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Old 02-28-2008, 10:08 AM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Default Yamaha LL16 Review

I had been meaning to write this review for some time now. But seeing that many of the users on this forum are from the US (where the market is already saturated with lots of good, affordable instruments), I assumed that there would be little interest in a "cheapo" China-made Yamahas. However, the recent thread about "cheap, solid-body guitars" which received a fair bit of responses from both sides hinted to me that there may be a niche market for these mid-range Yamahas after all, even if only as beater guitars.

I had been looking for an upgrade from my faithful Korean Ibanez Artwood. I really wanted to get myself a Taylor (something in the range of the 200/300 series) but soon realized that anything "Made in the USA" sells with a hefty premium over here. I was a little discouraged to say the least (I only earn about $8k a year), but kept on going from store to store trying out Matons, Takamines and even a parlour Larrivee (which was great, but not what I was looking for) till I ended up in my friendly neighbourhood Yamaha. Now, I've been in and out of Yamaha showrooms for years, but always to pick out beater guitars (< $100) with my beginner friends. Lately they've been trying to tap into the mid-range guitar market with fancier displays, made-in-Japan models and the L-series.

To cut an already long story short, I picked up the only LL16 available, ended up not being able to sleep on it, and went back to buy it the next morning.

The price? A whopping $800!


Yamaha LL16

Body Style: Slender Dreadnought
Top: Solid Engelmann Spruce
Back and Sides: Solid Rosewood
Neck: 3-ply Mahogany-Rosewood-Mahogany
Fingerboard: Ebony
Bridge: Ebony
Nut Width: 1 3/4"


Woods
Certainly not high-grade woods by any means. But that's not to say they aren't attractive. I do realize that there seems to be less prominent figuring on the spruce and rosewood than I am accustomed to. Not sure if that's a bad thing or simply a matter of different lumber origins, but it does lend the instrument a very composed, understated look which is in keeping with Yamaha's overall image for the L-series as a whole. I do like the fact that it keeps people's expectations low so I can shock them silly
The ebony bridge and fingerboards aren't pitch black, which is not necessarily a bad thing unless it also means that density was compromised. Mahogany on the neck is a little lackluster in some areas, but quite decent overall.
Note on woods: I played an LJ16 and an LS16 as well. All three guitars seemed to have very different looking rosewood sides and backs. Not sure how the grains would affect the tone, though.

Finish
The high-gloss on the body is pretty much flawless as far as I can tell. Nice double-inlay round MOP markers in the usual positions on the fretboard and a characteristic Yamaha rosette with inlay (not too shabby, but not beautiful either). The satin neck is nice and quick, except for a tiny patch of roughness which I'm hoping I can sand over later. A little "smudge" near the nut hints at its China-factory origins.

Hardware
Pretty crappy gold tuners, I have to admit. But thankfully, they look like faithful Grover imitations, so it shouldn't be much of a hassle upgrading them to originals. Keeps strings in tune just fine, but the gears were simply not made for fine adjustments.

Playability
The neck has a slight v-profile which takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you've been playing with low-profiles such as on my old Artwood. But over time I have found that certain positions are actually more comfortable and some chords fall into place more firmly with the current profile. Nut and saddle action were too high out of the factory which makes the guitar seem less playable than it actually is. But the saddle is probably something you'd want to change anyway (see below). One word of caution: Evaluate the neck angle before buying. All the L-series models I played were borderline-neck-reset. I don't know if this was a design feature, a lack of quality control or a result of my country's high humidity. Not a big issue, for sure, but something you may want to consider if you like your action really really low.

Sound
At this point you may be wondering why I would recommend a guitar with so many faults. Well, the truth is I've been thoroughly spoilt by this forum after looking at pictures of all the Collings, Goodalls, Ryans, Omegas, etc. To be so critical of a guitar in this price range is simply nitpicking, especially when it sounds like every single dollar was invested in its tone. That's right, the sound is what really sets this guitar apart from almost everything below $1k. Owners of more expensive guitars than I myself can afford could probably even convince you that the LL16 gives some instruments 2-3x its price a good run for the money. Based on the classic dreadnought design, the bass response is solid but not boomy, perhaps because Yamaha rounded down the overall boxiness. The volume and projection are great for unamplified, delicate fingerstyle. I can only wonder how it *could* have sounded like if it wasn't so overbuilt (it did come from a Yamaha factory after all). Clarity and separation could do with some improvement, so I'm still waiting for my bone saddle to arrive from Bob Colosi. Note that this guitar is shipped with crappy factory strings, but even then sounded pretty good!
(I would like to record some sound clips in the near future, but have yet to assemble my DIY mic preamp. The noise floor through my notebook soundcard is too high to record anything)


To summarize:

Pros
Good solid woods and finish for $800
Understated looks (if you like it)
Handcrafted (not sure to what degree, though)
The sound
The sound
The sound

Cons
Cheap tuners
Overbuilt
Little spots of imperfection

Click for larger images in my web album:
[More pictures below! I couldn't fit them all in one post]




Last edited by mmmaak; 02-29-2008 at 12:28 AM. Reason: Added pictures
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  #2  
Old 02-28-2008, 12:40 PM
yowech yowech is offline
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Nice review!
I own a LJX6C as well. It's not all-solid but come with cutaway & pickup. I am very happy with it. I am think of getting their 16 series. I simply love how it sound as play. I agree with you that the 6 & 16 series are over built. You should check their 26 & 36 series, you'll be amaze!
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  #3  
Old 02-28-2008, 12:47 PM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yowech View Post
Nice review!
I own a LJX6C as well. It's not all-solid but come with cutaway & pickup. I am very happy with it. I am think of getting their 16 series. I simply love how it sound as play. I agree with you that the 6 & 16 series are over built. You should check their 26 & 36 series, you'll be amaze!
Hi, yowech. You're the guy from the MIGF, right?

Your LJ6 is a great guitar too! I nearly bought an LL6, but decided to spend that little extra for a full-solid, since I've been saving for years anyway

I played the LJ26 at The Curve. Amazing guitar! In a totally different class from the LL6 and LL16. Then again, it's made in Japan and costs more than USD3k. Would have bought it if I had the money. Where would I be able to get my hands on a 36?
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Old 02-28-2008, 01:57 PM
12StringCarlos 12StringCarlos is offline
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If you go on youtube and do a search for Yamaha guitars there is a video of a small factory making the LL series, all hand crafted, and I thought it was in Japan??
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Old 02-28-2008, 02:20 PM
fd943 fd943 is offline
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Congrats on a nice grab. I think you will find alot of love here for Yamaha guitars.I for one am a hugh fan of Yamahas. Now, where is Yamaha Junkie, I bet he will be all over this one!
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  #6  
Old 02-28-2008, 04:50 PM
SNP SNP is offline
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Congratulations on your purchase maaak

I'm also interested in the L-Series Yamaha guitars. Did you notice considerable difference between the LS and LL series? I'm mostly a finger picker and I have tried out the LL16 (loved the sound!!) but couldn't get my hands on a LS16.

Do you think I should aim for the LS16 instead of the LL16 ? How was the strumming on the LS16 ?

I'm actually in a dilema between the LL16/LS16 and the GAD-30R which I also liked very much
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  #7  
Old 02-28-2008, 07:02 PM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 12StringCarlos View Post
If you go on youtube and do a search for Yamaha guitars there is a video of a small factory making the LL series, all hand crafted, and I thought it was in Japan??
ahhhh, but those guitars are the LL/LJ/LS 26/36. As I mentioned in the previous post to yowech, those are a *totally* different breed of guitars. They may *look* the same, but the woods are high-grade and the guitars are handcrafted for real by a small workforce of Japanese luthiers. The cheapest guitars coming out of that factory will set you back at least $3000.

Surely you didn't expect something hand-made in Japan to be priced like a China guitar

The people in both countries may look the same, but Japanese technology and handcrafting skills are still years ahead (no offence to the Chinese, I'm one too, though born overseas). Having rarely had the chance to play more expensive guitars, I am not in the position to give an objective opinion of the 26/36 models. However, many who *have* played high-end instruments could probably attest how the 26/36 beats many of them hands-down.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SNP View Post
Congratulations on your purchase maaak

I'm also interested in the L-Series Yamaha guitars. Did you notice considerable difference between the LS and LL series? I'm mostly a finger picker and I have tried out the LL16 (loved the sound!!) but couldn't get my hands on a LS16.

Do you think I should aim for the LS16 instead of the LL16 ? How was the strumming on the LS16 ?

I'm actually in a dilema between the LL16/LS16 and the GAD-30R which I also liked very much
Hi, SNP! Would really like to visit your country one day

Going back to your LL/LS question, I would say the difference is what you'd expect from a dreadnought/concert body comparison. Having said that, because the LL is not a *true* dreadnought, it doesn't suffer from the boominess factor, which makes it great for both flatpicking and fingerstyle. Plus, the volume and projection are better as well.

If I wasn't on a tight budget, I'd buy one of each! Wait, scratch that. I'd buy the LJ26

But if you had to choose, I would say:

If you want unplugged volume, projection and a good compromise between fingerstyle and flatpicking, get the LL16. I also like that the body style is unique to Yamaha.

For comfort (especially if you're small-sized) and a more focused, mid-rangey sound suited to fingerstyle, go for the LS16. If you often perform amplified, this would probably be a good choice, since it's more comfortable and you wouldn't have to worry about lack of volume through an amp.

Of course, there *is* a third option - the LJ16. It falls somewhere between the LL and LS. Great guitar as well (I think I just made your problems worse!)

The best you could do would be to try them out yourself! But if that's not possible, I would say just go for the LL16. It's a great overall guitar, and at that price, it's not something you're likely to regret. It'll last you a long time, at least until you make your first "serious" guitar purchase

Do tell me more about the Guild GAD!
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  #8  
Old 02-28-2008, 08:22 PM
Sammy_L_D Sammy_L_D is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmmaak View Post
The cheapest guitars coming out of that factory will set you back at least $3000.
Actually not at all.

If I played a 26 or 36 next to most guitars in the $3000+ range, I would expect them to run minimum that price. But the 26s start at about $1000 less.

Nice review indeed. I am a huge supporter of Yamaha's L series. Especially the higher end models.

I own the bottom of the barrel electric-acoustic: LJX6C. Great guitar for its price range.

Regarding each model, I'd say the LJ models are the most versatile, but the LS and LL out perform the LJ with their own respective advantages (LS more focused, LL deeper/richer).

If you play a bit of every style, the LJ is the best choice overall. If you're into strumming, the LL. If you're into fingerpicking/lead lines, the LS.
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  #9  
Old 02-28-2008, 10:42 PM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sammy_L_D View Post
Actually not at all.

If I played a 26 or 36 next to most guitars in the $3000+ range, I would expect them to run minimum that price. But the 26s start at about $1000 less.
No way!!! Either you're mistaken, or very lucky. If it's the latter, please send me a PM and tell me where!

As far as I know, both locally and online, the 26 models sell for around $3000, but nothing as low as what you mentioned (I just checked again, both US and UK prices). If I could get one in the low $2000+ range, I might consider selling a body part to finance my purchase
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Old 02-29-2008, 12:25 AM
yowech yowech is offline
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mmmaak,
I just realized you are M'sian too... Great to see M'sian here. Yup, I am the guitar in the MIGF.
You made the right choice. I should have to for 16 series but at that time I am thinking of a guitar with pre-installed pickup.
I tried the 36 series in Singapore.

12StringCarlos,
The 6 & 16 series are crafted in Taiwan. The 26, 36 all the way to 86 series are made in Japan.
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01 Admira (Mod.Teresa)Classical Guitar (Cedar/EIR)
04 Yamaha LJX6C (Engelmann/EIR)
07 Freeman Custom OMC (Adirondack/Flamed Queensland Walnut)
07 Freeman Classical (Engelmann/EIR)
09 Freeman Grand Concert (Aus Modern Kauri/NZ Ancient Kauri)
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  #11  
Old 02-29-2008, 12:27 AM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Took some photos today and inserted them in the review above. Couldn't fit them all though, so here are the rest!







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  #12  
Old 02-29-2008, 12:34 AM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yowech View Post
mmmaak,
12StringCarlos,
The 6 & 16 series are crafted in Taiwan. The 26, 36 all the way to 86 series are made in Japan.
Not anymore. Yamaha has moved their factory to China (HangZhou) just like nearly every other company in the world

Which is why I'm more impressed that such an instrument can come out of China and not Taiwan.
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Old 02-29-2008, 12:38 AM
yowech yowech is offline
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I know their FG series are from Hang Zhou but not sure their L-series. Mine is from Taiwan.
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01 Admira (Mod.Teresa)Classical Guitar (Cedar/EIR)
04 Yamaha LJX6C (Engelmann/EIR)
07 Freeman Custom OMC (Adirondack/Flamed Queensland Walnut)
07 Freeman Classical (Engelmann/EIR)
09 Freeman Grand Concert (Aus Modern Kauri/NZ Ancient Kauri)
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  #14  
Old 02-29-2008, 12:49 AM
mmmaak mmmaak is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yowech View Post
I know their FG series are from Hang Zhou but not sure their L-series. Mine is from Taiwan.
Look at the leather label in my last picture. Even the salespeople didn't know of the relocation until I pointed it out to them

But I've compared both Taiwan-made and China-made instruments in terms of finish quality, and I'm happy to report that the HangZhou factory does a great job, if not better
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Old 02-29-2008, 02:56 AM
SNP SNP is offline
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Amazing review and Info maaak

I am probably going to test them both before I make the purchase. I really liked the LL16 though. With a a 1 3/4 nut I'm guessing it would be pretty good for finger style too

Anyway the difficult question is not really the LS or LL one but rather the Yamaha or the GAD :P

Both same price, both manufactured at China, both having similar woods (all solid, spruce top, rosewood back + sides)

Well, I just need to play them once more and make my mind up

On an Off Topic note. My mother is a Chinese from MY. Been to Kuching like 8-9 times. Have quite a few relatives over there! I find the culture/way of living in MY quite different and Very Interesting. I was not too fond of the weather though I hate moisture / sweat
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