Friday, 15 October 2010

Yamaki YW-50-12

Another brand to talk about is Yamaki, a name perhaps more familiar than others written about so far. An excellent retelling of its history comes from an exert from a magazine that a poster on the acoustic guitar forum put up. I will quote from there:

"The complex story of Yamaki guitars is entwined with the histories of a number of other Japanese companies. In the late 1940s, brothers Yasuyuki and Kazuyuki Teradaira started working for Tatsuno Mokko, an instrument-building firm that later split into two different companies, one of which was called Hayashi Gakki. In 1954 Hayashi Gakki was bought out by Zenon, a large music distributor. In 1962 Yasuyuki left Zenon to start an instrument distributor he called Daion, which means “big sound” in Japanese. In 1967 Kazuyuki left Zenon to produce classical guitars under the name Yamaki, an auspicious Japanese word meaning “happy trees on the mountain.” By the early 1970s, Kazuyuki expanded the Yamaki line to include a large number of steel-string guitars, many of which were based on C.F. Martin and Co.’s designs and were distributed exclusively through Daion. Along with Yamaki guitars, Daion sold instruments from Shinano, Mitsura Tamura, Chaki, and Hamox, some of which were built by Yamaki at various times, and Harptone guitars, which they imported from the US.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Daion began exporting Yamaki guitars to America, where they were well received. By the early 1980s, however, Daion felt that the Yamaki Martin-style guitars were getting lost among similar instruments from other Japanese builders like Takamine, Yasuma, and C.F. Mountain, so they redesigned the entire acoustic line and started building acoustic-electrics and solid-body electrics as well as oddities like double-neck acoustics. They dropped the Yamaki name and rebranded their instruments as Daion guitars. Daion began an extensive advertising campaign to introduce the new line around 1982, but this was a time when musicians were more interested in the new MIDI-equipped synthesizers than in guitars. In 1984 Daion stopped importing guitars to America and soon went out of business. Yamaki, on the other hand, survived the downturn of the 1980s and now makes parts for other Japanese guitar companies."


I think that covers it very well. Indeed, Yamaki guitars were sold to the West, though for some reason Canada was the one country to be most exposed to their models. I think their is a strong fanbase for their guitars there due to that. As ever, the top of the range models still seem to be more prominent in native Japan than anywhere else, with prices well above $1000 being the going rate for these.

I have a few Yamaki guitars; the one i am featuring here is one i sold earlier in the year. This 12-string Yamaki YW-50-12 was made in 1981, and originally retailed at 50,000 Yen. It is quite a stunning guitar by any measure, with its fine slotted headstock, central maple inlay, and the beautiful orange/green/cream/black chevron purfling, and then the quality of the tone woods used as well. Yamaki guitars are well reputed for their excellent stock of wood used in their guitars, and this is a great example of an even, tight grained solid spruce top and fine figured rosewood used in the sides and as the outer panels of the three-piece back. The bound rosewood fretboard features some of the nicest positional marker inlays i've seen, namely a rectangle in mother-of-pearl overlayed by a thinner and longer rectangle in mexican shell abalone. Highly skilled stuff, and not too bling on the eye. As you go up the mahogany neck, it is hard not to notice a rosewood veneered slotted headstock, which are exceptionally unusual for a steel-strung guitar. Nothing looks quite so good once you see it, something so vintage about it. Don't get me wrong, it's a bit of a pain in the ass to restring! But once you have, and you strum a lush open chord on this, it's entirely worth it. Sonorous, a classic full 12-string ring sings out. Wonderful stuff.

I do have a second one of these from 1984, but the headstock was poorly padded in transport and arrived to me split at the joint, and sits awaiting repair. I have no doubts it will play as well as this, but wont be in such fine condition.

Here are some photos to enjoy:

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Please find additional photos here

Friday, 8 October 2010

Jagard JD-85S

There can be no mistaking what this is a copy of; the Gibson Dove is legendary. First made in 1962 in Kalamazoo, the Dove was the second Gibson acoustic to feature the flat-shoulder design made famous by the Martin D-series guitars, the first being the equally famous Hummingbird. Though similar in appearance, the original Dove featured a solid Sitka spruce top and light bracing, with solid maple back and sides, the ornate engraved pickguard - probably one of the most famous pickguards ever designed, and the two doves on the bridge. On to that a longer 25.5" scale length fretboard with split parallelogram inlays, gave the Dove a loud, bright and rich sound, and a unique image.

It's little wonder that the Japanese guitar industry of the 70s sought to make their own models of it, with so many famous musicians using them at some point or another, demand was high, and import prices of the Gibson models were far beyond their economy. As with the Martin models, they took the original Dove apart and examined how it was made, and went about re-creating it - Jagard were one brand of many with a Dove model, other better known ones likely being Burny, Greco, Morris, and Yamaki.

Jagard guitars were crafted at the Terada guitar factory, which was one of the largest guitar manufacturers of the time in Japan. Terada built guitars of all ranges and prices, for a number of different brands, and even used a mail-order system to sell guitars through magazines, mainly under the guise of Tomson guitars. Regarding Jagard guitars, i can only guess the name was inspired from the Rolling Stones front man! A lot of people have quite a laugh when i tell them the name of the brand of this guitar, and it is quite a novelty. However, as the model name/number suggests, this is quite a guitar, retailing originally at 85,000 Yen in the mid 70s - a huge sum of money in perspective. This is the most expensive of the original priced guitars in the collection, and you really did get something extra for your money here.

Finished in brilliant sunburst, it looks stunning. The solid spruce top, the maple sides, and a three-piece maple back with intricate wood mosaic inlays between each panel, double bound in ivory white, are all beautiful. Next, the rosewood Gibson-style bridge features mother-of-pearl dove inlays, and the pickguard is tortoise-shell with mother-of-pearl dove and hand etched details. A plus is the bone saddle, a marked improvement over the original tune-o-matic style first released on the Gibson. On to the body is a red-woodstained mahogany neck with a bound rosewood fretboard featuring mother-of-pearl split parallelogram position markers, up to a bone nut and an ivory bound moustache headstalk with Jagard in italic mother-of-pearl inlay, and the Gibson style crown and truss rod cover. The tuning pegs are Japanese high-quality Gotoh style which wind smooth and hold tight. Inside it's clean and tight, with a detail woodpatch branded with "Hand Made Jagard Model No. JD85S Made By Terada".

With so many Martin copies in my collection, this model is a rarity. The maple back and sides and the fine spruce top really make this guitar sing loud and crisp, shimmering in harmonic chords. I have Newtone light bronze strings on it just now, and it is amazing the volume out of the lights it produces. A set of mediums will be tried next. I really must get a recording and share it.

Until then, here are some photos to enjoy:

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You can find the rest of the photos here

Monday, 4 October 2010

Tama 3555

Tama guitars are something special. Handmade by a select group of Ibanez luthiers for a few years in the mid to late 70s, they represent amongst the highest quality guitars of the period, both in skill of craft and the materials used. Anyone that owns one appreciates that fact and tends to treasure them, though there is an increasing awareness of their quality and a few are appearing on ebay, generally between the $500 to $1000 region just now; still frankly modest considering their quality and the respective price of a like-sounding Martin. I would expect as the years go by, those figures will rise and rise.

Unlike Pearl, Tama acoustic guitars were a Western brand only, with models released for the US and European markets, whilst few people in their native Japan are familiar with the name outside of the Bluebell models Tama built. Ironically enough, the West are not familiar with Bluebell guitars at all. Another entertaining point is that these Tama guitars are essential the same as the Ibanez Artwood Series I models of the time, which were again sold specifically to the West - another fine example of the Brand-crazy business that was prominent at the time in Japan. The jig-saw gets bigger and bigger all the time...

It seems Tama had two distinct series of guitars, defining their early period (1974-1977) and later period (1977-1979). The early period models are defined by 4 digit nomenclature, and occasionally an S or P to identify if the top was Solid or Plywood, though Tama moved swiftly to using solid tops only in construction. My 3555 model is almost the entry level model Tama offered in 1974, which is quite mind boggling when you consider its quality. It features a fantastic solid top, rosewood back and sides, with double abalone binding on both the top and the back,and wood inlay mosaic down the centre of the back, all beautifully done. The bridge is ebony with a bone saddle. The mahogany neck is quite a chunky C profile which suits my large hands and is an ease to play, finished in semi-gloss, with a bound rosewood fretboard and finely finished frets with mother-of-pearl dot position markers. The headstock is square shaped with a rosewood veneer and Tama logo in mother-of-pearl and a Tama truss rod cover, with Japanese tuners very similar to what are on the Pearl PF-770 - these are not the normally seen gotoh tuners found on most Tamas, though they look original. It also has a Made in Japan sticker on the back of the headstock; I think may well be a Japanese released model/prototype, though i can only be speculative about such. The serial number inside the soundhole would make me think it was made 1977 though.

One of the real joys about the Tama luthiers is their hand finished bracing. These hand scalloped braces are quite beautifully done and are of the highest quality fit - most owners believe it is this attention and subtle craft that makes these guitars sing with such depth of tone and crisp volume. It is a true pleasure to play and own.

For an excellent resource on Tama guitars, visit J├╝rgen's website here

Here are some photos to enjoy:

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For the rest of the photos please visit here