My Vintage Yamaki 12 String Japanese Guitar

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Yamaki twelve string guitar
Yamaki guitar side view
Yamaki three piece back
Yamaki classical headstock
Machine heads
Wood inlays on seams
Inlaid abalone fret marker

I have owned this guitar since probably 1978, acquired it new back then, not sure if that's the year. It does not have a sticker inside. Stamped into an inner wood seam strip is "Made by Yamaki." Opposite this, the number "250" is inked on. The serial number is stamped onto the inner neck block. It has a solid spruce (maybe cedar?) top. Back and sides are Indian rosewood, two piece mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard and bridge. The back is three pieces, seamed with mosiac inlays. The middle back section might be a laminate, but everything else appears to be solid. Abalone inlays mark the frets. The headstock logo appears to be mother-of-pearl inlays. From digging around/looking at other Yamakis, I've concluded that this is an F-250. It is like the F-150, which is its 6 string counterpart. The F-150 is very similar to the Martin D-40, with a back like a D-35.

I'm guessing, based on research, that F series Yamakis were the high end series. Numbers in the hundreds were made of Indian rosewood; numbers in the thousands were made of Brazilian rosewood. The 150s/250s do not have abalone inlays around the binding and rosette.

I've had a Baggs pickup installed, routed through the strap peg hole, with no preamp. The original saddle was replaced with the pickup saddle, which was bone. The nut is also bone.

I don't know what's normal for a vintage guitar with regard to bowing. If I lay a straight-edge ruler across various sections of the soundboard, I find no more than 1/8 inch offset anywhere. I've only ever used light and extra light gauge strings, and have maintained D tuning instead of E (technically Bb tuning--one step lower than standard pitch), with capo on 2-fret. My guitar does not seem to suffer from acute Yamaki disease, but I suppose the minor bowing is a symptom.

This guitar does not have scalloped bracing (12 strings typically do not), and all braces that crisscross other braces are free-standing, as illustrated; they do not interlock. The cross braces do extend all the way to the edge of the soundboard, are tabbed, and caught under the kerfling. I've examined a photo of Taylor bracing, and it appears that all braces interlock in some way. Many secondary braces appear to extend out to edge of soundboard, where they appear to be caught under the kerfling. I surmise that the lack of interlocking and tab-under-kerfling in Yamaki bracing is a cause of the bowing. Typical Taylor bracing configuration is similar to Yamaki bracing. Larrivee guitars have a different configuration. (See Yamaki bracing map below, drawn by me after examining my guitar's innerds with mirror and flashlight.)

Yamaki Length

From further research I have learned that bracing methods strive for a balance between sound and durability. A guitar with less bracing should sound better, fuller, louder, more balanced than a guitar with more bracing. This is probably part of the reason for Yamaki's notoriously wonderful sound, and also for its vulnerability to Yamaki disease. Less bracing allows the soundboard to vibrate more, which is a great plus to the sound of the instrument. More bracing inhibits this vibration, which detracts from the sound.

Yamaki and me back in our youth, long time ago

Courtesy of a Canadian living in Australia who owns a Yamaki, Troy, I became aware of an invention called a JLD bridge system, a.k.a. "bridge doctor." It's supposed to correct bowing/tilting problems at the bridge, even making it possible to get by with less bracing. In fact, according to the information available on the internet, Taylor uses these to fix all their returns with bowing problems, and Breedlove builds them into all their new guitars (scroll down to "Breedlove C-22"). The more expensive version does not require any structural modifications whatsoever to a vintage guitar, and only the cosmetic alteration of replacing the bridge pins with brass pins (included). One of these pins bolts the bridge system in place beneath the D or G string hole, and the others are just there to match. The strings get threaded through the brass pins, rather than pushed down into the holes. The bridge system itself sits inside of the guitar, and after proper adjustment, applies pressure/counter pressure to the bridge under the pins, the saddle, and the tail block. The claim is that, once installed, the system will tilt the bridge back into proper placement, undo the bowing, and keep the bridge from ever becoming unglued from the soundboard. It will also improve the instrument's sound. If it works (it should), it's a wonderfully simple solution to an otherwise destructive and daunting problem. Scroll down to read about my experiences with a couple of bridge doctors. Read a review.

This guitar gives me great pleasure. I have a nice Seagull 6 string with cut-away and built in preamp, but I prefer to play the Yamaki. Its action is so easy, and the huge, bright sound rings forever. The neck is still straight, and has never been adjusted. If my left hand gets weary on the 6 string, I take a break on the 12 string.

Sound Hole
Yamaki guitar bracing map

The fretboard does not have nail gouges, and only minimal wear, as I've always been careful to keep my claws filed. I've always laid a flannel cloth where my arm makes contact so as not to dissolve the finish away.

I take this thing in for service periodically. I remember the first time I brought it in. The young man who was the service tech went nuts over it; said it was one of the most perfect guitars he'd ever seen. Until the owner sold his store, I used to bring it to a local guitar shop for years for its service checks. Whenever I would come in with it, the owner would always claim it, play a few licks, and exclaim, "Yamaki sure made some excellent guitars."

I've only ever had one minor objection to this guitar--the open style headstock. I admit to having been careless, but question whether this construction is sturdy enough to handle the tension of twelve strings. Twice the headstock has broken, twice it has been glued, the result of the case having tipped over, with the guitar in it. I hope I never have to see my repairman for this again, as it's too embarrassing! He has done an excellent job each time, and the fix is hardly noticeable. No one ever sees it unless I point it out. Note the cracks in the headstock binding at about the level of the bottom machine heads, both front and side views. This break has never affected the guitar's functionality or integrity; it's merely cosmetic.

There is one significant scrape on the face, in the finish, top of lower bout edge, from having made contact with a counter top while singing to kids in the church nursery. Apart from that, the finish is nearly flawless, with just a few little surface marks from picks, and minor contact with buttons and zippers on clothing, or pieces of furniture. I've always been very careful with belt buckles!

Well, courtesy of my children, I now have a new gouge. It's on the back, near the tail, minute but rather deep. Daughter was holding case open for me (unnecessary, but I saw no reason to object), became distracted by engaging in war with her brother, and dropped the lid just as I had begun to move the guitar to the case. Sigh.

Having snooped all over the web, I've found two conflicting stories regarding Yamaki/Daion. Read for yourself and decide: Version 1 (last entry), Version 2 (Michael John Simmons/Acoustic Guitar) and Version 2.

No, I'm not trying to sell my guitar. I'd have to be very desperate to do that. It's here for Yamaki lovers, and also as an attempt to gather any enlightening information about it. Please contact me if you have anything to share about a Yamaki guitar.

Yamaki Web Site and Other Links

JLD Bridge System:

I bought a pair of bridge doctors, one for each guitar. They arrived on 3 Nov. 05 and I installed both on the same day. I did the Yamaki first, and it took me all afternoon. I guess one could say that I cut my teeth on that one, as the Seagull's went in quickly and easily. Sigh. I'll share my more disastrous moments, and the results.

I had hoped I'd have the correct size hex wrench among my bicycle tools. I did not. To tighten the pressure on the tension rod, the correct size is essential, as it's quite hard to turn otherwise. The rounded end of a wrong size hex wrench sort of fit, but was not adequate to completely turn the screw in.

It's very important to get the spacing correct between the "system block" extension and the "mounting post." The extension must sit directly under the saddle when the unit is attached with one of its brass bridge pins at the mounting post. Getting this precise fit on the Yamaki (12 string) wasn't easy. I tried one unit first, and could not get a fit with any of the possible combinations of pin hole and mounting post configurations. I then tried the other unit and found one match. To get it, I had to screw the mounting post in the hole closest to the extension, and attach the mounting post at the octave G hole. I have to wonder if this is sort of like riding on a very short teeter-totter, which is a little scary because the 12 string has a big bridge. I don't know.

JDL Bridge System installed

Both these units came with only six pins each, even though I told the party who builds them that I intended to put one in a 12 string. The instructions say to sort the pins according to string hole size. All the pins are exactly the same, except for the string holes, so because I was mounting at the octave G hole, I chose a pin with a very small hole. Big mistake!

That pin is really difficult to turn into the mounting post on the under-side of the bridge. A paper clip is recommended for doing the tightening, but even my heavier clips bent from the pressure and were useless. I attempted to back-track and switch to a D-size pin, but the first pin was caught so tightly into the mounting post that all counter-turning accomplished was to unscrew the mounting post from the system block. I couldn't even grip the thing tightly enough with a pliers to undo it. Growl! The only option was to proceed, and I figure there's no way that bridge doctor thing could ever be removed from the guitar, short of somehow sawing off the pin. Whatever...

At this point, I dumped everything and drove to the hardware store. I wanted a properly sized hex wrench, and some paper clip size thing rigid enough to turn the pin in the rest of the way. I came home with three hex wrenches: one to fit the tension screw, and two to experiment with as turning devices for the pin. They are rigid. Anyway, with the new tools I was able to complete the job, and then whipped through the Seagull installation in moments.

I should mention that I did not replace the bridge pins on either of my guitars. Each one now has a single brass pin defacing its bridge. Ah well. With the Yamaki, I figured what difference does it make whether I have six unmatched pins or one unmatched pin. Those were my options, so I went with one. Might as well go with consistency, so I did the same with the Seagull.

I was able to mount the bridge doctor through the D hole on the Seagull (recommended), and also had to screw the mounting post in the hole nearest the extension.

Yamaki bridge with bridge doctor pin

As stated above, my Yamaki did not have major bowing problems. The bridge had separated from the soundboard just a little on one side. After adjusting the tension on the two units, I found no change whatsoever in the Seagull's soundboard. Flat-top guitars are not always perfectly flat, and there was really nothing to correct. The Yamaki's "topography" is now like the Seagull's, and the change was minor/negligible.

I should say here that I tested the top of a young Taylor guitar (less than 5 years old) once, and did find it to have a perfectly flat top. The offset of my two guitars is somewhere between 1/16 and 1/8 inch in a couple places.

So what did I gain from installing these things? I guess mostly peace of mind. Supposedly, with bridge doctors installed, the bowing and bridge tilting won't happen over time. Also, I should now be able to tune the Yamaki to standard pitch. I'm contemplating whether I'm that brave or not.

To anyone planning to install one of these things, I recommend making good use of your unstrung moments. Be sure to check your braces for any looseness, and get them repaired promptly. You can do it yourself with help from Frets.Com. I highly recommend that site! Also, give your guitar a thorough cleaning, especially all those hard-to-reach places that get really gross. This project is an adventure, so have fun.

November 2008 My pastor asked me to fix his old Sigma Martin 12 string. Its action had become unplayable. I'm no guitar repairman (a-HEM -- WOman) but he said he didn't care if I ruined it, so, okay.

The first thing I did was install a Bridge Doctor. This time it was the cheaper version that requires drilling through the bridge. CRINGE! I did a lot of praying before tackling this venture. After all, how many guitars had I ever drilled into? NONE! Doing this required two bits, a thin one for penetrating all the way through the bridge and soundboard, and then a big one for drilling a shallow, wide hole over the first hole, to set a piece of abalone into (cosmetic cover-up). I don't have a workbench -- you know, like guys do -- so I used a bed. I managed to drill my holes, in all the right places, and all the right sizes, and install that Bridge Doctor, and make it look real nice. I did the adjustments, and put on new strings, and tuned it up, and tried to play it. Action was still awful, even after the bridge had settled down.

This was to be expected, really, because the Sigma company had glued in a saddle that was a mile too high. Worse, they had set the string spacing wide. Really, when I'd try to play this thing, the strings would separate around my fingertips. I thought maybe it was because I have girl-size hands, but Pastor said it was doing the same thing for him, and he has guy-size hands. Back to drawing board.

Remember I mentioned "glued the saddle?" Not many companies glue their saddles in. I wish Sigma hadn't either. It meant not being able to replace the saddle, or to stick it in a clamp and file off a nice, straight percentage of the bottom. What it did mean was filing the top, having to shape it just so, having to file string grooves in just the right places. How many times had I ever reworked a guitar's saddle? NONE!

Once again there was the no workbench issue. I decided to lay the guitar on the staircase landing, on carpeting, because then I could sit with my legs hanging over a step -- more comfy than just parking on a flat floor. I cut a slit for the saddle in a big sheet of paper, and then taped the paper over the bridge and soundboard to protect the guitar. I ran the vacuum cleaner while filing, to suck up the dust. I also wore a facemask. I used a carpenter's file to cut deeply and quickly (relatively speaking) into the saddle, and then my diamond nail file (girl tool) to shape and regroove. It's makeshift, but the result was a playable guitar, without any defacing damage done to it.

Sorry. It never occurred to me to take any pictures of this project, before or after. For one thing, I wasn't exactly expecting success. For another thing, I just didn't think of it. It never occurred to me to write about it either, till now, about two months later. I had stumbled upon something to edit on this page, and then thought to add this adventure as well, fully realizing that those who never scroll through and read this entire page will never find this. So be it.

By the way, this success story WAS an answer to prayer. What are the odds of an inexperienced middle age woman accomplishing a guitar repair project the likes of which she had never done before, ever, and without proper equipment, and without any [male] help?


Unfortunately, the webhost has vaporized form use on its servers. Just email me: yahsfiberartist at gmail dot com. Thank you.

Please don't inquire regarding the value of your guitar or for information about specific models or serial numbers. I know nothing -- that's the truth. To estimate the value of your guitar, save "Yamaki" as an Ebay search and watch what people are willing to pay. To learn about your model, use the links above. Thank you for understanding. I will always welcome your Yamaki stories and experiences, and I love sharing advice and discussion on how to fix your failing but loved guitar. BUT IF YOU REQUEST A REPLY, ASCERTAIN THAT YOUR SYNTAX IS CORRECT AND YOUR SPAM BLOCKER ISN'T GOING TO SPIT ME OUT. It's inconsiderate to do otherwise, so that my reply gets kicked back undeliverable.

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