Yamaha Guitars: Pacific Crossing
The locking tremolo system on the Borland guitar is a Yamaha Finger Clamp Quick Change system, developed by Jackie Minakuchi in an attempt to find an alternative to the hex nuts that make other locking systems so cumbersome and inconvenient to use. Gaudesi says, “Originally we were going to do a vintage trem on Wes’ guitar. He wanted to keep it really traditional at first. But then Limp Bizkit decided to get back together and Wes said, ‘Man, there’s no way I can play that stuff without a locking trem.’ So I changed some drawing and specs on this trem that Jackie was working on. I thought it would be great to get Japan involved in the guitar as well, so they could feel some personal ownership. So I got both sides of the world involved, as far as Yamaha goes. Everybody was truly contributing and really excited about the project.”
Gaudesi’s retro futurist flair can also be seen in the signature model guitar he designed for Troy van Leeuwen from Queens of the Stone Age. It’s a triple-pickup guitar based around Yamaha’s FA2200 thinline solidbody but dressed up by Gaudesi with elegant Art Deco f-holes and a retro-groovy switchplate on the upper bout.
“The f-holes are a newer version of something that’s been in the Yamaha design family for quite a few years,” Gaudesi explains. “But that little plastic switchplate is something I had to fight hard for. I thought the two toggle switches would look like a modification or repair job if we didn’t put something there to show that it was an intentional part of the design. We’re not breaking any crazy new ground with that switchplate, but it does give a nod to a lot of the Sixties Italian guitars that had a lot of plastic all over them. But obviously this is a little better quality.”
The North Hollywood facility has grown in importance over the years, to the point where Yamaha undertook a major expansion of the space in 2006, more than doubling the square footage, from 5,000 to 11,000, and adding guitar and drum showrooms, a recording studio, photo studio and repair workshop. To reflect the facility’s enhanced functionality, its name was changed from Yamaha Guitar Development (YGD) to Yamaha Artist Services Hollywood (YASH).
“This is a perfect place to talk to artists,” says Minakuchi, who left Japan to work full time out of YASH as co-director of the facility. “Whenever we need to, we can call artists and invite them to check out a new prototype or product. We can get their opinion very easily and I can talk to Japan that same day and say, ‘Please change this,’ or ‘Maybe this is not a good idea.’ ”
Meanwhile, Yamaha acoustic guitars became a major priority for Dennis Webster when he joined the company circa 2003, coming over from Gibson. “Yamaha had been really focusing on electric guitars,” he says. “To me, it seemed like we’d gotten away from our roots. We decided to put the focus back on acoustics and take back the market share that we’d had in the past.”
The move coincided with the 30th anniversary of Yamaha acoustics in 2003. Under the design leadership of Hiroshi Sakurai, the company’s top-of-the-line L Series was revamped with a new 90 degree X bracing system and a “C Block” neck joint that enhances the traditional dovetail neck joint design for greater stability and resonance. In addition, Yamaha’s more affordable FG Series acoustics were upgraded with solid sitka spruce tops throughout the line, replacing the laminated tops on some models, and a bracing pattern similar to the one employed in the new L series.
As a result of all these efforts Yamaha has gone “from the number-five spot in the American acoustic market to the number-one position it occupied in the past,” according to Webster. The latest acoustic models from the company are a pair of electrified nylon-string guitars: the NCX, which is a traditionally shaped nylon-string guitar, and the NTX, which boasts a thinline, single-cutaway body. Both were developed in consultation with the popular guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriella. Webster describes these new instruments as “crossover” nylon strings.
“There are more pop and rock players wanting to add that nylon-string sound to their palette. You see artists like Jason Mraz and John Mayer doing it, and that’s why we came out with those models. The nylon-string sound is a cool sound to have. It’s always good as a fourth or fifth guitar. It really adds a different dimension to your playing. But at the same time, you’re never going to get a true, traditional classical player to play an instrument with a cutaway and electronics. That’s why we still make the GC Series classical guitars for the higher end players.”
The NCX and NTX will be the first Yamaha nylon-string guitars to employ the company’s A.R.T. (Acoustic Resonant Transducer) onboard amplification system, which is used in popular Yamaha steel-string guitars like the APX and CPX Series as well as some L Series acoustics. It does away with the need for a bridge-mounted piezo pickup, which has long been a standard component of acoustic guitar amplification schemes but is often decried for its characteristic “quacky” sound.
Instead, says Webster, the A.R.T. system employs “two transducers, which are kind of like little microphones, mounted inside the guitar body. We use one on the bass side and one on the treble side, and you can blend them any way you want. The good thing about this system is that it really cuts down on feedback and surface noise if you’re playing very percussively or aggressively. The transducers are insulated with neoprene rubber and wood spacers.”
Over time, the company has amassed a diverse and impressive line of guitars and bases. Many established models like the SBG, Pacifica, AES and RGX electrics, the BB basses and L Series acoustics are still in production and well on their way to classic status. Meanwhile, innovative new models like the Borland and van Leeuwen signature electrics and NCX/NTX nylon-strings continue to impact the guitar playing universe.
“I’m working with John Gaudesi every day on new projects and ideas,” Minakuchi says. “Our workshop is filled with prototypes.”
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