2016 marks 50 years since Yamaha guitars launched what would become one of the highest selling acoustic guitars in the world; the FG series. Sprouting forth from its granddad the FG180, the FG tree has had a prune and a refresh every few years and with the success of the previous edition, the 700 series, the 800s certainly have some sizeable shoes to fill.
The most marked difference between the 800s and their predecessors is by all reports the current jewel in the crown of Yamaha’s R and D department. As opposed to tradition and (as they put it) guesswork, for this update the designers looked to intense analytics to ensure that every last change they made was a step up; employing various physics based computer programs to shine light on the myriad options inherit in the familiar Dreadnought body shape you see before you. The innovation they uncovered is what they are calling ‘scalloped bracing’; a system of specifically placed, shaped and sized brace poles supporting the Sitka spruce front plate. The result is a surprisingly rich, warm low-end that never strays into unruly territory, rounded out nicely by the nato back and sides, which offer a hefty yet clear mid range as well as one of the more subtle, porcelain top-end responses I’ve played in a long time.
The 800C is the simplest of the range in character. The binding is a classy two stripe black and white, the pickguard tortoise shell, the hardware chrome and the so called ‘Western cutaway’ is deep enough to reach the right amount of the frets before things get too out of hand. Far from being an entry-level offering however, the neck shape is a reasonably thick C, which feels chunky enough that make you work for it without being completely unforgiving.
Stepping up a level from the 800C, the 820C aims the same innovative bow at a slightly narrower target. Here, Yamaha has chosen the more mellow mahogany as the main tonewood around the back and sides and the comparison to the sprightlier nato is as endearing as it is stark. The increase in density, coupled with the aforementioned bracing technique considerably deepens the timbre of the guitar while keeping a watchful eye on the clean, defined high-mids offered by the spruce. Interestingly enough, it’s almost as if rounding out the lows a bit more has widened a sense of space between the tonal registers, lending a kind of Texan sky line headroom to individual notes. Where the 800C is more of a strummer, the 820C really wants to make itself heard and it does so by choosing its placing wisely in a room. I can see how this model in particular would find its spot in amongst other instruments in a mix quickly and easily, almost to the point of setting up a command of proceedings from there.
Instrumental (pardon the pun) to the success of any modern guitar is its ability to leave the bedroom and prance around on stage along side its contemporaries. This is where the veritable black art of acoustic pick-up design treads the knife-edge between earnest amplification and absolute transparency. Yamaha have relied upon the System 66 + SRT pick-up configuration for a number of FG iterations and to a point that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Powered by two AA batteries as opposed to a clunky 9V, the rubric here is one of gently does it; you have the typical three band tone knobs and a volume knob as well as one of the more accurate tuners you’ll find burrowed in on the topside. The ever essential mid notch is a little wider in scope than you normally find, which in my mind is a huge step forward as there’s nothing worse than falling foul of that omnipresent standing wave that just refuses to notch out once you’re in front of fold-back wedges. There is the slightest electronic tint to the tone once it’s plugged in, which is unavoidable if slightly disappointing, but you definitely don’t lose any of the rich, creamy bottom-end in the process of making yourself heard. As long as the front of house engineer knows what they’re doing, your FG will sound this good no matter how cavernous the room you’re playing in is.
Finally, the 830C is unquestionably the ender statesman of the three. Spruce retains its position as the icing on the cake, however mahogany has been replaced here by the definitive roundness and repose of rosewood around the back and sides. Across the range the focus has been on the one two punch of warmth and brilliance and with the introduction of this dark, Indian earthiness the tonality becomes that bit more confident, more complete and ultimately more satisfying to stand behind. It’s almost as if the entirety of the tonal potential Yamaha has been searching for is exemplified in this model in particular. There is more low-end than the back row of the orchestra and from that foundation there is a harmonic set that saunters across the tonal spectrum dropping hints of brilliance hither and thither where it sees fit, bringing the whole package to its logical and indeed masterful conclusion.
Adding to this sense of refinement and distinction is the Ivory binding circumnavigating the length and breadth of the guitar from the butt to the headstock. Tonality and playability aside, this is where this guitar in particular comes into its own as it starts to resemble a J45 or something of that ilk. The 830C looks every bit black tie attendee of the FG range and carries with it a distinguished tonality be fitting its appearance. For many, myself included, an FG series Yamaha was one of the first steel strings clung to for grim life after a few months of beginner’s classes. 50 years of solid playing later and they’re starting to feel like real, honest to goodness classics. The fact that their makers refuse to rest on their laurels with the development of their flagship acoustic is testament to the playability as well as the affordability of their builds. Personally I think Yamaha should have made more of a hullabaloo about such a milestone in their legacy, but I am content in the knowledge that they have once again pushed their design forward and produced an even more playable guitar than ever before.
For more details, head to au.yamaha.com.
Hits and Misses
The attention that Yamaha has put into developing this range is certainly noticeable
A great guitar at this price point
The pickup in the FGX820C has its limitations if not mixed properly