Product Type: Yamaha guitars and bass guitars
Newest Review: ... as more and more 'big' guitar brand names got involved in Japanese manufacture. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~ Clash Of The Axes; Yamaha ... more
A Yamaha Guitar?? Aww But Mom I Wanted A Harley Davidson One!!!
Yamaha Guitars in general
Member Name: Caveat-Emptor
Yamaha Guitars in general
Date: 16/08/09, updated on 11/10/10 (805 review reads)
Advantages: Brilliantly Designed, Well Made, (Mostly) Easy To Set Up And Great To Play...
Disadvantages: Not Quite As Magical As A (Good) Fender Or Gibson Etc -Also Early Models Can Be Rubbish
My review of Yamaha Guitars - (In General)
Most people know the Japanese brand name Yamaha; some folks associate the name with motorbikes, some with pianos, but what I'm interested in is of course Yamaha Guitars (unless Yamaha want to combine all 3 items - which would make for a very fast, novel and musical form of transport -lol!).
Most guitarists have always lusted after American made instruments like Fender, Gibson or Martin etc. Some English, German and Italian guitars also made it onto the 'must have' list... but in their early days many Japanese guitars were (quite rightly) sneered at.
I remember bumping (not literally) into Gordon Giltrap once in a music shop circa the early 90's (Giltrap was quite a famous guitarist in the 70's) while he was researching a book on early Yamaha guitars (I have no idea if he published it or not -lol!).
Gordon was drawn to this (horrible) Rickenbacker copy made by Yamaha (a Rickenbacker is instantly recognisable as the type of guitar played by John Lennon in the early Beatles years, or Paul Weller from the Jam) . This early 70's Yamaha did look a little like a proper 'Ricki' with it's all black paint job and white scratch plate... The controls were all more or less in the right place/proportion too...
Early 70's Yamaha Guitars; No Thanks I'd Rather Eat My Own Feet -lol!
To be honest the 70's Yamaha guitar sounded great when Giltrap played it, but there was no getting around the terrible build/design... It had an action (height of the strings above the fretboard -generally higher action = harder to play guitar and bad intonation) you could drive a bus under.
(As most guitarists know 'action' can be adjusted by any combination of; dropping the saddles/bridge, deepening the nut slots, adjusting the truss rod... or even re-aligning the neck if you really know your stuff). Trust me; as one who used to set up and repair guitars for money -the Yamaha was a no-hoper -lol!! By the time you'd fixed what was wrong with it, you may as well have bought a new guitar -for all the time and effort involved...
This wasn't the only rubbish 'early' Yamaha guitar I've seen either... so although they can be collectable, can sound very nice and look sort of cool -unless you're a specialist collector, or doing research on a book like Giltrap was -I'd steer well clear of most 70's models (unless you really drop lucky and find one that's not a nightmare to play/set up).
Early 1980's Onwards -Yamaha & Japanese Guitars; Yep I Want One -lol!
...But fear not because in the early 80's something breathtaking happened to Japanese guitars... for a little while they were perhaps some of the finest in the world would you believe? This is where Yamaha guitars (and other makes) really got their act together -and it's only from the 80's onwards that I take Yamaha guitars seriously...
It started with companies like Fender taking their expertise over to Japan, in order to produce their own cheap copy of the Fender brand (this is the origin of the Fender Squier brand...pity Fender can't spell 'squire' properly though :-), so they could compete with all the rival companies making cheap copies.
A funny thing happened though; Fender and the Japanese did the job too well... far from being inferior entry level instruments for young aspiring musicians who couldn't afford the American made Fender...The early 80's Japanese copies were actually superior to most (some would argue all) the USA Fender guitars. (Even now early 80's Fender Squier guitars are highly sought after by discerning players).
Finally, Japanese guitars had come of age -they were quickly developing world class expertise in guitar design and manufacture... often with the help of American guitar designers, as more and more 'big' guitar brand names got involved in Japanese manufacture.
Clash Of The Axes; Yamaha Take On Gibson!
Yamaha really 'upped their game' and set to work on raising standards... To compete with Gibson's legendary Les Paul electric guitar directly in the market place, Yamaha had their SG range (not to be confused with a Gibson SG), which (much like Gibson do) came in a range of options -from the workman like, no frills SG500 to the 'oh don't I look pretty' SG2000.
The Yamaha SG range are beautiful, well crafted guitars; with set necks (for better sustain) and hum-bucking pickups... and can hold their own against a Les Paul. If you see one going cheap second hand then I recommend it...
I don't in all honesty think that the Yamaha SG (any model) quite eclipses the Les Paul in sound however -there's just something more 'alive' about the Gibson that's hard to explain... The SG can often be more comfortable to play though... so it's swings and roundabouts. But what a fine instrument!
Climb Mount Guitara... Err I mean Niitaka; Yamaha Take On Fender!
As you probably know; there's a more popular electric guitar than the Gibson Les Paul though -the Fender Stratocaster. In fairness the Stratocaster is probably only more popular than the Les Paul because it's a damn site easier/ cheaper to build and hence costs a lot less to buy. (Stratocasters have bolt on necks and other quick and easy to manufacture features). I love strats (short for Stratocaster) but people often forget that Leo Fender designed them to be cheap(er) mass produced instruments - that's one of their great strengths (cheaper price, easy to repair etc).
Yamaha couldn't resist trying to take a chunk of the Stratocaster market -and so they turned a great deal of effort into making a sellable strat like instrument... and it was guitar making genius; the stuff of legends.
Rather than compete with Fender at the high end of the market - Yamaha took on the lessons learned from the first Squier guitars of the early 80's; to make something cheap that everyone can afford, but make it really good so everyone will want one. Enter the Pacifica 112.
If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body; Pacifica Versus The Stratocaster...
Yamaha's success with the Pacifica must have surprised even them!! In no time at all it was the best selling budget guitar, and pretty much wiped the floor with everything in it's class (and often above it's class).
While advertising played a part in the success of the Pacifica 112, what really sold it was the excellent design. Rather than just making yet another Fender Stratocaster copy (like every other manufacturer had done) in an already flooded market -Yamaha made a useful (if very 'safe') variant.
The single coil pickup which would normally have occupied the bridge position in a Stratocaster, was replaced by a big fat Hum-bucker (a twin coiled powerful pickup that cancels out stray RF noise and hum from lights etc -hence the name hum bucker), which really suited many modern players better than the single coil (I still slightly prefer the single coil better but that's just me -lol!).
The Pacifica's fretboard was of a flatter radius than traditional Fender designs (flatter radius = lower action, although it's not quite as comfortable for chord playing), and it had an extra high fret (22 to the traditional Stratocaster's 21 frets).
The natural wood finish was really striking! One of the great fears of guitarists buying cheap guitars was that the 'body' was made of very poor quality wood or plywood etc (and sometimes they were right!!). Yamaha cleverly displayed their guitar's wood by using a natural finish; so you knew it was good quality timber!
The traditional 3 spring tremolo unit (tremolo arm included) was still there, the machine heads and chrome hardware were all excellent quality, the only place Yamaha skimped was on the tone controls. The Pacifica had 1 tone control, where a Stratocaster has 2.
Two Tone Is Dead; Yamaha Improve On Fender's Tone Wiring 'Mistake'
However there's a design quirk (a mistake in my opinion) to Stratocasters that means that even though you have 2 tone controls, neither of them works on the bridge pick up (unless you modify the wiring slightly - but of course not everyone knows how)... But the Yamaha's solitary, single tone control does work on all pickups (including the bridge one), so arguably Yamaha improved the on the Stratocaster design with their Pacifica, while saving money (because you don't need a second tone potentiometer, plastic knob and extra wiring).
The Pacifica 112 was so popular that it's appeal went well beyond that of the budget/beginner guitarist -it was a pro quality instrument, and many seasoned guitar players bought one as a second guitar for on stage (for alternate tunings, or if a string broke on their main guitar etc)... indeed that's why I owned one for a while too.
For the price the Pacifica was faultless in terms of design and playability.... However, (just like the Yamaha SG range competing with the Gibson Les Paul)... the Pacifica couldn't quite compete with a (really good) Fender Stratocaster - A good Strat bridge pickup was the sonic equivalent of a razor blade, where as the Pacifica's Humbucker was more of a Stanley knife -if you see what I mean... (I really must try to think up better analogies -lol!)
But still; what an amazing instrument the Pacifica 112 was and is... It single handedly (or is that single 'tone...edly? :-) put Yamaha on the musicians map like no other guitar before it...
A Successful Pain In The Neck? The Yamaha F310 Acoustic...
As well as electric guitars, Yamaha have increasingly moved into the acoustic and electro-acoustic market too. The F310 (I think it was called) was one of their most popular acoustics -it was a budget guitar with a laminated top (laminated tops are cheaper to make than solid wood ones, but they don't usually sound as good).
It was a good sound for the price (which used to be £79 in the mid 90's when I owned one) but you had to be very careful to select a well made one. There was no fear of the 310 falling apart it was built like a tank, but often the neck was glued in at the 'wrong' angle ('wrong' if you want to set up the guitar with a really great action) during manufacture.
Yamaha used to have adverts in guitar magazines about the critical tolerances applied to their guitars (including the F310)... I have to say I think it was all marketing hype -I rarely saw a model that meet the spec. I'm guessing that Yamaha's real hope was that the local music shop you bought the F310 from would set the guitar up to Yamaha's promised specifications ... (hence saving Yamaha a fortune in employing guitar techs to check all the guitars once they were imported into the UK; before being delivered to shops).
Believable As Politician's Expenses? The Legend Of Yamaha's Promised Spec.
The problem of course was that if Yamaha didn't make the guitars properly in the first place (neck angle during the glued in neck body join) then you'd need a magician not a luthier to meet Yamaha's promised spec.
(In fairness you can fix most guitar problems if money and time are no object -but no shop is going to want to spend £100's of man hours tying up their best repair guys just to fix a £79 guitar -and you'd have to be insane to want to pay for the work yourself, when you could buy a perfectly set up guitar from a different manufacturer for just a little more money).
... So what it boiled down to was that the F310 Yamaha acoustic was good value if you made sure you got one of the good ones -but beginners wouldn't realise they'd got a 'dud' until their playing skills improved...
More Yamaha Guitars Than You Can Shake A (Ahem...) Pick At!
Though I've concentrated on what are possibly the most popular or ground breaking Yamaha guitars, there are many other models available; from Basses to Electro Acoustic Guitars, loads of Electric Guitars (including many Pacifica variations ), 12 String Acoustics, 12 String Electrics (I own one of these and it's great, though I've changed the pick ups to Kent Armstrong ones)... But I think that by concentrating on a few models only, and in great detail, it's possibly to get a good overview of Yamaha guitars in general and draw my conclusions which I'll set out below...
In The Key Of 'A' Or 'F'? My Verdict on Yamaha Guitars
In terms of quality; Yamaha guitars are generally (with the exception of some acoustics I've seen) very well put together, well designed and capable of standing up to sustained professional use (if the mood takes you to quit your day job -lol!!).
In terms of 'looks' and playability - Yamaha guitars excel, they put a lot of effort into the finish and materials - and the end product is visually pleasing and very comfortable to play.
In terms of 'sound' and 'feel' - this is a tricky one; because although I should be singing Yamaha's praises, my heart, fingers and ears all draw me back to my Fenders and Gibsons etc -they're often not as nice to play, or as well balanced, and the action leaves a lot to be desired (much like the early 70's Yamaha's which were worse than anything I've ever seen -lol!)... but still there's an intangible something that makes the Yamaha guitars seem just a fraction cold or soulless in comparison... Can't help the way I feel -lol!
But despite the above... would I buy a Yamaha guitar - the simple answer is; Yes. I've bought them in the past, and I still own a 12 string Yamaha electric to this day... and if the money was right I'd probably buy a Yamaha guitar again...
PS: Sorry Mr Giltrapp Sir -lol!
... (Unless it was an early 70's model; though I might consider one if I was planning on a bonfire - I hope Gordon Giltrap never reads this - lol! Sorry Gordon I wouldn't really burn one as I know how collectable they are... now on a totally unrelated matter where are my matches and kerosene? :-)
Hope you found my review of Yamaha Guitars helpful and interesting!!!
Summary: Nowadays; Great Guitars - Brilliant To Play - But Lack A Little Bit Of Soul Maybe?
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