Turning Japanese Part 2: Yamaha SG1000


After my last post I finally put my money where my mouth was. I started watching lots of Yamaha SG1000′s/2000′s on ebay.

The going rate in the uk seems to be between £450-500 for a mid 80′s 1000, but the condition of guitars varied a lot. Most were mid 80′s examples, needing fret dresses and set ups etc.

I did find a used SG1200 in a guitar shop in Edinburgh going for £599, but it was pretty bashed up it was from 1986 and had been well gigged. Although it played nicely.

After just missing a late 70′s SG700 on Ebay. I turned to the online Japanese guitar heaven that is Ishibashi.

Theyn had a black SG1000 in their Used U-box section for 76,000 Yen.

Thats about 320 quid

add 80 quid for delivery and then 3.5% Duty, then 17.5% VAT and your looking at a shade under £500.

The guitar was in the Uk after 2 days a week, but the knobheads at Parcelforce and Customs took their time so a week later I picked her up.

My SG doesnt have a name yet, but shes black and gold and looks like a John Player special packet. Theres a few dings, but nothing major, she’s been gigged, but not trashed.

The guitar is weighty, about 9lbs. Shes a real bruiser, with a much brighter unamped acoustic tone than my old Les Paul. She feels more solid and better made too. Both Humbuckers have coil taps in the tone controls for maximum versatility.

But the big mystery to me is this guitars age

Yamaha repeat the serial numbers every 10 years, Some have letter prefixes, but mine does not, the serial begins 108XXX, which could mean 1981, however the gold plate is not badly worn apart from the tailpeice shows signs of fading. But the real shock is the fingerboard and frets.

The frets are completely clean and unworn, like a brand new guitar, the ebony board is also clean, yet the binding is yellowed like a 20 year old guitar. From what I can see the original SG1000′s had rosewood boards, but this is ebony. As there is no dinging in the binding and the frets are seated, the frets look like they are the original ones rather than a refret.

Popular myth says Yamaha discontinued the SG series in 1988 and concentrated on the replacement models the Martyn Booth designed MSG/Image and American designed Weddington guitars.

However from what I can gather they continued SG production for the Japanese market and merely stopped shipping to the west.

One of the earliest issues of Total Guitar magazine did a review of an SG2000 reissue and that was in 1994, so I assume Yamaha-Kemble Uk were shipping them in again. They do seem to be a cult guitar now. A classic for those players in the know or old enough to remember them first time around.

Therefore my guess and it is only a guess, is that this guitar is from 1991. Although if any SG fans want to help me out here I’m all ears.

The SG popped up in the Yamaha range from time to time during the last 10 years and Yamaha did do some low cost models, the SG 500/700 more recently with thinner bodies and in the case of the 500, a bolt on neck. But now Yamaha seem to only make the SG1000/2000 as a limited run. Which o my mind is a shame.

In some ways if they revise the design, make it more contemporary. I think they could have a real world beater on their hands again.

So far I’m enjoying playing her. I’ve restrung her with my usual choice of 009-046 Ernie Ball Hybrids, but as this guitar has just come from a different climate I need to let her settle in for about 6-8 weeks before I have her set up properly. When I bought my Kotzen Tele in from Japan it was 2 months before tuning really settled down.

Am I pleased……? Yes. To my ears she handles clean sounds a lot better than a Gibson LP would and the build is outstanding. She feels like a guitar built for the road. Superior in build and finish to my Les Paul, maybe not as delicate, but when your playing 3 band bills in shit kicking bars who needs delicate.

My only niggle is the case, which feels flimsy, so I’m on the lookout for an aftermarket replacement. I tried a Hiscox one, but it felt too thin for the massive 2 inch thick body.

My Strat challenge seems to have run aground in all of this, part of me would love to buy a Yamaha SA series semi acoustic or an Ibanez AS from the 1980′s. But we shall see in the new year.

I think I’m Turning Japanese

When I was 14 years old I had the economic power of a Beagle and would basically write to guitar companies requesting brochures to drool over. Mark Knopfler once said he actually knows what a Fender Catalog smells like. Well so do I. I also know what the envelope smelt like when you opened them, back in the days when you got your post within 48 hours of it being sent.

My biggest brochure haul was probably in 1984, I had big colour catalogs from Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, Aria, Yamaha, Tokai, Marshall, Peavey, Trace Elliot etc etc.

Funnily enough unlike the previous generations of guitarists who coveted Fenders and Gibsons, by 1984 the American ‘Big Two’ were pretty much on their knees. Fender in particular struggled to make guitars people liked and in the throes of 80′s pre Slash Rock, few people were wanting to buy a Gibson Les Paul. American Rockers were using Charvel/Jacksons and they were not widely available outside of thew US until 1986.

Instead the most sexy guitars in the brochures to me were Japanese made, the likes of the Ibanez Roadstar and Yamaha SG series. I lusted after the Yamaha SG in particular, I thought it looked prettier than a Gibson and somehow more modern. I watched some footage of Live Aid the other day and its amazing that the majority of Fenders/Gibsons you see on stage are old ones. All the new guitars are Schecters built in Japan or Japanese brands like Ibanez and Yamaha.

Recently I read a section in Tom Wheelers fine book, “The Stratocaster Chronicles”, where its revealed that during Fenders management buyout of 1985 several top people at Fender were convinced that like with the motorcycle industry and Camera Industry, the Japanese would eventually take over, and American made guitars would cease to be.

But this never happened perhaps due to the likes of Paul Reed Smith and the resurgence of Fender, coupled with a change of ownership at Gibson. It was not to be. In the late 1980′s Ibanez nailed their colours to the poodle permed widdle rock mast and became hugely popular. However post 1989, sales of Ibanez RG’s and Jems nosedived as guitarists wanted more traditional instruments. Grunge and Guns & Roses putting the final nails in that coffin.

In addition, the almost racist snobbery concering Japanese guitars in America, coupled with rising production costs in Japan has meant that Japanese instruments new did not have the cost factor anymore. So the likes of Ibanez and Yamaha moved production of much of their guitars to other countries such as Korea and Taiwan.

Of late I’ve been doing some thinking. My Japanese built Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster has spoiled me to other guitars, particulaly my Les Paul which seems less consistant in use as a day to day road guitar the more I use it. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the Japanese instruments I have owned and somethings dawned on me.

The truth is that the most reliable, most well made guitars I have owned have not been from Fullerton, or Nashville, but from Nagoya.

This has been a revelation to me. So much so I’m selling my much loved, but rarely played Les Paul and using the cash to buy a couple of different instruments.

Top of my list has to be a Yamaha SG1000. Essentially this is a double cutaway modernist take on a Gibson Les Paul. I’ve played a few of these and they a re built like tanks. Sure they are heavy, but they are impeccably made can take the punishment and deliver the goods. But they are also incredibly cheap secondhand. Its not Classic Rock, but for a guitarist in an alternative rock band, the SG’s modernist credentials take some beating.

Bang per buck these are incredible buys used, an SG1000 in good nick goes for around £500, A neck thru SG2000 around £600 these are guitars with the same build quality and similar spec to a Gibson Les Paul or a PRS Singlecut. Yet is used price is half of an LP and about a third of a Singlecut. Thats like buying a Lexus for the price of a used Mondeo?

I wonder if it wasn’t for the fact that most guitarbooks are published by Americans, would these instruments have more Kudo’s about them? Its surely just cultural supremacy at work?

A quick search on Ebay reveals that a mid 1980′s Ibanez Roadstar sells for about £150.00!

Thats a fifth of the price of a US Strat!

People are getting wise though, many like myself have been through the Classic American guitar ownership experience and after disconnecting from the brand name have cottened onto something.

In addition there are some Japanese guitar companies like Sugi, who have worked out that the secret is to charge a lot for your well made instrument and have attracted the likes of Robben Ford to their one off creations. Yamaha themselves have recently discontinued the SG series and they now only make it as a special order in the factory where they handmake acoustic guitars.

I’ve not given up on the £500 strat challenge, but call this a pleasant diversion.