Price paid: $ 457.5
Sound — 8
I've always loved the blues-rock-jazz sound of a Les Paul's neck pickup, and this thing does it so well. Bags of power to Drive your amp, and it just wails at you. Doesn't do the bright jangley thing but the coil tapping and bridge pickup can brighten things up a bit for rhythm and clean. Very good at the blues-rock end of things but probably not for you if you want a Fendery pop guitar.
Overall Impression — 10
Been playing guitar as a second instrument for around 15 years. I'd definitely buy another of these if it was lost, stolen, or terminally damaged. I still need a bright guitar for some projects, but this is my main rock & blues guitar.
Reliability & Durability — 10
Using it as my main live guitar now, and the Strat stays at home. In fact I'm seriously considering selling the USA Strat and buying a high-spec Yamaha Pacifica, based on how good this AES 500 has been. It's just never let me down, and it's used regularly. I also use a Yamaha P80 stage piano, so you could say I'm happy with the brand. They just don't make bad instruments, ever. I wonder what their motorcycles are like.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
I own a US Strat that isn't nearly as well made as this thing. I also have a couple of other so-called decent guitars, and none of them are up with this Yamaha. It's just very very well built, and I've never needed to have it set up. It played great straight out of it's box. Probably something to do with the bridge being fixed (can't be adjusted other than overall height, but then you can't bugger it up either). Paintwork is absolutely A1. The neck is fantastic - the best I've ever played. The frets are a bit big (high) so you need to be precise with your chords, and this is the only thing preventing a perfect 10 in this section.
Features — 10
Two retro humbuckers (chrome covers) in a thick LP style body, but more rounded. Long-scale neck but bolted not set. Kind of Fender meets Gibson I suppose. The great surf-retro look is set off by the 'artists easel' style scratch plate and trussrod covers, both in very cool grey-black pearl. Also nicely matched by the rear cover hiding the electrics. Volume for each pick-up, with one tone control that is also a push-switch for coil-tapping the pickups.