Yamaha SG Series
Of all the excellent – and generally ignored guitars built by Yamaha over the years, none has achieved quite the legendary status as the Yamaha SG-2000 (in the USA issued as SBG-2000), based primarily because of its association early on with Carlos Santana. Most sources cite 1976 as the debut date of this model, however, as usual, there’s more to the story.
The Yamaha SG had its roots in two new solids that debuted in late 1973 – the Natoh mahogany bodied SG-35 and Katsura-wood SG-30. These were bolt-neck guitars with slab bodies in the Yamaha SG shape, reminiscent of a Gibson SG, with small pickguards and twin humbuckers with black plastic covers. The SG-35 had parallelogram inlays, the SG-30 had dots. All had stop tailpieces with adjustable bridges.
In ’74 these were joined by more models. The SG-30A was essentially the same as the SG-30, but with a maple body. Likewise the SG-35A (maple). The SG-50 was similar to the SG-30, but with a glued-in neck with dot inlays and a large, laminated pickguard that went from the upper horn down to the lower bout. The SG-70 was very similar to the SG-50, but had a mahogany body.
The ’74 SG-90 and SG-175 marked the debut of guitars that clearly can be identified as Yamaha SGs. Both were set-neck, carved-top mahogany guitars with a little elevated pickguards. The SG-90 was plain, with simple top binding, no binding on the fingerboard, dot inlays, and chrome hardware.
The ’74 SG-175 was a pretty guitar with a carved mahogany top was trimmed in abalone inlay. The first 175s had the older square-humped headstock. Hardware was gold. The ebony fingerboard was inlaid with abalone split wing or pyramid inlays. Finishes were natural, black , red, and brown. It was an SG-175 that was first noticed by Carlos Santana, who began playing one around this time. He had custom pickups without the covers, and a fancy Buddha pearl inlay design covering the belly of the guitar.
In ’75, the headstock changed to having the double-dip or “W” cutout we associate with the SGs. These initial Yamaha SGs lasted until mid ’76 when they were replaced by the SG-2000.
While these new SGs started to become noticed, Takabayashi and his staff went to work improving the guitar’s design. The results were the SG-2000, SG-1500, SG-1000, SG-700 and SG-500, introduced in ’76,
The SG-2000 employed the basic look of the SG-175, combined with subtle refinements. Instead of carved solid mahogany, the SG-2000 had a carved, mildly figured three-piece maple top, with the grain of the center section set perpendicular to the sides. Instead of a set neck, it featured a three-piece mahogany/maple/mahogany laminated neck-through design conducive to greater sustain. The body wings consisted of a “sandwich” of laminated mahogany and maple. In order to enhance sustain, the SG-2000 had a brass block under the bridge (Similarly the SG-1500 had a chrome block).
Replacing the flat back of the SG-175 was a contoured back with a scoop out of the top waist to increase playing comfort. The head of the SG-2000 featured the now-standard double-dipped shape, with five-ply binding, a block lettering logo, and a fancy three-piece floral inlay. The 22-fret ebony fingerboard was bound with mother-of-pearl split-wing inlays. The top also featured five-ply binding.
The twin-shielded Alnico V humbuckers were covered in black plastic with a cover that surrounded the bobbins, but left them and the poles exposed. Electronics were conventional two-humbucker, same as on the SG-175. The laminated pickguard was slightly elevated, as on the SG-175. The finetune bridge had metal saddles, and the stop tail was engraved with a harp-and-scroll design. Hardware was brass-plated. Five finishes were available initially – cherry sunburst, brown (tobacco) sunburst, cherry, brown (tobacco) and black. A hardshell case was standard.
In ’76, Yamaha produced a limited edition SG-2000 Devadip model with a fancy engraved pearl inlay on the belly of an antique Japanese woman in native dress holding a flower, obviously inspired by Santana’s custom SG-175.
The SG-1500 was similar to the SG-2000 except it had a set neck, dot inlays, chrome hardware, and was available in cherry sunburst, red and black. An SG-1500 was introduced in Japan in ’81, but with different specs, so we’ll discuss that as a new model. The export SG-1500 appears to have lasted through ’78 or possibly into ’79, probably at the same time as the SBG changes came about.
The SG-1000, which was the second-in-line model in Japan, had some differences. It had a bound rosewood fingerboard, “clay” split-wing inlays, and “only” triple binding. The top was a single piece of maple, without the perpendicular centerpiece, and was unbound. Instead of being a neck-through, it was set-neck with solid mahogany and did not have the brass sustain plate under the bridge.
The SG-1000 was equipped with slightly different electronics; the pots were wired such that when the volume pot was rolled up to 10, the tone control was bypassed – the equivalent of the slider switches on ’60s guitars. These came in cherry sunburst or brown sunburst. It is not clear how long the SG-1000 was exported, because it does not appear in many U.S. catalogs.
In ’77, an SG-1000L lefty version became available. The name was changed to SBG-1000 in the U.S. at the same time as the 2000, and the guitar remained in the line through ’83 (’84 in Japan).
The SG-700 and SG-500 were almost identical to the SG-1000, but without the special wiring circuitry. These had slightly less fancy headstock inlays and chrome hardware. The SG-700 had an unbound maple top made of several pieces of maple and came in cherry sunburst and brown.
The 700 had traditional black plastic pickup covers with only one row of poles exposed. The SG-500 came only in opaque colors, black and cherry, suggesting use of lower-grade maple on the tops.
The SG-700 appears to have bit the dust with the SBG change in ’78 or ’79. The SG-500 likewise disappeared at this time, though it returned in ’81 or ’82 as the SBG-500 (SG-800S in Japan).
In ’77, Yamaha added the SG-800. It appears to have been an SG-700 with white binding on the top and an even plainer flower inlay on the head. The 800 substituted a cream pickguard and pickup rings for the black laminate of the 700. This model made it at least through ’79, and possibly a year or two more. It was most likely not exported to the U.S.
While Yamaha was involved in modifying the SG-2000, no new models seem to have appeared. In ’81, however, several new guitars appeared in Japan. One was a version of the SG-1000 called the SG-1000X. No information is available on this guitar and it probably didn’t last long.
Another new model in ’81 was the Japanese version of the SG-1500. Few details are available except it looked identical to the SG-1000, with the split-wing inlays, etc., and came in a Brown, Red, and Jade Green finish. How long this lasted is also unknown, but it was not in the ’84 Japanese catalog.
Finally, the SG-800S appeared in ’81. This was another set-neck guitar that differed from the earlier SG-800 in that it now sported dot inlays and white bobbins on exposed pickup bobbins.
Top of the range
The big news for ’82 was the introduction of a new deluxe SG, the SG/SBG-3000, also called the SG-3000 Custom. In Japan, this model was also called the Professional, which was engraved on the pickguard.
This guitar looked like a fancy SBG-2000 with gold-plated hardware, but it also sported significant differences. The SBG-3000 was still neck-through, with the mahogany/maple/mahogany laminated neck. The headstock inlays were the same, as were the mother-of-pearl split-wing inlays on a bound ebony ‘board.
One major difference in construction was the use of solid mahogany for the wings. Others included a smaller finetune bridge and lack of a sustain plate. The SBG-3000 also had new Precise Torque tuners, with a 15:1 gear ratio and a set screw on the button that let you adjust the tension to your taste.
Most noticeable was the addition of Mexican abalone purfling to the top. Less noticeable were the new, black-plastic covered Spinex high-output humbuckers. Surrounds were gold. Each came with a laminated pickguard and an optional brass pickguard. Finish options were metallic black, Gold, Wine red, and Cream white. The SBG-3000 Customs were spectacular guitars. They were available through ’85.
One off Models
Yamaha’s SGs started to proliferate in ’83 with the addition of eight new SGs. Mainly aimed at Japan.
At the top of the line the SG-2500 was added. Basically this had SG-3000 construction and pickups (including the new bridge) combined with the multiple bound trim of the SG-2000 (minus the abalone trim). The SG-1600 was similar but with fewer plies of binding. Little information is available on the SG-1300, but it was probably a set-neck with a white-and-black top binding, clay split-wing inlays in bound rosewood, gold hardware, the new bridge and Spinex pickups, with the 2000 headstock inlay. The SG-1300-24 was a 1300 with a two-octave fingerboard and no pickguard, available in a metallic blue. The SG-1300T was a 1300 with a nifty new stud-mounted double-locking finetune vibrato, no pickguard, and only one volume and one tone. The SG-1000N was a version of the SG-1000 with the new smaller gold bridge and Spinex pickups (maybe “N” meant “new”?). No other differences are known. The SG-1000-24 was the 1000N with a two octave fingerboard. The SG-510 had all the new features with dot inlays and chrome hardware. The SG-1300T, 1300-24, and 1000-24 probably lasted only a year through ’84. The SG-2500, 1600, 1300, 1000N, and 510 made it another year through ’85.
In ’84, three more SGs were introduced in Japan. The SG-1300TS was a version of the 1300T with only volume and tone and some interesting variations. The head, fingerboard, and top were all free of binding, and inlays were dots. The edges were soft and the body was thinned down. Hardware and finish were black.
There’s no information about the SG-1000NW except that it was a variant of the 1000N. Likewise, nothing is known about the SG-710T except it probably had the new vibrato. These are not in the ’85 Japanese Yamaha catalog so, presumably, they were already gone, although the SBG-1300TS was still featured in the ’85 U.S. catalog, so it make it ’til about ’86.
By ’88, the legendary Yamaha SG line went out of production. But Yamaha continued to produce custom shop SGs. In ’89, it built a custom SG-T for the guitarist Takanaka, an SG-3000 that featured cool alphabet graphics, the vibrato, volume/tone, and a humbucker/single/humbucker pickup layout. Some limited edition SG25S models were made in ’91, again SG-3000s with an elaborate hummingbird and floral pearl inlay on the lower bout. Some in black, some wine red. Another custom Takanaka SG-25T was also produced at that time with a flame maple cap. Others undoubtedly exist.
In February ’96, Yamaha produced a limited number of reissue SG-175s as the SG-175B. These were based on the original Santana model and featured a fancy engraved pearl and gold inlaid Buddha on the guitar belly. A special engraved flower graced the headstock. Pickups were not covered, and the center maple strip in the neck was visible through the body on the back.
Finally, Yamaha reissued its visionary guitar as the SBG-700S circa ’99, a set-neck model with a mahogany body and neck, twin humbuckers and a coil tap. These lasted until around 2001