Setup for Yamaha LS-TA

Did a setup for this new model over the weekend.

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The TransAcoustic series was released late last year and they have getting rave reviews online. So now you can play with some reverb and chorus added without having to hook up pedals, effects or amps.

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The build is fantastic on this guitar which is essentially an LS-16 ARE with the actuator installed. Also, the TA series get a clear pickguard instead of the tortoise variant. Another feature on the LS-TA is the vintage tinted Engelmann top.

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Guitar was sent for a bone saddle installation elsewhere and owner still prefers a slightly lower action. Sometimes player’s preference still matters so the aim here was to go from about 7/64 to about 5/64 inch. Easy job.

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I must say that the bone saddle is very well-crafted. It’s nicely shaped with the correct radius and finished to a high gloss. Good job by the previous guitar guy! Now let’s shave a lil off the bottom.

Bearclaw Special

TLC for all guitars from Guitarbear.

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Let’s start with the nut slots. Pencil lead will do the job. No need for fancy stuffs here.

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Fretboard and bridge were moisturised to a nice sheen. Can you see which part just got pampered? Koala fell asleep while checking the guitar.

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So Miffy was ready to pose after her shower. She says this one sounds good!

Closing thoughts

The LS-TA sounds wonderful even without the the effects. In my opinion, the L series are really great guitars for the money. The 5-piece neck just looks beautiful and usually belong to guitars at higher price brackets.

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The room reverb is pleasing and sounds natural, but it may sound quite harsh if you go beyond 3 o’clock on the dial. Same for the chorus dial that is best left under 12 o’clock.

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Another thing to consider is the weight of the guitar. The LS-TA is significantly heavier than a stock LS16. No prizes for guessing that this is due the actuator for the effects. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Yamaha AC5R in-depth review

Been very busy so this took so long.

I collected the AC5R last month with really high hopes about it because it’s supposedly handcrafted in Japan.

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Build Quality

If you look at the guitar it probably doesn’t stand out from the China made A1 and A3 models. And you are right. Apart from the Gotoh made open gear tuners, this guitar shares almost identical specs are the A3 series that are made in China.

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I inspected closely and found it to be really well-made. Joints are clean and tidy as expected at this price range. The A5 series retail are $2099 here in SG so I’m definitely expecting much better workmanship than say the FG series.  The neck is still visibly made from multi-pieces of wood and I guess this is the norm in order to prevent wastage and cut down on man-hours.

Having said that, the mahogany binding is really nice all around. Here’s a look at it with the new preamp controls that have a smaller footprint.

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One thing I’d like to point out, the bracing definitely needs more attention. Here you can see some rough edges/splinters on the bracing under the label.

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It’s not a problem if the guitar was a budget model, but if you place this model as the top-end handcrafted guitar from Japan, I’d expect better attention to details. Sure it doesn’t affect tone or playability, but us guitar freaks are like that.

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The rosette looks neat here with mahogany plus rosewood. I ran my fingers around the inside of the soundhole and I think it’s quite decent – generally smooth, so thumbs-up.

In all, the AC5R is very well-made with beautiful bindings. Finish is also very good. The top has a vintage tint to it and the back of the neck has a nice satin sheen. While the Gotoh tuners are supposedly an upgrade, I actually dislike them. Tuning doesn’t seem any better than the usual closed back ones found on lesser Yamaha models and there is just too much freeplay on the shafts when the strings were off.

Setup & Playability

Stock action was already decent. It came in at about 7/64 inch at 12 fret capo on 1st. Relief was minimal. Many players wouldn’t mind such action but Guitarbear can’t play for nuts so sandpaper was needed to bring the action to slightly under 3/32 inch with a tad more relief for heavy strumming. Yes, I know the AC shape isn’t a strummer, but I can only strum those four chords. 🙂

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Shaved off the base to get a lower action. Just a note here, this one uses a 76mm saddle. Very unusual as most other Yamahas I have worked with use 75mm.

The guitar seems less forgiving and requires more finesse to avoid making mistakes. Perhaps it needs more time to run-in. We shall see.

Tone

I have to say this part may be quite inaccurate due to my playing ability. Nevertheless, I will present my own observations.

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The stock strings had to go because Elixir 80/20 made the guitar sounded too “metallic”, if that’s an appropriate word to use. I slapped on my favourite Elixir PB 12-53 and could immediately hear improvements (to me). Sound was less shrill and had more piano-like clarity on each note.

I would ideally prefer a taller saddle on my guitar but the thickness of the bridge meant that this was the best I could do. Still, there is no tone or volume loss at all. The guitar remains very responsive, but like I mentioned before, it requires more accuracy than my own guitars that have been seasoned with sweat and grime. 🙂

By now, the guitar lost its pickguard. I can’t stand pickguards on them.

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Here’s a look at the chocolaty rosewood grains.

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Rainbow and Brownie were happy to pose.

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Closing notes:

The AC5R is rather lightly built and I would say that it’s definitely more suited to fingerstyle. It’s still a decent strummer, but the dreadnought shape is probably what I should get for my style of heavy handed strumming (especially after 2 beers). 🙂

It is interesting to note that the AC shape is under 15 inch and smaller than an OM. However, it has more depth at 120mm. That’s actually slightly deeper than Yamaha’s dreadnought shape. The AC is very comfortable to play, and would fit into the “cough guitar” category unless you’re a very small person.

The SRT2 electronics got a test run from me and I think it is probably the loudest pickup I’ve heard. The mic selection is a cool feature here and it was very easy to blend in a usable sound.

The new SRT2 electronics also get a much neater battery compartment this time. Again, it is similar to the Taylor ES whereby you install the batteries from the base of the guitar.

Does it justify its price? It is about $600-$700 more than the A3 series so I guess that money goes into the labour cost and bragging rights.

Will the guitar continue to open up and sound better with time? That’s a question that no one can answer.

 

 

Money well spent

For those who own a few more guitars than they should (and that includes me), it is no joke to restring your guitars. The money you’d spend could well be enough to get a nice decent guitar.

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So some people have been saying Elixirs cost too much or sound too bright. But I reckon they actually help you to save money. Just think about it, a set of Elixirs costs $20 street price and they easily last more than 3 months. A pack of basic guitar strings cost around $8 but they’d only last for  a week before tarnishing or rusting.

Quite a no-brainer decision right?

Go to Bernard Godfrey Guitars or G77+ for the best street prices.

Alvarez MD70 Bone Saddle Installation

Did a drop-in bone saddle project on this Alvarez MD70 last week.

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This is a previous model from 2013 but this guitar is just stunning in terms of value, quality and tone. While the latest MDA70 gets a wider nut width and abalone bindings, the MD70 still carries attractive appointments like flame maple bindings.

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Guitarbear still prefers the older 43mm nut widths over the latest guitars.

Here you can see that the saddle doesn’t have the suitable curve. The thicker strings sit too “straight” and a new saddle with the correct radius is required. While it is easy to simply drop in a saddle, it takes more time and effort to get the best curve for playing comfort.

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There are also too many shims being used. Not sure how much tone is lost here, but it is always good to make a new saddle with the correct measurements.

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A comparison photo where you can see that the original saddle was way too straight at the thicker strings.

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No problems. We got sandpaper from 100 to 2000 grit, as well as the good ol’ jeweler’s file to craft the new saddle.

The wire anchor of the LR Baggs Anthem (previously installed by owner) came off so we need to tape it back. Easy job here.

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Remove the anchor, remove the old tape, and clean up the contact. Then, cut some new double-sided tape to reinstall the anchor. Just use a pair scissors to snip off the excess bits.

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Okay, all neat and tidy now. Nothing loose or rattling anymore.

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Bearclaw Special

Let’s do some TLC for this lovely guitar.

Fretboard wasn’t too dirty in the first place, but all guitars deserve a good massage and moisturising session. Steel wool and Ax Wax are good friends here. Bowie was assistant today.

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Bridge was also nourished with Ax Wax, while nut slots were lubricated with pencil lead.

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We got a good fit on the new saddle. Restrung with Elixirs in owner’s preferred super light gauge 10-47.

Gave the guitar an overall clean and polish and we’re good to go. Miffy was ready to pose.

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It’s a lovely guitar. I asked the owner if he would sell it to me, and I got a flat “NO”.

Nevertheless, my trusted AD30, my No.1, came out to pose with his cousin from the same year (2013).

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Giveaway sign would be the fret markers. High end models have only the 12th marker and not the dots.

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MD70 has solid rosewood body while the humble AD30 has laminate mahogany. Both just beautiful to me. I love Alvarez.

One more shot of the MD70 that mesmerized me. Sexy back.

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Owner was really happy to get back his guitar with the improved playing comfort.

 

 

Installing JJB330 pickup on Taylor Big Baby

Did a JJB330 installation last week on the Big Baby.

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This guitar previously had an LR Baggs Element system in it but the owner wanted something that requires no batteries, so the passive JJB system seems the right choice. Here’s a well-used guitar that has really opened up. Plenty of marks on the top that kinda adds character.

Mounting the end jack.

Since the guitar already had a 12mm hole drilled due to the previous pickup, we can go straight to work without bringing out the drill.

I use a copper wire to enter through the base and exit the soundhole.

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Here I attach the end jack of the JJB 330.

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Pull out through the base again.

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Okay, we got the end jack screwed in nicely.

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Mounting the transducers

Let’s make a jig from the good ol’ cereal box.

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Trace out the saddle line and punch through the bridge pin holes. Mark X on the spots the transducers are mounted. Note that one marking is a bit nearer to the high E to accentuate the thinnest string.

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Use some blu-tak to mount the transducers on the jig. It’s a good idea to clean the shiny contact surfaces with Zippo fluid at this time.

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Do many dry runs to ensure you get a good sensing of how the jig would fit before applying the glue. Once you’re confident, apply gel superglue on the shiny surfaces and stick it in!

When you see this, you know that everything is in the right place. No mirrors needed.

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Hold the jog in place for a few minutes while the glue dries.

Bearclaw Special

It’s time to pamper the guitar. Let’s start with the fretboard and bridge.

Steel wool and Ax Wax to the party.

From this:

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To this:

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Bob was assistant today.

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Pencil lead on nut slots and saddle crown. 

I also took time to tighten some of the tuner buttons. I actually find the Taylor stock tuners quite well-made.

Fresh Elixirs, what else?

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Guitar was ready to go on stage. 🙂

Cookie came out to pose.

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Closing note:

The Big Baby is a fun guitar that can fill the gap between a full-sized dreadnought and a Baby Taylor/Little Martin genre. It’s main strength is the full 25.5″ scale. Some players may find the extremely cramped 22.5″ too uncomfy and the Big Baby fits the bill perfectly here.

In the tone department, don’t expect this to sound as full as a 110e. But hey, it still has decent bass and does have the dreadnought sound to it. I’d say it’s a better strummer than an OM or 000 type.

If you really need the smaller bodyshape, this is actually a good idea.

See some pictures for comparison with a regular dread. Here you see that it is just a bit shorter in terms of overall length.

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The BBT is also shallower. However, the bowl back creates more volume and bass than you’d expect.

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Perhaps the only thing going against the BBT is the $599 retail price here in SG. In today’s market, many full solid guitars (albeit China made) can be had for $699 onwards if one were to look beyond the brand name.

With the introduction of the Academy Series in 2017, one wonders if the Big Baby will be discontinued.