Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Yamaha G-250S Classical Guitar

The guitar enthusiast market has just started opening up to old Yamaha guitars during the past couple of years. This would include many of their acoustic and electric guitars produced from the 1960s through at least the early 1980s. I personally started talking up what great electrics they had in the Weddington and SA2000 guitars around ten years ago and have watched their prices on the used market triple since then. They now regularly go for over $1,500 dollars.

Yamaha red label steel strings acoustics (noted by a red label in the soundhole) from the 60s to early 70s, often referred to as a poor man’s Martin, used to sell used for around $100 to $200 just three or four years ago. They’ve been steadily creeping up since then, and several models now go for $400 to $600. I have no doubts that the prices on them will double again in the next couple of years. They’re just terrific sounding guitars and are worth every bit of it and then some.

A couple of their classical guitars produced during the 60s are already going for nearly $2,000. Frankly, I think the price is unjustified for those. I’ve heard a couple of nice ones from that era, but none that would justify that price. It wasn’t until the 70s that Yamaha started producing some extremely good classical guitars that were also inexpensive and are still a real bargain today. The better 70s models had solid spruce tops with laminated rosewood backs and sides. Necks were generally made from nato or mahogany. The lower priced models had solid cedar tops. And any honest builder will tell you that it simply doesn’t matter whether or not the back and sides are laminated. Laminated backs and sides tend to sound the exact same as solid wood and some will argue that they’re stronger and will last longer. D'Aquisto used laminated backs and sides for nearly all his famous archtop jazz guitars because he said it was easier to get good consistancy of woods in laminates. The back and sides of a guitar contribute very little to an acoustic guitar’s tone. (The one exception is cypress which produces a sound with very little mids.) They’re just there to form an anchor for the top and neck and also to produce an air chamber to push the sound out. They don’t really vibrate at all. For instance, Taylor makes a line of guitars: 214, 314, 414 etc. right up to 914, all utilizing spruce tops but with backs and sides from several different kinds of wood from mahogany to rosewood, and they all sound so much alike that most days you would be very hard-pressed to tell the difference between any of them. (I own one.) But as far as laminates go, think of it like this: If you were ever in an old building made of cinder blocks (including the inside walls) that had solid wood floors and thin wood paneling on the walls, was there anything about walking into that room that would make you think that the paneling had cinder blocks behind it? Nope. You would never even know if someone hadn't told you. The sound of cinder block is not reflected in any way. It's the same with laminated guitar backs and sides. It doesn't matter what's on the other side of that laminated wall. And the laminate itself is thicker than most people think. There are a handful of guitar makers in the $5000+ range that use laminated backs and sides by the way for the same reason D'Aquisto did.

It’s all about the tops kids. It’s getting harder and harder to find good spruce from which to make guitar tops nowadays. On sub-$1,500 guitars the spruce tops are often made of wide grain that’s twisted and not terribly musical sounding. Not all spruce is equal. The good stuff is saved for guitars costing twice that. Classical guitars have often used both spruce and cedar for tops along with redwood now and then. Now we’re seeing many steel string guitars made with cedar too. The problem with cedar is that it simply isn’t as strong as spruce and has a tendency to crack over the years. This is especially problematic with the greater tension of steel strings. If you keep a watchful eye on Ebay you’ll quickly notice that most of the guitars listed with cracks have either cedar or koa tops.

Kids today often think they’re getting a bargain and a great guitar because it’s listed as being made with solid woods all around for under $1,500 when in reality many of these guitars have twisted grain spruce tops or weak cedar and koa. A guitar with laminated backs and sides that has a truly great spruce top will sound better and last much longer. Alhambra and Cordoba are making great headway in the new classical guitar marketplace with very good inexpensive guitars made just like this in the $1,000 range, but with mid quality spruce for the tops. We can do even better and for less money.

Yamaha, Yairi, and a handful of other manufactures were already making guitars with rosewood laminated backs and sides along with top grade spruce tops decades ago. They often had plastic saddles and nuts to reduce costs, but those are easily swapped out for bone etc. (I think tusq sounds better myself, and bone is very inconsistent depending on its density.) They’re abundant on the used market and also very inexpensive at this point. Really, really good classical guitars can be had for just a couple of hundred bucks if you know what to shop for.

This particular Yamaha you’re looking at is a 1977 G-250S (I believe the S stands for spruce). This was Yamaha’s second most expensive classical guitar between 1977 and 1981. It sold for $300 new back then (about the equivalent of $1,200 today). The G-255S was their flagship model and sold for $360. As near as I can tell the G-255S was made from the same woods except for a jacaranda bridge whereas the G-250S had a more traditional rosewood bridge. The G-255S models are so hard to find that I’ve only actually seen one. The G-250S models come up on Ebay and Craigslist regularly though and can be had at an astoundingly low price. I rescued this particular one from Craigslist in St. Louis for $100.

Take special note of the medium grained spruce and how silky it is. You just can’t find spruce of that quality anymore on a guitar costing less than $3,000.

I have a YouTube Video where you can hear how this guitar sounds stereo mic'ed with a pair of Oktava MK-012 mics.

Old Yamahas are a great deal children. Look for models made between 1977 — 81 starting with the letter G such as the G-235S, G-240, G-245S, G-250S, and G-255S. Those all had spruce tops, rosewood backs/sides, nato necks, ebony fretboards and are the cream of the crop in my opinion. They also had the longer concert scale size of 260mm with a 52mm nut width. Also, in 1981 they came out with the G-260S model which is essentially the same as the G-250S. They made those through 1984, and they're also very fine guitars. Here is a YouTube recording of the G-260S. In fact the next few YouTube recordings I'm going to list are all by the same gentleman who apparently collects these old Yamahas. I think you can immediately hear the consistency in how great these guitars sound.





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