The first Yamaha FG’s were made in 1968.
Actually the first models, FG-150 & FG-180, were available in October 1966 but only in Japan. These models had light green labels very similar to the familiar red labels. There are other differences on the headstock: the Yamaha logo is smaller, the headstock shape has a slightly flared shape (wider at the top), and the truss rod cover says “REINFORCED NECK.” The earliest red labels: FG’s 110, 150, 180 & 230 from early 1967 to early 1968 have the “REINFORCED NECK” truss rod cover, before changing to the new style cover (a way to roughly date the early models).
When was my guitar made?
Most of the vintage FG’s have eight digit serial numbers. The first digit is the year, the next two are the month, the next two are the day, and the last three are the unit number. YMMDDUUU. 20424033 would be February 24, 1972, unit thirty-three that day.
But, the serial numbers of the earliest FG’s (1966 to approx. 1972) initially consisted of six digits. It has been assumed the first digit is the year, but the remaining five digits do not fit any other dating systems. Actually, they pick up where the previous “Dynamic” series left off. Consecutive numbers with the first digit starting with 5, for a few months, then they incremented into 6 in early 1967. It is assumed all guitars (not just the FG’s) built shared these numbers. The six digit serial numbers grew to seven digits in 1969. Then, in the early 70’s, they changed the serial numbers to eight digits.
The best way to date the early FG’s is to look inside. On one of the sides you should find an ink stamped date code, such as 45.12.28, which has the format YEAR.MONTH.DAY. The 45 refers to the 45th year of the SHOWA emperor era (1926 – 1989), which is 1970. This date code is probably when the sides were made not the date the guitar was built. But it’s the only way to figure out when they were made, since the serial number of the early FG’s are sequential with no relation to date. I am building a list of serial numbers some with these date codes.
See Yamaha FG Serial Numbers, Interior Markings, and Labels – 1966 to 1981 for more information.
Most Yamaha FG’s are solid top or all solid wood. They sound too good to be plywood!
Almost all FG’s are really laminates although the laminates of vintage Yamaha guitars were made differently than today’s laminates. All the layers are tone wood not a cheap wood filler. The top has three layers, thin top and bottom plys and a thick mid ply (oriented perpendicular to the top and bottom plys), making it hard to tell that it isn’t solid wood. If you look closely at the sound hole with a jeweler’s loupe or magnifying glass you will see the three layers. The back and sides are two ply. You can tell it’s two ply by looking at a grain pattern or a defect and looking for the same on the inside. The inside will be different even though it looks like solid wood. It really is, but it’s two saw cut layers, and not like today’s rotary peeled log ply. The grain of cut vs. peeled wood looks very different. Almost all commercially produced vintage Yamaha FG’s for export are laminated. This was because of the uncontrolled climate (temperature and humidity) on ships carrying them to America. Many earlier solid wood Yamaha guitars cracked during shipping. The laminates ensured that didn’t happen. Additionally, the 100 series guitars were very lightly braced. The combination of all tone wood laminates and very light bracing gives them the sonic appearance of a solid wood guitar.
They were built with epoxy or “Asian Mystery Glue” and the necks can never be removed.
They didn’t use epoxy or some Asian mystery glue, they used plain old hide glue. It looks, feels and smells like hide glue, at least in the six I’ve taken apart. The necks of vintage Yamaha FG’s are notoriously difficult to remove for two reasons. The neck pocket isn’t below the 15th fret, rather it’s 1/8” to 3/16” towards the heel. If you miss the pocket, steam doesn’t get in, and the neck isn’t coming off. Also, they glued everything, including the face of the heel to the side of the guitar. You have to wiggle the neck to get the joint loose and allow the steam to get further into the pocket and around the heel.