Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Im currently researching the history of Sada Yairi, The famous and legendary guitar luthier.
I have discovered various amazing facts surrounding his initiation into lutherie and his subsequent demise. Unfortunately, a lot of the pieces are still missing. If anyone out there, (or in there) is interested in this incredible story of a Japanese master craftsman who rose to the top of the musical instrument building industry in Japan, and then fell suddenly, just post your interest here.
I will attempt to fill in the evolution of the story as it unfolds.

Sada Yairi was born in 1902, (location unknown at this time).
He went to work at the Nagoya Suzuki Violin company and completed his apprenticeship as a violin luthier.
He left the company and took up guitar making in his own factory at Nagoya Japan.
He registered his own company in 1932 and started making guitars for the commercial market.
Several rival companies became interested in guitar making soon after and as Nagoya was a major industrial center, they became competetive for market shares. One rival company in particular was owned by a relative of Sada Yairi (name unknown), and began making guitars three years later in 1935. This company was eventually taken over by the relative and now extremely successful luthier Kazuo Yairi in 1963 (relationship unestablished at this time), but by then Sada had mastered the art of guitar making and was producing some of the best guitars in the world. They have been, and still are compared to the CF martin and Taylor guitars, and some players and luthiers refer to him as the stradivarius of guitar making.
Being that the time was pre Japanese industrial revolution, the meticulous craftmanship that went into every piece of work was equal to that of the samurai craftsmanship handed down through centuries of Japanese honor and pride. "Masakichi Suzuki himself, founder of the Suzuki Violin Company where Sada did his appreticeship, was Japan's first violin producer. His father was a samurai moonlighter and made shamisens in Nagoya. But as all good things do come to an end, Sada was crushed by his competitors. The industrial revolution in Japan meant that he could no longer be competitive in the marketplace, as technology and cheaper production techniques meant that mass production was the way of the future, and his rivals were prepared to compromise the quality for the mass market, His painstakingly old fashioned ways became redundant.
Still while Japan was adapting to global economic trends and demands, the old values still counted in some respects, and he lost face (as is the Japanese way) when he was declared bankrupt sometime in the early eighties.
His guitar making empire was sold off to to the highest bidders, which included the likes of Samick guitars (Korea), Gakki Company (Japan) and others. Even his old employer Suzuki, took advantage of his downfall, having already expanded there current violin operations into a rival guitar making firm in the1950s, they were able to capitalise on the growing overseas demand for mass produced instruments and strangely, chose to adopt some of Sada's exact designs into there own product range. These days, S.Yairi guitars are available as cheap mass produced Korean and Chinese imports selling for around $200aus, and being produced by none other than "Hiroshi Yairi",(son of Sada) and "Gakki Co".
Marketing propaganda states that Hiroshi Yairi is the son of Sada, and makes the guitars in honor of his father, but the cheap plectrums, guitar strings, mouth organs and other accessories bearing the name S.Yairi and sold in the same product range, suggest otherwise, pointing undeniably toward a low end demographic. The old saying still stands in this case, "emulation is the greatest form of flattery. "To honor a man who devoted his life to meticulous craftmanship, is to emulate the methods and techniques he would have used himself. This seems to be the antithesis of the brand S.Yairi, once revered by players and luthiers alike, sold down the Yangktse river by Gakki's gross corporate greed and an ungrateful conspiracy of offspring and sibling rivalry.
Kazuo Yairi, (Sources say he was Sada's brother), with Alvarez, still manufacture high quality instruments in America, although mass produced, but the designs bear a striking resemblance to those of his rival/relative in the headstocks, inlays, bracing patterns, logos, timber joinery designs and even down to the model numbers.
Strangely, but not surprisingly, Kazuo Yairi refrains from discussing any aspect of his relationship to Sada to this very day.
It has been suggested that bankruptcy in Japan attracts the most severe of family retributions, but surely this only applies when the retributor has the necessary personal attributes and abilities to create and follow up on a business plan of his very own, not needing to use the defamed and slandered credentials of his victim as the passport to his own successes.
It has come to light since the posting of this blog, that the amazing techniques used by japanese master luthiers in the manufacture of shamisens, (traditional Japanese stringed instruments), involved the use of cutting tools made from the same steel used to create samurai swords. These cutting tools were made from steel folded thousands of times in the founding process, and are considered legendary in themselves, simply because they are compared with the hardest steel ever produced. The undeniable quality of samurai swords dating back several centuries, made way for the evolution of timber craftmanship of similar legendary note. An understanding that vintage guitars and other timber products manufactured in Japan before 1970 (pre industrial revolution) are of such distinctive quality, is enlightening to say the least.
Until my next discovery.
New information is coming in all the time, and will be updated at regular intervals.