Monday, April 30, 2018

1970s SL500 Yamaha Studio Lord Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a nice Japanese Les Paul lawsuit-era guitar copy.

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, Gibson and the gang caught on eventually and sued the crap out of the Japanese. Some of these very playable guitars are now collectible.

A fine specimen of these is this late 1970s Yamaha Studio Lord model SL500. In traditional Japanese manufacturing-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 on a business trip overseas.

This Studio is finished in a classy cherryburst, with a little burnt orange thrown in. The body is mahogany, with an agathis back, maybe. It is not unduly heavy for a Les Paul, coming in at a bit over 10 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, including the Yamaha branded tuners. 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 40 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 set of Ernie Ball 0.010s on it. The pickups are sweet at normal levels, and are super crunchy with an overdriven amp. The action and feel is awesome. The neck is not chubby and not thin…in between. All electronics work as they should, and there is no funky integrated circuit board.

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-era guitar from Yamaha, Tokai or Greco, and you will spend a lot less coin and get a better playing guitar.



  1. do you have any idea if these yamaha had poly or nitro finishes?

  2. YAMAHA "vintage" guitars are better than most USA guitars of today4sure! Rick Emmit & Billy Sheehan just to mention a few who back YAMAHA.

  3. I have a Yamaha "vintage" Studio Lord SL380 & I'd rather have than most Gibsons of today! It is as good as a "vintage" Ibanez Les Paul4sure!

  4. Michael Anthony of VH & Chicken Foot