Late-1990s Yamaha AEX-502

I first saw this guitar at a trade show around 2000, and immediately fell in love with the classic design: a small, semi-hollow body with f-holes, two dog-ear P-90 pickups, orange color with gold hardware, and an inexpensive price to boot. It kind of reminded me of an old ’50’s Guild Aristocrat M-75 in its styling. Yamaha only made the AEX-502 for a year or two before they mysteriously discontinued it.
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Shortly thereafter I started searching the ’Bay to see what was out there. I found this one being sold by a singer/songwriter who was unhappy with the sound, expecting it to sound more like an acoustic/electric. In addition, the guitar had what was de-scribed as a “big ding” on the back, which was hard to see in the photo. The seller also had zero feedback, which meant many potential buyers would be scared off.

The first thing I do in these types of situations is email the newbie seller with a guitar question and ask for a phone number. If they don’t email back in a timely way, I move on. But if they do respond back with their phone number, I’ll call them just to make sure it’s a working number and talk for a few minutes to size them up. This person turned out to be extremely nice, so I followed my gut feeling and decided to bid on their auction. After sniping, I ended up winning it for $242 plus $20 shipping.

It arrived well packed in a nice gig bag. The “big ding” thankfully turned out to be a small one. When I plugged it in, it played nicely but the pickups didn’t exactly slay me. Maybe I was expecting a more Gibson-ish sound. They seemed to be somewhere between a Gibson P-90 and a Strat in sound. I remembered reading that when these guitars first came out no one knew how to take them. The blues guys didn’t like the non-Gibson sounding P-90s because they sounded too bright. And the country guys didn’t think the pickups had enough twang. Plus the bolt on neck scared a lot of others away. But over time these have started showing up in the hands of many bluesmen, with some purists replacing the Yamaha P-90s with Gibsons. I went one step further and replaced both pickups with a pair of Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90s shortly after it arrived. Now this guitar has no identity crisis: This is a blues machine, equally at home with jazz and rockabilly. Put this puppy in the “keeper” pile.

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