The History of Yamaha Acoustic Guitars

By Bridgette Redman ; Updated September 15, 2017
Mature man playing an accoustic guitar in front of a piano.

The Yamaha company has a long, rich history that includes everything from motorcycles to musical instruments and more. The company's founder, Torakusu Yamaha, first built a reed organ in 1887, and three years later in 1900, the company began production of upright pianos. It wouldn't be until 1941 that they began work on acoustic guitars.

Getting Started

The first Yamaha acoustic guitar was created in Hamamatsu, Japan, though its initial life was a short one with World War II interrupting production. Yamaha resumed research and development in 1946 under the leadership of Genichi Kawakami. Originally a part of the piano research and development, his team soon got its own name as the Yamaha Guitar Custom Shop, still in operation. The team didn't start out as musicians, rather they were woodworkers; artisans who specialized in the shape of the guitar and who added steel strings. In 1969, the year Woodstock rocked the music world and changed U.S. culture, the first batch of Yamaha acoustic guitars were shipped to the United States.

Finding a Shape

In the late 1960s Yamaha launched its FG series -- handcrafted folk guitars. This series would become the best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. Yamaha worked with legendary international artists, crafting its steel string instruments by hand. In the '70s, it developed a characteristic unique to Yamaha guitars -- a dovetail neck joint, designed to give the best surface-to-surface or neck-to-body contact. The joint itself contains nothing but timber to allow for a greater resonance flow from the neck to the body. The L series began to have shoulders that are more slender than the standard designs with a slightly wider body. This shape the company says, is designed to give "a sweet, gentle rounded tone, ideally suited for recording and finger-style playing."

Building on Big Names

In the '70s, Japanese guitars grew in popularity, led by Yamaha basses and guitars. Rock icons Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Carlos Santana have all used Yamaha guitars. Its stringed instruments were also the instruments of choice for singer-songwriters Paul Simon, James Taylor and Billy Sheehan. Yamaha also created several custom guitars for musicians, building them to their specifications so it could learn what good musicians wanted from its guitars and adapt these designs and features into its full line.

Working Together

One of the hallmarks of Yamaha guitar-making has been the company's philosophy, one that is Japanese-based. While the company has some big names in the design team -- Hirotaka Takanashi, who designed the body and headstock, for example -- it has mostly relied on team work and group efforts. American guitar-making history appears more individualistic, while Japanese guitars emphasize collaboration. It was what inspired Yamaha to reach out to U.S. repair shops, luthier houses in Spain and music halls worldwide. The company's commitment to collaboration and collective creativity has driven the designs of its guitars.

About the Author

As a professional writer since 1985, Bridgette Redman's career has included journalism, educational writing, book authoring and training. She's worked for daily newspapers, an educational publisher, websites, nonprofit associations and individuals. She is the author of two blogs, reviews live theater and has a weekly column in the "Lansing State Journal." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University.