The Revstar guitar range was the result of the longest and most expensive development of any Yamaha electric ever and the company’s first new electric guitar design for over a decade.
At its launch, the eight-strong collection included a single Japanese-made ‘pro-level’ guitar, the P20CR. The remaining seven, from the start-up 320 to the top 820CR, were Indonesian-made with a price range spanning £320 to £790. Like everything else, prices have edged upwards since then, not least the upper-level models like the 820CR, which now retail at £995.
But since that 2016 launch, Yamaha hasn’t added to the range at all (aside from a couple of colour additions), and you wouldn’t be the first to wonder if the guitars had quietly disappeared. But, no, at this year’s NAMM Show we were finally treated to some new models, primarily the 720BX and 702B in Vintage White and Black respectively, which swap the original 720B’s Filter’Tron-style humbuckers for more standard humbuckers and soapbar single coils. There are two colour additions to the 820CR and two flame maple veneer-based colour options to the RS502T. What better time to reevaluate Revstar?
Whatever the level, all the models use the same 629mm (24.75-inch) scale length and feature the same slightly offset double-cut design with a rib-cage cutaway (from the 420 upwards) and a forearm contour (from the 502 and 502T upwards). There are echoes of Yamaha’s past designs in the Revstar: the outline isn’t a million miles away from the Super Fighter series or the classic SG series, which really put Yamaha on the electric guitar map. The headstock was inspired by Yamaha’s SA-15 from 1966.
The new Revstars share the same build, but any wood identification is near impossible to see - with the exception of the stained and sanded flame maple veneer of the most affordable 502TFMX. The glued-in three-piece mahogany neck joins the body at the 19th fret; its full width slots into the body with a foot extended some 34mm under the neck pickup. The necks and the back and sides of the mahogany bodies are hidden under a deep dark chocolate brown gloss finish that’s slightly translucent.
The thin 5mm-thick maple tops, all edge-bound with the same cream plastic, are where the colours alter in the gloss Vintage White and Black of the 720BX and the 702B, and the hand-brushed satin of the 502TFMX, while the 820CR’s top is mostly satin but with a couple of central gloss stripes. Each of the classy edge-bound headstocks is black-faced - gloss or satin to match the body’s face finish but not its colour.
Aside from the peel-off CE sticker on the back of the headstock, there is no Yamaha logo. The branding is simply that circular tuning fork logo badge on the headstock face, small lower-case ‘ygd’ (Yamaha Guitar Division) on the pickup covers, and on the rear of the headstock there’s a Japanese Hanko stamp-like decal that means ‘Revstar’. There’s no model ID, either.
With its large machined-aluminium tailpiece, the 502T vividly reflects the Café Racer street bike vibe that informs the Revstar design. Originally offered in a very dark Bowden Green and later Black, which were both high gloss with cream plastic pickguard and pickup covers, for 2019 we have two new hand-brushed satin colours, both over a flame maple veneer on top of that thin maple cap.
Our FMX here is Ash Grey (with a black-faced plastic pickguard and silver-coloured plastic pickup covers, previously only offered on the 502). The also-new 502TFM comes in Vintage Japanese Denim (with cream plastic parts). Both finishes are just the same as the standard 720B models, which also come in Wall Fade sunburst and Shop Black. This more artisan craft style is a theme that’s central to the Revstar concept.
The body measures 44mm front to back, more like a Telecaster than a deeper Les Paul. There’s a very manageable, mainstream depth at the 1st fret that averages out at just a shade under 21mm, and a nut width for the new revstars that averages 43.29mm - all with a uniform string spacing at the nut of 35.5mm thanks to the regimented black hard plastic Urea nuts. But this rather ordinary C profile feel in the lower positions flares out quite considerably into much older, classic Les Paul territory by the 12th fret where we have a pretty big-feeling C - but still nicely tapered in the shoulder - that is, on average, 25.35mm deep by the 12th and 53mm wide.
The slightly flatter-than-Gibson fingerboard radius sports some big ol’ frets, too, again pushing the Revstars into a rockier style: 2.84mm wide with a height of around 1.25mm to 1.3mm. Compare that with the fretwire Gibson uses on its current Les Pauls, which is approx. 2.28mm wide with a height just a shade over 1mm. As ever, these might seem like small differences, but your left hand really feels them. It all adds up to quite a specific feel and one that’s very unified here.
The 502T has something going on, and its unique resonance gets right into classic Junior/Special territory, combining woody thump with crisp definition. The Dry Switch works effectively and both can sound surprisingly Fender-y - especially on lower-gained amp voices - with a lovely vintage-y, retro rock character.
The volume control pulls back the crispness as you roll it back, and the tone control shades that further - but depending on how you drive, you might prefer a treble-bleed circuit, and especially if you need lower-volume cleans. As is, though, that volume control alone just pulls back the sizzle on the soapbar as you roll it back. There’s a lot to like here.
Reacquainting ourselves with Revstar reminds us that this is a well-sorted design that certainly leans on the Gibson side of the tone tracks with a surprisingly characterful feel. The considerably more cost-effective 502FMX brings bite and clarity of a pair of well-voiced soapbar single coils but doesn’t hold back with a beefy, woody resonance that seems enhanced by that tailpiece.