Yamaha Red Label FGX5 Review: A Classic Axe Rides Again

Japanese acoustics are some of the most sought-after instruments in the guitar world. Those made during the '60s and '70s in particular are considered to be true relics among vintage guitars, cherished for their exotic tonewoods and incredible sound.

But I get it: not everyone can spend their hard-earned money on a 50-year-old instrument. And that's exactly where the Yamaha Red Label FGX5 comes in. A modern take on these vintage "Nippon Gakki" guitars, the FGX5 is an absolute powerhouse among premium guitars.

Crystal-clear sound, expressive dynamics, and top-notch build quality are the name of the game here — and the price, surprisingly, isn't unreachably high. I don't know if there's such a thing as a "perfect guitar," but this one for sure comes pretty close.

Let's dive into the FGX5, and find out if it's the right choice for you!

Yamaha Red Label FGX5: Our Take

Yamaha Red Label FGX5

Average Overall Rating: 4.87/5


  • Type: Steel-string acoustic guitar
  • Body shape: Dreadnought
  • Body materials: Mahogany and Sitka spruce
  • Neck materials: African mahogany
  • Fingerboard materials: Ebony
  • Number of frets: 20
  • Scale length: 25 inches
  • Nut width: 1.75 inches
  • Radius: 15.75 inches

Why I Like It:

  • Impeccable sound
  • Great build quality
  • Top-notch electronics
  • Aged tone

What I Think Could Be Improved:

  • Not a budget guitar
  • Pickguard isn't too good

Back in the 60s, Yamaha released a series of, at the time, inconspicuous steel-string acoustic guitars named Red Label. Some of these were manufactured in Japan, and, as years passed, they became some of the most legendary instruments ever made: the Nippon Gakki Red Label acoustics.

Known for their delicate craftsmanship, impeccable sound, and expressive dynamics, the FG Red Label guitars went on to be discontinued in the 70s.

But Yamaha has recently decided to put an end to this hiatus — and the results are, quite simply, amazing.

Yamaha Red Label FGX5

The new Red Label FGX5 is probably the flagship of the whole series, providing unbeatable specs at a mid-range price. Made in Japan, the FGX5 emulates and improves on every aspect of the original Nippon Gakki version.

The body is made from a combination of mahogany and premium solid Sitka spruce, with an African mahogany neck and a smooth ebony fingerboard. This mixture of exotic and sureproof tonewoods allows for a rich tone and makes for an overall reliable axe.

The guitars are processed through Yamaha's Acoustic Resonance Enhancement before leaving the factory. This process changes the molecular properties of the tonewoods through the environment — giving each and every FGX5 that classic broken-in sound.

The hardware is top-notch too, as the FGX5 is designed to be reliable above all else. Yamaha's ground-breaking Atmosfeel pickup doesn't fall behind either, capturing each and every nuance of the Red Label FGX5's delicate sound.

But how does it actually play?

There's no way around it: the Red Label FGX5 is nothing short of unbelievable. The frequency response is as broad as it gets, with well-defined yet rich low-end, crisp mid-range, and delicate highs.

The high-end Japanese craftsmanship is directly translated into the sheer expressiveness of this guitar — from huge-sounding open chords to subtle legato lines, this monster can handle it all.

The balanced tone is pretty similar to naturally-aged guitars, such as the ones you might have heard on Elliot Smith's albums. Yet, the modern improvements come together when you pass the FGX5 through an amp, allowing for the stellar plugged-in tone to really shine.

So... what are the drawbacks?

Well, first of all, the Red Label FGX5 isn't particularly cheap. It's not too expensive either — but the 1,650-dollar price tag isn't the best if you're running on a tight budget.

The pickguard is... controversial to say the least too. Although it looks and feels like wood, some users claim that it's actually made of plastic — and some even went as far as removing it entirely.

And, last but not least, the FGX5 sounds a bit boomy on the low end. While this is fantastic for playing on your own, it might take a bit too much space on a recording. Of course, this can be taken care of using the onboard EQ, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.

Features of the Yamaha Red Label FGX5

Yamaha Red Label FGX5

Guitars are complicated instruments — and the more expensive it gets, the more specs there are to consider. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's break it down into four aspects:

Sound quality - 5.0

I won't beat around the bush: there's nothing to recriminate when it comes to the incredible sound of the FGX5.

This absolute powerhouse of a guitar just sounds amazing in pretty much any scenario. The sonic palette is rich and expressive, and the subtle details brought on by the wood torrefication process make the FGX5 sound like a top-of-the-line guitar.

The low-end boominess can be a bit annoying while recording — but it all depends on your particular playing style. And let's be honest here: that thumpy bass is just what we all need when playing on our own.

Electronics - 5.0

The Red Label FGX5 is equipped with Yamaha's novel Atmosfeel pickup, which is as stunning as it is transparent. This revolutionary sound system is composed of a piezo sensor, a mini-microphone, and a synthetic sheet transducer that capture each and every nuance.

This network is controlled by the onboard mic blend, master volume, and bass EQ knob controls. Although the design may sound a bit too simple at first, this combination is as effective as it gets.

The mic blend knob enables you to dial in that sweet, sweet aged tone without fiddling too much in your DAW. And, for what it's worth, the bass EQ really helps bring down that powerful low-end whenever you're recording.

Playability - 4.75

The Red Label FGX5 brings on a smooth playability that's perfect for any guitar lover ready to take their playing style to a whole new level.

Subtle legato lines, gigantic-sounding open chords, and expressive fingerpicking are the name of the game here. The FGX5 plays and feels just as good as it sounds — making it the perfect choice for beginners and veterans alike.

However, keep in mind that the unusual 25-inch scale length takes some time to get used to. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, but it does have a learning curve of sorts.

Yamaha Red Label FGX5

Build quality - 4.75

When it comes to build quality, there's not much I can say about the Red Label FGX5 — it is a Yamaha, after all.

This thing is built to last for ages. Reliable and premium, the overall construction won't disappoint even the most demanding of touring and gigging musicians. And, as far as the hardware goes, the FGX5 can hold its tuning for a surprising amount of time.

I'm only deducting a couple of percentage points because of the whole pickguard ordeal. Some people won't mind the plastic construction — but removing it is a real pain considering it's glued onto the top wood.

What to Know Before Buying

Pulling the trigger on a premium instrument such as the Red Label FGX5 is no easy task. There are a lot of factors to consider — and things get even more complicated when you take into account that it's a rather new model.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the Red Label FGX5 is a mid-range guitar that sounds and plays like a high-end instrument, providing a versatile yet rich tone that mimics that of aged Japanese guitars.

To be honest, it's hard to think of a guitar player who won't enjoy the FGX5's premium specs. However, if you're a bit short on budget, then you might want to opt for a more affordable option.

But if you're going for that classic "aged Yamaha" sound, like the ones you may hear in acoustic Elliot Smith or Santana songs, then the FGX5 will be the perfect choice for you!

Alternatives to the Yamaha Red Label FGX5

Although the Red Label FGX5 is meant to fit every guitarist's needs, you may not be quite sold on it yet. Luckily, there are hundreds of other options in the market — but I reckon there are only two or three that are truly worth your money.

And, to no one's surprise, these are all Yamahas too:

Yamaha Red Label FGX5 vs Yamaha FGX800C

Yamaha FGX800C

I get it: not everyone can dish out more than $1500 on a single instrument. But that doesn't mean you should miss out on the premium features of the FGX5!

Cue in: the Yamaha FGX800C — a budget option that prioritizes sound quality and durability above all else. Coming in at less than $400, it stands as a viable and much more affordable alternative to the FGX5 and other top-of-the-line Yamahas.

Yamaha Red Label FGX5 vs Yamaha LL-TA TransAcoustic

Yamaha LL-TA TransAcoustic

The Yamaha LL-TA successfully tried to innovate in the guitar world. From the outside, it may seem like nothing more than a very good-looking guitar — but the true magic is on the inside.

The LL-TA TransAcoustic is equipped with onboard chorus and reverb effects which work without the need to plug in the guitar! It's pretty much impossible to fully grasp how this works — but it does make for a fantastic option for guitarists who love to play unplugged.

Yamaha Red Label FGX5 vs Yamaha CG172SF Classical

Yamaha CG172SF Classical

If, after some research, you find that steel-string guitars may just not be what you're looking for, then the Yamaha CG172SF may just be for you. This nylon-string guitar is aimed at Flamenco lovers who want a delicate, yet expressive and crispy sound.

Keep in mind that this guitar, like most other classicals, doesn't feature any electronics on board. But, of course, the 399-dollar price tag makes this seem like an insignificant detail, to say the least.

Final Verdict

Yamaha Red Label FGX5

To wrap things up, the Red Label FGX5 is a no-brainer for anyone who doesn't mind breaking the bank for a premium instrument. Its impeccably balanced tone and dynamics make it a great guitar for beginners and veterans alike — and the top-notch tonewoods are more than appreciated.

However, if you're running a bit short on budget, you might want to look into a more affordable option such as the Yamaha FGX800C. Or, if you're looking for something more... ground-breaking, check out the LL-TA TransAcoustic instead.

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