In case you have not run into these before, the lawsuit guitars were built by Japanese companies in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They used classic guitar and bass designs from Fender, Gibson, Hofner, Martin and Rickenbacker, and made killer knock-offs. The 70s and 80s were not exactly the best years for quality for any of these companies, and consumers really ate up the good quality copies. Well, Fender and the gang caught on eventually and threatened to sue the pants off of the Japanese companies. Some of these very playable guitars are now collectible.
A fine specimen of these is this 1980 Yamaha Studio Lord model SL-500S. In traditional Japanese marketing-ese, the 500 in the model name relates to the instrument’s original list price, in this case it was 50,000 yen. This was around $250 back then, if I did the math right. I have never seen another one in the US. I picked this one for a few hundred bucks at a secondhand store in Nagoya.
This Studio Lord is finished in a classy cherryburst, which is a very close match to how Gibson did it at the time. The body is mahogany, with a mystery top that could be ash or agathis, maybe. It is not unduly heavy for a Les Paul, coming in at a little under 9 ½ pounds.
It has a set neck with a rosewood fretboard. The neck is nicely rounded, is between the 50s and 60s style Les Pauls as far as feel. It is straight with plenty of life left in the frets. It has a medium action and it plays like a dream. There are a few small marks on the back of the neck, but nothing that bothers me when I play it, because I am a rock star.
Everything appears to be original on this guitar. The wiring is tidy and the pickups and knobs appear to be OEM. The tailpiece shows some pitting and the tuning pegs have a few signs of oxidization but those things are not a big deal. As this is a 35-year-old guitar, there are some small blemishes and the typical soft markings on the rear of the guitar. But overall it is in very respectable condition.
It plays very well with a fresh set of Ernie Ball 0.010s on it. The uncovered pickups are sweet at normal levels, and are super crunchy with an overdriven amp. All electronics work as they should with plenty of output, and it is wired like the usual Les Paul. The action and feel are awesome and it is fun to play!
If you are considering a new Gibson Les Paul, think twice. Their necks and frets are a crapshoot in a losing game. Find a lawsuit guitar from Aria, Yamaha, Tokai, or Greco, and you will spend a lot less coin and get a better playing guitar.