You know how it is. You want to take your music with you wherever you go, but that’s not always practical. Oh sure, you’ve tried the odd mini travel guitar, but you’re so wedded to the joys of a full-size neck that the experience just wasn’t the same. The strings are too close together, the scale is all off. In short, it just didn’t do it for ya.
That’s where Yamaha’s Silent Guitar comes in. Available in nylon-string and steel-string versions, Yamaha’s Silent Guitar is designed to go anywhere you do, and to allow you to practice quietly but with great tone. It’s designed to be easily portable thanks to its partially removable sides, which keep the guitar light, allow it to occupy a smaller footprint, and keep the volume down.
There are two nylon string versions (the SLG110N has a more player-friendly neck shape compared to the more traditionally-shaped SLG130NW) and a steel-string version, the SLG110S. On review here is the steel-string version, which is available in Natural (as reviewed), Tobacco Brown Sunburst and Black Metallic( Click Here to buy the SLG110S in Natural from Guitar Center).
The body is made of a maple core with a screw-on external frame. This design keeps weight down while maintaining structural integrity, and it also looks cool in a kind of minimalist way. And get this: the external frame needs to be slightly bent to fit into the body, which introduces an extra level of pressure and vibration when you strum a note, so even though it has an extremely negligible effect on the sound of the instrument itself, feeling that vibrating frame against your body (oo-er) enhances the sensation that you’re playing a more conventional guitar. Genius.
The neck is made of mahogany with a rosewood fretboard, featuring a flattish 400mm radius.
The Silent Guitar’s controls include Master Volume, Bass, Treble and a rotary Effect knob which offers various ambient and modulation effects borrowed from Yamaha’s industry-standard SPX line. You can also plug in an external device like an iPod or CD player (remember those?) to play along in your headphones, or you can output the sound to a mixing desk or acoustic amplifier if you want your backing tracks to accompany you on the stage. The electronics are powered by either an AC adaptor or a 9 volt battery, which can last up to 13 hours of rockin’.
Surprisingly, given its spartan looks, the Silent Guitar sounds amazing. It has a tone reminiscent of a close-mic’d dreadnaught in a studio situation, with all the low end oomph and high end brightness you would expect from such an instrument. Sure, it’s missing the dimension and body you would expect from a real acoustic guitar sitting in your lap, but in terms of the sonic sensation through a mixing desk or headphones, the results are at least very similar to what you would expect from a high-quality piezo-equipped acoustic guitar.
The playability is a little bit stiff, but not so much as to be off-putting – in fact the slight additional firmness needed to fret a chord is another factor that helps to reinforce the sensation that you’re playing a real guitar, not a shrunken-down travel axe. It’s actually a very playable guitar in the sense that it makes you want to keep playing it, callouses be damned. And the inbuilt effects are very carefully voiced, especially given their lack of parameter control. The reverbs are especially nice.
It’d be nice to have longer battery life, and the playability could be improved a little, but I would have no hesitation using this guitar live or in a recording studio situation (as long as I’d recently installed a fresh battery) despite its stated primary purpose as a travel-oriented axe. Its looks may be a point of controversy for some players – I know I wasn’t exactly a fan straight away – but such shallow concerns quickly fade away once you pick it up, play it and, more importantly, hear it.