Hands on: Yamaha TransAcoustic guitar

Leave the amp, but keep your effects with Yamaha's new TransAcoustic guitar

There’s simply no other way to get a sound like the TransAcoustic without an amplifier — and all the pains that come with it.

Thom Yorke was right. Anyone can play guitar — and these days it seems like nearly everyone does. There are few simple pleasures more enriching after a long day then breaking out your steel string and filling the halls with your favorite tunes. But what if there was a way to make that experience even more enriching, more satisfying, and better sounding, all without changing the way you play? That’s the idea behind Yamaha’s latest brainchild, the TransAcoustic guitar line, which leverages innovative technology to layer each note you play with homegrown analog effects, all without the need for an amplifier.

On the surface, the sunburst Transacoustic LS-TA that Yamaha sent our way for review looks like any quality acoustic axe: gorgeously finished rosewood sides and back, smooth mahogany and rosewood 5-ply neck, and a solid Engelman spruce top. But beneath that freshly lacquered wood and abalone inlay, the Transacoustic hides a secret weapon: an actuator, which is a little metal plate inside the guitar’s body that is activated by string vibrations.

The actuator plate reflects sympathetic vibrations from the strings as you play, allowing the creation of both reverb and chorus effects, and then sends them back out the sound hole. The setup essentially turns the guitar body into its own amplifier and, as you can see by the video above, it’s pretty amazing. Without any outboard amplification, you can alter the sonic environment in which you’re playing to create, as Yamaha puts it, “a great sounding room.”

Three simple dials allow for control, including the Reverb dial for both Room and Hall reverb, the Chorus dial, and a power/volume dial which powers the actuator on with the press of a finger, and also acts as a volume control for those times you do want to plug in. The onboard piezo electric pickup lets you play bigger stages and still add your desired effects right from the body of the guitar — perfect for sprucing up (no pun intended) those open mic sets. Two AA batteries in an easy-access battery case beneath the strap peg power the entire system.

Yamaha-TransAcoustic-Guitar-0001

In practice, using the actuator is just good fun. It really is incredible to hear the big hall sound flowing from the guitar, especially when you’re in a less-than ideal environment like a small room, a campfire, or just about anywhere else outside a concert hall. Ramping the reverb up sends those long vibrato notes and held chords glistening into the air, while a bit of chorus gives you a studio sound right from the couch.

As you might expect, heavier effects are much better employed with solo work or instrumental tunes. But even when you’re doing your singer/songwriter thing, dipping those strings in a little bit of chorus and room reverb adds a pleasant touch of sparkle and depth to the tone, which helps you belt out those lyrics all the better. There really is no other way to get a sound like this without your amplifier/pedal in tow, and let’s face it: dragging an amp around to gigs is the absolute worst part about playing them.

Beneath its freshly lacquered wood and abalone inlay the Transacoustic guitar hides a secret weapon.

Even outside of the effects, the LS-TA is great little guitar. The instrument has a bit of that bright edge to the sound that has become synonymous with the Yamaha name, but it also sounds a lot richer than you’d expect from a new guitar, standing up nicely in the lower resonance with this reviewer’s 33-year-old Takamine lawsuit guitar.

The only small quibble to address here is that the LS-TA is pretty hefty, thanks to all that tech nestled inside the body. Still, it’s not prohibitive by any means and as long as you’re not packing it too far into the wild it shouldn’t present a problem for most players. The guitar is also reasonably priced considering all its wiles, clocking in at $1,600 MSRP, which will no doubt drop over time.

Yamaha’s new Transacoustic guitar will become available in mid-September. If you’re looking for something new to spice up your tunes — without the need for plugging — we highly suggest you check it out.

Highs

  • Rich, full sound
  • Realistic live effects without an amp
  • Excellent sustain
  • Gorgeous and well-made
  • Intuitive design

Lows

  • Circuitry adds notable weight to design
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