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Weird Guitars: Vintage Freak Show

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Yamaha SG-80T
A few times a year, I go on guitar adventures, visiting guitar shops, antique stores, and flea markets in search of forgotten treasures. In 2007, I found this old Yamaha in a tiny Maryland music shop. There was exactly one other used guitar there. I thought I knew all there was to know about Yamaha electrics, but I’d never seen this model before. When I left, their used-guitar inventory was down to one.

The Nippon Gakki Company—aka Yamaha—jumped into electric-guitar production around 1966. Its earliest 6-string designs were slightly edgy and bizarre—swooping, asymmetrical shapes, lots of knobs and switches, and a generally futuristic aesthetic. In the next decade, Yamaha guitars became a little tamer, but they remained ambitious.

Watch a demo of the Avalon AV2T

The SG-80T was the flagship of the 1972 lineup. It features a German body carve, a slim neck with chevron inlays, a newly designed tremolo, and rather complex electronics, including a bypassable, five-position rotary “tone selector” knob. The SG-80T actually has three pickups—the bridge unit is two single-coils that can be used individually or in parallel. Combining them with the model’s then-new “tone boost” knob yields some strong sounds. The bridge pickup gets most of its tonal options from the tone selector knob, which sometimes seems to restrain tones, though there are some very usable options. If you’re into weird old guitars, this might be one of your desert-island instruments because of the sheer range of its tones.

These forward-thinking design features come at a price, though: The SG-80T weighs in at a robust nine pounds! Typically for the ’70s, it came in either a natural finish or a dark mahogany. The all-mahogany construction of this particular guitar provides plenty of sustain. From what I can gather, this model and ones like it were only made for about a year. In 1974 Yamaha redesigned the SG line to the more symmetrical styling made popular by then-endorser Carlos Santana, and used today by artists such as John Frusciante.

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