the acoustic-electric and the strictly acoustic version (add another $100 if you opt for the LLX16TSB sunburst finish model). Guitar World reviewed the LL16 model back in 2004, but to refresh your memory, it’s a dreadnought-style guitar with a solid Engelmann spruce top, solid Indian rosewood back and sides, ebony fingerboard and bridge, and a three-piece neck featuring a rosewood strip sandwiched between two mahogany outer layers. Yamaha’s unique X-bracing pattern, non-scalloped braces and enlarged C-shaped neck block help increase resonance, provide focused midrange and ensure greater transfer of string vibration energy to the guitar’s top.
The LLX16 features Yamaha’s new System 60 Acoustic Resonance Transducer (ART) preamp system, which uses three independent, strategically placed contact pickups to capture bass, treble and full-range tones. Instead of the usual two- or three-band EQ controls, the System 60 preamp has individual volume controls for each of the pickups, along with a master volume control. In place of the blocky, bulky control panel typically found on acoustic-electrics, Yamaha uses custom-designed, calibrated push pots that recede into the guitar’s body, which preserves the guitar’s natural elegance and requires minimal wood removal. The easy-access battery compartment is located on the lower bout, just adjacent to the endpin.
Unplugged, the LLX16 sounds identical to the LL16. It pumps out tight, well-defined bass that avoids a typical dreadnought’s excessive boom and offers warm, slightly emphasized midrange and crisp, sparkling treble. Fingerstyle players will appreciate the LLX16’s wide 1 3/4 –inch nut and well-balanced tone across its entire frequency range, while rhythm players will love how well this guitar responds to dynamics, although the responsive Engelmann spruce top will overdrive if you lay too heavily into the strings.
The LLX16’s acoustic strengths translate very well through the System 60 ART preamp/pickup system. While it may take some players a while to get used to adjusting the individual pickups’ volume controls instead of tweaking EQ sliders, the System 60 actually provides more useful tonal-shaping capabilities that always produce exceptionally natural tones. For example, cutting the bass with a standard acoustic guitar EQ can make the lower strings sound dull and flat, but by turning down the System 60’s bass pickup the lower strings retain clarity and punch, even as the bass frequencies are tamed.
Unlike most guitar preamp systems, Yamaha’s System 60 does not feature any feedback-fighting phase or notch filter switches. After playing the LLX16 through a loud acoustic guitar amplifier or PA system, you’ll discover why: the pickups do a great job of suppressing feedback on their own, and usually one of the pickups’ volume controls (most likely the bass pickup’s) just needs to be turned down a notch to kill the problem. If feedback problems are unavoidable (such as when you’re playing with a loud electric band), Yamaha provides a sound-hole cover for the LLX16 that works exceptionally well.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Yamaha's LLX16 is a very welcome addition to the company’s outstanding L Series guitars. By equipping its most popular acoustic model with a high-quality preamp/pickup system, Yamaha has produced a true winner that should prove to be as ubiquitous onstage as the LL16 already is in the homes of acoustic guitar enthusiasts. This model’s street price competes with many acoustic-only guitars that don’t even match the LLX16’s unplugged tones or quality materials, and the addition of a preamp system sweetens the deal considerably.
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