Is the Yamaha SA2200 as good as the Gibson ES335?

Published on 05 May 2023

The Yamaha SA2200 and the Gibson ES335 are both semi-acoustics and a good quality semi-acoustic guitar is, like a decent Stratocaster, one of the cornerstones of a well-rounded guitar collection. The diversity of tone, and the inherent class of such a design mark out the thinline semi as a real ‘essential’. 

Most of these models are based, to a greater or lesser degree, on the famous Gibson ES335. Back in the late 50s and early 60s, there wasn’t too much choice for a quality semi, but things are different now, and many top manufacturers have offered their own spin on this time-honoured blueprint. Today, we assess the quite stunning SA2200 from brand giant Yamaha to uncover if the Yamaha SA2200 is as good as the Gibson ES335.

Yamaha do not make bad guitars. They don’t make 'bad' anything, in fact, but does this mean that their high end SA2200 semi can successfully duke it against the likes of a Gibson ES335? Read on to find out…


The Yamaha SA2200

So, Yamaha have made semi acoustic guitars for decades, and this SA2200 model represents one of the higher spec iterations, based on the classic thinline double cutaway we all know. That said, Yamaha have not gone for a slavish copy: indeed, there are hallmarks from different guitars altogether, not to mention a little sprinkle of the brand’s own magic.

First off, let’s talk about how gorgeous these look! We know it’s not about how pretty the guitars are, but we all do listen with our eyes, and using that analogy, they guitars sound great! Slightly more seriously, though, Yamaha have dressed the SA2200 to impress, with a figured maple veneer on both the front and back of the body, gold hardware and eye-catching inlay work on the fingerboard and headstock. It’s top level stuff indeed, and the type of decoration that other brands upcharge in the thousands for.

You expect to see binding on a guitar such as this, and those expectations are fulfilled with multi-ply binding on the body and headstock, with the customary single binding around the fingerboard. Split-block inlays on a flatter than expected (13.75” radius, as opposed to the ‘Gibson regular’ 12”) ebony fingerboard add to the deliciously upmarket look of the SA2200.

Finish-wise, we are firmly in traditional territory here with a pair of bursts that take full advantage of the flamed maple. Without being ostentatious, the SA2200 manages to look like a million bucks, and will add presence and elegance to stage-bound players.


Sound and Feel of the Yamaha SA2200

So, we get it: they look lovely! This is important, but the real price of admission is judged on how these feel, play and sound!

First, the feel. We don’t need to mention Yamaha’s quality control for build and fit: the brand are a byword for consistent;y well made instruments. That said, it’s worth noting how well applied the finish and decorative elements are. Not every brand at this price point (and higher) has such attention to detail! We’d say that even the most scrutinising of guitar fans will approve of how the SA2200 has been put together.

In terms of feel, our fretting hand finds itself a relatively slim neck, by semi acoustic standards at least! We’re not in chunky territory but more a pleasing middle ground. Fretwork is exemplary, with our hand finding no snags or sharp edges. All of the controls feel solid and dependable, including the dual coil tap switches.

Sonically, the first thing we are struck by is a pleasant clarity and brightness to the guitar’s character. Comparing this with a Gibson ES335, we expected a much darker, more mid-friendly guitar. True enough, turning back the volume pots somewhat brings out such a tone but the extra top end available from the Alnico V pickups is a very pleasing discovery! Whilst not venturing into Fender territory yet (this is still a very rich sounding guitar), we felt like we were somewhat closer to bridging that gap between the Gibson sound and the Fender one.

This was more obvious when engaging the coil taps, but the emerging single coil sound is still very much its own beast. It’s quite a refreshing experience to hear such an instrument making a bid for a tone that’s its own! We’d say that this increases the versatility to an already diversely capable guitar. Playing clean, adding crunch and heading into full-on rock mode presented no problems, and the playing feel was always encouraging.


A Worthy Competitor, and an Alternative

We actually see the Yamaha SA2200 as a worthy alternative to the ES335, as opposed to a direct competitor, which it also is, of course. We were particularly impressed by the sound, which was more open and clear than we expected. We also feel that there is a lot of value to be had here, even though the SA2200 is hardly what you’d call a cheap guitar! But to us, it’s more like you are getting a top-tier guitar for what maybe brands charge for their ‘standard’ guitar models. We think Yamaha are offering a lot of guitar for the money, and it’s a lot of pro-quality, high spec guitar at that.

Is it as good as a Gibson ES335? Build wise, certainly! We’d say it’s at least as well put together as Nashville’s finest, and with more decorative elements to boot. Sonically, you can get all of those woody, airy semi tones for sure, but with the tone controls fully up, you’ll get a level of clarity and definition that is perhaps more than some other makers can offer.

If it has to be a 335, then it has to be a 335: we can appreciate that, and wouldn’t see any value in trying to change your mind either, since they are awesome! But if you are open to looking at a number of brands to fulfil your thinline semi dreams, we reckon you’d be mad in the head to not pay the Yamaha SA2200 very close scrutiny as you conduct your semi shoot out!


Click to View the Yamaha SA2200

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I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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