The inception of Yamaha's SG range, all the way back in 1973, proved a point in the guitar playing world, which finally realised that high quality guitars don't only come from the USA . Handmade, superbly finished, the Yamaha SGs were rapidly accepted as being fully the equal of anything coming out of Gibson or Fender in that period - and many went further: the Yamaha SG, some said, was the world's finest production solid bodied guitar. It was a view reinforced when people saw Carlos Santana toting one and not exactly harmed when Santana was joined by other top name professionls, including Robben Ford, Bill Nelson and Larry Carlton.
Despite all that. and some serious success in the international market, the fizz seemed to have gone out of Yamaha's professional guitar range during 1990s - almost as if the company had lost interest in the top-end of the guitar market. Lately, however, the Sumo has reawoken and is again introducing new models aimed at causing a few sleepless nights in Nashville. Indeed, the 2011 Winter NAMM show in California saw the unveiling of three brand new models, all based on the SG2000 but with a more modern twist: the SG1820, the SG1820A and the subject of this months review, the SG1802 - our sample coming in the GT (gold top) verion.
I only had to unlock and open the Yamaha's hardcase (which is an impressive SKB high-spec hardshell case, included in the price, I might add!) to realise what a prospect I had in store. I was greeted by a rather fine looking guitar with unmistakably vintage looks and vibe. I had an inkling that I was going to be impressed. Construction-wise, Yamaha have opted for that killer combination of a mahogany body coupled with a carved maple top, which in this case is a match made in tone heaven. Also different for this range is the choice of a set neck rather than the through-neck design employed by some previous models.
Moving onto to the hardware side of things, the 1802 comes equipped with a pair of high-output Seymour Duncan SP90 soapbar pickups in addition to a nickel-plated Tone Pros AVRII bridge and T1Z stud tailpiece. The headstock bears the standard SG flower design and has been reduced in size compared with previous models, giving it a more modern look. With the includion of Grover locking tuners, one can't help but get the feeling that this is a guitar that has come straight out of the custom shop.
Picking it up surprised me: it wasn't as heavy as I'd expected it to be. Les Paul owners out there will know exactly what I mean and although it isn't a light guitar, it felt very comfortable strapped on. Tuning stability is solid as a rock and as I'm used to having to retune a guitar submitted for review on many an occasion after un-boxing, it was great to pick one up for the first time to find it perfectly in tune!
I was also struck by the guitar's resonance when played unamplified. It's one of those guitars that just begs to be played. Amplified, The Yamaha is a joy. It produces everything from bright, sparkling clean tones and bluesy low gain settings right the way through to crunchy rock-rhythm and soaring high-gain lead tones - all delivered with character and class. Check out the video!
In summary, it is very hard for me to find a fault with the SG1802. Everything from the superb build quality and stunning good looks right down to the fantastic playability and wide range of tones it is capable of makes it hard to beat. Add to that the classic vintage vibe that Yamaha have captured so well and you have an instrument that is a winner in every department. It's not cheap, but it's a thoroughly professional guitar and well up to the standard of any of its rivals.
One curious note is that GI readers in the US wanting to own one of these fine instruments may have to buy it from a retailer overseas as for some strange reason, the SG 1802 isn't listed for sale by Yamaha USC.