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Acoustic Resonance Enhancement

Published: Wed July 02, 2008  News Feed

According to Yamaha, the biggest single thing players want from their acoustic guitars is for them to sound ‘old’. The subjective, musicianly thing that most guitarists mean when they say ‘it sounds old’ refers to a tone that’s likely to be warmer, smoother and better balanced than that of a brand new guitar. But can that really be achieved on a brand new instrument?

Armed with this description and goal, Yamaha’s guitar design team set about working out just what makes an old guitar sound ‘old’ and, after several months of painstaking research came up with the answer. Essentially, it transpired that the cellulose fibres in the wood, while rough-edged and random in a new guitar had crystallized and were smooth and uniform in an old, played-in guitar. The primary physical change that the wood underwent over time, this was the thing Yamaha needed to reproduce in order to make a new guitar sound old, straight from the box.

Stepping in where many other manufacturers could only dream of treading, Yamaha’s Materials Technology Division – an almost secret section of the company responsible for many of Yamaha’s forward looking technological developments, rarely discussed and even more rarely opened up to the outside world - were brought in to work out just how to crystalise the cellulose fibres in the wood in the same way that years of playing does. The final answer, developed over lengthy testing and experimentation, adds a step to the timber curing process which sees the wood treated in a combination of steam and high pressure and has the exact same effect as time itself – built into a guitar, the woods (treated with what Yamaha called ARE – Acoustic Resonance Enhancement) simply sound ‘old’.

Never quite ready to simply admit success though, Yamaha’s design team set about carrying out worldwide listen tests with guitar specialists, players and industry experts in the UK, US and Japan to confirm what they had found and came up with the same response every time – the ARE guitars just sounded better. Every time, in blind listen tests, the testers picked the pre-aged guitar as just ‘better’. Warmer, smoother and better balanced – just like most people’s description of an old guitar’s sound.

It appears Yamaha have done an interesting thing then. The Japanese L-Series guitars, currently the only models to feature ARE, are the embodiment of Yamaha’s philosophy towards guitar making. These guitars combine ultra-traditional guitar making skills – the neck are still shaped completely by hand, for example – with cutting edge technology, but only where it makes a better instrument. The idea of letting a Materials Technology Division near the sensitive, hand-selected woods used to create fine acoustic guitars is one which conjures all kinds of scary imagery but the reality is that they have created something rather special. A brand new guitar, that sounds old.

Yamaha’s L-Series guitars with ARE will be available from July.

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