Review: Making small rooms seem bigger with Yamaha's CSF-TA parlor acoustic
Three years ago, Yamaha launched a new line of acoustic guitars. Nothing too special about that, you might say, the company does so regularly. But thanks to technology originally developed for its pianos, the TransAcoustic guitars could breathe concert hall warmth and vitality into the driest of rooms. A bunch of new family members were released in January, and we snagged one of them to try out – the CSF-TA TransAcoustic parlor guitar.
The CSF-TA has a smaller body than the LL-TA dreadnought released in 2016, with less physical presence than concert acoustics, making for more comfortable playing while also making the guitar a little more travel-friendly than its bigger TransAcoustic family members.
Parlor – or living room – guitars have found favor among many blues and folk pickers of old, and started enjoying something of a revival at the turn of this century. Where the neck of many parlor acoustics joins the body at the 12th fret – such as CF Martin's 0-28 or 2-27 from the late 1800s – the CSF-TA does so at the 14th fret and rocks 20 of them.
It features a sitka spruce soundboard, mahogany back and sides and scalloped bracing inside. There's a nato neck, a rosewood fingerboard and bridge offering an electric guitar-like low action, and die-cast chrome tuners. This model doesn't have a pickguard, but there is a decorative sound hole inlay.
The TransAcoustic technology enables reverb and chorus effects straight out the soundhole, from a circuit powered by two AA-sized batteries and an actuator mounted to the backplate bracing. That actuator vibrates against the wood at the back in response to strings being picked or strummed, with Yamaha promising authentic reverb and chorus sounds from inside the body of the instrument, no external stomps needed.
There are three buttons to the top of the guitar's upper side – one dials in either room or hall reverb, another chorus and the third activates the TransAcoustic circuit. The third dial also serves as volume control when the CSF-TA is plugged into a combo amp, amplifier head, PA system or studio desk via an instrument jack that doubles as a strap peg.
The TransAcoustic parlor guitar has the look and feel of a quality instrument and, as a straight acoustic, it has a warm and full-bodied tone, and projects well indoors. But it's the TransAcoustic technology we're interested in here so let's have a closer look at that.
The circuit board under the top side curve of the body links to an actuator – or small switch – inside the body, facing the back board. "When the instrument's strings are played, they cause the actuator to vibrate, which is then conveyed to the guitar body and the air in and around the guitar," explains Yamaha. "This movement creates authentic reverb and chorus effects from inside the body without needing any external amplification or effects."
The TransAcoustic wizardry is activated using the lower center button on the upper side of the parlor acoustic. System on is confirmed by a green LED lighting up on the circuit board. There's more to this button, but for the moment we'll detail the other two.
Going large in a small space
A reverb effect mimics soundwaves reflecting off surfaces in a room and hitting a listener's ear at slightly different times. Room reverb is not quite as pronounced as hall reverb, where the sound can appear to continue long after the source has ceased. As such, the room reverb effect doesn't sound quite as spacious as the hall reverb effect activated using the same button – the intensity of the room reverb ends at the 12 o'clock position when the hall reverb effect takes over.
So how does the TransAcoustic technology perform for reverb? In a word – magic.
The range for both kinds of reverb runs from quite subtle to very noticeable, and the look on the faces of listeners as they try to understand how an unplugged acoustic guitar manages to sound like it's being played in a big room is priceless.
Dialing in some chorus
Impressed as we were by the technology's ability to thicken up the parlor acoustic's sound sans amp or stomp, it was the chorus effect from the button to the right of the reverb that really fattened up the tone.
Chorus stomps take a guitar's output signal and add a second sound, with a slight delay and at a subtly different pitch. The TransAcoustic tech produces the same kind of effect without running a cable from the guitar to a pedal, and it works really well. Again, the sweep range runs from subtle to strong, depending on need or preference, and again is quite magical.
Of course, you can mix the two effects together for some reverb-tastic shimmer.
And there's more
In use, the TransAcoustic technology served to nicely enhance and warm the parlor acoustic's tone, but Yamaha has offered even more tone tweaking goodness. The button inbetween and below the two effects dials can be used to alter the instrument's mid-range EQ.
And the CSF-TA can be used as an electro-acoustic too, thanks to the inclusion of a piezo pickup system that allows the player to plug into an amp and take advantage of the onboard "effects." The guitar's internal pre-amp is auto activated when an instrument jack is plugged into the output jack/strap peg combo, and the output volume controlled by this third button.
As many gigging acoustic pickers lug around a portable amp like Roland's Cube these days, we approached Spanish guitarist Mark Barnwell for his thoughts on the TransAcoustic technology. Like us, he was immediately taken by the CSF-TA's onboard effects, and confirmed that there are occasions when a musician might be asked to play unplugged, so this tech would come in handy.
And some venues are not very kind to acoustic sessions, sucking the life out of the tone and making the guitarist work that much harder. The cooked-in reverb can help here, but Mark was particularly impressed by the chorus effect.
The bottom line
Yamaha's CSF-TA has a pretty decent tone when the TransAcoustic technology is not active, but when it's powered up even a dry room is brought to life. There are expensive floor stomps that offer much more tweakability and maybe even better reverb and chorus effects, but this parlor acoustic has such modulations coming straight out of the soundhole. Nice.
The replaceable AA-sized batteries are reported to keep the TA system belting out onboard effects for up to 10 hours straight, and though we didn't put that claim to the test, the supplied batteries didn't need replacing during our 2-3 weeks of daily picking.
We did encounter one bizarre issue though. Our Relay G10 wireless signal transmission system simply refused to work with the CSF-TA, yet bridging the gap between instrument and combo amp with an instrument cable worked fine. Line 6 suggested swapping out the guitar's batteries for a fresh set, but sadly this didn't solve the issue.
The CSF-TA is available now for a suggested retail price of US$1,129, which represents quite a price hike on Yamaha's standard CSF acoustics that don't have the TransAcoustic technology cooked in, but we think it's worth saving up for. The parlor acoustic ships with a plush hard gig bag. Highly recommended.
Product page: Yamaha CSF-TA