This story is actually about 2 guitars. My '72 Alvarez-Yairi was preceded by a Martin N-20 nylon string classical guitar that I bought new in 1975. That's the same make/model as Willie Nelson's famous guitar, Trigger (I didn't know anything about Willie at the time). Seems like I paid about $700 for it which in today's money would be about $3400.00. So it was not a cheap-ass guitar!
I bought it because I had been listening to Phil Keaggys' work with a nylon-string and had become frustrated with the steel-string acoustic I had at the time.
In 1977 I enrolled at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I was a classical guitar performance major and studied with Douglas Niedt. I spent 3 years there but quit my degree program short of graduating in order to study privately with John Elliott. You can read more about that phase in A Little Story.
At one point when I was studying with Doug we spent a semester on Renaissance Lute pieces arranged for the classical guitar. They were all in Drop-D tuning.
Because I was tuning the low E string down every day to practice the Lute pieces and then back up for everything else, I wore out the original tuner for the 6th string and in frustration decided to replace all the tuners with enclosed metal tuners that wouldn't wear out so easily. They were Grovers.
BTW: Look at the difference in hand position, especially the right hand, from '75 to '79. That's the result of the classical training under Douglas Niedt.
So in my zeal to have the best hardware I could buy to put on the guitar I destroyed any collectability the instrument might acquire as well as the optics of it. The Grovers stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn't care about the visual; they were the best tuners even if they didn't look the part. Turns out it didn't matter.
In January of 1980, the guitar sat overnight in a broken-down tour bus on the side of the highway west of St Louis in freezing weather. I happened to be elsewhere by about 200 miles and couldn't do anything about it. Maybe I'll tell that story in another blog.
Anyway, when I re-joined the tour and got the guitar back, it had finish-checks all over it and the face was warped. It was still playable (I played it for years after that) but any remaining value was destroyed.
Incidentally, my early '70s Gibson 175 was also on that broken-down tour bus but wasn't damaged - whew! Probably because it's made out of a wood-laminate instead of Brazilian Rosewood with a Sitka spruce top.
Fast-forward several years. I was teaching a student named Angie. Angie was an elderly lady, full of energy and spunk. She was nursing her husband who was dying of emphysema. He basically forced her to take guitar lessons to get her out of the house and away from him once a week. I'm sure there was also a therapeutic aspect to the lessons for her.
Turns out, in her younger and wilder years (I wish I had a time-machine!) Angie had lived in California and studied Flamenco guitar with a big-name Spanish guitarist - I can't remember the name. She had an old Alvarez-Yairi classical guitar. She’d bought it new in San Francisco back in the day and so had been the only owner.
At the time, I had never heard, "Yairi" and didn't know anything about the Alvarez-Yairi partnership. I was familiar with Alvarez as fairly expensive classical guitars.
Alvarez is a St Louis-based company founded in 1965. In the late 60s the company began working with a Japanese Master Luthier, Kazuo Yairi.
To this day, all Alvarez-Yairi guitars are hand-made in the Yairi factory in Kani, Japan. They are high-quality. From the Alvarez website:
Every neck is spoke shaved by hand, braces are carved and tops are tuned to perfection, attention to detail and quality of the build is impeccable. Alvarez Yairi guitars are beautifully presented, wonderful sounding, luthier-made instruments, which in our opinion are some of the finest guitars in today’s market.
After taking lessons for a few months, Angie's husband took a turn for the worse and she quit her lessons to take care of him.
Maybe a year later, out of the blue I get a call from Angie.
"Well" she said, "My husband died and I'm a-movin' to Hawaii to live with my daughter and son-in-law. You want this guitar?"
"Sure" I said, "What do you want for it?"
"Did I say anything 'bout money? If'n you want it you come over here and git it!"
"Yes ma'am! I'll be right there!"
So I wound up with this guitar as a gift, not knowing anything about it. What I did know was that it had a gorgeous tone, and very quickly I concluded I liked it better - way better - than the Martin classical I had been playing. It sounded better; brighter, with not as much mid-range, and it felt better in my hands. Part of that was due to the fact that the Yairi neck was narrower than the Martin neck. I finally got rid of the Martin a few years ago.
From the sticker on the inside:
Model No. 5001
Built in October 1972
Made in Japan
As far as I know, it's all original, with a couple of caveats:
There is a clear, almost-invisible pickguard that has been adhered to the front of it. I suspect that was put on after the fact to protect the finish from percussive hits with the fingernails, which is a Flamenco technique. Wouldn't surprise me if Angie did that.
I had a Barcus Berry Piezo pickup installed under the bridge. No knobs or anything electronic on the guitar; the battery for the pickup is mounted on the heel of the neck inside the guitar and the strap pin is the output jack. So while the pickup is not original, the cosmetics of the guitar are unchanged.
Structurally it's in great shape. As I said, it has a wonderful sound; the frequencies are very well-balanced. The sound has only gotten better with age.
Cosmetically, you can tell it's old. There are scratches and finish checks here and there and places where the finish is wearing off, like where the right forearm rests on the body, and on the back where it's in contact with my shirt or in the case of the picture below, my leather vest.
There are fingernail gouges in the fretboard at the 1st, 2nd and 3rd frets. Not mine. I guess Angie didn't keep her left-hand nails trimmed short enough.
Even so, it still looks pretty good. The cosmetic issues only serve to give it more character!
I play it some at home mostly; using it on a gig is few and far between. Once in a great while I'll play it at a wedding or a funeral but most of the gigs I play there's no call for it.
I've used it in the recording studio more than anything. It figures prominently in my own writing and recording.
Many of the tunes on my Sound Tracks CD use it.
Check out The Jewel:
Another example is Andrea's Rainsong (acoustic) where I used a pick for the melody/lead:
Most of my Channeling Harold album is a Hammond B3 organ-based Jazz trio. However, I used the Yairi for the great Bill Evans standard, Waltz for Debby:
I also used it for the rhythm guitar part on the duo track with Mama Ray, My Romance:
As a side note, the solos for both Waltz for Debby and My Romance were played on my beloved Martin MC-28.
The Alvarez-Yairi also features heavily on My Ship. For instance, Hymn for Her:
I own quite a few instruments but I'm not a collector. I consider them tools. Every guitar I own has paid for itself and then some. I'm all about function.
However, I have maybe four guitars to which I have an emotional attachment; this Alvarez-Yairi is one of those.
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