Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hi,
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.

29 comments:

  1. This site is now the target of Kazuo Yairi sympathisers, who in there feeble attempts to shut me down, have only strengthened my resolution to continue the fight to honor the memory of the greatest luthier that ever lived. Sada Yairi.
    Bring it on hackers.

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  2. Great biographical. I am blessed to have a SADA YAIRI A18M imported by Aria. Bought it used ($150) in a Portland, Oregon used guitar store about 1972. The sound, to me, was just like the used Martin D18 in the store (which I could not afford). I was told the A18M was SADA's bottom of the line, trying to look like a Martin D18. But, despite its knicks, it just sounds better and better with age. I have had it refretted once and it will need refretting again in a year or so. It has been my partner for almost 40 years. Stradivarius of guitar, I think SADA YAIRI was.

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  3. Hi Mark, I have had the privelege of owning a number of Sada Yairi guitars (both steel and nylon string) over the years. I currently own a 1976 S Yairi dreadnaught Model 850 (solid spruce top, rosewood back and sides) and a cedar top nylon string classical S Yairi guitar made in 1971 with an inerior label written in Japanese. They are both priceless and will continue to grow in value. I have been playng guitar on a semi-professional basis for over 30 years and in my view these guitars offer the player and listener beautiful tone and pleasure.

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  4. thank you thank you thank you ... ive had my s yairi for years and this is the most information ive ever discovered .. see it in action here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CctvIJv-yRU

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  5. Thanks for the background. I bought my S. Yairi new as a poor college student in 1976. I think I paid $250 for it, which was a fortune to me at the time. I couldn't afford a Martin D-18, so I settled for the Yairi! I still have it; sadly I have lost feeling in the fingertips of my left hand, so I don't play it anymore. It's a YW-30, #17447. It thrills me to no end to hear it played on occasion by my gifted friends.

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  6. Hello all, I bought ,, or bartered my services for a sada Yairi for my son. Because he started playing and I love listening! Intersting to hear you all, the friend I got it from plays a Martin, and was sad when he handed the Sada to me,,, I am begining to understand why! My so will attend a workshop with Tommy Emanual tomorrow, I am so proud of him and LOVe the sound of the Sada Yairi,,, Straight up BAD ASS

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  7. thanks so much for all your comments, ive been negligent in attending to the legend of Sada of late, what with the onset of the financial crisis and other personal issues. I have had the chance to have several old texts translated into real english instead of the the pidgeon that is readily available, and hop eto be able to post these translations soon. hope you can all keep in touch and let me know how those beautiful yairis are going. regards Mark. Care and Peace.

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  8. Hi Mark,

    Nice to hear about these great vintage guitars from Sada Yairi on your blog. I've recently aquired a Sada guitar from '73, No 750. It's top is wide grained spruce, rosewood three-piece back like a Martin D-35. Sound is warm, clear and punchy, a real gem.

    Stay Tuned,

    Sas,
    Netherlands

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  9. Hi Mark,

    I have never taken up the art of playing this beautiful instrument, but its never too late :-). My 9 year old daughter has the bug now. This brought me to dig out a guitar i was given from my father. Close friends and others who have played my Sada always commenting on its unique sound and tone etc etc. Knowing there was a possible importance linked to this guitar i very quickly stumbled upon this great site. All i can provide are the details noted within the sound boxes label: Serial 33, Model 856, crafted in Japan 1969. From what i have now read, i recon i get my daughter a beginners classical/acoustic first. I'll happily provide pics if needed - aae.lucky@gmail.com.

    Andrew, in Belgium.

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  10. http://www.guitarsite.com/hotlicks/about4475.html

    Here is a link with some accurate info regarding Sadao Yairi (Kazuo Yairi's uncle)

    Cheers

    Dane, New Zealand

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  11. I own one. A 1976 Model 740. It is an exact copy of the Martin D-35 three piece back.
    It has mellowed and plays and sounds extraordinary by many accounts over the years.

    Bought new as a "B" stock.

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  12. Hello Mark, Great work on assembling the history of this great artist - Sad Yairi. Thank you very much.
    I lucked out on a Craigslist purchase a few years back of an amazing D-18 copy from the mid sixties, I believe. It has 'SADA' in large block logo letters on the headstock, and S.Yairi on the tortoiseshell truss rod cover. The neck block is stamped "no 317 KM" .The headstock is in the Martin style but the tuners are open slot Grover style stamped with the 'ROKO' logo. The volute is a triangle shape style. The neck is a beautiful mahogany - a fairly hefty carve and still ruler straight after all these years. The back and sides are jacaranda mahogany laminate - two piece back with the Yairi 'double chain' perfling. The top is tight grain spruce and is beautifully weather checked all over. It sounds amazing!!! Very open, airy and full. Records like a dream.Better than any D-18 I've ever played. A gift from the music gods!

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    1. i have no 326 with KM under it... martin om lookalike... best guitar i ever played, was my dads... ebony fret board, brasil rosewood back and sides... love it!!! has YaIrI nagoya - made in japan, branded, no sticker. i have played it for 25years... gets better... i thought it was alone!

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  13. Hi Mark,
    Apparently Sada Yairi, for a while, also made guitars under licence from George Lowden. Hope this may fill a gap in your bio. Keep up the good work.
    Cheers,
    Mike Egan
    Drogheda, Ireland.

    Quote from George Lowden website:
    Guitars with this label were built between 1980-1985 in a small Japanese workshop by master luthier Sada Yairi. Approximately 1000 guitars were made per year. In 1980, our Swiss dealer asked George if he could source a small and expert company to make his guitars under license, so they would be more widely available. ..
    Quote from George himself:
    “Thus began a five-year period when my guitars were made in Japan by a small, dedicated band of luthiers near Nagoya. I visited the S. Yairi workshop regularly to give the designs and check quality. I learned about Japanese craftsmanship and their serious approach to work. I found the folk I worked with to be honourable and courteous, and I had the greatest of respect for their hard work and excellent guitars. I learned a lot about production and tools, they in turn were delighted to be able to make original design guitars to this quality level.”
    It is well known that Sada Yairi was a master luthier in his own right and they produced 20 guitars a week totally by hand in his small workshop

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  14. my 1969 YaIrI no. 326 is the best guitar i ever played.. . i want another 1. i have had it myself for 25 years... was my dad's from london in 1969... i' d never sell it but am curious as to it's value

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  15. i have a virtuoso by yari classical guitar serial number 13.i doont know anuthing about.if someone wants to contact me if they can help here is my email. bridson@live.co.uk

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  16. Hi Mark,

    Great article! I have an S.Yairi Model 710 Dreadnought handed down to me from my father. The number stamped on the heel block is "7304 6" which I took to be something along the lines of the sixth unit produced in April of 1973, but I have found no way at all of confirming this.

    Would anyone have an idea if my conjecture is close?

    Shane

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  17. I have a S Yairi steel string the closest counterpart I know is the Martin 0-12NY. I worked for a music wholesaler in Southern California in the 70's and it was a sample/prototype. Small body, slotted headstock. Solid spruce top, rosewood fingerboard, mahogany back and sides. It's weird because there is a fret (10th?) that visually looks off spacing, but the intonation seems fine. I think I bought it for around $90 as it was a sample, but I suspect it's worth a lot more. I got it as a "beach guitar" but I've come to value it's sound and character more than some of the higher-priced collectibles I've had over the years.

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  18. Hello...I must apologise for my lengthy absence. Personal issues take precedence over the brain space required to attend to these sorts of pursuits.
    I actually had no idea that It was even being read by anyone.
    cheers to you all.
    im sorry that I cant answer your technical questions in regard to Sada and his guitars. I am not a luthier or a technically minded person.
    I am a guitarist of many years and I believe I know a great guitar when I see and hear one.
    I am also privy to certain information in regards to Sada and his life.
    He was treated very badly by his extended family, and as the years go on his legacy will become self evident.
    Hold on to your Sada Yairi guitars because one day they will be like a Vincent Van Gogh... :)

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  19. Greetings,
    I have a great 1974 sada yairi yw-150 I'm selling. It's got its original Ignacio faux alligator skin with keyed lock. Please contact me if you are interested: michaelterrencecoyne@hotmail.com
    thanks,
    Mike

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  20. So delighted to stumble across this site. In 1976, on the advice of my teacher, I saved up all my pocket money and bought a S.Yairi (number 650) for - if I remember correctly - AUD$250. As a teenager I loved playing, but then adult responsibilities and commitments took over and I play very little now. However, my guitar remains one of my most treasured possessions and I do play from time to time, promising myself that one day I'll go back to lessons.

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  21. Thank you so much for the info and research. I bought a S.Yairi Model 760 (Year 1974) couple of years ago and fell in love with it ever since.

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  22. Hi Mark
    Fascinating blog - well done.
    My S Yairi is a YD401 serial 18530.
    The label says it's No W401 made in 1984.
    I bought it in Paris for 400 fr in '85 and since then it has travelled the world with me.
    It's a near perfect copy of a Martin D28 - even down to the herringbone binding, and is everyway as good as my actual '70's D28.
    He certainly was a fine luthier and I will pass the guitar down to my son.
    My best wishes to you
    Phil (Devon UK)

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    1. G'day from Australia. My thanks to Mark as well for lifting the veil on the man and his mastery. And G'day Phil from my Yairi YD 401 serial 18441!

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  23. I've got a "Samick by S.Yairi", Model SK-5, serial number unkown but it has the number 8910306 on the neck block. It says Made in Korea, so I don't know what era this was made in or if it's relevant to you or not.

    Strangely, I found a guitar that is so similar to mine I thought at first I'd found the previous owner. Pictures here: http://www.guitar-list.com/samick/samick-sk-5/8910306

    I bought mine for $70 off a guy who didn't know what he had, and I didn't know what I was buying. I put a pickup into it, and then when I realised how good this guitar actually is, I started spending money on it. Grover tuners, new nut, shaved down bridge, re-bored bridge pin holes and new bridge pins, new hand-shaped saddle, and of course new strings. I think I've spent about an extra $300 on it so far, which is well spent in my opinion. It sounds and plays great.

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  24. I bought a Aria Guitar new around 1974. On the inside is the name Sada Yairi with the word Magoya then under that it says made in Japan. Any info you could provide would be appreciated.

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    1. Just to add it is a copy of a Martin D35 and has a stamp on the heel plate marked 960.

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  25. I have a SADA-blocked lettered (300 km stamped under the neck-SadaYairi-Nagoya,Japan stamped inside). I believe it to be late 50's vintage. S.Yairi script logo on the truss rod cover). I have owned dozens of guitars. This ,by far ,is the the"best". Would never part with it but love more info on history and value.....thx....John

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  26. Thanks for the research! I have a 1976 650S S. Yairi.

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