Hands-On Review:Yamaha Drop 6 electric guitar
by Emile Menasché
A lot of modern guitar styles are based on tunings that are below standard pitch. Unfortunately, detuning a standard ax strung with standard-gauge strings can be a downer in more ways than one. The slack strings can buzz, go out of tune and sound as mushy as yesterday’s cornflakes.
The Yamaha Drop 6 (officially known as the AES820D6) is a long-scale six-string designed to be tuned low and rocked hard. And despite its industrial looks, it can do more than merely rock. Thanks to its clever three-position master tone control, the Drop 6 can produce country, pop and jazz flavors as well.
Specs and Features
The Drop 6’s most important feature is its scale length—26 1/4 inches as opposed to the 24 3/4–inch scale found on Yamaha’s similar AES820, which is designed for standard tuning. The longer scale provides enough string tension to produce first-rate attack, tuning and tone.
The guitar’s solid alder body isn’t too heavy, considering the instrument’s size, and the single cutaway allows reasonable access to the upper frets. The maple neck is topped with a rosewood fingerboard, and both were well dressed for our tests. The neck is comfortable and highly playable, and Iquickly adjusted to the extended scale.
Hardware includes custom-designed Sperzel locking tuners and a Tune-O-Matic style bridge, which is mated to a specially designed reinforced through-body tailpiece. Pickups include a pair of custom DiMarzio humbuckers mounted directly to the body. These are mated to a standard three-way selector switch, individual volume controls and that cool three-way master tone control. Each position of the control produces a useful sound. Flavors include dark and bassy (thanks to a preset top-end roll-off, which you can adjust via a trim pot inside the control cavity); thin and twangy (in this position, the tone acts as a coil split); and standard fat humbucker. And because the tone control works equally well with all pickup combinations, it provides nearly instant access to a wide range of colors.
According to Yamaha, you can detune the Drop 6 as low as A, but I found the guitar’s sweet spot—at least with the factory-supplied strings—by tuning the guitar (low to high) B E A D F# B. With the recommended string set (.064, .048, .036, .024, .016, .011), the guitar felt tight but the strings were still bendable. More important, the chords remained articulate and punchy, even through distortion.
If you’ve played a seven-string, you know how cool it can be to reach down low for riffs and chord voicings. The Drop 6 covers similar territory but has a distinct personality when doing so. First, the chord voicings are different in the upper strings. Using the above tuning, when you finger an open D shape you’re actually playing an A chord. An open G shape gives you a D chord, etc. These flavors aren’t readily available on a typical seven-string. String tension is also different. Single-note lines sound firmer and punchier on the Drop 6 than they do on most of the standard-scale seven-strings I’ve played. The Drop 6 was absolutely awesome for low, twangy riffs. Add some tremolo, delay and reverb and you’re in for some serious surf tones. You can also use it for standard lead playing, though that’s one area where the seven-string, with its extended upper range, may have it beat.
The Bottom Line
The Drop 6 may be a specialty guitar, but it’s useful in a number of musical styles. In fact, though I like its distinctly modern look, I can’t help thinking that its post-industrial image might mislead and scare off some potential customers—traditionalists who might really dig the guitar’s down-low twang. This guitar would be a valuable addition to just about any guitarist’s gig bag of tricks.