Manager of the Instrument Design GroupKazuhito Nakajima

Learning about the relationship between human and tool through sports equipment

Sports were familiar to me as I'd always been a soccer player, so as soon as I joined Yamaha my first wish was to work on sports equipment design. At the time, Yamaha made equipment for skiing, archery, and tennis, so I had given the opportunity to work with a variety of equipment, and I learned a lot. The important thing in designing sports equipment is to motivate athletes and players, to drive them. In sports there is a stark difference between winner and loser, so sports equipment's relationship as tools with humans is much different from that of musical instruments, much more severe. After that, my bosses told me to chalk it up to experience and go work on musical instruments, so that's what I've been doing ever since (laughs). My work has been primarily with acoustic instruments such as guitars, drums, and pianos.

Embodying the essence of Yamaha: the silent guitar

I've been doing instrument design for a long time now, but one project that left a particular impression on me was the silent guitar. This was a new type of hybrid guitar combining acoustic and digital elements, and I had long discussions with the engineering team on a daily basis in order to achieve just the right sound and design. The guitar might be the most common musical instrument in the world, but its design runs the gamut, with an endless variety of types, so it was a challenge to design one that stood out. Taking the classical guitar as my base due to its acoustic advantages, I set out to create an entirely new instrument and built a variety of mock-ups, spending hours testing how they felt when held in the arms and thinking long and hard about what kind of design was most suitable. By combining acoustic and digital elements I was able to present a new mode of musical enjoyment that no previous guitar had offered, retaining the guitar's original playability while elegantly presenting a bold new design. As a result, the silent guitar was a great success, a success that I think has shown me just what Yamaha's strength is. It's something that no other company can imitate.
The opportunity I had to work with pipe organs also left a deep impression. The pipe organ, in a way different from the piano, is the pinnacle of musical instruments-I simply love its sound. The product that I was in charge of was a smaller model organ that is no longer being manufactured, but I treasure the experience greatly.

A "tool" for the player

Currently, my primary duty is managing the Instruments Group. "Instruments" in this case refers to any sort of tool used by players, so the products I supervise cut across multiple fields, from musical instruments to golf equipment. The groups at the Yamaha Design Laboratory were originally divided up by product type into acoustic musical instruments, electronic musical instruments, and golf, but in our increasingly borderless world these divisions are losing their meaning. One notable example of this is the way that general consumers refer to electronic pianos simply as "pianos." There is this overarching idea of "the piano" that crosses all borders, connecting the finest acoustic pianos with everyday digital pianos, that varies only in the ends to which it is applied; and in a sense our job as designers is to present the essential value of a piano in the signature Yamaha style. It's the same with guitars and drums as well, and our series of silent violins and other string instruments is an example of a successful expression of Yamaha's uniqueness. That's why we have torn down the boundaries between these different objects and consider acoustic instruments, electronic instruments, and golf equipment together as a single category of instruments. Thinking not in terms of specific product types, such as musical instruments or golf clubs, but from the higher perspective of instruments-this is a natural expression of the pursuit of integrity in design.
In short, instruments are not things to be "used" but rather things to be "played." Our purpose is to seek in our design the essence of what the player needs, what will bring out the player's passion and motivation. At the same time, instruments are objects to lose yourself in and enjoy. Also, their design must not simply look good, but reflect a full understanding of the player's needs. Otherwise you can't play. Like a chef's knife, perhaps they become a part of you the moment you take them in hand. The boundaries between yourself and the instrument vanish. And I believe that our mission is to bring out and refine Yamaha's design identity across a wide range of products, from music to golf.