The SA5 is a six string, full hollow body guitar and there is very little information on the SA5 on the web as it was only available for less than one year – from December 1966 to June1967. In July of 1967 the SA50 was introduced and it was produced for the next five years. I believe Yamaha did not ‘reset’ the serial number when it started producing the SA-50 model and continued on with the ‘last’ SA-5 serial number. Therefore, an SA-5 must have a low serial number. My guess is that somewhere around serial number 1500, the model changed from SA-5 to SA-50 (More information required). The SA5 and the SA50 are almost identical bar for some minor details.
The most visible one is the extra binding on the horn and on the heel. The SA5 model has an unusual bit of binding running over the ‘sharp cut’ in the horns. Also, the model number suggests that the SA15, SA20 and SA30 are higher specced guitars. This is not so, and I believe that this was the reason to change the model number into a higher number, as Yamaha typically uses a higher numbers for guitars with a higher specification. As the SA20 and SA30 were introduced in 1967, the SA5 had to change into an SA50 for marketing reasons. At the same time they removed the horn and heel binding on most units, possibly as a cost cutting exercise.
For some reason Yamaha occasionally produced the proper SA-50 model with the horn binding. Even on some very high serial numbers (>20,000) you will find this horn binding. I can only speculate why this was done… The SA-5 was Yamaha’s first foray into ‘335’ territory. The Yamaha chosen horn shape proved difficult to finish cleanly on the joint, so a horn binding was necessary (but required more labour). Production improvements saw the need for the horn binding gone. Every now and then an SA50 was produced with an unsatisfactory horn joint finish and to be able to sell the guitar it needed to be fixed with the binding. Again, just speculation.
There are other differences between the two models, all cosmetic except for one. This information was kindly provided by Gavanti on the OffSet Guitar (OSG) forum. The letters on the Yamaha logo on the SA-5 (left photo below) are spaced further apart and the letters are of a lower height compared to the SA-50 logo you see on the photo on the right.
The biggest difference between the two models is actually in the pickups. The dimensions of the SA-5 pickups are 75 x 28mm while the SA-20 / 30 / 50 dimensions are 75 x 33mm. I would like to put some photos up showing this detail but I do not have an SA-5 so cannot take photos that show this small difference clearly. Photos received, to be published soon…
I have measured both coil widths on one of my spare SA-50 pickups as follows: the humbucking coil is 13mm wide and the ‘active’ coil with the visible pole pieces is ~17 mm wide. Add ~1mm for the cover on either side and we end up with 33mm.
My guess is that the SA-5 (28mm) pickup has two identical coils of 13mm wide each, making a total width of that humbucker 28mm. Yamaha may have wanted to increase the output for the SA-50 pickup and increased the size (more windings) of the active coil…. In short, if I am correct, then the SA-5 should sound different from an SA-50.
I do not own an SA-5 so cannot pull a pickup apart to prove the point and publish some photos. However, the photo below found on the web, shows the that the back of an SA-5 pickup is quite different from the SA20, SA30 and SA50 pickups shown in the photo further down below.
Here some photos of the unusual horn binding. Any more info on the SA5 welcome.
Click on the pictures to see a larger image.
Japanese brochures – translation welcome!
The below brochure shows the four colours of the SA-5 model. The far right guitar was labelled SA-5B. The B stands for Blonde.
Page from Yamaha Guitar Database Legacy: