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Master Luthier, Kazuo Yairi Dies Aged 81

Posted on March 10, 2014

March 10th, 2014

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI – It is with great sadness that St. Louis Music announces the death of Master Luthier and dear friend, Kazuo Yairi. Mr. Yairi passed away in his hometown of Kani, Japan on Wednesday March 5th, 2014.

As owner and president of the Yairi Guitar Company, Mr. Yairi helped change the landscape of acoustic guitar manufacturing and distribution.  His company was one of the first to export professional acoustic guitars to the United States, and became the main manufacturer of Alvarez and Alvarez-Yairi guitars, owned and distributed worldwide by St. Louis Music.

Mr. Yairi and former owner of St. Louis Music Gene Kornblum, forged a close business relationship from the late 1960’s that saw them build Alvarez and Yairi into globally recognized brands.  Through his passion and commitment, Kazuo Yairi became one of the most innovative and highly regarded Master Luthiers of modern times.

“He believed that you had to work the wood by hand and get close to it to build better guitars, listening with your hands as you carved,” Says Chris Meikle, Senior VP at St. Louis Music and head of Alvarez development.  “I feel incredibly blessed to have known and worked with Mr. Yairi.  Even at 80 years old he would lead R&D meetings and sometimes call the whole factory into the room and give a Statesmen-style, impassioned address to the workforce.  He is one the largest, most interesting and naturally charismatic men I have ever known.”

Mr. Yairi was born into the musical instrument business in 1932.  His father, Gi’ichi Yairi, trained as a luthier at the Suzuki violin factory in Nagoya before leaving to set up Yairi Musical Instruments to make his own violins and classical guitars.  Kazuo took over his father’s business in 1965.  After visiting the United States to study steel string acoustic guitar making, he formed the Yairi Guitar Factory and began exporting handmade acoustic and classical guitars.

Innovation was always a large part of Yairi’s approach to design. He incorporated unique elements such as his direct-coupled bridge system, and extended dovetail neck joint, combining traditional, handmade luthiery and an obsessive attention to detail to create exquisite guitars.  His instruments have been used by some of the world’s major artists such as Ritchie Blackmore, Joe Bonamassa, Bono, Johnny Cash, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Ani DiFranco, Jerry Garcia, Dave Mason, Sir Paul McCartney, Monte Montgomery, Carlos Santana, Steve Winwood, Bob Weir, and many more.

In 2005 the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare decorated Mr. Yairi in recognition of his eminent craftsmanship and in 2006 he was awarded a Yellow Ribbon Medal of Honor by the Japanese Emperor, a prestigious acknowledgment of Kazuo’s lifetime of dedicated work and his indelible contribution to society and future generations.

Mr. Yairi leaves his wife, daughter and son in law and two granddaughters, and many loyal colleagues, some of which he has worked with more than 50 years. His legacy will live on through the hands of the craftspeople and luthiers he has trained, and his company will continue, managed by his family.

“All of us at Alvarez are all greatly saddened by this loss,” Meikle continues.  “Mr. Yairi is one of the reasons Alvarez exists and irreplaceable because of his wonderful personality.  His work will continue, and will continue in the way he would want, by building guitars without compromise to quality, and with a dedication to innovation.”

A private service was held on Saturday, March 8th.  A memorial service will be announced over the coming weeks for all to attend. Wishes can be sent to: K.Yairi Guitar Company. 3230-2, Shimoedo, Kani, Japan 509-0203