Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Coffin Guitar...

I've worked in the guitar industry for a long time.

In all those years, at both the retail and manufacturer levels, I've seen some nice guitars. Suffice it to say, I am no longer easily impressed by a guitar.

Now, I get to spend a good portion of my work week taking glamour photos of really nice guitars. It's a meld of my two favorite things: photography and guitars. How can that be bad?

Well, it can't, so just put that thought out of your mind.
With a little bit of "photo down time", though, I decided not to shoot any of the Collings, none of the Martins or the Taylors. I get compliments on my guitar photography pretty regularly, so I figured the time had come to take some glamour shots of my guitar.

This is what my daughter jokingly refers to as "The Coffin Guitar", because that's where it's going. I know she's lying, though. She'll lay it in the casket with me for the wake but, right before they slam the lid on it, she's gonna' pull this guitar out. I know she will.

This is my 1986 Alvarez-Yairi DY-66:

Alvarez-Yairi DY-66: Maple back and sides, Red Cedar top...

I'm often asked where I got this guitar. The truth of the matter is that there aren't a lot of these out there. While there are many with the "DY" designation, which sport Kazuo Yairi's signature on the lower bout, there aren't many DY-66 models. Some "blue books" don't even have it listed.

Anyway, the story of how I got it is mildly funny.

I re-enlisted in the Navy, the first time, in December of 1984. When I did, I received what was known as "SRB", or "selective re-enlistment bonus" (of which half was paid up front). Because I was also transferring from San Diego to Charleston, South Carolina, I was able to take up to three months of advanced pay, and advanced travel pay. When all was said and done, I had about $14,000.00 just burning a hole in my pocket. I found my way to Jim's House Of Guitars (long now defunct) and bought myself a 1974 Gibson Blue Ridge acoustic guitar. I didn't really know anything about guitars back then, aside from the fact that there were premier brands out there, and Gibson was one of them.

$480.00 later, I walked out of Jim's with my new, used 1974 Gibson Blue Ridge.

I played that guitar for a while, but was never really happy with it. In 1987, I took it to a repair shop in Charleston to have it looked at, and was told that the neck was twisting, ever so slightly. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything that could be done about it. I decided to cut my losses and sell it for $400.00.

I hung the guitar in that Charleston repair shop. The owner didn't charge a consignment fee or anything; he just liked having guitars hanging in his repair shop. Well, I walked in one day and sat down, and picked up this one guitar. I'd never heard of the brand, but thought I'd give it a strum anyway.


The clouds parted and angels would sing. It sounded amazing.

I looked at the price tag: $400.00.

"John", I said, "You gotta' sell my Gibson so I can buy this thing!"

"Well, the guy selling that wants to buy your Gibson. Why don't you just take that with you and I'll call you if the guy's got a problem with it.

That was 26 years ago, and I still haven't heard from him.

In the time I've had it, I've only done three things to it. First, I added a pickguard. Why? For no other reason than I'd never seen a steel string acoustic guitar without one.Second, at some point; maybe the late 1990's, I added a pickup to the guitar. I had just joined a band in San Diego and acoustic guitar would be needed. Lastly, I changed out the original brownish pearloid tuning buttons with ebony ones. They have no performance advantage. I just think they look better:

The headstock of the Yairi DY-66...

The addition of the pickguard was a fortuitous thing that I hadn't actually considered the benefits of. I put it on only because I thought the guitar looked naked without it. I never even considered the protective properties of it. Nor did I think I would ever need those properties as much as, obviously, I do:

This is what 26 years of good, honest guitar playin' looks like...

On the upper bout, just above the fretboard, I've worn about two thirds of the way through the top. When I started to get a degree of wear on the guitar, my friend Bob "Moze" Mossay, of Moze Guitars in San Diego, offered to put some finish on the wear spot to help protect it. I opted out, and I'm glad I did. Not only do I absolutely love the way this guitar looks, but I'd have worn off any finish Moze would've applied, anyway.

During the Zendog years (Zendog was my band in San Diego), we played a lot of Stones stuff, and a lot of Stones stuff uses acoustic guitar. Well, couple that with the fact that I didn't possess the most sound strumming technique to begin with, and wear and tear was bound to happen. I've even cracked the soundhole from years of putting a Feedback Buster in and pulling it out:

The cracked soundhole of the DY-66...

To me, this is simply the perfect guitar. I've owned Taylor and Martin and Fender and Gibson and Hamer and... damn, name it. I've owned countless guitars over the years, but only one has the distinction of being "the first" to stay with me for so long. This guitar has fallen down stairs, has been in a flood, has been on fire, and has been hit by a car.

I can't kill it.

It won't let me.

When I got this guitar, it was in absolutely pristine condition, as if it had just come from Final Assembly. I was blown away by the craftsmanship of this guitar. Yes, very good guitars come out of Japan, my friends, and this is one of them. I've had the unqualified pleasure of putting every ding, scratch, scrape, crack and chip in this guitar, and I wouldn't change a single thing about how this guitar has traveled through the years.

My friend Todd Mylet, owner of Portland Fretworks here in Portland, did some upkeep to it the other day, and brought it back to me with the news that, after 26 years, the guitar could use a fret job. There isn't enough metal left on them to recrown them, so they'll have to be replaced; at least the first five or so.

It's an expense that I'd rather not incur, but one which I know has come about as a result of years of enjoyment. If I extrapolate it out, it's the equivalent of about $1.31 per year, per fret. I don't know of anything else that's such a bargain.

So, why write all of this?

Well, I am constantly amused when people buy nice guitars and then don't play them. They stick them in a closet and forget about them and, when they do pull the guitar out, they don't let anyone else play it and they baby it.

I guess I can understand that when a guitar is an "investment piece", but if you spent hours playing a guitar and falling in love with the sound before you bought it, play the damn thing. Play it and make it earn its keep.

God knows this Yairi has done exactly that...

"The Yairi"...


  1. In my experience, with a well made guitar, the more beat up it is, the better it sounds. Yours is the gold standard that proves that.

  2. Chris, this really is the best sounding acoustic I've ever owned.

    Tamara, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  3. I also have a DY-66. I wish I could play better and more often than I do so mine could carry some of those well earned battle scars. I have been offered nice money for it over the years. Just cant seem to part with it.

  4. I just stumbled on this by accident. Love it. May you and your guitar share many more years of adventure!

  5. I also have a DY-66 I purchased in 1986 in Atlanta. Unfortunately, I am that guy that has it and doesn't play it. I purchased it intending to become a better guitar player. I really can't claim to be a guitar player. I'm awful at it. I suppose I just need to pick it up and get after it. Maybe this great blog of yours is the motivation I need.

  6. Fella's, play your guitars! They truly are amazing instruments, and they hold their own against anything else out there. I've owned Taylor, Gibson, Martin and a host of others.

    You see which one I still have!

    Enjoy your guitars!

  7. I have a DY-66 that my wife bought for me in December 88. I play it every day and it still looks great. I haven't done anything to it. It also probably needs new frets. It still sounds great.

  8. Here is my DY66....

  9. I have a 1986 DY66. I bought it at a Guitar Center in Lombard, IL for $300. They had no idea what it was. I'm a professional and I've had many great guitars, and this is one of my favorites. Big sound, nicely balanced, plays great, looks awesome and unique. I'll never sell t.

  10. I love seeing people who find my blog after so much time; almost two years, and who tell me they love their Yairi as much as I love mine!

    John, when did you buy yours?

  11. I just got my DY66 a few days ago and I loved it as soon as I saw it. A guy traded it in to my local music store, not knowing what he had. Just needed some quick money. I was able to trade a few guitars I never played anymore to get it. It hasn't been in its case since I got it. It now sits on the stand in my living room, waiting to be played at least once a day. Mine's a bit beat up already, but it still sounds and plays wonderfully.

  12. Mitch, good on ya'!

    I worked at Taylor Guitars for eight years, and was certainly in a position to acquire some nice guitars. That said, I didn't find a single Taylor which made the hair on the back of my neck stand up like my Yairi (and I love Taylors).

    Play yours in good health!

  13. dmd34@sbcglobal.netOctober 27, 2015 at 9:33 PM

    I have a DY66 Signature Maple that I'm looking to sell. It's not pristine, but it's in good shape. What should I ask for it. I kinda hate to part with it, but I'm starting to move in another direction.

  14. Picked up a DY66 a couple months ago. Immediately became my favorite guitar. What kind of strings do you use? (Mine seems to be very picky about strings. And it absolutely hates Elixirs.)

  15. Great to see yet another one of these out there!

    I use D'Addario EJ-16; Phosphor Bronze Lights. That's what was on it when I strummed the first chord that made me fall in love with the guitar, so why change that?

  16. I got my DY66 from Mandolin Brothers in 1986 - same year it was made. It's been played in clubs, at parties, out in parks, etc - still sounds great, and the curly maple back looks awesome. Fantastic instrument.

  17. I got my DY66 from Mandolin Brothers in 1986 - same year it was made. It's been played in clubs, at parties, out in parks, etc - still sounds great, and the curly maple back looks awesome. Fantastic instrument.

    1. No doubt they're GREAT guitars!

      I also dig the fact that people are still finding this, and commenting on it, a full four years after I first wrote it!

  18. I as well have an 86 dy 66 and absolutely love it. Played my first show with it and has an absolutely commanding sound. I was fortunate enough to get it from someone who had aftermarket Fishman pickups installed on it so I'm able to plug it in very quality sound

  19. Went to an estate sale found a mint one. The guy never played it. We even with old strings it sounds unreal. I may have payed to much but it sounds amazing. Any one know what a mint one is worth. There's not a mark on it.

  20. Went to an estate sale found a mint one. The guy never played it. We even with old strings it sounds unreal. I may have payed to much but it sounds amazing. Any one know what a mint one is worth. There's not a mark on it.


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