With the FG Series Acoustic Guitars, Yamaha has introduced for the first time premium acoustic guitars without premium price tags. With such high-end features as solid Sitka spruce tops, multiple top binding, bound fretboards, and precision craftsmanship, these guitars look, sound, and play better than anything I've encountered in this price range. In fact, they're better instruments than many I've played that cost twice as much.
I've been playing guitar for 33 years now, and the second guitar I ever owned was a Yamaha. It was an amazing guitar that I was able to afford with money I earned bucking hay. It sounded and played great when I got it, endured five years of extensive daily use, and still sounded great when I traded up for a more expensive instrument.
Since then, I've recommended Yamaha guitars for dozens of guitar students. In many cases I actually went out with students to help them find a guitar to start on. In every case, the guitar we decided on was a Yamaha. Why? Without a doubt Yamaha produces the most consistently high-quality instruments for beginning players. The FG Series honor that tradition and raise the bar with much higher-quality instruments.
My trusty Yamaha of yore was a very nice guitar, but there was no question it was a student model. The FG730S, FG720S, and FG720S-12 evince no signs of being student-model guitars other than their price tags.
The most critical structural element of an acoustic guitar is the top. It has become common knowledge that a top made of solid wood rather than several plies of wood produces a sweeter tone. Since a solid top is more labor intensive to produce and is more difficult to stabilize, almost all student model guitars made before five years ago had plywood tops.
In the last few years more solid-top student-model guitars have appeared. But it's been my observation that most of these haven't sounded much better than their plywood predecessors. That's because to make a solid top sound really nice you have to choose the wood right, mill it right, cure it right, and brace it right. Most important is the quality of the workmanship that goes into each of these processes.
This is where Yamaha really excels — precision workmanship with an amazing degree of consistency. They've used their decades of high-end guitar manufacture to perfect techniques of top construction, including quite a few production tricks that consistently yield better instruments. Now they're applying these techniques to making less expensive guitars and the results are nothing less than astonishing.
Of the three FG's I played, my favorite was the FG730S, Knowing Yamaha's capacity for building nice guitars at affordable prices, I guessed the price of this instrument to be around $800. It sounds fantastic with clear, pronounced treble sounds ringing with higher harmonics, rich midrange, and robust bass that isn't boomy. Since it's a solid top, that sound will only sweeten over the years.
The guitar was set up perfectly from the factory and really plays like a dream. I experimented with the truss rod and was amazed at how low the action would go without buzzing — a sure testament to the consistency of the fret work. The frets are polished beautifully and the glowing finish on the bound rosewood fretboard feels silky to the touch.
Six-ply black-and-ivoroid top binding, two-ply back and headstock binding, an ivoroid heel cap, and genuine abalone inlay on the rosette are a few of the touches that convinced me this was a higher-end guitar. A unique florette and the Yamaha logo are flawlessly inlaid in mother-of-pearl on the rosewood headstock cap.
The much more obvious luxury feature is the rosewood back and sides. The rosewood itself is gorgeously grained and variegated in color with a deep, lustrous finish. It's even complemented with a black-bound maple tail joint for a truly luxurious look. The bookmatched top itself features a beautiful grain and a very even light, glossy finish. The tortoise pickguard gives it a quality traditional look.
Inside, precision luthiery is evident. There are no visible glue beads, joinery gaps, or rough edges. The maple braces are all perfectly taper-milled and scalloped for maximum resonance and strength with minimum weight. This helps keep the overall weight of the guitar very light for a rosewood body. You can really feel the resonance when you strum this instrument.
The FG720S and FG720S-12 I played were manufactured with the exact same precision and advanced techniques as the FG730 and it sounded every bit as good. The only differences I could find were that the FG720S models feature backs and sides made of nato, and their rosettes do not feature the ring of abalone inlay. And of course the FG720S-12 is a 12-string.
Similar to mahogany in looks and tonal characteristics, nato is not quite as flashy as rosewood and it imparts a slightly mellower tone. The sound of these guitars is certainly none the worse for the difference. The 12 string in particular rings out with lush, full upper harmonics and round, warm bass. Like the FG730, these guitars sport sealed, die-cast, chrome-plated tuners that provide very smooth, solid tuning. And all of the FG Series feature Yamaha's limited lifetime warranty.
My hat's off to Yamaha. These are truly remarkable guitars on all three critical dynamics: tone, looks, and playability. Add in phenomenally low prices, and you've got perhaps the best value ever from a company known for fantastic values.