When shopping for a first guitar, you need to strike a delicate balance--the guitar should be affordable in case you don't like playing as much as you thought you would be, but it also must be playable enough to not discourage you from playing.
Yamaha has long been respected as a manufacturer of great guitars for the price, and their starter guitar lineup is stellar compared to many companies. Today, we'll be looking at the Yamaha FD01S, a member of that starter-instrument lineup. Interestingly, this model is exclusively sold by Amazon.
Things to Consider When Buying a Starter Acoustic Guitar
An entry-level guitar isn't going to sound like a professional-grade instrument, but there are still several ways to make sure you're getting a quality instrument that sounds good and is easy to play. Here are some things to keep in mind:
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Features and Benefits
This is a surprisingly high-quality, good-sounding acoustic guitar given its price. Here are some of the features you may want to consider when buying.
For only about $50 more, you can purchase this guitar as part of a starter package. Here's what comes with it:
- Gig bag
- Extra strings
- Instructional DVD to help you get started
You do have the option to buy the guitar by itself and then choose your own accessories. However, if you want to save time, getting the FD01S as part of a package makes everything easy. And if you want to see what's in the Gigmaker Deluxe pack, check out this unboxing video.
One of the most notable features of this guitar is the fact that it has a solid top. Having a solid top is vital when you want rich, full tone. Many beginner guitars are made with cost savings in mind, and many manufacturers, even major ones, make starter guitars with laminate tops. Solid top guitars will sound better, and you'll probably want to stick with your first guitar longer if it has a solid top. This video compares the sound of an all-laminate guitar and one with a solid top.
The back and sides of this guitar are made of laminated mahogany. Mahogany offers mellow, woody tone and impressive sustain. Of course, laminated mahogany won't be as true to this description as solid mahogany, but it still influences the tone somewhat.
The neck is made of nato. Nato is a tonewood that's mostly chosen for two reasons: cost savings and durability. It really doesn't do much for tone. However, a durable neck is a good thing--it protects against warping. The neck, like the rest of the guitar, has a gloss finish. This can feel "sticky" and make it harder to move up and down the neck--satin finishes are often used to give guitar necks a "slick" feel. However, a glossed neck is perfectly fine to learn on.
The FD01S has some surprisingly nice features for a beginner guitar, and one is the rosewood fingerboard. The fingerboard doesn't influence tone too much, but it does impart some warmth to it. It also matches the rosewood bridge.
Bracing and Sound Quality
Yamaha's list of specifications for this guitar don't specify what type of bracing is used, but it's safe to assume it's made with some variety of X bracing (as most acoustic guitars are).
When it comes to the quality of sound coming from a guitar at this price point, most of us probably don't expect much. However, this is a guitar that outshines most of its competitors. Its sound is definitely on the bright end, and it has more sustain than you might expect. It also sounds just as good fingerpicked as it does strummed--picked notes have a sparkling quality about them. This video demo shows the FD01S being both picked and strummed.
This guitar comes with chrome die-cast tuners, which many buyers have praised as being high-quality. This makes sense--tuning stability is one of the most important things in a beginner guitar, and Yamaha's beginner guitars have a reputation for being playable.
The nut and saddle are made of urea, a plastic that Yamaha uses for its less-expensive instruments. Urea doesn't do much for tone. But if you really want to upgrade the sound of the FD01S, replacing the nut with bone or a tone-enhancing composite is fairly straightforward. If you want to learn how, this video will show you.
Social Proof of the Guitar
Because there are so many starter guitar choices out there, it's a good idea to read reviews before buying. We've found a few helpful reviews of the FD01S from around the web:
This brief but helpful review praises the guitar's tone and playability. The reviewer aptly describes its tone: "bright and deep when needed."
This is a somewhat unusual review--it covers most of the measurements on the FD01S. If you're concerned about the size, some of the detailed measurements here may help. This reviewer also points out that this guitar sounds dramatically better than any laminate guitar.
This review praises this guitar's sound and quality. For this buyer, the guitar arrived in very playable condition with very low action. This person's guitar arrived with some blemishes, but other buyers who received guitars with more extensive blemishes have reported sending them back for a replacement.
Alternatives to Yamaha FD01S
There are plenty of choices out there when you're shopping for your first guitar, and not all of them are good. We've found three decent-quality alternatives you might want to compare to this one.
Yamaha FS800 Concert
How it Compares to Yamaha FD01S
If you intend to play folk music or just prefer a smaller-bodied guitar, this concert-style acoustic is a great choice. It's essentially the concert-body version of the FD01S--it has a solid spruce top with laminated back and sides, and most owners seem to love it. If you'd prefer to start out on an affordable, folk-style guitar, make sure you check this one out.
How it Compares to Yamaha FD01S
Epiphone is Gibson's budget brand, and the DR100 is essentially the company's equivalent to the FD01S. And while it's almost the exact same price, this guitar has a laminate spruce top. This means it's unlikely to sound as good as a solid-top guitar. However, the Slim Taper neck is likely to make learning to play a lot easier, especially if you have small hands. If you prefer the durability of an all-laminate instrument, make sure you give this one a look.
How it Compares to Yamaha FD01S
If you'd prefer your first guitar to be more exotic-looking, this dreadnought from Ibanez might be for you. This guitar has a solid mahogany top with a distinctive, beautiful open-pore natural finish. Mahogany is a much mellower, midrange-focused tonewood than spruce.
If this is the kind of tone you prefer, you might be happy to learn on this guitar. It has laminated okuome back and sides, is a full-size dreadnought, and is only slightly more expensive than the FD01S. If you like darker, mellower tones and unique guitars, make sure you look at this one.
The Yamaha FD01S is hard to beat as a starter guitar. It has features of guitars far past its price point, and it's affordable enough for almost anyone. Yamaha has a great reputation when it comes to making guitars for any level of player, and this is an entry-level one that you'll actually enjoy playing. Click here to check it out!