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YAMAHA LEGEND HISTORY
As a clerk at a store specializing in acoustic guitars, I feel the presence of a historical guitar close to me every day.
Whether it is a Martin or a Gibson, I tend to focus on the pioneers.
I feel that the techniques and designs of these pioneers remain particularly strong in the world of acoustic guitars, even as time goes by.
However, in the conservative world of acoustic guitars, the "Ovation" was introduced in 1966, and from the late 1970s through the 1980s, the "Taylor" established itself as the new standard. From the late 1970s to the 1980s in particular, there seems to have been a gradual shift from "copying" to "respecting.
This is a global trend, and we Japanese, as young people, must look at the brands that have boldly challenged to break away from conservatism since 1965.
This is the Japanese brand "YAMAHA" that we can be proud of to the world.
In 1965, YAMAHA began developing folk guitars based on its technology and expertise in providing "dynamic guitars" with a classical guitar body shape but played with steel strings.
At the time, the need for electric guitars was so great in Japan that the term "100 million electric guitars" was even coined due to the popularity of "The Ventures," the king of surf music.
In contrast, the American market was in the midst of its folk song heyday, and the need for affordable Japanese-made guitars was extremely high.
The following year, in October 1966, Yamaha launched the FG-150 and FG-180, the first Japanese-made folk guitars of original design.
This was the start of the legendary "FG Series," which began production in different size models.
Each model has a spruce veneer top, mahogany plywood sides, and mahogany veneer back, and the 634 mm scale length in particular suggests that it was designed for the Japanese physique.
The first 1966-1967 guitars were labeled "Light Green Label" and are highly valued due to their rarity.
From 1967, the top and back are also plywood, but this is a very ingenious way of making the wood very thin, even though it is plywood.
The spruce grain is used in three plies, with vertical grain on the front, horizontal grain in the middle, and vertical grain on the bottom, to ensure strength and maximum vibration of the wood.
As a side note, I am a little skeptical about the strength of the FGs, as many of the FGs we have received are noticeably floating at the top.
Incidentally, the model names of both FG-150 and FG-180 indicate their regular prices: 15,000 yen and 18,000 yen, respectively.
Although the price is very cheap in today's sense, it is quite expensive for an entry-level model, considering that the starting salary of a high school graduate for a civil servant was about 16,000 yen when they were first released, and it is roughly between 180,000 and 200,000 yen as of 2023.
In 1968, with the million-seller hit "Kitaita Yopparai" and the importation of famous songs such as "Sound of Silence" from overseas, the folk movement in Japan was in full swing, and Yamaha released the FG-110, a low-priced version of the FG-150, and the FG-230, a 12-string version of the FG-150. The "FG-110" was a low-priced version of the FG-150.
Various models followed, including the FG-140, a low-priced version of the FG-180, and the FG-500, which used Hakaranda wood. In 1969, sales of the "FG Series" grew dramatically, and Yamaha temporarily discontinued production of solid guitars.
In 1971, YAMAHA invited a designer who is indispensable in the history of acoustic guitars, and entered a new era.
Now, let's follow the history of this guitar by looking at the actual guitars stocked at ADVANCE GUITARS.
Please note that the sound impressions given here are based on the "stocked" guitars only, and may not be applicable to all guitars.
1967 FG-180 LightGreen Label
First of all, let us introduce one of the legendary FG-180s.
The FG-180 was produced between 1966 and 1972, and many people of the folk generation recognize the "red label" when they hear the name FG-180.
This is one of the "light green label" FG-180s, which were used for only a little more than a year between 1966 and 1967.
Since it was manufactured in 1967, both the top and back woods have been changed to plywood.
As a young person like myself, I have a strong impression that Mr. Atsuharu Iwasawa of "Yuzu" used this instrument.
Unfortunately, I could not see him using the FG-180 in the video, but his description of the "stupid sound" is something that many people feel about the FG-180.
Now, how about the sound of this particular instrument?
I was in charge of the purchase, and I heard the first sound from the previous owner using the same settings as he had used it.
The sound was "super stupid" at first shot with Em including open strings.
There is no refinement, but there is a sound pressure and openness that cannot be experienced even with today's single-string models.
Even if you want to add some dynamics, the techniques that have worked well on other guitars will not work on this guitar, so it will take a lot of effort to express the dynamics.
However, the body ringing and the pleasant feeling you get when you play strong chord strokes are hard to beat.
You can enjoy both the pleasure of controlling the rambunctious boy and the pleasure of letting go and letting yourself adjust to the guitar.
You will find yourself smiling as you play, and before you know it, more than an hour has passed since you started playing. It is full of such charm.
Before moving on to the next section, I mentioned at the end of Chapter 2 that "YAMAHA entered a new era with a new designer in 1971.
The five models introduced here are models that would not have been born without that "one person," and he is indispensable in the history of Japanese folk music.
The following chapter will introduce this person.
Terry Nakamoto (Terumi Nakamoto)
The development of the acoustic guitar culture in Japan is undoubtedly due to the presence of this "one man.
During his time at YAMAHA, he designed and developed the APX, CWE, and L-series guitars.
The guitars he creates are always composed of three elements: the excitement of "something new," superior "artistry," and "perfection" as a tool.
His autograph on the labels of the guitars he was involved with during his time at Yamaha gives the guitars a certain persuasive power.
After becoming independent from YAMAHA, he launched his own brand "Terry's Terry
(He has added color to Japanese music with his guitars, and his guitars have been used by such eminent musicians as Takahiko Ishikawa, Yosui Inoue, Toshio Kadomatsu, Kazuyoshi Saito, Konosuke Sakazaki, Ken Sakurai, Masashi Sada, Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, Chiharu Matsuyama, Kosetsu Minami, Shozo Ise, Takuro Yoshida, and many others.
Terry Nakamoto's guitars have no concept of endorsement and have received little media exposure, yet many musicians have picked up his instruments because of the quality and appeal of his guitars.
I, too, was so fascinated by the "Terry Nakamoto" world that I ordered a TJ-100.
In the next chapter, I would like to share the world of "Terry Nakamoto" with you.
FG-1500 made in 1974
As mentioned above, "YAMAHA" entered a new era in 1971.
In the same year that the popularity of the FG had become unshakable, the company announced a lineup of "high-end handmade FGs".
Three models, FG-1500/FG-2000/FG-2500 (12 strings), were released to the world, and as a result, YAMAHA Acoustic became known all over the world.
In particular, the FG-1500 has a special meaning due to the episode described below.
The FG-1500 has a small, fork-sized body of YAMAHA's original size and a slightly thinner thickness,The body width is about 380mm, and the body thickness is about 105mm, which gives an impression similar to Martin's 000 size.
The three models share the same specs: top is made of high-grade Ezo pine, sides are made of Hakaranda, and back is made of Hakaranda and flame maple, all veneers, and the rosette and trim are made of "Zogan", a very advanced technique of combining different woods to form patterns.And inside the sound hole is the handwritten signature of "Terry Nakamoto" as described in the previous chapter.
Now, why does this FG-1500 have a special meaning?First of all, during the short production period from 1971 to 1975, the high-end handmade FG series existed in catalogs, but it was almost impossible to see a new one in actual stores. We hear that.
"YAMAHA made an amazing guitar! But I don't know what it sounds like...".The sound and existence of this series of guitars, which had been such a miraculous existence, became known to the world when an artist used one of them.
In the 1980s, when information on foreign artists became readily available in Japan, word spread around the world that Bob Dylan, who has etched his name in American music history, had used a YAMAHA guitar in a live performance.
In 1986, Bob Dylan can be seen on video playing an FG-1500 with his support player, Tom Petty, at a concert in Australia.
This event led to a new reputation for YAMAHA Acoustic, both domestically and internationally, as a brand with originality second only to Martin and Gibson in the general public.
YAMAHA itself seemed to realize the "special meaning" of the instrument, and in 1996, the "FG-1500" was reissued in a limited edition of 30 and became the talk of the town.
Now, how does this 1974 model sound?
First of all, as in the case of FG-180, let's take a shot with Em, which contains many open strings.To be honest, I feel it is not enough.
This may be due to the fact that the FG-180 was far superior to the FG-180 in terms of openness and sound pressure.I kept playing for 5 minutes...10 minutes. After playing for 5 minutes...10 minutes, I began to understand something about this model.
This is a delusion and a guess, but I think this model is both an FG and not an FG, and that it contains such a meaning.
In terms of range, while other FGs have explosive low/highs, the "1500" has more of a mid component.
What makes this model better is that it is suitable for solo guitar and melody roles.It has a solid core, and the Hakaranda coloration is reflected in the sound, which is hard to beat.It will be very interesting to see what other guitars have in common with this one.
FG-2000 made in 1974
Now, here is another one manufactured in 1974.
In fact, there are some changes in the specifications of high-end handmade FGs between 1971 and 1974.In 1971, the head was shaped like the red-label FG, and the bridge was the same shape as the red-label FG.
The head shape is narrower and the bridge is contoured.The width of the body is approximately 416mm and the thickness is 127mm.
The main artist who used this guitar was "James Taylor".The sound can be heard on the album "Walking Man" released in 1974.
Now let's see how this one sounds.The body size, which is one size larger than the FG-180, gives you a sense of expectation and historical weight when you hold it in your arms.
First of all, let's take a hit of Em as well.
Ah, it's FG."
The first impression is as above.However, there is no impression that it is a rambunctious boy.It has a sense of openness and sound pressure, but also a mellow low frequency range and a sense of sound cohesion.
Similarly, after playing for 5 to 10 minutes, one senses a completely different character from that of the FG-1500.Of course, this is not surprising due to the different body shape, but it is also wonderful that despite such a large body size, there is no sense of congestion caused by sound amplification in the soundhole.
The hardness of Hakaranda may be a factor, but it is not just the material itself that allows the guitar to output only the tasty parts while eliminating the unnecessary parts.If you want to play without a microphone, you need to have a knack for vocalization.I tried to play while singing when the mood struck me, but no matter how hard I tried, I was outmuscled by the guitar.The feeling may be similar to that of driving a zeep.
FG-2500 made in 1971
The last of the high-end handmade FG lineup to be introduced.
This one has the same body size as the 2000, the original jumbo body
This lineup was designed as a 12-string version of the FG-2000.However, this FG-2500 is unique among the high-end handmade FGs.
When we asked people of the folk generation at that time, they replied, "Was there such a model? Was it even in the catalog?" I get responses like, "Yes.Of course, 12-string guitars were less in demand than 6-string guitars, and the number of 12-string guitars produced was probably smaller than that of 6-string guitars.
The FG-2500 has a slotted head, whereas all of Yamaha's 12-string lineup up to that point had solid heads.
Let's listen to the sound of the FG-2500, which is a little unique.
As with all 12-string guitars, tuning is a very difficult task.With a 6-string guitar, it takes about 3 rounds of tuning to get it from loose to playable, but a 12-string guitar requires 5 to 6 rounds. Moreover, the pegs are twice as long as those of a 6-string guitar and are close to each other, so it is difficult to turn the pegs and takes a long time for each turn.
Finally, after the painstaking tuning, I gave Em a shot as well.
This evaluation is not because I am writing a column or have an intention to sell it, but my sincere impression.
It's the most amazing 12-string guitar I've ever played""""""
The openness and the core of each string you can feel inside it.The most notable thing is that 12-string guitars have wider necks than 6-string guitars, and normally you can't expect them to sound like 6-string guitars, but this one sounds like a 6-string guitar, with a natural chorus added to it.
The tuning difficulties are a minor concern if you can get this sound.Frankly speaking, it is worth less on the market than the 6-string model.However, if you are willing to evaluate the price by the sound, it is not expensive even if you pay 1 million yen.This is one of those euphoric instruments that will make you feel that way.
From here, Terry Nakamoto's world becomes even more colorful.
In 1974, YAMAHA introduced the "L series" lineup, which was more upscale oriented.
The first model was the "L-31.
This model was a luxury sublimation of the FG-2000, and led to the Custom Series released in 1975.
The "L" in the series name stands for "Luxury," and this series consisted of the highest grade models among the FG, N, and L series lined up at that time.
The four models in the L series lineup from 1975 were commonly known as the "Four Heavenly Kings," an ostentatious title. Each of the four models is distinctive and eye-catching in design.
As with high-end handmade FGs, it is almost impossible to see them in person at a real store, so young people are looking at catalogs and wondering, "What kind of sound will it have? What kind of customization should I order? They may have been imagining what kind of sound it would make, and what kind of customization they would order.
Miraculously, we were able to obtain two models from the Four Heavenly Kings, so we would like to take this opportunity to introduce them to you.
1977 L-52 Custom
The black jumbo body reminds me of Gibson's Everly Brothers.
Body width is about 435mm and body thickness is less than 120mm, wider than FG-2000.
The white pickguard is asymmetrical in size, a unique design if one looks closely.
The machines owned by Paul Simon and John Lennon were custom-ordered based on the CJ-52, the successor to the L-52, and both fell in love with the sound.
Personally, I think the look of this L-52 among the Four Heavenly Kings is perfect for my taste.
Let's have a listen to the sound of this model that these two legends liked so much.
Let's listen to the sound of the L-52.
Interesting. It has a crisp "quincey" sound characteristic of maple wood, but you can also feel a solid YAMAHA body sound.Especially when the 1st and 2nd strings are played hard on the upstroke, this characteristic is noticeable, and the sound is loud and resonant.
The most unique point is the archtop-like nuance that can be obtained when playing single notes from the 7th fret of the 3rd string onward.
Rather than being suitable for folk songs, it is more suited for jazz and blues with a 4-beat beat.
This is my favorite model, including the gap between the appearance and the sound.
1977 L-53 Custom
It is flashy at a glance.
The rosette and trim are inlaid with Avalon, of course, but the head is the first thing that catches the eye.The veneer is made of 3-ply Avalon and Hakaranda, and it is surprising that Avalon wood, which is easily broken, is used on both sides of the peg bushings, which is simply amazing.
There are differences in wood specifications between the early and later versions of this L-53, with the 3P back being changed from Hakaranda/Ebony for the early version to Hakaranda 3P for the later version.The body width is approximately 415mm, and the body thickness is approximately 120mm, making it the most dreadnought-like body shape in the L series.
It is the most popular model among the Four Heavenly Kings, and many of the models owned by artists were ordered based on this L-53.
In 2012, it was reissued in a limited edition of 20 pieces, priced at about 2,000,000 yen, but sold out immediately. This background shows that many people have a strong yearning for this model.
Before playing the sound, let us imagine the sound from its appearance.
It is solidly heavy in the hand, weighing approximately 2.55 kg when measured with a measuring instrument.The fingerboard also has inlays painted in Avalon, and it seems to produce a shrill sound with little body ringing.
A shot at the familiar Em.
This is a poor way to describe it, but this was my first impression.But it's not crunchy/kinky.
The FG-2000 adds a sparkling treble range, and yet the bass range, which is typical of the Hakaranda, is well felt.
I would not say that they are exactly the same, but I felt something similar to the nuance of the reissued D-45 from 1968~1969.
If you pick hard to the max, the treble register will sound compressed, but it is very easy to add dynamics to arpeggio playing, and will bring rich expression to ballads and folk songs.It was one of the most popular picks, and the sound convinced me why it is the most popular.
It was very useful to have this opportunity to look back on the history of the "YAHAMA ACOUSTIC" from 1965 to the late 1970s while looking at actual pieces, and it deepened my originally strong love for YAMAHA.
Looking back, 2024 will mark the 50th anniversary of the birth of the L series in 1974.
Personally, I would be very excited if they reissue the early version of the L-31.
The only regret I have is that I could not experience the excitement of those days in a live performance.
Just as I used to fantasize about the sound and appearance of the actual machine while looking at the catalog, I can only enter the 60s~70s in my fantasy world.
I would like to stop here with the history up to the 70's and look back on the history of the breakthroughs from the 80's onward at another time.
That is all from me, a young man, with respect.