Sigma DR-41, made in Japan in 1980
I have heard a lot of good, and some not so good, things about Sigma guitars over the years but never actually tried one. To be honest, I really didn’t know anything about the brand until this beautiful Sigma DR-41 arrived and I felt curious and started to read up on them. I guess one big reason why there are both avid supporters and fierce haters of Sigma could be the big changes in production over the past 45-years. The brand was Created in 1970 by C.F. Martin & Co as a line of inexpensive guitars to compete with all the far east brands that flooded the market at the time. The first generation of Sigma’s from 1970-76 were made in Japan but came with adjustable bridges and looks very inexpensive to me, I haven’t tried one so they might be great. When the second generation of Sigma’s arrived in the later half of the 1970’s they really started to look like Martin guitars and the build quality seems to have improved a lot, at least by the look of it. From around 1976-1984 Sigma produced the now classic DR-line, these guitars seems to be ridiculously collectable and very popular because you rarely see them up for sale. I have a feeling that most of them live somewhere in the US and are owned by middle aged men that bought them new as their first proper guitar around 1980 and since they still sounds really good they would never sell them. I have nothing against middle aged men or guitar hoarders, I’m 35 and an avid guitar hoarder and of course I still have the first guitar I bought back in 1993.
I have had at least 20 different Japanese acoustics in my house over the last couple of years and this 1980 Sigma DR-41 is easily my favourite so far.
The DR line consisted of DR-8, DR-9, DR-11, DR-14, DR-15, DR-28, DR-28S, SDR-28, DR-35, DR-41 and DR-45. I’m not entirely sure what DR-8 to DR-15 were based on, but DR-28 to DR-45 were pretty accurate copies of the Martin models with the same number. The guitar I’ve managed to find, the Sigma DR-41 looks very close to a Martin D-41 and I’ve seen pretty convincing Sigma versions of Martin D-28 and D-35’s too. Apparently there is a very rare version called Sigma DR-14, which is a DR-41 but with a 3-piece back, that was imported through Levin in Sweden, which makes sense since C.F. Martin & Co bought Levin in 1973. There are actually quite a few of the earlier 1970’s low end Sigma’s that were imported through Levin for the European market as well. It seems like the earlier Sigma guitars were made by Tokai through Kasunga Gakki but I really don’t know if all Japan made Sigma’s were produced by them or not. I have a feeling they might have used a lot of different factories during their 13 years in Japan.
I couldn’t resist so of course I changed the machine heads for Wilkinson WJ28NGD as soon as I got the chance. I just can’t stand those big bulky Japanese 1970’s machine heads.
Sigma stopped the production in Japan around 1983 and moved everything to Korea, later Taiwan and finally Indonesia. Martin claims that all Sigma’s where sent to them in Nazareth, Pennsylvania to be inspected and adjusted by Martin personnel before they sent them out to the dealers, which I doubt for the later Taiwan and Indonesian guitars. In 1981-1982, Martin imported partially assembled Sigma guitars from Japan and then put them together themselves in Nazareth, these were labelled Sigma Martin USA DR-28N and DR-35N. The Sigma story seems to be a bit shady from the 1990-2000, C.F. Martin & Co lost the rights to the name for a while and there seems to have been other companies producing Sigma guitars and then Martin got it back and closed it down in 2007. In 2011 the German company AMI Musical Instruments GmbH purchased the rights to the name and relaunched Sigma Guitars that are now being produced in China. There is quite a lot of information on Wikipedia about Japanese Sigma guitars. I also found this Sigma site really helpful.
1980’s ad for Sigma guitars, with my beloved Sigma DR-41 far right
I really didn’t know what to expect when I got myself this Sigma DR-41. I just bought it because I’m so insanely gay for any guitar that looks like a Martin D-41 or D-45, or actually any guitar with a volute on the back of the head, hexagon markers and a lot of mother of pearl inlays. At first I didn’t like this Sigma much, I thought it sounded stiff and boring but after two days with the pump and a week of heavy playing I was sold. I’m not sure if all Japanese Sigma’s are this good, but this guitar is freaking amazing. It’s easily up there with Morris and K. Yairi, perhaps even better, see the second video where I compare it to my K. Yairi YW-1000.
It’s very hard to read but that is the back brace brand used from 1978-1983 on Japan made Sigma’s stating: Sigma Guitars – Made in Japan for – C.F. Martin & Co.