Throughout its 50-year history of guitar making, Yamaha has long been a viable alternative to major manufacturers. The original SG Series put its own spin on Fender’s Jazzmaster, the RGX and RGZ series have always looked to challenge Ibanez’s RG series, and their RGZ series offered a point of difference to Fender’s household Stratocaster. As a Japanese manufacturer, it exemplifies the country’s renowned make and quality of guitar, while also utilising multinational reaches to produce guitars speced with desirable custom-shop parts. All of which make the Revstar series – a completely new range of guitars designed and assembled from scratch – a rather exciting prospect.
Our first look at the RS320, it is the base model, and is reflective of the entire line’s basic principles, equipped with a custom solid body, custom pickups and an eye-catching finish.
SETTING THE STAGE
Here we have a nato body with a high gloss finish and three solid colours to choose from: Red Copper, Stock Yellow, and Black Steel. A nato neck is matched with a rosewood fingerboard, 22 medium frets and an easily manageable 24 3⁄4” scale length. The offset body is relatively lightweight and is carved with sleek curves and smoothness that is a key feature of the entire series. Inspired by London and Tokyo’s vintage street racing motorbikes, it’s a design that’s finely sculpted and refreshing in its modern styling. In regards to tone the nato body provides some fatness and girth – it’s a dense wood that gets a lot out of its rather compact package. The neck profile is thin and for a base model plays consistently smoothly with quite a fast action. It’s an all-round player that won’t stand in the way of movement up and down the neck.
LIFE’S SIMPLE PLEASURES
Ceramic YDG humbucker pickups capture a standard, yet effective dual-coil tone. Heavy, deep and powerful – made for rock’n’roll, blues and will even hold up under the duress of some metal styles. There’s a rewarding boldness here; playing on the bridge hints at a classic tremolo with a shimmering presence and a radiant top-end, while switching to the neck embellishes the low-end and midrange for a solid tone, built on depth. The middle pickup touches on a nice balance between twang and punch.
A GOOD PLACE TO START
This is a classically attuned guitar that does the little things well. With customised pickups and a unique build Yamaha have gone to great lengths in order to articulate a classic rock sound – one that they have successfully captured in an affordable, no-nonsense package.
• Fast action
• Solid tone
• No case
• No Dry Switch on this model
With the introduction of the Revstar series Yamaha has been able to produce a diverse group of guitars that each bring to the fore their own unique personality. From top to bottom, every Revstar model has a distinct tone and feel designed to cater for a particular style of playing. The success of this approach is centered upon simplifying the build by focussing on a few complementary core elements. In this vein the RS420 melds custom pickups, a streamlined construction and tone-shaping flexibility to achieve significant rewards for little effort.
This body is made of nato, a tone wood less traditional than the standard mahogany, yet one that contains many similar properties. There is a distinct richness to the deep reddish-brown appearance on this particular make that speaks to great craftsmanship, and the aesthetic value of the wood. The top, on the other hand, is high gloss maple. The nato neck is set-in – a consistent feature of the Revstar series across the board which acts to boost sustain with a stronger body-neck connection. Add to that a Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece and we have undulating sustain that bellows and reverberates. A rosewood fingerboard, 22 medium frets and a thin neck shape provides effortless playability. Navigating the fretbaord comes easy with the maximum extension that is on offer here – at the low-end of the neck reaching six frets across is well within your means – while the size of the neck is dwarfed even by my hands (which aren’t overly big).
CLEAN ONE DAY, DIRTY THE NEXT
The Yamaha-designed YGD humbucker’s are the source of some vintage air, fuelled by a bold, high-octane tone. Playing through a distorted channel on the neck pickup produces a potent growl while remaining clear and open. By pushing the gain, the significant sustain already present wobbles with even greater intensity and resonance. The versatility of the dry switch – which provides single-coil tones by filtering out low frequencies, minus the hum and emptiness experienced with regular split humbucking pickups – then allows the signal to come in hot with greater bite. Simply increase its level. Alternatively, with the dry switch set to zero, a heavier and denser distortion can be achieved, while bellowing fuzz is also attainable on the neck pickup with added gain. The tone here is quite dynamic, with hints of chorus and a synth-like character also present. Switch to the bridge pickup with a clean channel and we have a brighter tone. At more than a decent price, there’s enough versatility here to impress anyone.
• Tone control with the dry switch
• Effortless playability
• Came without a case
The RS502, which sits a couple steps above the bottom of the line, has a slick industrial finish and a distinct tone courtesy of a unique setup. In many ways it embodies the entire Revstar selection – a guitar with its own unique character, built cohesively, from the ground up.
A solid-state mahogany body, maple top, and mahogany neck all make for a guitar that is exceptionally comfortable to hold. The body, in many ways, looks and feels like a modernised version of the SG2000, with greater curvature, and a more compact design. Along with a medium c-shape neck, a rosewood fingerboard and 22 jumbo frets ensure a smooth playability. It comes in either Shop Black or Billet Green (the reviewer’s model is Shop Black) with a high gloss finish that is simply stunning. The industrial exterior really does exude a menacing sophistication, matched inside by two custom-designed P-90 single-coil pickups. In engineering the Revstar range, Yamaha tested over 50 pickup prototypes with different combinations of wire, windings, magnets and base plates. With this model, the end result is pickups fitted with Alnico V magnets, a silver baseplate and plain enamel wire that delivers a fat, vintage tone with a ton of body and warmth. This low-mid emphasis booms with added distortion or fuzz, and is only accentuated by the bolstered sustain on offer – a product of the set-neck construction. With this in mind it’s hard to go past the breadth and richness of the tone on the neck pickup.
Central to the innovative design of this guitar is the dry switch – a high-pass passive filter that provides the tone versatility and control of a standard coil-split for an authentic single-coil sound. With the power of two single-coil pickups already on board, this ingenious addition adds richness. When running on clean and playing lead it provides that extra touch of clarity and punch required to cut through the mix. Importantly, using the dry switch doesn’t result in any hum or a drop in volume, making it a reliable way to easily shape tone and presence.
THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
This is a guitar manufactured with clarity and intelligence. While both the low-end girth of the P-90’s and the set-neck sustain push the guitar towards heavier styles, the Dry Switch’s added punch allows for a more using the Dry Switch doesn’t result in any hum or a drop in volume, making it a reliable way to easily shape tone and presence.
• Depth of tone
• Huge sustain
• Tone control with the use of the dry switch
• Would have liked a hard case
As we’ve seen, Yamaha’s Revstar guitars are quite the cool collection. A combination of modern and vintage looks with new Yamaha design features, they’ve gone all out to produce a line of guitars that are different enough to generate some interest and contrast whilst still retaining that feeling of some familiarity.
Taking some cues from the suitably obscure Yamaha 1974 model ‘Super Flighter’, the Revstar 620 again features a double cut look, this time with a Mahogany body with flame maple top. Colour-wise you can pick from Burnt Charcoal or Brick Burst (this particular review model), which has a great amber/orange/brown burst to it. Yamaha’s own VH5+ pickups come standard with the satin nickel covers adding to the warm and homely look of the guitar.
YOU’RE A STAR
As a double-cut double humbucker guitar, a few classic tone assumptions might be made in advance with the RS 620. Big chords and fat lead lines are all possible for everything from rock and blues to pseudo jazz. And whilst it does do some great thick neck and bridge tones, Yamaha’s ‘dry switch’ located in the push pull tone pot also gives you very single coil like sounds also. For the tech-minded out there, it’s actually a passive filter that cuts low frequencies. The resulting option is brighter single coil type tones with the benefit of noise free humbucker operation.
REV IT UP
I really dig the look of the RS 620. The general Revstar shape is a great mix of new and old. I like the headstock; the Brick Burst on this particular model is well done and the fretboard inlays are something different without looking too modern or super custom. As a player the guitar is comfy and reasonably weighted – not super light but definitely not a shoulder breaker like some other double bucker guitars. The neck is thin yet has a little added width, which lets you grab onto chord shapes easily and still jump around the fretboard. I’m really interested to see how the Revstar line fares as they look cool, feel good and have the backing and nous of a serious maker in Yamaha – good stuff.
• ‘Dry’ switch gives some added tonal variation
• Individual pickup volume and tone controls would add some flexibility
More Revstar action this time in the form of the 720B. The B stands for Bigsby, that same name that produced a slew of classic guitars and perhaps even more importantly the famed Bigsby tremolo system that has graced many instruments worldwide. Let’s check it out.
In the same Revstar double cut shape, the RS 720B again combines a mahogany body with flame maple top and a mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard. Yamaha’s finishes across the entire Revstar range seem to be top notch and the 720B is no exception. A choice of Ash Gray or Wall Fade is available, with this example being the latter – an amber, honey-ish yellow with some nice flame maple grain underneath bursting into slightly orange edges. Pairing nicely with the Bigsby are the set of Yamaha VT5+ pickups, which are a Tron style vintage output.
The Bigsby arm gives the strings a slinkier feel tension-wise, which allows a little bit more bending, vibrato and general slipping and sliding (in a good way), with the locking machine heads still holding everything nicely in tune. As a tremolo device the Bigsby can also be super responsive and often easier to manage at first thanks to the spring-loaded arm. The first bit of movement only lightly affects the pitch making it easy to be super subtle. Once you’re leaning in further, the spring really comes into play and you can warble all you like – there’s even a little bit of upward movement if you want get go sharp instead of just at.
FUNK OR COUNTRY? RHYTHM AND/OR BLUES?
All of them! Some down low Country picking action or big deep dives into notes can really sing. Quick dips for some Motown open chords or funky higher octave stabs – the RS 720B can really hold the fort. The VT5+ pickups add some sparkle and can handle distortion for that twangy breakup rock and roll and rockabilly tone. Bigsby aside, the humbuckers will give you big clean tones that could run through quite a few genres. Add in the ‘dry’ push/pull pot for some slightly brighter and thinner single coil type sounds and you’ve got quite the flexible little guitar.
• Bigsby is a cool addition
• More good looking finishes
• Well priced
• More tone and volume control would open up tonal possibilities
Yamaha cite the influence of Japanese and London vintage street racing motorbikes in the design of the Revstar series. There definitely is a certain ‘cool’ factor on board and it’s interesting to see the background and subtle differences between each model. Coming from the ‘Café Racer’ aesthetic that saw high performance racing bikes stripped down to bare essentials with style we get the RS 820CR.
A mahogany body with maple top, mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard and a set of Yamaha VH5+ pickups are the go for the newly released RS 820CR. Our review model came in a great looking ‘Steel Rust’ colour with a copper coloured anodised pickguard. A browny purple, the ‘Steel Rust’ is a satin type finish with two stripes of sparkle up the centre of the guitar. Again this retro tinge is added to with the satin looking nickel pickup covers, bridge, control knobs and tuners. And if the ‘Steel Rust’ isn’t your thing, the RS 820CR also comes in a colour called ‘Rusty Rat’, which is more of a grey/silver vibe. I must also mention the contoured top that adds a little extra resting angle for your forearm, and the nicely shaped heel joint and deep cutaway, which gives good access to the upper registers.
So cosmetically the RS 820CR is a beaut. The good news is that plugged in she fits the bill too. Like its other twin humbucker buddies, it can do big rock chords in all 3 pickup positions, with the extra bite of the bridge pickup lending itself to sharper sounding lead tones. Yamaha have again incorporated their ‘dry’ push/pull switch, which adds that quasi single coil sound and would be handy for some brighter chicken picking or middle position quack.
Rock, blues, indie, funk, punk, pop and plenty more are fair game for the RS 820CR. The ‘dry’ switch gives you more tonal scope and as an easy player you the backing and nous of a serious maker in Yamaha – good stuff.
• Feel and tone
• Interesting take on the double cut double humbucker styled guitar
• Individual pickup volume and tone controls would add some flexibility