mckay earth wind fire bill nelson bebop deluxe carlos santana reissue solidbody electric guitar workmanship sbg series di meola yamaha les paul tones

The reissued SBG3000 is a hefty axe with tone to spare

Al McKay of Earth Wind & Fire played one. Bill Nelson of Bebop Deluxe played one. Carlos Santana made them famous. Yamaha Guitars commemorates its 40th year selling guitars in the United States by reissuing the SBG3000 solidbody electric guitar. Originally issued in the mid-70s, the SBG line became celebrated for its cool looks, ridiculous sustain and awesome versatility. With its intricate aesthetic detail and individually handcrafted workmanship, it’s no wonder guitarists as wide ranging as Bob Marley and Al Di Meola took to the SBG series.

I’m a big fan of these guitars and have owned more than a few of the vintage models in the SG and SBG line. Aficionados proudly call these guitars, “The Les Paul Killer.” Its striking non-traditional looks never fail to turn heads, and its smokin’ tones send people rushing online in hopes of purchasing one of their own. Lucky for them Yamaha saw fit to reissue these babies.

Cracking the case on this bad boy and getting an eyeful of its unadulterated glory was love at first sight. The neck-through body construction, carved maple top over a maple/ mahogany body is just plain hot. The ebony fretboard is a thing of beauty. Aesthetically speaking, I could see this guitar becoming my new girlfriend. Its two Alnico V, covered humbuckers allow you to get a Swiss Army Knife range of sounds, with the aid of coilsplitting push/push pots located on the tone controls. Top-of-the-line hardware includes gold precise torque tuning machines, a low-mass bridge, mother-of-pearl/abalone inlays, position markers and a gorgeous binding. It’s a stunning piece of workmanship— even the dorkiest guitar player would look sharp as a tack wearing this guitar on stage.

Although it’s historically accurate, a new feature has been added. Yamaha has utilized a proprietary aging technique called Initial Response Acceleration. It’s a manufacturing technique that accelerates the aging process of their guitars. It makes a new guitar sound vintage, by realigning the cellular structure of the wood to replicate an original 1970s SBG, or so they say.

The Test
For a test comparison, I whipped out my trusty tobacco 1978 Yamaha SG2000. It’s a great instrument that I will never sell, and comes equipped with that sought-after, creamy Moonflower -era Santana tone. I felt sorry for the reissue, because it had such a tough act to follow. I was deeply concerned that I would give this new guitar an inferiority complex, so I took it nice and easy. The stock pickups in mine are a little different than the ones in the SBG3000, but it’s still in the tonal ballpark. For amps, I plugged into a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb, Peavey JSX, Fender ’65 Pro Reverb and a Marshall JCM2000.

Weighing in at around 9lbs, the SBG3000 has some weight on it. If you plan to wear this thing on stage for more than an hour, you’d better get a good strap. If not, curvature of the spine is imminent. It’s that ‘70s trade-off. You don’t get those big righteous tones out of a two-pound guitar. The weight, mahogany body and neck-through construction all contribute to the tonal characteristics that make this guitar the unique-sounding instrument it is. The neck is chunky and full, so be warned. If you have small, girly hands this may not be the guitar for you. If you have big to medium sized hands and enjoy the cramp-free support of having a thick chunk o’ wood perfectly fill that nook in your hand, this one’s for you. I have long fingers, and I played a two-hour R&B and jazz rehearsal with it. It’s very comfortable and the ebony fretboard is nice and flat, and I love the frets. It’s excellent for playing big jazz chords that are spread out, but takes a little adjustment for Hendrixstyle grips. The comfort cut in the back of the body allows you to keep the guitar close whether sitting or standing. Strat players will need to put in some time to adjust to the weight and balance. It’s a lot of guitar.

The Nitty Gritty
The guitar was set up perfectly right out of the case. It was set up better than my own Yamaha. Plugging into a couple of Fender amps, it got great clean sounds. I was feeling the jazz vibe right away. With the neckpickup, single notes pop but stay warm and articulate. No dark, boomy, fuzziness was heard anywhere. There’s a smooth sophistication that permeates the overall sound of this axe. In the bridge position, I got bite, but I could immediately adjust how sharp it got with my right hand. I could lighten up to get what I wanted. Sensitive to picking dynamics, I could go from full-bodied to sharp to plinky. The middle position gives that classic nasal honk that’s great for chickin’ pickin’, but using the push/push pots is where it gets fun.

With the push/push pots engaged there’s a volume drop, but now I was getting all these cool faux Tele variations by changing the pickup positions. I could split the coils for either pickup, move the toggle switch to the middle position and get the sound of two split single-coils, or add a full humbucker along with one split-coil. I found this feature very useful when I wanted to instantly knock down the volume and get a thinner, more cutting tone. A quick tap on the tone control, and I had an entirely different sound and volume level. From out of nowhere I’m playing the intro to “Love Rollercoaster” by The Ohio Players, and it sounds like the record.

The Fury
So now it’s time plug into some bodacious overdriven guitar rigs in search of firebreathing overdrive and flesh-melting distortion. Standing in a rehearsal room, alternating between a Peavey JSX and a Marshall JCM2000, I get why the choice was made to keep the pickups clean. Clarity! The neck pickup grabs a hold of the distorted gain of the Marshall and bends it to its sonic will. It repels any and all muddiness and manipulates the dirt, shaping it into smooth, rich and elongated tonal color. These are the kind of tones that make you want to hold a note longer than you normally would.

Blues-rock-shred-wanking ensued as I discovered the sonic middle ground between Gary Moore, Al Di Meola and Neal Schon. It really mirrors that Al Di Meola early solo career vibe, especially when you add mutola, but it also beckons to be man-handled à la Gary Moore. This guitar has a lot of refined clarity. Switching to the bridge pickup really allows you to pop out of the mix with muscular but soft treble tones. It never gets brittle or peaky, but still pops. It loves distortion. Though this guitar tends to lean toward the cleaner side, cranking up your amp a bit more could grant you all the nasty-ass metal you could want. It’s perfect for blues, rock, jazz and funk. The push/push pots aren’t as useful with nosebleed distortion levels, because much of the subtlety in the tonal change is lost. With light overdrive you can get all kinds of interesting sounds. I got an excellent variety of tones playing through a mystery backline at the local blues jam. Effortlessly switching from a distorted neck humbucker sound to a pristine doublecoil split is a great feature on this axe.

The Final Mojo
The Yamaha SBG3000 is a substantial piece of wire and wood. It lacks the gritty earthiness of my old SG2000, but the SBG3000 is cleaner, clearer and much more upscale and refined in the tonal department. It’s pretty much all right there for those who like the sound of a smoother Les Paul Custom vibe with more tonal options. Those spoiled by lightweight solidbody electrics will more than likely pass on this guitar. For those who really like to feel it, you’ll really feel it with this guitar. The price will cause internal bleeding, but hey, it comes with a free display case!
Buy if...
you like cool-looking guitars with hip tonal options. 
Skip if...
you have back problems and are unemployed.

MSRP $4799 - Yamaha -