by Frank Pugno
In 1887, Torakusu Yamaha built the first Yamaha reed organ and the Yamaha Company began. Ten years later, Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd. was established with Mr. Yamaha as its president. That year, the company completed its first export order, 78 organs destined for Southeast Asia. Yamaha’s first upright piano, grand piano and harmonica were introduced in 1900, 1902 and 1914 respectively. Also of note, a Yamaha organ and piano were awarded the Honorary Grand Prize at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. The St. Louis World’s Fair was also the germ that produced the world’s largest organ (at that time), which later became the great Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after much rebuilding and enlarging.
In 1932, Yamaha began building pipe organs, and the Magna Organ, their first electronic organ, debuted in 1935.
In 1959, the Yamaha Electone organ was introduced. A United States subsidiary of the company was started in 1960 with Yamaha Electone organs appearing in the United States in 1969.
Yamaha became the largest manufacturer of keyboard instruments in the world and the United States was no exception to its popularity. Many families purchased them, mainly spinets, for the home, but their consoles were also popular. They had a very warm tone with many additional features, and indeed, many professional organists owned and performed on them. The Model E-5 was a professional home model of the mid 1970s with the famous three-position stop levers and virtually any voice you can imagine. It included B-3-type percussion, a Slide control for Hawaiian Guitar and other effects, a Vibraphone that would knock your socks off, and a Portamento bar for special effects. The Portamento bar can be heard on Lenny Dee’s recording of Also Sprach Zarathustra, where he simulated radio waves (the base recording was done on the Hammond Concorde). These are just a few of the many effects on this organ. This model was later superceded by the E-70, which had better voicing and could sound like a real theatre organ. The FX-20 was the rocket model of the 1980s featuring a third keyboard synthesizer, realistic orchestral sounds and a drawer with control levers simulating the drawbars of the Hammond organ. Yamaha also made many spinet models to serve virtually any musical need. Of course, Yamaha is a renowned leader in the manufacture of electronic keyboards for home and professional use. These keyboards are not in the scope of this website, but Yamaha manufactures superior instruments.
Yamaha is also renowned for their pianos and band instruments. They also manufacture archery equipment, skis and sound equipment. And let this be known: THEY MANUFACTURE YAMAHA MOTORCYCLES! They have being doing so since 1954.
Yamaha has been very ambitious in promoting music to young people. They have founded music schools and the Yamaha Festival, a worldwide competition for organists.
Yamaha has been a truly successful company for well over a century and it looks like they will be in the forefront for many years to come.