Claescaster

Tag: Wilkinson WJ28NGD

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.

K. Yairi YW-1000

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973K. Yairi YW-1000, made in Japan in 1973

Since it’s my 35th birthday today I’m going to post this guitar even though it’s not 100% ready yet, it was my birthday present to myself. As I mentioned earlier I recently became the proud owner of a 1973 K. Yairi YW-1000. It’s something I’ve dreamed of for many years and after a bit of hassle it finally arrived. The previous owner didn’t really give much of a description so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Luckily it sounds at least as good as I had hoped for, if not better and it’s structurally fine. Having said that, there were a couple of things that I wasn’t overly excited about, like the bridge and the scratches on the top. I don’t mind worn guitar but there is one big scratch that is still a real eyesore for me, I’m sure I will get used to it and not even see it in a few weeks. The bridge is a chapter for itself, I really don’t know what has been going on there. It has been removed at some point and re-glued, it also has two screws that I doubt were supposed to be there and on top of that someone has added a bit of rosewood to make it higher and topped it of with a fret as the saddle instead of a normal slot and bone saddle. As soon as the wood shops open again here in Barcelona, a lot of shops are closed in August, I will get a piece of ebony and create a new bridge from scratch. Since I couldn’t wait a whole month to play the guitar I lowered the bridge and cut a saddle slot and installed a bone saddle for now, which has worked fine. It’s a beautiful guitar, it’s smells wonder full and sounds even better. This is my third K. Yairi and I have to say that it’s without any doubt the best Japanese acoustics I’ve played so far. I really love my K. Yairi YW-130 and K. Yairi TG-40 but nothing sounds as good as this K. Yairi YW-1000.

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973It’s worn and has few scratches but nothing too serious, except for the bridge as mentioned before. I changed the machine heads to Wilkinson WJ28NGD open gear in gold, the original ones were in gold too but most of it had worn off and on top of that they were really heavy. I love all the abalone binding and the hexagon inlays in the ebony fretboard. I’m so gay for bling on guitars, the more the better, perhaps I’m the Liberace of guitars.

K. Yairi YW-1000 Made in Japan 1973As soon as I got the guitar I removed the fret, lowered the bridge by sanding it down and then I cut a proper saddle slot. Apparently the top of the bridge is rosewood on an ebony base so I had to paint the top black to match the rest. The bridge works fine but I’m not happy with how it looks so I will try my best to carve a new one in ebony and replace it.

The fist video is with the old makeshift rosewood bridge that the guitar came with, the second video is with the new ebony bridge that I carved myself from scratch, you can read about it here.

K. Yairi YW-130

K. Yairi YW-130 Made in Japan 1977K. Yairi YW-130 a Martin D-28 copy made in Kani, Japan in 1977

I recently came over a 1977 K. Yairi YW-130, a beautiful Martin D-28 copy. I’ve been looking for a D-28 copy for a while, just out of curiosity to see the difference between the D-35 and D-42 copies that I have. The Morris W-40 and Morris W-50 both have a 3-part back which gives them a lot of bass and punch in the middle so perhaps a Japanese made D-28 copy would be more bell like and balanced, like a real Martin, and I was right. The K. Yairi YW-130 sounds amazing, really clean and even all over, with awesome overtones that sneaks up on you if you let it ring out. It has a solid spruce top, rosewood back and sides with a simple ebony bridge and fretboard. I do love my Morris guitars and I think it’s a great brand, but nothing comes close to K. Yairi. The old K.Yairi TG-40 that I got a year a go is awesome too, but I think I prefer the sound of the new one. Perhaps my acoustic guitar preferences has slightly shifted from the Gibson sound to Martin.

K. Yairi YW-130 Made in Japan 1977K. Yairi YW-130 Made in Japan 1977I didn’t have to do anything to the guitar when I got it, I just changed the machine heads to Wilkinson WJ28NGD open gear in gold which I love. It’s a bit worn and have a few dents in the spruce top that I’m planning to figure out how to soften a bit.

K. Yairi YW-130 Made in Japan 1977I’ve really come to love guitars with the typical Martin volute, just like my Morris W-50, and the double dots on the 7th fret, it’s just beautiful. There is nothing better than a black Ebony fretboard on an acoustic guitar. I thought ebony was like rosewood until I got my Goya T-18 two years ago and it just blow my mind, there is no nicer fretboard material.

K. Yairi YW-130 1970's catalogueK. Yairi YW-130 in a late 1970’s Canadian catalogue, taken from AlvarezYairi

Wilkinson

Morris W-50 1970's Made in Japan
I recently changed the machine heads on my 1970’s Japan made Morris W-50 to Wilkinson WJ28NGD open gear in gold and I couldn’t be happier

I have said it before but it’s worth mentioning again, I really like Wilkinson hardware for my guitars. I have their vintage bridge with compensated brass saddles on numerous of my Telecasters and their machine heads on even more acoustics and electrics. So far I have tried the following models, WJ01GD, WJ44CRGD, WJ309GD and now WJ28NGD on my new Morris W-50. Wilkinson machine heads are cheap, good quality, accurate and the gold doesn’t seem to fade straight away. They are made in Korea and was first distributed through John Hornby Skewes & Co. Ltd. but now you can find them pretty much everywhere. I bought mine from Axesrus which turned out to be really nice and helpful guys. The best part is that now you can get Wilkinson machine heads with either 8 mm or 10 mm bushings which is perfect since a lot of the Japan made acoustics comes with 10 mm holes. I don’t just randomly change the machine heads on all my guitars but I can’t stand the horrible bulky 1970’s closed machine heads in chrome that most Japanese guitars comes with. How much nicer doesn’t the Morris W-50 look now with these delicate open gear tuners in gold?

Wilkinson Machine headsWJ44CRGD, WJ309GD, WJ28NGD
Some guitars that got the Wilkinson treatment. Morris W-40 with Wilkinson’s WJ44CRGD which comes with cream buttons, not that horrible green tinted ones. My Levin 174 and K. Yairi TG-40 got upgraded with the amazing looking Art Deco inspired WJ309GD