Design, build, and playability all combine in Yamaha's over-engineered-but-way-hip SG-3 guitars from the 1960s.
For better or worse, I have my email out there in the ether for anyone to ask me questions about old guitars. Sometimes I can genuinely help folks, and other times people just want to chat and share stories. The most common question I get is, "What is your favorite old Japanese guitar?"
That's tough for me to answer. I'm often in awe of a design. Other times, I admire a guitar's build and playability. Then, of course, I dig the tones of certain guitars. But when I bring it all together and combine all the factors, the answer can be pared down to the late–1960s Yamaha SG-3 guitars.
The SG-3 (and the two pickup SG-2) was really Yamaha's first foray into electric guitar building on a large scale. Located in Hamamatsu, Japan, Yamaha was—and still is—quite the prolific company. Back in the '60s, they had a rather large musical instrument department that made just about everything, from pianos and drums to amplifiers and stereo equipment. When the company started making electric guitars, everything was designed and produced in-house. And boy, did they ever succeed.
See, the SG-3 was designed in part with some help from musicians, electricians, and machinists who all came together in that admirable Japanese fashion where the finished product is a reflection of the best collective efforts put into it. These guitars were substantial and probably over-engineered, in a sense. These weren't the guitars we'd find at the local department store, and the SG-3 had a rather regal price tag of $249.50, which was a lot of bread!
The foundation of the SG-3 was certainly influenced by Mosrites and Fender's Jazzmasters and Jaguars, with an offset body, metal nut, slim neck, 25½" scale, and a powerful sound. The pickups are rather aggressive for the times, and that chunkier bridge unit is really where the magic lies. Those are actually two single-coils in that humbucker-looking housing, but they are differently designed. The one closest to the bridge has an extra magnet under the coils and then a metal bridge plate under that. That means the first bridge pickup is just meaner and more aggressive than the other ones. It's a cool idea when paired with the roller control on the upper bout.
The SG-3 (and the two pickup SG-2) was really Yamaha's first foray into electric guitar building on a large scale.
While the lower bout has a simple 3-way switch for all the pickups, the upper has a switch to engage the blender feature. This allows you to use that last roller to blend in that first pickup, combine it with the middle pickup, or turn it completely off. Yes, it's overly complicated but, once you find a sweet spot, good grief! The other rollers and knobs are simply volume and tone controls.
Aside from the electronics, you have to really appreciate the masterful roller-bridge and tremolo, which actually work very well. Heck, even the truss rod is "hidden" under a pseudo neck plate that allows for easy adjustment. The earliest versions of the SG-3 had an ultra-cool script motorcycle logo. Color choices were limited to sunburst, red and white, and all the guitars featured a poly finish.
As far as feel goes, the necks on these models are a little on the thinner side and the bodies are a little thicker, which to me feels like it's a mix of a Jazzmaster and a Mosrite. The offset body feels like a combination of both guitars and is well-balanced when strapped on. Link Wray famously used a red SG-2 for many years, and that's probably where I first saw one of these in action.
This model had a relatively short run, with production starting in mid-1966 and ending by the late 1960s. These Yamaha SG guitars didn't seem to sell very well here in the U.S. Most examples were brought back by servicemen stationed overseas, but you can find SG-3 guitars all over Japan, and it's a super special treat to discover the original cases, which often include a cute little vinyl bag of accessories.
So, now that you know my all-time favorite Japanese guitar, please don't go out there and start driving up the prices!
1969 Yamaha SG2 Guitar Demo
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Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.