Yamaha SGB500, SG300, SC600
In a way, Yamaha are now copying themselves by producing this cheaper SBG for someone who wants one of their SGs but can't afford the top wack. It shares the same shape, three-piece mahogany neck and Tune-O-Matic styled bridge, but elsewhere economies have been made, and thus we shall relate.
Standing the 500 alongside a veteran SG1000 immediately reveals that the finish is not as deep and glossy, the pickups have been changed for exposed humbuckers in white, there are no coil taps and the black scratchplate has gone on a permanent holiday.
The body is lighter and slightly thinner and the fingerboard is rosewood instead of ebony. The 500's frets don't share the same chunky fatness of the 1000's, but they're equally as well finished and rounded at the edges.
But enough of the nots — what about the haves?
It does have that SG sound, which while not remarkable nor steeped in unmistakable character is a determined basic tone you can work with. If you played the same solo on a hundred different guitars then mixed the result, that boiled down, archetypal twang would be pretty close to the Yamaha. The pickups on this 500 are a shade deeper and bassier than the 1000's so lean slightly more towards the Gibson camp. The fingerboard has a gentle camber, ideal for high string bending, and the scale is a 24¾in stretched over 22 frets.
The rosewood fingerboard was new, dry and not as fast as it could be, though some concentrated sweating or a drop of neck oil (not the saloon bar variety) should sort that. If anything, the neck was marginally sweeter in the hand than the 1000 as it's been slimmed by about a quarter of an inch. It's also the same thickness from nut to body joint and that helps smooth over fast riffing up and down the neck.
Finally, access to the highest frets was a cinch and the arrangement of a removable stop-bar, bridge, plastic nut and well spaced machines makes string changing or intonation adjustments problem free. Only the machines themselves were less praiseworthy. Coupled with a mass produced and mass cut nut, those on this sample tended to stick, so that strings would suddenly jump by a quarter tone instead of winding evenly. £300
At first glance it would be hard to belive these two guitars come from the same planet, let alone the same manufacturer. Let's take the pretty route to begin with: the burgundy coloured SG300.
It's one-piece solid mahogany body is thinner and lighter than previous Yamaha SGs, though as the ground floor party in the series it till has a feeling of quality and power about it.
The two exposed coil Yamaha humbuckers are finished in cream as are the pickup rings, and the body and neck have a cream binding. The fingerboard is rosewood with only a slight camber and the square topped frets are fat and low. These features coupled with a much thinner neck than on the SG1000 (and surprisingly low action for a guitar straight from the box) makes it fast.
Fast across the neck. The rosewood on the review model was dry and would have to be sweated in before it became as speedy along the length of the 24¾in scale.
The two tone and two volume controls have clear flat tops to them which expose the black bases and easy to read white figures. Unlike the SG2000s and 1000s, the pickup selector has been sited by the controls rather than on the upper bout. It's cheaper as it's one less piece of routing to do, but I find it slower to use. No coil taps, by the way.
As usual the neck is set, not bolted into the body. This assists the sustain and the admirable Yamaha craftsmanship is exhibited from top to bottom. The sound again stays in line with the SG tradition, being thick and strummy down at the bass end and solid but not overbright around the top strings. The SGs have always struck me as dependable all purpose instruments, great for rhythm, picking, blues etc, but not an instrument that excels in any one direction.
Complaints here are that the tone changes noticeably as you swap from the dark and sonorous bottom three strings to the crisper top ones and an ideal guitar should preserve its identity everywhere over the fingerboard.
Otherwise another fine addition though perhaps Yamaha could stop plugging holes in the SG series now and let it rest on its reputation. £259
Separating mental judgment from physical impression now becomes difficult for the SC600. Yamaha say that fashioning the ash body in this style improves the balance and playability. I can't agree. It hangs no better than many other guitars and looks uglier — like a left hand six string viewed in a distorting mirror.
The tone goes part of the way towards softening my opinion, but not the whole hog. It's a three pickup single coil beast boasting master volume and tone controls and a five position pickup selector. These new Yamaha pickups have extra windings on them to fatten the sound, but a small toggle switch near the bottom edge of the body will cut out some of them to give a thinner, brighter quality.
This model has a laminated maple and mahogany neck that runs through the body. The cheaper SC400 has a solid mahogany neck set into alder. Both models are blessed by a sweeping circular grain.
For a start the SC600 IS more versatile than the SG300. The coil tap makes for a rapid tone change easing out the deeper bass frequencies and tarting up the treble. It's also brighter and louder than the 300.
There the improvements end. It's a more clinical sounding guitar, lacking the warmth of the SG's humbuckers, only to be expected considering the single coil pickups fitted. Though the action around the nut is unusually good the neck is quite narrow here and the strings close together helping fast chord changes — it swiftly becomes soggy and unresponsive elsewhere.
The five position selector gives plenty of variety within the guitar's tonal range, though that range itself is not actually very wide. There's little real spitting treble at the sharp end, the best, most identifiable results are in the mid positions when the pickups are producing a mouthy, out-of-phase resonance.
Yamaha have obviously felt the need to further investigate the world of the single coil pickup guitar. I think they've put a few feet wrong with the SC, which won't go on to be as popular as the SGs nor even their lankier follow ups, the SFs. £329