Yamaha FG Series – Folk Acoustic Guitars Review

The Yamaha FG series is a legend when it comes to value-priced, high-performing acoustics. The FG in the name stands for "folk guitar," and while these are instruments optimized for folk music, FG series guitars sound great playing almost any genre of music. The series is named after the original Yamaha FG, a guitar released in 1966. Today, the revamped FG Series is ready for players who want a quality acoustic guitar that doesn't cost a fortune.

Yamaha FG/FS Series

PRO's & CON's Of Yamaha FG / FS Series

Before committing to a given series of guitars, it's a good idea to look at some of the pros and cons of the series as a whole. In this section, we'll give you a quick overview of some of the benefits and drawbacks of FG Series guitars.

Pros

  • All guitars in the series have solid spruce or mahogany tops for full, responsive sound
  • All instruments in the series come with Yamaha's newly redesigned scalloped bracing for louder, richer sound
  • Traditional Western body style (FG Series) has the nuanced tone of a full-size dreadnought, while the concert body of the FS delivers classic folk sound and is well-suited to fingerpicking
  • Each FG/FS Series model is a great value

Cons

  • Some buyers report that frets on less expensive models are not always well finished
  • The FG/FS Series does not come with electronics (but if you want an acoustic-electric, the FGX Series may have what you need

Main Series Features and Benefits

Before deciding on a guitar from the FG Series, it's a good idea to understand Yamaha's classification logic. The FG Series flagship model is the FG-180-50TH, a 50th anniversary model commemorating the 1966 FG. Aside from this model, the FG Series starts with the FG850 and goes down to the FG800. The lower the number, the lower the price.

One of the distinguishing features of this series is its value -- Yamaha has long been known for producing guitars that offer extraordinary value for the price, and this series has a nod to Yamaha's history while still remaining affordable. Of course, this isn't the only thing to consider when making a purchase. In this section, we'll outline a few of the primary features of the series.

Body Style

All of the guitars in the FG series are made with what Yamaha calls the Traditional Western body. This build is essentially a dreadnought, which is the most popular body style by far. This is largely due to the dreadnought's versatility--thanks to its larger size, the dreadnought produces plenty of low end, but it also adds a sparkle of treble. Dreadnoughts also produce plenty of overtones without becoming overly boomy. This leads to nuanced, complex sound that lends itself well to playing in a group, playing solo, or accompanying the voice.

Meanwhile, the guitars in the FS Series are smaller, concert-style guitars. They also have thinner bodies, making them easier for smaller players to comfortably play them. Since thinner bodies tend to more easily project sound, these models are also great for fingerpicking, and they deliver the sound that many folk artists need.

It should be noted that none of the guitars in this series come with a cutaway. While this does lead to fuller sound, it can make playability more difficult for players who spend a lot of time on higher frets. If you want to see the Traditional Western body in action, this video gives you a good idea of what it looks and sounds like.

Bracing

Yamaha is a company that is known for constantly innovating. For this series, they fine-tuned their bracing technology to produce bigger, bolder sound. The new bracing technology involves focused scalloping to increase low and mid frequencies. If you're someone who often finds acoustic guitars to be a little too bright-sounding, you might find that this bracing pattern works well for your playing needs. If you're curious about bracing, this video offers a comparison of scalloped and straight (non-scalloped) bracing.

Tonewood Choices

The FG180-50TH is an all-solid guitar (you can see it in action in this video), but the other models in the series come with laminated backs and sides. However, when it comes to the soundboard, each one has a solid top. Depending on which FG Series model you choose, you can have a solid spruce top or a solid mahogany top. Spruce is ideal for players who like a sound that leans toward the bright side, while mahogany is ideal for players who like a warmer, slightly darker sound.

As for the back and sides of the Yamaha FG guitars, you have a few different choices of wood. Here are some of the available options:

  • Mahogany -- This beautifully-grained wood offers a mellower sound, and it's especially good at balancing out the brightness of spruce
  • Flamed Maple -- This wood is very visually striking, and it's known for its faster note decay. This makes it ideal for players who prefer a tight, defined sound.
  • Rosewood -- Rosewood is a premium tonewood known for producing a highly detailed sound. The low end is defined, and the high end is often described as having a bit of sparkle.
  • Nato/Okume -- This is a durable wood that doesn't do much to add to a guitar's sound. However, it's very cost-effective, and it's usually found on budget-priced models.

Finish Options

While it isn't true of every model in the series, many of Yamaha FG Series guitars come in several finish options. Some come in only in natural, but others (especially the FG820) come in an impressive color array. Here are some of the colors available:

  • Natural -- This finish lets the natural beauty of spruce and mahogany shine through
  • Autumn Burst -- This bright sunburst is reminiscent of the cherry sunburst finish on the Gibson Hummingbird
  • Sunset Blue -- This is lovely blue sunburst
  • Black -- This glossy black finish is sure to make a statement on stage
  • Brown Sunburst -- This is a vintage-style sunburst similar to the tobacco sunburst found on many other brands

If you want to see some of these finish options for yourself, this video overview shows some of the available colors.

The Yamaha FG/FS Series Review

In this section, we'll take a closer look at each member of the series, and we'll also let you know how it compares to other FG and FS models.

Yamaha FG180-50TH

Brief Review

This limited-edition model is made to the specifications of the original FG180, the legendary folk guitar that the company released in 1966. This Traditional Western (essentially, a dreadnought build) model has a solid spruce top that has been treated with Yamaha's exclusive Acoustic Resonance Enhancement (A.R.E.) technology. This method of wood torrefaction essentially ages the wood, making the guitar sound like a seasoned acoustic guitar. If you've ever played an older, high-quality guitar, you know the difference time can make, and the FG180-50TH sounds like an aged acoustic right out of the box.

This guitar also has a solid mahogany back and sides. Mahogany is a classic tonewood, and it sounds especially good combined with a spruce top. It has a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and it comes with a hard shell case. The FG180-50TH is a limited edition instrument, so it may be harder to find than some of the other guitar choices on the list. However, given the quality, it's still an excellent value--it's priced around $1000. Here's how it compares to the rest of the FG/FS Series:

Important Features

  • All-solid build sets it apart from the rest of the FG acoustic guitar choices, as other models in the series have laminated backs and sides.
  • A.R.E. treatment of the spruce top also sets it apart, and it enhances the sound right out of the box.
  • Mahogany back and sides complement the brightness of the spruce top and give it classic acoustic sound
  • The neck is made of mahogany, while the rest of the series have necks made of Nato
  • It's the most expensive Yamaha guitar in the series, but it's also the only one made of all solid wood

If you want an all-solid guitar whose specifications match that of an acoustic guitar legend, make sure you check this one out!

Yamaha FG850 and Yamaha FS850

Brief Review

These all-mahogany guitars are beautiful, classic-looking instruments that respond especially well to aggressive playing. Mahogany is a wood whose sound favors midrange frequencies, resulting in a tone that's a little warmer than that of spruce guitars. The FG850 has a solid mahogany top and laminated mahogany back and sides. As you likely know, laminated woods don't fully retain the character of their solid counterparts, but a solid top and quality bracing make more of a difference when it comes to achieving a quality sound.

These guitars also have mahogany body binding. While some players might prefer contrast binding that is often found on vintage acoustic guitars, the mahogany binding on these ones gives them a beautiful monochrome look. The traditional neck profile is substantial while still being highly playable, and it's crowned with a rosewood fingerboard. The soundhole is adorned with an abalone inlay.

The Yamaha FS850 is almost identical to the FG850 in terms of specifications, but with one important difference: it has a smaller, thinner concert-style body. This makes it a great option for fingerpickers or for younger/smaller players who want to be able to comfortably play a genuine mahogany instrument.

While these are some of the more expensive instruments in the series, they're still under $700, making them an affordable option for many. Here's how they stack up to the rest:

Important Features

FG 850

FS 850

  • Solid mahogany top gives them a distinctly warm, woody tone that's perfect for folk and bluegrass
  • Like other guitars in the series, these models also have specialized scalloped X bracing designed to emphasize the midrange and low end
  • Nato necks are durable and resist warping, and the traditional neck profile is a familiar feel for most acoustic guitar players
  • Rosewood fingerboards and bridges add a beautiful touch
  • Like others in the series, these guitars have urea nuts and saddles. This composite isn't ideal when it comes to sound, but the nut and saddle are relatively easy to replace

If you love the sound of genuine mahogany and want a guitar with a mahogany back and sides (as well as a solid mahogany top), make sure you check these guitars out. The FG850 is a great option for those seeking full-bodied dreadnought tone, while the FS850 is an excellent choice for folk players, fingerpickers, or those who want something a little smaller.

Yamaha FG840

Brief Review

For players who want a beautifully finished, solid-top acoustic guitar for under $500, the FG840 is an attractive choice. This one has a solid spruce top that comes in a natural finish. It stands out from others in the series with one especially notable feature: its flamed maple back and sides. Flamed maple is an exotic-looking grain that makes any guitar stand out, but it also has unique tonal properties. Maple is known for both clarity and projection ability. When strumming a chord, you'll be able to hear each note distinctly, especially compared to a guitar made with mahogany. Some players prefer this, and others don't--it all comes down to the type of music you want to play.

When it comes to appearance, the FG840 is a standout. Its cream patterned binding and abalone rosette give it a high-end look without being overwhelming. It has a rosewood bridge and fingerboard. The Nato neck has a matte finish (as do the necks of others in the series), making it highly playable.

Important Features

  • While it's one of the more expensive acoustic guitar options, it's still highly affordable
  • The solid spruce top gives it bright yet balanced sound
  • Laminated flamed maple back and sides make it tonally and aesthetically different from other FG Series instruments
  • Traditional Western body has the tonal advantages of a dreadnought while still being easy to handle and play
  • Classic natural finish gives it a traditional look, but the abalone rosette and unique binding make it unique

If you're looking for a slightly different tonewood configuration and appreciate the look of exotic wood, make sure you look at this one.

Yamaha FG830 and Yamaha FS830

Brief Review

If you prefer a more traditional tonewood configuration but like the general look and feel of the FG840, the Yamaha FG830 might be the acoustic guitar for you. Yamaha generally offers guitars in several different tonewood combinations, making it easier for players to select something that's a perfect fit for the music they play. The FG830 looks almost identical to the FG840, but the back and sides are made of laminated rosewood instead of laminated flamed maple. Rosewood gives you overtone-rich sound that highlights each nuance in your playing, and it also has a stunningly beautiful grain.

Aside from the rosewood used for the back and sides, this is similar to the other acoustic guitars in the series: it has die-cast chrome tuners, a matte-finished nato neck, and cream patterned binding.

As is the case with most FG/FS Series instruments, the FS830 has almost all of the same specifications of the FG830. You get the same quality build and beautiful appointments, but they come in a smaller, concert body package. Since Yamaha's FS Series instruments are smaller as well as thinner. This gives them a projection ability that makes them especially well-suited to fingerstyle playing.

Important Features

FG 830

FS 830

  • Given the fact that it retails for less than $400, this guitar is very well-appointed
  • The solid spruce top with rosewood body is a classic acoustic tonewood combination
  • Cream binding and abalone rosette give it distinguishing touches
  • Rosewood fingerboard adds some warmth to the sound and makes it highly playable

If you want a solid-top, classic acoustic dreadnought for the right price, the Yamaha FG830 is definitely worth checking out. If you're a folk player or finger picker and want something in a smaller package, make sure you check out the FS830.

Yamaha FG820, FS820 FG820-L, and FG820-12

Brief Review

While Yamaha produces excellent high-end guitars as well, many people know them for their affordable acoustic guitars. The FG820 (and its left-handed counterpart, the FG-820-L) retails for under $300. Don't let the low price fool you, though--it comes with a solid spruce top, which you don't always see on acoustic guitars in this price range.

This guitar has laminated mahogany back and sides, so you still get a warm sound and a beautiful appearance. With these guitars, you don't get the abalone inlay that comes with higher-end members of the series, but you do get expanded color options--the FG820 comes in all of the color options listed above. However, the FG820-L and the FG820-12 (the same guitar, but a 12-string model) are only offered in natural.

Like most of the guitars in the series, the FG820 also comes with a nato neck and die-cast chrome tuners. The contrasting binding also makes it look like a higher-end instrument than it is.

Of course, if you've looked over the various types of the FG820 and would prefer a concert-body acoustic, the FS820 may well be what you need. This guitar comes with the same appointments, and it's also available in all of the many colors you can choose from when you choose the FG820.

Important Features

FG820

FS820

FG820-L

FG-820-12

  • The solid spruce top makes it an excellent value for the price
  • It still has Yamaha's redesigned bracing for impressive sound
  • Most of its lower price comes from aesthetic differences (lack of the abalone rosette, for instance) as opposed to sonic differences

If you need a budget-friendly acoustic that comes in plenty of color options, make sure you check these models out. The dreadnought FG820 and FG820-L are great choices for those who want full-bodied sound, while the FG820-12 is perfect for a first 12-string. For those looking for a smaller folk guitar, the FS820 gives you classic Yamaha playability in a smaller package.

Yamaha FG800 and Yamaha FS800

Brief Review

Sometimes, especially if you are new to playing guitar or are on a very tight budget, you just need something affordable that still sounds good. These guitars do exactly that. They have solid spruce tops, which is somewhat rare given their highly affordable price.

These guitars still have the same comfortable nato neck as others in the series, and they have the same high-quality tuners. While solid tops and redesigned bracing still mean they have the sound of more expensive instruments, the Yamaha FG800 and Yamaha FS800 have nato back and sides instead of the rosewood and mahogany found on more expensive models.

As you may know, nato isn't a wood known for great tone, and it is usually found on budget guitars. However, its extreme durability makes this instrument a great option for kids learning to play or for musicians looking for a backup or travel instrument.

If you're in the market for a budget-minded folk guitar with a smaller body, the FS800 may well be your preferred option over the larger dreadnought size of the FG800.

Important Features

FG 800

FS 800

  • Solid spruce tops and redesigned bracing give you responsiveness and sound that you normally won't find with guitars this inexpensive
  • Walnut fingerboards and bridges still give them a beautiful touch without increasing the price
  • Nato back and sides are somewhat of a downgrade from mahogany and rosewood when it comes to a guitar's back and sides, but they keep costs low
  • These guitars only come in natural finish

If you want a quality guitar that is still extremely affordable, both the FG800 and the FS800 are definitely worth checking out.

Final Thoughts

We think you'll love the FG Series from Yamaha if you're looking for a highly playable, great-sounding guitar that is still affordable. With the varied specifications of each model, it's wise to carefully compare and select one that suits you and your playing style. Let us know what you think in the comments section, and don't forget to share if you liked it!

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