Why did I never know this guitar existed? It’s one of my personal favorites from 2020!
Overview & Final Score: 9.1/10
Yamaha built a superb ES-335 style guitar without anyone seeming to take notice. Just like with the Revstar I reviewed over a year ago, we need to pay more attention to Yamaha guitars. This SA-2200 is a semi-hollow electric guitar with two powerful Alnico V humbuckers that are each coil split enabled. Thanks to push/pull tone pots for each pickup, a volume pot for each pickup, and a 3-way selector switch, there is a huge variety of tones waiting to be dialed in. Coming in at a very Gibson-esque 24 3/4″ scale length, the SA-2200 sports a Laminated Sycamore body, Soft Maple center block, and Mahogany neck. An Ebony fretboard holds 22 medium jumbo frets, double block inlays, and a real bone nut. Some impressive hardware helps round out the spec sheet with Gotoh SG30 tuners, GE101Z tailpiece, and GE103B bridge. A gloss polyurethane finish gives this guitar some shine and a very scratch resistant finish.
There is no shortage of excellent sounds hidden in this Yamaha SA-2200, especially with the addition of the coil splits. A what really impressed me is just how useable these coil splits are. Even on many fairly pricey guitars, like the Gibson Les Paul Studio from this year, the coil splits are just volume cuts that really thin out the sound. Yamaha has graced the SA-2200 with much brighter, more articulate single coil sounds hidden in both the neck and bridge. A known hater when it comes to neck pickups, I was very happy to find this neck pickup didn’t get too muddy too quickly, with above average sweep in the tone and volume knobs to actually manipulate the tone. The humbucker tones are even a bit sharper, with some real chime, when compared to your typical PAF-type pickup. While they are high output and great for classic rock, blues, and pop music you definitely lose just a little bit of that muscle you get in a more traditional ES-335 style guitar. But you gain so much more, you can tweak this guitar to sound all sorts of wonderful. Especially if you have some versatile pedals and a high quality amplifier. Hopefully you can hear it in the sound clips below from my YouTube channel, because I loved playing this guitar and it was one of the best sounding review units from 2020.
More praise is due here for the SA-2200, which came almost perfectly set up out of the box. Tuning stability was top notch, and this could anyone’s main gigging instrument without any issues. Action was similarly wonderful, and smooth up and down the neck. It feels a bit thinner than a lot of the baseball bat style necks on this style of guitar, but still thick and round enough to feel familiar in your hands. That’s sort of the theme with this Yamaha SA-2200, it’s just a bit different from what you expect, but it’s all great quirks and tweaks that make it feel like a more modern, vintage semi-hollow. It’s hard not to love playing this guitar when you consider the great fretwork, tuning stability, and the killer looks. It’s a great strummer even when it is unplugged, and it feels built to take a lot of mileage.
Finish & Construction: 9
I’m a huge fan of the burst-style finish on this SA-2200, which featured some superb flaming and wood grain on the back. I can’t say I’ve ever played a guitar that featured a Laminated Sycamore, but it feels, sounds, and looks just as good as more familiar options like Mahogany. The build quality was top of the line here, absolutely living up to the Japanese-origin of these high end Yamaha’s. Hardware was well adjusted, and felt super sturdy and reliable. Likewise, there wasn’t a single spot or mark on the finish to complain about. This guitar is definitely built to last, and feels really well put together. Clearly, quality control shouldn’t be a concern, and the gloss finish feels reliable as hell, even if it won’t naturally relic as nicely as a nitro finish. Everything checks out as top end here, and this guitar will be ranking highly across all boards in the final, year round rating of the guitars we’ve reviewed in 2020.
High marks again, especially when compared to more traditional models of this guitar. Gibson ES-335’s from this year seem to start around $2500 and go up from there, especially for ones that will likely feel as premium as this guitar does. And if we’re being honest, I trust the quality control so much more from Yamaha than Gibson at this point (though Gibson is on the way up for sure). The pure versatility of this guitar also makes it a steal at around $2000, as it can be perfect for both gigging and studio musicians, covering a wide range of sounds and taking a beating in the meantime. Working coil splits, tuning stability, and fun factor are the highlights here, equating to a really inspiring and reliable guitar that is just expensive enough to raise expectations, but not expensive enough to prohibit many from owning their own SA-2200 one day. I’d pick this over a Gibson or Epiphone any day, and honestly, more people should know about this guitar.
Good for: ES-335 Fans, Versatile Guitar Players, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Pop, Players Looking For Gibson Alternatives, Fans Of Bright Humbuckers