Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review: Yamaha AES620

Here is a list of the guitars that I can remember owning:aes620 guitar

  • Hot Pink Tanara Guitar
  • Ibanez RG 550
  • Ibanez Artstar Hollow Body Guitar
  • Goya Classical Guitar (Garage Sale)
  • Samick SG
  • Takamine Acoustic Electric Martin Lawsuit Edition
  • Ibanez js600
  • OLP MM4 Guitar Port Package
  • Ovation Acoustic Electric
  • Line 6 Variax 300
  • Washburn BT2
  • Ibanez AEX Special Edition

At least that’s all I can remember.  I still have the Takamine Acoustic Electric guitar and an old Ibanez Bass that I never really plan.  But I have bought all of those guitars looking for the one that would actually help me be a better player.  I sold every one of them so that I could either buy another guitar or a golf club.  Looking back, the only one that I really wish I still had is the Ibanez JS600 Satriani guitar.  It was dinged up, but extremely comfortable.  I don’t know anything about the pickups, but I did love it.

None of these guitars made me a better player.  All of them encouraged me to play more guitar at least for a few days until I got bored with it because I really needed lessons and not a different guitar. 

I admit to some rockstar fantasies.  I did hope when I bought my first couple of guitars that I would get in a band and look cool.  But those fantasies have all faded. 

I was recently inspired to take guitar a bit more seriously and actually learn a bit.  I have decided that I really do love guitar.  I really do want to learn to play.  I decided that much like my recent desire to lose weight, I needed to humble myself a bit, I needed to say “I am becoming a fatty” “I can’t sprint” “I am too lazy to play catch with my kids”.  But for the guitar, I had to say: “I may have learned to play some chords in the first position, but anyone can do that” “I can’t play a barre chord” “I can’t play any kind of solo” “the only lead riffs I know, I butcher” “I need to start from near the beginning.”

So what I needed was a guitar that was easy to play, and had a tone that would be pleasing and fun to listen to.  Of course, my dream guitar has long bee the Yamaha RGX-tt Ty Tabor Signature edition.  You can find these for $600-ish dollars on ebay.  But I don’t have $600 and don’t need a guitar with a complicated tremolo.  I need a good player that I can get better on that will still be a good guitar when I am a better player.

So I researched what Ty has played and I researched what people were recommending.  Everyone and their dog goes back to a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Strat.  My only aversion to either of these is the price.  So I searched a bit more and found a review of Ty Tabor saying that the Yamaha AES guitars were his new favorite.  He was playing the top of the line AES920.  But I read further and learned that he was also playing a 620 at times on stage. 

I found that this guitar was the Guitar Player’s Magazine Editor’s Choice guitar and that it won the ONE award in Guitar One magazine.  So I knew that this guitar was at least special. 

Looking further, I found that there is NO ONE who gives this guitar a poor review.  Looks, feel, playability, sound, quality of construction are apparently first rate.  The reviews all say that this is the best Les Paul style guitar that many have ever played.  The mix of the mahogany body with the maple top and the rosewood on mahogany neck are perfectly put together.  It’s such a solid feel and a pleasing look.

This guitar is an ergonomic update to the les paul guitar. The shape is so much more thin and comfortable than a les paul, and of course it weighs less.

It is a string-through body and is full of warm sustain.  You can make the sound as rich or as harsh as you need on this guitar.  I’ve never played a guitar that can have as good of a low bassy sound along with a singing treble and mid sound.  You can hear this through either pick up or just strumming this guitar acoustically. 

Not that I have owned any high-end guitars before, but I have played some and in my opinion this is the finest feeling guitar that I have ever played.  I was worried by some who made the neck sound big and bulky, because I do like a thin ibanez neck, but there is nothing uncomfortable at all about this neck.  It is never in your way and feels completely natural.

Since I bought it used, I can not vouch for how it was originally set up, but I can say that on my guitar, the action is very low and comfortable. 

The pickups that came stock in this guitar were: a Jeff Beck style Semour Duncan bridge pickup along with a Yamaha Alnico pickup in the neck.  The original owner did not like the neck pickup and had unhooked it.  So I was left to choose another.  Because the AES920 comes with Duncan ‘59’s I purchased the Guitar Fetish Alnico ‘59 Pickup. 

The Beck Pickup is amazing.  Lots of beef to it but a lot of clarity.  You can really get some great gritty tones from it.  I imagine that someone who is only into smooth jazz would think that this pickup is too gritty, but anyone who uses a tube amp is going to get some great sounding overdrive with this. 

I am still assessing the pickup I put in.  It is very warm, complements the Beck pickup and sings really well.  I am really thinking that I made a great choice here. 

I don’t really pay much attention to how guitars are marketed, but I am assuming that this guitar was very poorly advertised.  Ty Tabor used it, Sammy Hagar has a signature model of it, but I am finding a lot of metal heads who bought it at their local music store looking for a metal machine.  I’m sure they won’t be disappointed, but playing this guitar through a modeling multi effects amp, just won’t do it justice.  It will sound every bit as good as any Epiphone Les Paul that they could have purchased, and will have more body than any Ibanez that they could have gotten for a similar price.  But the thought of this guitar being covered in Slayer stickers makes me sad.  There is so much more to this guitar than a metal head will experience.  Yamaha did build the AES720 especially for Metal Heads, it has Dimarzio pickups and a metal head paint scheme. 

This guitar is versatile and is a tone machine.  Play the blues through it and you will understand the amazing tone that it can create.  Play some chiming U2 type chords and riffs and you will hear how open the sound is. 

This should have been marketed as a guitar for people who want to hear great sound.  People who have been playing $1800 PRS guitars and Gibson Les Pauls should have been challenged to try this thing.  Some of those guys may never want to switch from their expensive guitar choices, there is a mental security and pride to knowing that you paid a lot and got a great named guitar that the pro’s will respect.  But there are tons like me who feel like a genius for researching and finding this unbelievable guitar used for $200. 

I shot an email to customer support at Yamaha to ask why the AES were discontinued and to let them know that the guitar was marketed so poorly.  They emailed back and said that the sales were low and it was a financial choice for them.  It seems like a very sad and unfortunate choice in my opinion.  But we can benefit from their mistake by picking one of these up for less than $300 used. 

In short.  The best guitar I have ever owned by a long shot, my favorite guitar I have ever played (I like it more than the bulkier les paul’s and the stylish PRS gutiars) it is gorgeous, and well built, the sounds are amazing and make a hack like me have some good moments.  It is a compliment to any type of amp that allows  a great guitar to shine.  It is comfortable and very first rate in every way. 

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