July 29, 2012 § 2 Comments
by Jeffery Lewis
This post was initially published in an Amazon.com review I made last year. Updates to that review are made here.
In the Summer of 2009, Yamaha introduced their NX series of electric acoustic nylon string guitars. The NX series is divided between the NTX and NCX. NCX inherits many of the physical attributes of a traditional classical guitar with the exception of a cutaway and lower string height. The NTX has a more contemporary design to make steel string and electric guitarist feel more at home. There are four NTX models: NTX700, NTX700BL, NTX900FM, and NTX1200R. The difference between the 700, 900, and 1200 involves wood choices. The dimensions and electronics are identical for all NTX models. The 700 offers a solid spruce top with Nato back, sides, and neck.
The NTX700 is what some people are calling a crossover classical guitar. Besides the electronic pickups, what makes a crossover classical guitar is the physical characteristics of the guitar. The NTX700 has a narrower and thinner neck. The nut width is 48mm compared to 52mm for a traditional classical guitar. Most steel strings have a nut width around 42mm, so 48mm is about in the middle of a classical and steel string. The neck is thinner measured from the fretboard to the back of the neck. The thinner neck can be provided thanks to the adjustable steel truss rod. The truss rod also allows for lower action since the neck can be slightly curved to accommodate the sweep of the string vibration.
As a comparison, I measured string spacing at the nut and bridge on the NTX700 and then on my traditional classical guitar. I am measuring the distance between the 1st and 6th strings, center to center. The NTX700 has a 37.5mm nut string spacing and a 52.5mm bridge string spacing. My traditional classical has a 42.5mm nut string spacing and a 56mm bridge string spacing. I should let you know that I am a full breed classical guitarist, playing primarily classical and fingerstyle repertoire. Wider string spacing is generally beneficial to classical and fingerstyle repertoire due to the need to individually pluck strings with your fingers, and to have to let open strings resonate next to fretted strings. The latter can be a problem with narrow string spacing because the finger fretting a string can accidentally dampen the neighboring resonating open string. This can kill harmonies needed in solo arrangements. But I personally find a 52mm nut too wide for my hands. When I picked up the NTX700, I immediately noticed the narrower string spacing. It may only be a few millimeters, but it makes a big difference.
String spacing is a personal matter. The NTX700 has slightly narrower string spacing for a 48mm wide nut. There is considerable spacing above the 6th string and below the 1st string. I like this spacing because it prevents the 1st string from slipping off the fretboard in certain situations. Other may not like this spacing since it could impede using your thumb on the 6th string. With all that said, personal ideal string spacing is driven by matters such as hand and finger size, and the style of music played. For me, initially the narrower string spacing reduced errors from large stretches and awkward bars, but increased adjacent string dampening type of errors. I did adapt to the narrower neck over a period of a month or so. My left hand became more precise. Now I do not see going back to a traditional wide classical neck. I once went back to a wide neck and after only a day of playing, I developed pain in my left hand. The wide classical neck is not for me. Some may not be able to adapt to the narrow neck of the NTX700. If you have access to one, try this. My notation is as follows: fret number|string number|finger number. For example 3|2|4 is 3rd fret, 2nd string, using the 4th finger (i.e. pinky). Hold this chord 3|2|4, 2|3|2, 3|5|3. Do an arpeggio that involves the bottom 5 strings. Then switch to 3|1|4, 3|6|3 and do an arpeggio that involves all strings but the 5th. Switch back and forth between these two chords. Sorry, but it is not very musical. The point of this exercise is to see how often you dampen the 4th string on the first chord and how often you have a stretch error with the second chord. With this exercise, I actually have less errors on the NTX700 neck than with a wide classical neck. I have had the nut on my NTX700 modified though. I increased the string spacing by 1mm. This has helped reduce adjacent string damping errors. As I stated earlier, factory set string spacing on the NTX700 is on the narrow side for a 48mm nut. By increasing the string spacing by 1mm, the spacing is now typical for 48mm nuts of other guitar makers.
The NTX700 body joins at the 14th fret. This is common in steel string and electric guitars. It allows for easier access to the NTX700’s 22 frets. This ended up being one of the physical changes over a traditional classical that surprised me as being quite significant. A 14th fret body joint changes the distance between the bridge and sound hole. It is shorter on the NTX700. The distance from the bridge to the middle of the sound hole is 135mm on the NTX700. On my traditional classical, it is 180mm. How is that important? A classical guitarist can vary tone by playing at different distances from the bridge. When a string is plucked close to the bridge, it sounds thin. When plucked close to the sound hole, it is rounder and darker. With the NTX700, I can vary tone with just a slight movement of my right hand. It took me a while to figure out why the NTX700 seemed more expressive than my traditional classical. I have concluded it is more expressive because of the 14th fret body joint. Because of the 14th fret body joint, you should adjust your neutral right hand position. With a traditional classical guitar, I would put my hand just behind the sound hole for the neutral position. This produces the desired tone for most musical applications. If you placed your hand just behind the sound hole on the NTX700, the tone is too bright. The tone is too bright because your hand is much closer to the bridge. I have adjusted my neutral right hand position to be directly over the sound hole.
The NTX700 has curved frets, or has what is called a radius fretboard. Traditional classical guitars have a flat fretboard. I love the radius fretboard of the NTX700. I don’t see going back to a flat fretboard. Doing bars is a magnitude order easier on the NTX700. It is beyond me why classical guitars have not adopted a radius fretboard. Classical guitars are about the only type of guitar that still has a flat fretboard. Steel string and electrics have been built this way for decades.
The NTX700 has pretty low action. I took my traditional classical into the shop and told them to get the action as low as possible without having fret buzz problems. The NTX700’s action is lower than my traditional classical, but a bit higher than my flamenco. With all these things, the narrower and thinner neck, low action, and radius fredboard, after playing the NTX700 for while, and then going back to my traditional classical, I felt like I went from driving an Audi A4 to a 1950 Chevy truck with no power steering and manual transmission! The traditional classical now feels huge! The fretboard feels like a big wall! The NTX700 is a magnitude order easier to play. Passages that were once hard, are now much easier and I am less likely to mess up. I am also much more comfortable playing the NTX700. I play the guitar for pleasure. If I am straining to do a stretch with a big grimace on my face, I am not experiencing pleasure. So I want a guitar to be comfortable in order for it to be pleasurable to play.
Intonation on the NTX700 is very accurate throughout the whole neck. Also, I like that the NTX700 has marking on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 17th frets. Traditional classicals generally skimp on putting these little white dots. One dimension that is consistent with a traditional classical guitar is the scale length. The NTX700 has a 650mm scale length.
The NTX700 has a thinner body. Body depth measures 80-90mm compared to around 100mm for traditional classicals. The thinner body is cool. It has several benefits. It makes for better balance and positioning when using a strap. It also makes it easier to see the frets because you can hold the fretboard closer to your body. The thinner body acoustically will not have the same volume. I would say my NTX700 produces about 80% the volume and about 90% the sustain acoustically compared to my traditional classical. In some respects, this is a good thing because it helps reduce feedback. If you plan on using your NTX700 primarily unplugged, then you are buying the wrong guitar. The NTX700 has superb pickups that begs the guitar to be amplified. In my opinion, you should be using your NTX700 plugged in most of the time to get the full benefit of this wonderful guitar. If you play the NTX700 unplugged right after a full body classical, you will be disappointed. The NTX700 will be quieter and have less delicacy in regards to body resonance. The rather flat body resonance is probably due to heavy bracing and a thick soundboard. The NTX700 has less sympathetic resonance with other strings. I actually like this. It sounds less muddy. Others may think the guitar sounds less rich. The NTX700 sings plugged in though. It sounds so good, that I prefer the plugged in sound to the acoustic sound of a full body classical. This may sound like I’m over rationalizing, but having a guitar slightly handicapped acoustically helps with my performance. When I play acoustically, I put more force to the string on loud notes. This trains me to utilize full dynamic range in my playing. When I switch to plugged in, I am rewarded by the full frequency response of the pickups, and the full dynamic range of my playing.
I have since had the factory plastic saddle replaced with a bone one. Surprisingly, this made a noticeable difference in the acoustic quality of the guitar. It made no difference in the plugged-in sound though. The volume improved to about 85% the volume of a full body guitar from 80%. The sustain is now about the same as a full body guitar. Body resonance is richer. After getting a bone saddle on the NTX700, I am quite satisfied with the acoustic sound of the NTX700, even though the plugged-in sound, not the acoustic sound, is why I bought the instrument. I am playing the instrument about half plugged-in and half acoustically now with the bone saddle.
The NTX700 has a larger lower bout. Acoustically, I’m not sure what this does, but you should be aware, if you have a snug fitting classical guitar case, the NTX700 will not fit in the case because of the larger lower bout. The NTX700 is longer end to end than a traditional classical. This also could present case issues. With these dimension changes, the NTX700 still feels normal when resting on the left leg with a foot stool. It also feels fine on the right leg or with a strap. The NTX700 balances at the top strap mount. The jack doubles as the bottom strap mount. I ended up buying the “Gator GC-APX Deluxe ABS Acoustic-Electric Guitar Case for Yamaha APX models”.
The NTX700 has excellent pickups. They sound natural and do not have feedback problems. There are two pickups in the NTX700. One for the treble string, and one for the bass strings. These type of pickups have been offered in Yamaha steel string acoustics for a little while now. The NX series has a specially tuned version of the A.R.T (Acoustic Resonance Transducer) pickups optimize for the tone and dynamics of nylon strings. The pickups are coupled with a preamp. The preamp has a three band graphic equalizer, separate gain for the bass and treble pickups, a master volume, and a chromatic tuner. The preamp is reasonably low noise. When recording through the pickups, noise is not a problem. The tuner is great. It works plugged in or unplugged. The tuner has an auto shutoff feature. You can easily read the tuner in the dark. In comparison to my Intellitouch tuner, the tuner on the NTX700 is just as accurate. Specs on the NTX700 say the tuner is accurate to +-3 cents. When you plug in the NTX700, it automatically turns on the preamp and will use power from the 9 volt onboard power supply. The 9 volt battery can be changed without removing the strings. All you do is push a release and a compartment holding the battery pops out. The battery is rated to last about 70 hours. There is a low battery indicator. Also, the NTX700 comes with two accessories. You get a little wrench to adjust the truss rod, and a rubber sound hole cover that can be used for feedback reduction. It is good they provided the sound hole cover because the NTX700 has an elliptical, oversized sound hole. After market covers would not work.
Unfortunately I did not have access to a NTX900FM or NTX1200R to compare. As I mentioned earlier, the difference is in wood choice. If budget is an issue, my guess would be to put your money in your amp. I have a Fishman Loudbox 100. This amp cost more than the guitar, but it is responsible for a good part of what you hear so it makes sense to allocate a good part of your budget here. The NTX700 sounds wonderful through the Fishman Loudbox 100.
I was curious about the pickup design and placement. When the strings were off, I took a small mirror to look at the pickup installation. What I saw was two fairly large circular pickups. Each pickup is about an inch in diameter and about 3/16 inch thick. These are approximate dimensions since I’m just gauging off a view from a small mirror. The edge of the pickups exposes multiple layers of material. A wire is attached to a copper plate on the outer most layer of the pickup.
To explain the placement of the pickups, first I’ll explain some terminology. The saddle is the hard plastic or bone piece the strings sit on. The bridge is the wood component on the outside of the guitar that the saddle slides into a slot. The bridge is also where you tie the strings to. On the inside of the guitar, under the bridge, and on the inside of the soundboard, is a very thin piece of wood that spans the width of the lower bout. I assume this piece of wood is for reinforcement for the tension the bridge is supporting. I don’t know what to call this piece of wood. I think it is called the bridge plate. The fan bracing then attaches to the soundboard and bridge plate. The pickups are mounted on the bridge plate, directly under the saddle. It looks like the treble pickup is under the three treble strings, and the bass pickup is located under the three bass strings. So it goes strings, saddle, bridge, soundboard, bridge plate, and then pickups. The two pickups are pretty close to each other, and separated by the middle fan brace. The two pickups pretty much span the string spacing at the saddle.
In the land of acoustic guitar pickups, the pickups on the NTX700 classify as soundboard transducer pickups. There are basically three types of pickups for acoustic guitars: magnetic sound hole, undersaddle transducer, and soundboard transducer (a.k.a. contact pickups). Magnetic will not work on nylon strings. Undersaddle transducer is a small wire like piezo sensor that installs under the saddle between the saddle and bridge. Before the NTX700, I have had one classical with an undersaddle pickup, and one with a soundboard transducer. Of these two, the one with the soundboard transducer sounded much more natural. The soundboard transducer pickup was a K&K Sound Pure Classic. Comparing between the K&K and Yamaha’s NTX700 pickups, I would say the Yamaha sounds better. The NTX700 pickups sound natural, have very good bass response, and their response is even across all six strings. Now keep in mind, I am not a professional player, so feedback is not a major concern for me. I have never experienced any feedback problems with the NTX700, but I don’t play that loud. I can’t comment on live performance with a band. My opinion of these pickups is based on naturalness of sound, overall frequency response, and sensitivity. Yamaha is pretty generous on the NTX700 because they put the exact same pickup and preamp system in the bottom of the line NTX700 as they do in their top of the line NCX2000R with a retail price of $5,000. That makes the NTX700 a steal.
I have since sold my Juan Hernandez traditional classical. I paid over three times for the Juan Hernandez, but the traditional classical design, ergonomically speaking, needs to evolve.
Happy playing and thanks for reading!
Published by WalletCard.org.