Tag: Sigma DR-41

Levin LDR-28H

Levin LDR-28H Made in Japan 1979
Levin LDR-28H, Made in Japan in 1979

I have a lot of Swedish made Levin guitars but I’ve never actually had a Japanese made on in my hands, until now. After C. F. Martin & Co. purchased Levin in June 1973 they started to import Japan made Sigma guitars for the European market under the Levin brand. There are actually quite a few of these mid 1970’s low end Sigma’s, especially in Sweden, but it’s a lot rarer to see a high end 1979-1982 Sigma made in Japan with Levin on the label. 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. When the Levin factory closed down in Sweden in 1979 they had a short run with making Levin guitars in Japan, mainly Martin copies. I have to say that owning a 1982 Sigma DR-41 and now a Levin LDR-28H, they are very similar in build, sound and feel. Even though they are two different models, you can tell they are made in the same factory and both are excellent guitars. Now when I have a fancy pants real Martin to compare them to, my 1999 Martin HD-28LSV, there is something very special about these Japan built Martin guitars. There is a punch in the mid range and a cleanness to them, less woody and more sparkly perhaps. It’s very hard to explain but I really like the sound and I guess that’s why I got in to Japanese built acoustics in the first place.

Levin LDR-28H Made in Japan 1979 Levin LDR-28H Made in Japan 1979
The Levin LDR-28H is in pretty good shape for it’s age. There is an old crack on the lower bought of the top but it’s well glued and doesn’t look too bad. I really like the eye for details on this Martin HD-28 copy, diamond volute, herringbone binding and zig-zag backstrip, just like on my Martin HD-28LSV.

Levin LDR-28H & Sigma DR-41 Made in Japan
The Levin LDR-28H and my Sigma DR-41, most likely made in the same factory in Japan under the supervision of C.F. Martin & Co.

LR Baggs Lyrics

Martin HD-28LSV 1999 Made in USAMartin HD-28LSV, Made in USA in 1999

Last week I changed the pickup in my new Martin HD-28LSV. It came with a LR Baggs Anthem SL installed which sounded good but I had a feeling that a LR Baggs Lyrics might sound even better. I’m also not a big fan of having things stuck under the saddle, when I installed the LR Baggs Anthem SL in my 1966 Goya T-16 I felt that the tone died a bit. I’m sure there might be some other pickup system out there that is even better, but for me, nothing beats the Lyrics for the dry and woody sound that I am after. Now I have the LR Baggs Lyrics system installed in my 1981 Sigma DR-41 and my 1968 Levin LT-18, my main guitar for the Claes Anderson Band. I really enjoy this new Martin HD-28LSV and will use it for our gig tonight at La Sonora de Gràcia but I think I will stick to the 1968 Levin LT-18 as my main guitar for playing live, it’s Swedish and just looks nicer on stage. Here is a quick comparison of the LR Baggs Lyrics and the LR Baggs Anthem SL.

LR Baggs Lyrics

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968Levin LT-18, Made in Sweden in 1968

I recently installed a LR Baggs Lyrics in my 1968 Levin LT-18 and I’m well pleased with the result. This has been my main guitar for the past year and I’ve already tried a LR Baggs M1A, M80 and now a Lyrics. I’ve had a LR Baggs Lyrics installed in my Japan made Sigma DR-41 for about two years but I never really use that guitar since I have so nice Levin guitars to play on. The Sigma sounds fantastic with the Lyrics so I decided to leave it there and buy a brand new one for the LT-18 instead. The LR Baggs Lyrics sounds similar to the LR Baggs M80 but better, more natural and woody. I’ve also had a lot less feedback issues with the Lyrics, the M80 has been a nightmare with a full band on stage. Here you can compare the LR Baggs M1A, M80 and Lyrics fitted in the same guitar, a 1968 Levin LT-18.

Martin SPD-16R

Martin SPD-16R Made in USA1999Martin SPD-16R, Made in USA 1999

I have this beautiful 1999 Martin SPD-16R for sale. I really like it but the likelihood of me playing on anything that isn’t a Swedish Levin is so slim that it’s not worth keeping such a great guitar. I haven’t opened the case to my beloved Sigma DR-41 for ages either, it’s so hard to put the Levin guitars down. These late 1990’s Martin SPD-16R has quite a following and is getting harder to find so if you are interested send me an email. Update: This guitar is sold now

Sigma DR-35

Sigma DR-35, Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoSigma DR-35, Made in Japan 1980

I finally managed to find another Japan made Sigma, this time a 1980 Sigma DR-35. It’s a beautiful looking Martin D-35 copy with a 3-piece rosewood back. They are pretty hard to come by these early 1980’s Japan made Sigma’s and sometimes very expensive too, between 500-1500€ depending on the model. I didn’t buy this for myself, I’m way too happy with my Sigma DR-41 at the moment and on top of that I’m actually trying to thin out my Japanese guitar collection. I got it for my friend Wolf who just like me have gone from a pretty solid Gibson obsession to realise that perhaps that Martin sound is not that bad after all. There is something of that punchy mids and clear ringing highs in the Martin sound that these Japanese made Sigma’s have too, after all they were commissioned by C. F. Martin & Co. I thought my Sigma DR-41 was loud and had a very punchy midrange but this Sigma is one step beyond, I guess because of the 3-piece back. I like the highs and the overtones better in mine but still, this is an amazing sounding guitar that I thought long and hard about keeping for myself. I was sure that my Sigma DR-41 was made in 1982 since the serial number starts with E82 but since this Sigma DR-35’s serial number also starts with E82 and came with a receipt that proves that it was sold in September 1980 it must have been made that year, or earlier.

Sigma DR-35, Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoSigma DR-35, Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoThis guitar had apparently been in storage for the last 30 years, since the original owner died and that seems plausible, it’s in really good shape for it’s age.

Sigma DR-35, Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoThe classic Made in Japan football stamp, burnt in to the back brace that was used from 1978-1983 on Japan made Sigma’s stating: Sigma Guitars – Made in Japan for – C.F. Martin & Co, just like on mySigma DR-41. The rosewood looks really nice on this Sigma, even better than on mine.

Wolf asked me to install a LR Baggs iBeam in the Sigma before he received it and since I recently installed the LR Baggs Lyrics in my Sigma DR-41 it was a pretty easy task. We actually got to try them both out last Saturday when we played live with Cherry & Wolf at La Sonora, it sounded something like this. I did two tests to make it easier to compare the Sigma DR-35 with the iBeam to the Sigma DR-41 with the Lyrics. They both sounds pretty darn great, but in different ways.

Sigma DR-35, Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoThe original receipt from 26 September 1980. The guitar cost 475 Deutsche Mark which would be around 245€ today and probably a lot more 36 years ago. Taken from my Instagram

LR Baggs Lyrics

Sigma DR-41 Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoSigma DR-41 Made in Japan 1980, now with a LR Baggs Lyrics installed

As I mentioned before I ordered myself a LR Baggs Lyrics a couple of month ago and finally got around to install it in my Japanese Sigma DR-41 from 1980. I couldn’t really decide which guitar to put it in that’s why it took so long to get it done. The actually installation was very straight forward and easier than I expected. I just drilled a 13 mm hole in the end block, installed the endpin jack, stuck the microphone to the bridge plate inside the guitar and then just fitted the volume control at the sound hole and the battery pouch to the neck block. I did two tests to show the difference between my old LR Baggs M1 and this new LR Baggs Lyrics. I thought it would be a great idea to keep both systems in at the same time so the clips would be identical and easier to compare, but ended up getting quite a lot of noise. I’m not sure if it was a dodgy cable or if the systems interfered with each other, perhaps the magnets was causing havoc? Either way, neither sounds like this on their own. I played some nice chords in the first example and the normal things I play in my Youtube videos in the second, plus some little blues licks in the end. You can really hear the limitations of the M1, even though it has other advantages like the fact that it never feedback. I have a feeling that this Lyrics might be more sensitive for that on stage. I have to say that I really like to woody and open sound of the Lyrics and it seems to handle my attack as well when I play licks. Overall, the best and most natural sounding pickup system I’ve heard so far. I understand why Sturgill Simpson is using it.

Sigma DR-41

Sigma DR-41 Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoSigma DR-41, made in Japan in 1982

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.

Sigma D-41 Made in Japan 1982I 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.

Sigma DR-41 Made in Japan 1980, MIJ, C. F. Martin & CoI 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.

Sigma D-41 Made in Japan 1982 guitar ad1980’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.