Instant Classic: FS9 Acoustic Guitars

Last year, I was lucky enough to get to play and write about the latest flagship Yamaha acoustic guitar: the FG9.

Having the chance to experience this extraordinary handcrafted instrument literally changed my opinion on what an acoustic guitar should look and sound like. That said, both FG9 models (the FG9 R and FG9 M) have fairly large dreadnought bodies, and my personal wish would be for a smaller size. With the recent release of the FS9 M and FS9 R concert body guitars, my wish has been granted!

Two acoustic guitars.
FS9 M (left) and FS9 R (right).

Both models have the same design aesthetic as the FG9, so it should come as no surprise that they sound and look just as incredible as their larger cousins. Let’s take a deep dive into the reasons why these all-acoustic guitars (which, like the FG9, have no onboard pickups) are, in my humble opinion, instant classics.

Tonewoods

Both FS9 models feature solid Adirondack spruce tops with tapered edges (a feature that allows the body to vibrate more efficiently), a one-piece bolt-on solid African mahogany neck, an ebony bridge and fingerboard, bone nut and saddle.

The FS9 R features a solid African rosewood back and sides, while the FS9 M features a solid African mahogany back and sides. These two tonewoods have slightly different sonic characteristics … but they both sound great!

FS9 R Back Min
FS9 R.

FS9 M Back Min
FS9 M.

Design Aesthetic

Yamaha kept the design aesthetic for the FS9 deceptively simple. The solid Adirondack spruce top and sound hole are outlined with a beautiful rope motif, while the distinctive fingerboard inlays resemble traditional Japanese Kumiki woodworking.

Fretboard of acoustic guitar where it meets the body.

The company’s logo at the top of the guitar is also Adirondack spruce, and the truss rod cover is unfinished ebony to match the fingerboard and bridge. The scratch plate has a tortoiseshell pattern. One of the nicest touches on these fine instruments can be found on the neck heel by way of the spruce inlay and “FS” logo marquetry.

Back of acoustic guitar neck where it meets the body.

Technical Specifications

FS9 concert-body guitars have a slightly shorter scale length than their dreadnought counterparts: 25″ versus 25 9/16″. The string spacing and nut width have remained constant, however, at 11 mm and 44 mm respectively. They also offer the same high-precision Gotoh SXN510 Cosmo Black open-geared tuners found on the FG9.

Acoustic guitar tuning heads.

In addition, like the FG9, both FS9 models come supplied with a hardshell case.

Hardshell guitar case.

Playability

I’m a big fan of the FS9 for several reasons. First, I find the smaller bouts provided by the concert-body size easier to manage when strumming. Secondly, the picking hand placement feels more comfortable to me; essentially the smaller size allows your shoulder to find a more natural resting place. Of course, this is relative to your physical size, but I think most players will find this aspect easier to manage than on a dreadnought or jumbo guitar. And, while it’s true that the FS9 does not have a cutaway — neither does the FG9 — the fact of the matter is that acoustic guitarists rarely play above the 12th fret, so I honestly don’t miss it at all.

The slightly shorter scale length on the FS9 (as compared to an FG9) also reduces string tension somewhat — a very desirable attribute for players with less hand strength, or those who spend a lot of time on their dedicated instrument.

I found the neck to be extremely comfortable to play; in fact, I didn’t really need any time to adjust to its dimensions and string spacing. The fret edges are beautifully dressed, to the point where you don’t feel them at all during changes in position.

In addition, the satin-finished neck allows for easy slides and glissandi along the fretboard without it ever feeling sticky or sweaty. I’m so glad guitar manufacturers like Yamaha are aware of how much players appreciate these finer details … as they should on a premium guitar like this.

Tone

I recently spent a couple of weeks with the FS9 M in my studio, which gave me time to make some comparisons with my other acoustic guitars.

I was expecting the mahogany back and sides to emit less bass-end response than my rosewood guitars, but that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, I found the FS9 M bass response to be well-tailored to the size of the guitar. In addition, the midrange response was clear and musical, and the top end added just the right amount of sparkle to chords and arpeggios without ever sounding too bright.

Of course, what the player hears, compared to a listener ten feet away, is often completely different … but I think most players would lose themselves in the quality of tones coming from this guitar and fall in love with what it can do to inspire your musical performances, songwriting and recording sessions.

I thought the best way for me to see if the guitar would work well for songwriting was to record how it sounded both with a pick and my fingers in a multi-track recording.  I also wanted to see if the FS9 would sound good when applying other acoustic guitar techniques and stylistic approaches like bottleneck slide and single-note lines, so I produced a track using the FS9 M exclusively to capture what this guitar can do in a real-world recording session with a rhythm section plus male and female vocals. You can hear and see the result in the video below.

The Video

Here, I’m playing a Yamaha FS9 M on an original song, “Rain Down On Me.” I think this presentation gives you a good idea of how the guitar sounds in a modest home studio setup, for what I consider a singer/songwriter acoustic guitar demo.

After the song concludes, I discuss the guitar specifications, show photographs of both the FS9 M and FS9 R models, and present isolated strumming and fingerpicking sound samples from the FS9 M.

The Wrap Up

FS9 concert body guitars are a terrific addition to the pinnacle “9” range of Yamaha all-acoustic guitars. They are extremely expressive instruments that allow the player to precisely create dynamics with either their fingers or a pick … without ever losing details across the low, mid and high-end frequency ranges.

Experienced guitar players will appreciate the versatility these instruments offer; the ability to seamlessly transition between articulate arpeggios, finger styles and strumming, all in one musical passage, is rare on many acoustic guitars. Add the clarity of solo lines, fills and bottleneck slide to the mix and you have an acoustic workhorse worth double its weight in gold. Singer/songwriters will appreciate the overall size, light weight, ease of playability and the harmonic support the FS9 provides to either male or female vocals.

So if you’re looking for a dedicated acoustic guitar that will sit front and center both in your studio and onstage, look no further than the excellent FS9.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR.

 

Check out Robbie’s other postings.

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