Yamaha FG-420E-C Electro-Acoustic
Katy 88 plugs in...
Although I seem to have been appointed IN TUNE's resident acoustic guitar reviewer, the Ed. recently caught me unawares by handing me what I'd expected to be a Yamaha acoustic and a guitar lead, and said: 'Plug this bit into there and see how you get on'. The idea was, I gather, to see how an acoustic player could handle an electro-acoustic, which is what this shiny new Yamaha turned out to be.
The FG-420E-C is in that general mould of transducer-equipped acoustics which are designed to offer the best of both worlds for those who like an acoustic's sound and feel, but want the freedom of having an amplified guitar on stage. In this model's case the transducer is invisibly fitted under the bridge, and the controls for the battery-powered preamp needed to make such devices work are placed a little way back behind the major curve of the Yamaha's top bout.
My first impression of this guitar was how nice it looked for a Taiwanese-made instrument. In the past, Taiwan — much like Korea — has often been looked down upon as a source of guitars, but the Yamaha clearly showed how skilled the makers out there are getting. Like most acoustics under £500 these days, the single-cutaway FG-420E-C has a laminated top, in this case made of Spruce. Initially I thought the back and sides were Rosewood, but, knowing how expensive Rosewood is these days, I wasn't too surprised to learn that they were actually made of something called 'Toog'. I must admit I've never heard of this one before, but it has a nice, rich glow — toog ood wood to ignore? (you're fired! — Ed.). The neck is our old Asian friend 'Nato', and the fingerboard is made of Ovancol, not the usual Rosewood. Ovancol is a good wood for guitars, so, although this might be an unusual choice, it does the job very well.
Overall presentation of the Yamaha was good, though not perfect. The machines, for example, looked just a little flimsy for a £270 guitar, and had some fairly rough manufacturing marks in places. On the other hand, they held the tuning well enough, so how can I complain?
I must complain about the strings, however. These really didn't do justice to what turned out to be a very pleasant guitar, and Yamaha are letting themselves down unnecessarily here. A lot of this instrument's potential buyers won't be shopping where a wise store owner has changed the strings for better ones, so their first — and perhaps final — impression of this guitar will be formed when playing it with these rather dull, rough-feeling and tatty-looking nasties.
Ignoring the strings (not easy!), the neck had me a bit baffled. The width across the fingerboard was absolutely ideal, but to begin with I thought it was a bit too fat for me in its depth. Yet when I started actually playing it rather than just feeling it, I soon found that it actually had a very playable profile indeed. I could barre chords, for example, far higher up the neck than I usually can on even some of the top acoustics, and of course the cutaway helped here, too.
The Yamaha's unamplified sound is, again, a lot better than you'd expect for the price. The FG-420E-C is pleasantly loud, with a rich but not too boomy bass. The top end, too, rings out very clearly, too, and I'd be perfectly happy to play this guitar on all but the most demanding occasions, safe in the knowledge that I'd get a lot of clarity and projection from it.
To test the Yamaha's amplified sound with as many different amps as I could find, I tried it through an HH PA head (with two 2x12" cabs), a Custom Sound Cub 30 combo, a 200 watt Peavey guitar combo and a Gallien-Krueger mini-amp. Well, why not? The more the merrier! My tests produced the clear conclusion that what counted almost as much as the guitar itself was the type of amp through which I played it. Best of all was the HH head, with the clean Country sound of the Peavey following close behind. The moral? Use a naturally clean amp for an electro-acoustic, not an amp designed for amplifying solid guitars with bags of overdrive!
With a clean-sounding amp, the Yamaha gave a pretty good account of itself, and the amplified sound was very close to the naturally balanced tones I got when playing acoustically. The treble and bass controls (both click-stop types) worked very well. They gave a lot of tonal control, and were a great help in knocking out feedback. If the sound suddenly broke into a howl-round, I just tweaked these controls (usually the treble) and away it went!
I've certainly seen better finished electro-acoustics that this Yamaha, but not selling for an RRP of £269. Likewise, I've heard more natural-sounding electro-acoustics; but again, not for this sort of money. The Yamaha's all-wood body definitely offers an advantage over most fibreglass-backed types, because it enables the Yamaha to be used purely acoustically; something which few plastic backed guitars can manage. Amplified (depending on the gear you're using), the FG-420E-C acquits itself very well, again bearing the price in mind.
The obvious rivals if you're after an electro-acoustic at under £300 are a Clarissa round-back with a Shadow transducer, a Takamine, a round-backed Thornbory, an Ovation/Applause, an Encore and so on. While the Yamaha plays as well as any of these, and sounds very good, it does face some stiff competition in terms of build quality and the accuracy of its amplified acoustic sound. Good though it is, I can only call it 'average' at its full RRP. On the other hand, if discounted it might well appear a much better bet.
RRP £269 inc. VAT
More info on Yamaha Guitars from Yamaha-Kemble (UK) Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Katy 88
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