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The Yamaha SG 2000, the Les Paul Killer

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

A Yamaha SG 2000 in sunburst finish.

A Yamaha SG 2000 in sunburst finish.

In the history of guitars there have been many a model which was discontinued, and sometimes this happening leaves us all wondering just what a body had been thinking. Why discontinue something so clearly above and beyond the pale? Businesses sometimes make inexplicable decisions, and from my end of things, this was one of them.

Yamaha was and continues to be one of the very most reliable brands for musical instruments. When you buy a Yamaha, you know you are absolutely getting something extremely good at whatever the price point is in which you are spending. One just doesn't beat Yamaha very often when it comes to value for the dollars spent.

The Les Paul Killer

Starting in the year of 1887, Yamaha has been a maker of musical instruments from beginner's level, to as good as possibly can be made. They started with pianos and organs, but being a business, they moved to where the people were spending money, and so this led them directly to guitars during the twentieth century.

Because of the nature of Yamaha, that they are primarily a musical instrument manufacturer, and that they are a global one at that, and that they have established themselves so thoroughly, and with so many adoring consumers, one could easily compare them to Gibson guitars, of the United States. Like Gibson, Yamaha excels at both acoustic and electric guitar manufacturing.

Yamaha isn't just comparable to Gibson. Yamaha is absolutely competing with Gibson, and they do this on the global stage, not just here in north America. The facts are one can acquire an intermediate to professional levele Yamaha instrument at prices which are often more favorable than the same for Gibson.

This page is about the Yamaha SG 2000. It was a product of the 1970s, and during that time, Gibson and Fender guitars, the two great American electric guitar manufacturers, they were thought to be slipping. They had let their production values degrade just a bit. Sometimes things were passing through quality control which should not have, or would not have in better times.

The Japanese seized upon this situation, and they started flooding the global market with high quality copies of Gibson and Fender classics, and they sold them at low prices. But that isn't all that happened, Yamaha introduced fantastic original guitars like the SG 2000, and it became known as the Les Paul Killer.

A Yamaha SG 2000 in red.

A Yamaha SG 2000 in red.

Good Looks and Great Sounds

The Gibson Les Paul had been crowned God's own gift to rock and roll music. How on earth could someone just come in and make something people would call a Les Paul killer? Well, the only way to do that would be to make something which was as nice as the Les Paul, but available for less money.

The only way a guitar could ever have such a sound as the Gibson Les Paul would be to copy the basic ingredients. A cheeseburger, after all, is always a cheeseburger. You make a better one with better ingredients, or you make a similar one to your competition, and sell it for less money, and there you go.

The Yamaha SG 2000 absolutely used the same ingredients and most of the build methods as the Gibson Les Paul, but it was an original guitar. At the time nothing comparable existed except for the Gibson Les Paul. Oh do not get hung up on the "SG" in the Yamaha SG 2000 nomenclature, as this guitar is not like a Gibson SG, although it is a double cutaway guitar, and otherwise could be thought to be similar from appearance.

The Yamaha SG 2000 has a carved maple top, just like a Gibson Les Paul does. The double cutaway was probably the single biggest element which would cause one to prefer this guitar over the traditional Gibson Les Paul. You've got a bit more access to higher frets. And there is no heel cap, as the Yamaha SG 2000 is a neck through build guitar.

The great Carlos Santana with his Yamaha SG 2000.

The great Carlos Santana with his Yamaha SG 2000.

Carlos Santana, Guitar Innovations, and the Yamaha SG 2000

Carlos Santana has always been the coolest of guys. He's the one Hispanic blues rock pioneer standing in a crowd full of persons like Hendrix, and then a bunch of British guys. He's got a sound and a style all his own, he always has, and he's still got it today.

In 1976 the Yamaha SG 2000 debuted in the market, and it had Carlos Santana as the guy moving the product. He would appear on the cover of big US guitar magazines holding his SG 2000. Everyone was happy with the situation. But Carlos felt the guitar could be improved upon.

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Santana felt the SG 2000 should have more sustain, and possibly the reason it didn't have enough was due to it not weighing so much. Well, seeing as how a Les Paul may well weigh nearly twelve pounds, the much lighter weight of the Yamaha SG 2000 could be considered a major selling point, and one of the elements which would make it a Les Paul killer.

Still, Carlos Santana was the advertising face of the instrument, and so ideas were hatched. A large brass plate was mounted on the backside of the guitar's tail-piece, and this plate of brass was patented as the sustain plate. I would suspect the patent was proof of its efficacy. The sustain plate was contiguous with the tailpiece mounted on the front of the guitar, and so this allowed the strings to ring through the metal, and by association, the wood.

Next up came a three piece neck which was composed of mahogany sandwiching maple, and this became known as the T-Cross system, and these necks were neither bolted on, nor set, but rather, these were neck through guitars. So the neck of the guitar is also, very literally, a part of the guitar's body.

It is important the reader understand about set neck guitars, not just the SG 2000, but all set neck guitars have some give and some take. There is no adjusting the neck, and there is no replacing the neck either. The neck is literally part of the body of the guitar in a set neck construction guitar. What's the positive here? The neck should be many times more stable than a bolt on neck, or a set neck construction guitar. And there should be more sustain.

Finally, the Yamaha corporation did something with the SG 2000 which hadn't previously been done. They sent the guitars to the United States to have the set up completed. So this was an early example of some globalism in the manufacturing process. It's something done by several Asian manufacturers now, but at the time, this thinking was completely new.

Seriously, the Yamaha SG 2000 is one Killer Guitar

The mahogany body and carved maple top, neck through design, the faux Gibson "open book" headstock, the gold plate hardware, the gorgeous inlay and binding, the two humbucker pickups with push-pull pots allowing for single coil tones as well - this thing was the entire package. You couldn't get a better guitar than this if you tried, and never comes the day you could get something so good for so little money.

The people at Gibson were not the slightest bit happy, and of course, they threatened a lawsuit, and what for? The name. Gibson didn't like the "SG" in the name, never mind the fact the maple top and neck through design made this guitar nothing at all like a Gibson SG. Gibson was and is big and powerful, and Yamaha wanted to keep its good standing in the US marketplace.

There were more models than just the SG 2000, Yamaha had an SG 1000, and then an SG 1500, and then finally, the top of the line SG 2000. The lower the number the lesser the fancy, and then the SG 2000 was every bit as fancy as the best Gibson Les Paul guitars of the time, or possibly moreso, depending upon how you feel about neck through construction guitars.

All three models were very hot sellers in 1976 and 1977, but for reasons one would have to go back in time to discover, their popularity faded away, and also Gibson was into litigation. As time passed, Yamaha added a "B" to the nomenclature to satisfy the crybabies at Gibson, and so the SG 2000 became the SBG 2000.

Of course these guitars were set to the 24.75" length of scale which Gibson uses, for how else could one equal or even compete with Gibson's Les Paul without using that as a design element? It's not possible. Another thing here which absolutely needs mentioning is the ebony fingerboards. I'm not going to tell lies here, or elsewhere can I help it, ebony is just better than rosewood for a fingerboard, and you can sue me for saying so.

The Yamaha SG 2000 is essentially a double cutaway Gibson Les Paul Custom, and with a neck through body design, and a couple patents which do not belong to Gibson. It's a bang up fantastic guitar, pound for pound a veritable Les Paul killer, and available on the used market today at prices well over a thousand dollars, and for a great one, over two thousand. Worth every penny. Thanks for reading.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Wesman Todd Shaw


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 23, 2020:

I like that you know so much about guitars. It speaks to the huge variety of humans out there, how different we are, how diverse our interests. I'm not sure I know as much about a topic as you do about guitars. I'll have to give that some thought.

In the meantime, have a safe and healthy week.

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