6/18/2017

1970 Yamaha FG-180 Jumbo Flattop Guitar





A customer of mine has owned this since it was bought new in 1970. At some point it gained the name "Ed," and he played it heavily and thoroughly -- the frets were very pitted when this arrived. Suffice to say, he owns a couple of excellent guitars besides this one, these days, and he's planning on gifting this to one of his sons and so he needed it in working order.

I'd like to say, at this point, that I am a big fan of '70s Yamahas. These FG-180s are excellently-designed guitars and they're rugged, built like tanks, have a wide, good, loud sound, play well after work, and aren't ugly enough to hide in the back room once you've got a "fancy Martin" in the stable, too.

That said, they do have issues. The first is that the truss rods almost always fail -- or run out of adjustment room, anyway -- and necessitate dropping the gauges of the strings to get a bit more life out of them (this one went from 54w-12 to 50w-11 and thus the neck is now straight but there's only about 1/2 of a turn left of adjustment in it. The next is that the neck angles, after 40+ years, are often just a hair too shallow and a neck reset would be ideal but too costly to consider seriously.

So -- generally what's needed on these is a fret level/dress, light bridge shave, some string-ramping behind the saddle, and a bit of compensation added to the saddle, too. That's what this one got and now it's playing on-the-dot (1/16" DGBE, 3/32" EA) and ready to go. The bridge was also lifting, too, and so this received a bridge reglue as well.


When the owner bought the guitar, he was told it was a solid-wood instrument. Unfortunately, it's not -- but its being made from very thin ply is part of why it sounds as good as it does (and why it's lived so long without any cracks or damage). The ply top is uniformly light and thin and when it's combined with the simple, but lightly-cut x-bracing, the result is a quite lively instrument. The key ingredient as to why these guitars sound better than they should (whether they be Japan-made or Taiwan-made) is that "good" ply and a bracing pattern that keeps it distortion-free (unlike Guild Madeira and similarly-built "other" imports from the time).

Still, despite my waxing poetic, if you put this up against a good solid-wood guitar of around the same specs, you will hear the difference that solid wood makes. Generally, these ply Yamahas have a good bass and midrange, but the treble can be a little "glassy." I like them as strummers and fingerpickers but I wouldn't want to have to, say, play a folsky/bluegrass lead on one.


The metal truss cover is recessed into the headstock veneer. The nut is 1 11/16" in width and the neck profile is a medium C/V hybrid -- like a '60s Martin. Later iterations of this model (Taiwan-made) received slimmer necks with a rounder shape.

This guitar is also all-original.




The trim is vaguely "Martin style 18" and the body size and shape is something between a dreadnought and a jumbo, though at 16" across the lower bout it's sized more like a jumbo.

The pickguard was coming up, so I reglued that as well.


I shaved the entire bridge about 1/32" to 1/16" -- just enough to give the saddle some extra come-down height for future needs, if necessary. There are now some string-ramps behind the saddle, too, to give extra break-angle. The bridge got finish-sanding, buffing, and then a coat of sealer to get it looking snazzy.


The good thing about these bridges is that they're a bit on the tall side in the first place, so a little shave doesn't hurt them at all.




After some lube, the original tuners are working just fine. They're not perfect, but they get the job done.






This serial number doesn't agree with any list I've found on the net. It's definitely not the first "question mark" serial number I've come across on Yamahas.

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