Gear Review: 1979 Alvarez Yairi DY-55

By anders pearson 15 Jul 2009

Alvarez DY-55

Taking a short break from posting about code stuff, I thought I’d dip into one of my other hobbies. I’ve been playing guitar since I was about 15 and, while I’m certainly no Yngwie Malmsteen, it’s stayed a pretty constant part of my life and is a major source of relaxation and amusement for me. I’m also a major gearhead. Building effects pedals in high school from internet schematics and modifying them to do horrible things was one of the things that led me to want to study Electrical Engineering in college, which in turn landed me in computers. So I thought I’d start a little series of reviews of the guitars and guitar gear that I’ve accumulated over the years.

I’m going to go through my guitars in roughly chronological order, starting with my beloved Alvarez Yairi DY-55.

The very first guitar that I owned was a crappy Epiphone stratocaster copy that my parents helped me buy on my 16th birthday after I’d spent months learning the basics on my dad’s acoustic guitar. I spent the rest of the summer mowing lawns and doing odd jobs to pay back what I owed them for the guitar and a little 10W practice amp. I loved the Epi and it served me well, but I shudder now to think back on how awful it must have sounded to anyone in range. I didn’t understand anything about intonation, or how to deal with the floating bridge in it, so to me it seemed to be constantly “out of tune” and I wondered why I could never quite get my riffs to sound like what I heard on the CD. A bridge saddle had a burr and my low E and A strings would constantly break. I didn’t have the cash to keep buying new strings so I’d scavenge old cast-off bronze-wound acoustic strings from my dad’s guitar case and keep playing.

The Alvarez was my high school graduation gift from my parents. I ditched the Epiphone as soon as I could get a better electric guitar, but the Alvarez I’ve never had any desire to get rid of.

My dad picked it out. He plays a 1950’s Gibson 12-string that he strings up with 6 strings because he likes the neck extra wide and fat. To him, the neck on the Alvarez must have felt pretty thin, but it’s actually pretty substantial by anyone else’s standards.

I have less to say about this guitar than my electrics because there are less “moving parts” from a gearhead perspective, but I really can’t say enough good about it. It plays absolutely beautifully and has a rich, full sound to match. It’s brighter sounding than my dad’s Gibson, but much deeper sounding than any Ovations or Taylors I’ve played. With the strings kept clean and fresh, I’d compare its sound to a nice Martin. Even if you let the strings get old and a bit tarnished, it just gets a nice mellow, soft tone. The only thing negative thing I could possibly say about the sound of this guitar is that it’s pretty quiet. Any other acoustic playing next to it will drown it out, so you wouldn’t want to use it live and unamplified if it needed to compete to be heard. I pretty much stick to playing alone in my apartment so it’s perfect for me. I spend a lot of time trolling eBay looking for good deals on electric guitars to add to my collection, but owning the DY-55, I’ve not felt the need to even look at other acoustics.

Construction is rock solid. It stays in tune perfectly, the intonation is flawless, and the action is comfortable with no buzzing. It still looks as good as the day I got it in 1996. I actually had no idea that it was a 1979 model until just a couple years ago when I found out how to determine the year from the serial number. Based on the condition it was in, I’d always assumed that it was only a few years old at the most when my parents got it for me.

The reviews on Harmony Central seem to pretty much agree with me, with others rating it as sounding as good or better than much more expensive Martins. The DY-55 will never be an expensive, sought-after guitar despite the excellent quality, because it’s both not rare enough to get collector attention, and not well known enough to have a reputation as the great guitar that it is. Other players who are lucky enough to have stumbled onto one (and probably paid peanuts for it) seem to realize what a gem it is and aren’t about to give it up. I’m certainly not.

Tags: gear review guitar alvarez