Yamaha Deconstructed: A Look at the Music Instrument Mammoth

Initially termed Nippon Gakki Co. Ltd. when launched in 1887 by Torakusu Yamaha, they have carefully manufactured sophisticated musical instruments for over 130 years since. While their primary purpose was to build piano and reed organs, after World War 2, they re-focussed their weapon-making machinery to produce motorcycles on the side - an organisation that later split from Yamaha’s musical sect to form the Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd.



Currently, after years of innovation in the field of music, they are the largest manufacturers of musical instruments worldwide. They have factories and group companies in over four continents, headquartered in Japan. Despite components being produced in factories across Asia including China, Indonesia, Thailand, and India (to name a few), where the quality of production is stereotypically known to be subpar, Yamaha yet again stands out. Most of their instruments are produced for and by artists. The Japanese are known for their stellar product innovations, maintained under strict quality control rules. Yamaha’s musical instruments are no different. They are made to withstand the test of time and maintain their playability over years of ownership, one generation to the next. Another interesting observation to make is that Yamaha owns Line 6, the brand that makes the highly-valued Variax guitars and other accessories like Guitar Amps, Wireless Systems, Effect Pedals, and Recording Interfaces. They also own the internationally-used and renowned German company, Steinberg, who are instrumental behind the creation of the Cubase DAW and Nuendo Live, Audio Interfaces, and other expansions and sounds.



Yamaha’s musical instrument lineup started with keyboard instruments and harmonica in the 1890s. Soon after, in 1942, they started producing guitars and opened a music school in the years to come. They continued to innovate and develop high-quality products by combining traditional craftsmanship with the advancements of digital technology to consistently produce the quality of sound that reflects the long years of the company’s acquired technical expertise and skilled craftsmanship in the manufacturing industry. Now, their instrument lineup is extremely diverse and wide, and has an option for every price range. To look at a few notable offerings:

Electronic Keyboards

Keys, especially Pianos, were the lifeline of Yamaha. The PSR E463 is Yamaha’s answer to beginner electronic keyboardists. It has all the necessary features to clear the first few levels of Trinity Electronic Keyboard Exams, and the capability to work as a stand-alone portable keyboard for novice artists. There are different levels to the PSR E range to suit every price range like the PSR E263 (and the newer E273) for the most affordable beginner options, followed by the PSR E363, and then the E463. They have even catered to users in specific regions with their PSR I and A range, notably the PSR I500 (for the Indian demographic) and the PSR A350 with sounds that reflect Arabic, Maghreb, Khaliji, Iranian, Turkish and Greek tones.



Apart from these beginner options, the PSR S lineup has for a long time been the go-to choice for transitioning beginners, intermediates, and transitioning intermediates. The PSR S650 initiated a paradigm shift in the way portable keyboards were conceived. Currently discontinued, the S650 was Yamaha’s foray into the world of Arranger Workstations while maintaining portability. Soon, after the importance of Arrangers intrigued artists around the world, Yamaha launched newer, more advanced versions like the PSR S770, PSR S970, PSR 975, and the Tyros 5. Following the success of the PSR I and A series, they also included a more versatile PSR A2000 (currently A3000) to their lineup. At present, the PSR SX lineup has taken it further (from the S series) and come out with three iterations for the previously mentioned category of artists - PSR SX900, PSR SX700, and the PSR SX600. The Tyros5 has been replaced with the mighty Genos which has blurred the line between Arranger Workstations and Synthesisers - another category that Yamaha has long dominated. The Genos is Yamaha’s flagship digital arranger keyboard capable of the ultimate sound and music controls and manipulation, previously only possible on synthesisers.



Their synthesiser lineup is not the most diverse, but is certainly among the most well-built with versatile features. They have mini synths in the reface lineup - CS: 8-note polyphonic Virtual Analog synth with five unique oscillator types; DX: 4-operator FM Sound Engine with continuously variable feedback on every operator; CP: 128 polyphony on an iconic 70s stage keyboard with vintage effects; YC: -128 polyphony keyboard with drawbars and rotary speaker for unique expression, and percussion and effects for a complete organ experience.



Then there’s the 76 and 88 key synths, both analog and digital to suit every player and budget. The lineup includes the Montage, MODX, MOXF, MX88, and MX BK/BU. These models are extremely capable and work with Yamaha’s most powerful sound engine (or a derivative in the case of lower model options). The new and improved sound engine derives a lot of character from Yamaha’s renowned DX7 and Motif range - now discontinued, but for the longest time, the bestseller synth models for artists all around the world.

Pianos

Their debut as a music-instrument making company started with the Piano and the Reed Organ. And while there are now hundreds of companies making Pianos, it is safe to say that Yamaha has mastered the task with all these years of experience making them. Their latest lineup, the Arius YDP 144 and YDP 164 has taken the market by storm because of the competitive pricing, quality build, and exquisite looks. The digital piano makes for a great décor unit and the perfect long-term investment for a beginner pianist. It does not take as much space as a Grand Piano and is lighter than Acoustic Upright Grand Piano. Another Yamaha Digital Piano selling out quickly is the P45 and P125, both of which are Portable Digital Pianos. These are primarily for artists who want the play feel and sound engine of Yamaha’s piano and a quick travel solution. Moreover, Digital Pianos replicate the sound and play feel of an Acoustic at the highest level without the need for routine maintenance as is required on an Acoustic Upright or Grand Piano.



Finally, the legendary acoustic pianos which are the signature creation of Yamaha is also equally coveted by pianists around the world. These also have both the Upright and Grand Piano models - both concert grade, and for studios and homes. In the upright versions, the P Series is the sweet spot for artists, while the SE and U series are the top-end editions for long-term users and aspiring professionals, and aspiring pianists respectively. These acoustic upright pianos come at a premium, but are possibly the best value for money uprights till date. There also exists a b Series for the young ones. As for Grand Pianos, you can’t go wrong with the CX series that takes inspiration from the award-winning CFX Grand Concert Piano, or the more affordable GB1 for home use. They also make the C3 and GC series for studios and aspiring pianists respectively. Lastly, the SX and CF Concert Piano series is for those who do not settle for less. These Grand Pianos are crafted by hand, using the best materials and by the highest skilled expert. Acoustic Pianos, in general, are comparatively cumbersome to maintain, and hence require routine technical and maintenance support. Yamaha also offers these services to select countries worldwide.

Guitars, Basses, and Amps

Yamaha has a wide range of Guitars: Acoustic Guitars, Classical Guitars, Electric Guitars, Semi - Acoustic Guitars, Electric Acoustic Guitars, and Bass Guitars. Their most recognised guitar is the Yamaha F310 acoustic guitar which is the perfect beginners’ guitar. It is priced competitively, built with quality materials, and has a memorable tone to it - factors that are seldom found on a guitar aimed at beginners. Even the Classical Guitars (like the CGS102 and CX40) are well-built and have options in a variety of price ranges. The beauty of the Yamaha Guitar lineup is its versatility and options. At the end of the day, a guitar is in its simplest form a wooden instrument with strings and a soundboard. However, using their years of experience (since 1966), they have refined and perfected building Acoustic Guitars and Classical Guitars. Semi - Acoustic guitars are similar to Acoustic Folk Guitars, with the simple difference of an electric pickup that would help amplify the acoustic sounds better - designed for live performances and for artists who record live. Most of Yamaha’s Acoustic Folk Guitar have the capability to be converted to semi-acoustic guitars with the addition of a simple pickup.



Their electric guitar lineup is also reputable and preferred by many. This was also introduced to their range of instrument in 1966, and has since improved and become at par with signature guitar brands like Fender and Gibson. Their solid-bodied Pacifica series has long been accepted as the value-for-money electric guitar with its maple body and rosewood fretboard with a 3-way pickup for versatility. In another successful attempt to reach out to aspiring electric guitarists, Yamaha bundled their PAC012 with a guitar amp and other Guitar Accessories in their Gigmaker bundle. This bundle is the one-stop investment to a lifetime of playing and performing right out of the box. Apart from the beginner electric guitars they produce, they also make higher-end options like the Revstar for aspiring guitar professionals. The Revstar series is inspired by the best motorcycles, using Japanese craftsmanship, and engineered using only the highest quality materials. Obviously, these are priced higher than consumer guitars, but also hold value for years on end and have an amazing play feel to it. These are preferred and used by stage artists for their unique tone and distinctive looks. Yamaha also makes hollow-body electric guitars like the SA2200 for those looking for a crossover between electric and acoustic guitars. As an added advantage, hollow body acoustic guitars can be used without an amplifier, which is useful during practice.



The final addition to Yamaha’s guitar lineup are their bass guitars. Notably, the BB Series Pro, since its launch in 1977, quickly became the most sought-after electric bass guitar for performing artists. Currently, it has undergone minor changes in design and tone to keep up with the changing trends and for accessibility, but the base significance of the BB Series remains. The BB Series is further divided into four variations - mainly affecting build quality, features, and the electronics - which helps increase accessibility for aspiring bassists while maintaining the signature tone and design of the BB Series. Another impressive Bass Guitar produced by Yamaha is the TRBX lineup that sits in between the most and least expensive models of bass offered by Yamaha. These are the perfect pick for intermediate players looking to go professional. The TRBX Series also has a few variants in price, aimed at different levels of artists - making it apt for home studio use. Finally, Yamaha’s RBX series is the most affordable bass guitar offered under the Yamaha brand. These are no-nonsense bass guitars with notable pickups and knob controls for a beginner bassist.



As for Yamaha’s Guitar Amplifiers, they have two simple cabinets - the THRC112 and the THRC212. These are best paired with head amps, like the THR Head. Cabinets are wooden enclosures that host a speaker system. Heads are the units that house the preamp and power amp, which are responsible for the input and amplification of the electronic signal. This electronic signal is sent to the cabinet which houses the speaker. The THR Series - THR10, THR5, THR10C, THR10X - are Yamaha’s solution for the travelling musician. They have modelled each of their portable amps to replicate the sound of an authentic tube amp using their acclaimed Virtual Circuitry Technology. These are optimal for practice sessions, in-home playing, and at small-sized events.

Drums

Yamaha makes both electronic and acoustic drum kits. While their electronic variants are preferred mainly by Yamaha enthusiasts, the acoustic kits are used worldwide, from large concerts to professional studios and at homes. As for the electronic drum sets, the DTX402 Series is well-liked by those who value compatibility. It can be classified as a travelling musicians drum. The DTX900 on the other hand, is a beautifully designed workhorse from Yamaha’s lineup of electronic drums. It has quality rubber pads (cymbals) and mesh drum heads, brought together by a sturdy steel rack. The drum module (or brain) which powers the electronic drum kit (the DTX900M) is built on 50 drum presets, a music sequencer, metronome, and a suite of features to aid in bettering and performing with your electronic drum. Yamaha also makes the DTX700 and DTX502 range of electronic drums that lie in between the least and most expensive price ranges. While these have a similar drum module with preset sounds, the overall functionality and the number of drum heads are lessened. This is not entirely a bad thing because the kit will take less space while maintaining its signature playing capabilities. The DTX500 series is an apt value for money proposition to consider when buying electronic drums. All these drums also have MIDI output for DAW compatibility.



As for Yamaha’s Acoustic Drum range, it needs little introduction. Used in sold-out shows by international artists, and in the smallest of houses by a passionate drummer, the Acoustic Drums are a well-made testament to Yamaha’s history of making acoustic musical instruments. The Yamaha Rydeen Standard is a fast moving drum kit that is preferred by beginner and intermediate drummers. It comes packed with all the necessary inclusions in a standard drum kit and has the potential to last years on end. The tone produced is also spot-on, loud, and studio quality. Alternatively, the Yamaha Stage Custom is a welcome addition to any professional setup. They also manufacture more expensive, full-sized touring options with double basses and multiple cymbals and hybrid options. These are available in the Tour Custom, Absolute Hybrid Maple, PHX, and Live Custom Hybrid Oak ranges.

PA Systems

PA Systems (Public Address) are compact and easy-to-transport devices that are perfect for you to perform anywhere. From family barbeques, busking in the streets, or performing your first gig, a portable PA system gives you the power to perform with confidence. Apart from live performances, these compact systems can also be used across small venues like fitness classes, wedding ceremonies, and parties.

In Yamaha’s lineup, there are two portable variants - Stagepas 1K and Stagepas 400/600BT. The 1K has a one-knob EQ to perform multiple EQ processes simultaneously, a built-in digital mixer, and an all-in-one 1000 W amplifier that drives the array speaker with 10 small-diameter 1.5" units, as well as a class-leading 12" subwoofer. The 400/600 BT models are more conventional-looking PA Speakers with an 680-watt, portable PA system with a ten-channel powered mixer, two 10" speakers, a Bluetooth input, SPX digital reverbs, an onboard feedback suppressor and versatile EQ (in the 600BT edition). The 400BT has all the same features with eight channels and 400-watt speakers. These PA systems are at par with the industry standard Bose S1 Pro and JBl Eon Compact.

Mixers

There are three kinds of mixers offered by Yamaha - Analog, Digital, and Powered.

Analog Mixers are great for use in live environments and for recording. They are well-loved for their use of traditional analog circuitry that offers the desired warmth and character to your audio. They are also cheaper than their digital counterparts. Yamaha has two notable range in their analog collection - the MG and MGP Series. The flagship MGP Series has D-PRE mic preamps, Yamaha's proprietary X-pressive EQ, iPod/iPhone integration, among other features. There are four models within this lineup, with different channels acting as the differentiating factor. Options exist from the larger 32 channel variants to the more compact and portable 12 channel mixers. The more affordable MG Series also has an impressive set of features aimed at mixing professionals worldwide. The MG20XU lies at the top of the range with 20 channels, D-Pre mic preamps, SPX with 24 programs (effects), and a high quality metal build. These features are also reflected in the lower models with lesser channels. This is perfect for a budding studio professional looking for old-school mixing tools without sacrificing on quality and a well-known user interface.



Digital Mixers, on the other hand, have assignable knobs and buttons, which tend to have a larger learning curve when used interchangeably and for large setups. While there are many schools of thought on the differences in the quality of output, both digital and analog mixers have similar output qualities. They are preferred by artists who travel frequently, have a fixed set-sequence with constantly changing visuals and soundscapes, and can learn and adapt to complex, large-scale environments quickly. Keeping up with the changing times, Yamaha has a large collection of digital mixers - Rivage PM series, CL series, QL series, TF series, TF Rack, LS9, DM 2000/1000 VCM, 02R96VCM, and the 01V96i.

The Rivage PM series is a collection of Yamaha’s mixing and mastering devices combined to make an all-in-one device. It includes five consoles, two DSP engines, two I/O rack units, and two network protocols. Any of these components can be combined to create systems that match a wide range of application scale and budget requirements. All five consoles in the series feature a similar interface with up to three bays of 12 faders each, touch-sensitive display panels, and the Yamaha Selected Channel Section. The CL and QL ranges are smaller versions of the Rivage, each with varying functionality and features. The CL series is slightly more expensive thanks to its multiple fader + channel integration and a meter bridge. The QL series also has a similar layout, but with slightly more reduced functionality. With a lower number of channels and faders, the QL series still maintains industry-standard sound and build quality. This structure of pricing and features are reflected in the lower models to suit every level of studio professional.



Powered Mixers are analog mixers that have built-in amplification for passive PA speakers. These mixers eliminate the need for carrying around separate amplifiers and generally have two amplified channels for 2 PA speakers or a single speaker and a monitor. Yamaha has a small but feature-filled range of powered mixers. Notable, the higher end sees the EMX7/EMX5 with 710W/630W amp and mixer with comprehensive effects, equalizer and built-in feedback suppressor, while the more affordable edition is the EMX2 with four Yamaha Reverbs, feedback suppressor, one-knob master EQ, and the ultimate portable solution. In between these ranges lie the EMX501 series best suited for small and medium sized events, and as a permanent fixture at a recording space.

Audio Interfaces

Yamaha branded interfaces are scarce in the consumer category. They currently only produce the AG06 and AG03 mixer-styled interface for home studios and aspiring content creators. Since the product is aimed at active content creators, it has a loopback function, flexible connectivity (from mics and instruments to mobile devices and monitors), one-touch DSP, and high-resolution playback. These are also built like a tank and portable, so a good investment for podcasters and musicians alike.



Did you know: Yamaha has been the owner of the renowned Steinberg since 2005.

And Steinberg offers some of the most premium audio interfaces in the industry. The AXR4 is their flagship offering, designed to be used in advanced studios and for large mixing needs. It includes a 32-bit integer resolution, a sample rate of up to 384 kHz, and hybrid mic preamps with Rupert Neve Designs SILK emulation add exceptional tonal control. It also supports both Thunderbolt 2 and USB C-type connections, and has a 28in/24out configuration. If you’re looking for a smaller, more affordable solution for your home studio, the UR-C and UR-RT ranges are a worthwhile investment. The primary differences between the two are the internals powering the module - the former has a Class A D-PRE microphone preamp while the latter has switchable Rupert Neve Designs input transformers. The URC series comes with four different channel options and a fairly compact build while the UR-RT comes with two different channel options and fully-metal, old-school build. Finally, the simple UR series is the perfect option for beginners. Starting with the most affordable UR12 with two dedicated inputs, one D-PRE preamp, iOS compatibility - all built inside a compact, rugged package, the UR12 will go a long way for a beginner recording artist. This range extends up to the UR824 with 24in/24out, eight D-PRE preamps, and 24-bit recording, for the advanced user who’s looking for a comfortable upgrade. These are also the perfect beginner interfaces for large groups and music bands.



Fun Fact: Yamaha’s logo reflects three interlocked tuning forks in various orientations - a reflection of their musical manufacturing beginnings.

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