Guitarras de artesanía, Artículos J.A.R. Spanish guitar made in Mataró outside Barcelona 1970’s
I found this guitar in a Cash converters last week and felt so sorry for it. It had a broken head, a cracked brace, loose back and looked so sad that I felt I had to save it and bring it back to life. A week later she is up and running and sounds pretty damn sweet.
I couldn’t find any info about the brand so if anyone knows anything more about it then please get in touch. It has a solid spruce top and what looks to me like solid maple back and sides. It says “Guitarras de artesanía” which should indicate hand crafted but I’m not sure, quality wise it feels pretty much like the Juan Estruch I got for my friend Rafa’s birthday. Perhaps all Spanish guitars were more or less hand crafted back then, the big business guitar factories hadn’t really kicked in yet. I have put this guitar up for sale since I mainly play steel string acoustic guitars and on top of that I have a Francisca Montserrat that I really like.
First I had to try to clean her up, I have never seen a top with that much grease and grime. I used a normal furniture spray and a toothbrush, it worked like a charm. When I had cleaned the fretboard I polished the frets and oiled up the fretboard with lemon oil. She came out looking pretty descent after that.
Now I just had to take care of the broken head and glue the back. I have actually never glued a head on before but I assumed that you do something like this. I used to thin pieces of wood on each side to stabilise it and keep things in place, and also for not damaging the head any further with the force of the clamps. I guess it could have worked with normal wood glue too but I used my trusty old fish glue that I use for pretty much everything when it comes to guitars. It came out looking very solid after being clamped for 48 hours. I also glued the open back and a cracked brace, which was pretty straight forward. The machine heads was broken on one side so I replaced them with the leftovers from the Juan Estruch I fixed last year. They don’t match exactly but at least they are from the same time and region, that’s close enough for me. Compared to the state I found her in I think she is looking pretty good. More images can be found here.
Westone Stratocaster copy, made in Japan by Matsumoku in 1979
This weekend my Westone Stratocaster found a new owner. It felt kind of sad, I don’t normally miss guitars that I sell, well that’s I lie, I have missed all of the guitars I’ve sold but normally not this much. Oh well, I needed to make room for my new Tokai Silver Star SS-36 so it had to go. I have had two Westone guitars, a Strat and a Les Paul copy and I really liked both of them. Westone built Fender and Gibson copies in the late 1970’s before they started on their own heavy metal influenced creations of the 1980’s that owned the brand it’s name. You can read more about the brand Westone here. I have to say that the quality was pretty good for being a less known brand from the Matsumoku factory. I’ve always claimed that FujiGen was better than Matsumoku but I start to think that might have been more about when and not so much where. There was a huge change in Japanese guitars around 1975, not just the quality but perhaps more about how well they managed to copy the big American brands.Therfor a Greco guitar from 1978 would be better built than one from 1972, not just because the first was made by FujiGen but because it was made after 1975. You can read more about in my earlier post, Are all Japanese guitars good? I think what I would miss most of the Westone Strat is the Sen ash body, the wood was amazing and without any doubt the heaviest and most solid Strat I have ever seen with a fantastic sustain. The pickups were pretty great too, not Grey Bobbin pickups like on my Tokai Silver Star SS-36, but still, pretty sweet sounding. The pickups were pretty great in the Westone Les Paul too, maybe there was something special about these late 1970’s Matsumoku built Westone guitars.
Westone Les Paul copy, made in Japan by Matsumoku in 1970’s
Matsumoku Matsumoku is one of the Japanese manufacturers that did not survive long after the heyday of the 1970’s guitar market despite having a long tradition of quality stringed instrument craftsmanship. Matsumoku produced guitars for major manufacturers Greco, Guyatone and Yamaha. Matsumoku made Arai, Aria, Aria Pro II and Aria Diamond badges, with Aria being their primary badge for a majority of this time frame. Badged guitars known to have been made by Matsumoku include Apollo, Arita, Barclay, Burny, Capri, Columbus, Conrad, Cortez (electrics only), Country, Cutler, Dia, Domino, Electra, Epiphone, Granada, Hi Lo, Howard, Ibanez, Lindberg, Lyle, Luxor, Maxitone (this guitar differs from Tama’s Maxitone badge), Mayfair, Memphis, Montclair, Pan, Pearl (electrics only), Raven, Stewart, Tempo, Univox ,Vantage, Ventura, Vision, Volhox, Washburn (in 1979 and 1980), Westbury, Westminster and Westone. Possible Matsumoku badges include: Bruno, Crestwood, Conqueror, Eros, Mako, Memphis, Orlando and Toledo. Taken from my previous post about Japanese guitar brands
When arrived to the office on Monday morning I noticed that Yuma, one of the eBay sellers that I follow from Japan, had added a new guitar, a 1979 Tokai Silver Star SS-36. I’ve always admired, well admired is not strong enough, I’ve always been totally gay for the 3-tone sunburst that Fender used in 1970’s. I even built the Claescaster because of this, since I couldn’t find a Telecaster with the right colour I decided to assemble one myself. For the past two years I’ve been looking at different Japanese big headed Stratocasters with the 3-tone 1970’s sunburst and black pickguard and was pretty convinced that a Greco SE-500 would be my next electric guitar or perhaps a late Seventies Fernandes Burny but they never seemed to have necks that were fat enough. I was in touch with a couple of the Japanese sellers and asked which brand had the fattest neck and got this reply, none. One seller explained that most Japanese guitars have fairly flat necks since the Japanese have small hands, which sounded a bit racist but whatever the reason is, most Japan made guitars had soft profiled necks up until now. I’ve played a couple of Crafted in Japan Fenders with great V-profile but that’s just in the last couple of years, none of the Japanese guitars that I’ve tried from 1970-80’s has had any baseball bat necks. This was a beautiful looking Tokai Silver Star with great grain showing through the 3-tone sunburst. I asked the seller about the neck and he replied that it wasn’t super fat, more of a soft U-profile, well that sounded close enough to me. The truth is that I’ve really missed the sound of the Fernandes RST-50 ’57 that I had for a short while. The Grey Bobbin pickups just sounded so amazingly good but I could never really come to terms with the small head or the fact that the guitar was black. Eric Clapton’s Blackie in all honour but they look pretty bland and boring to me, I like wood coloured or 3-tone sunburst guitars. My head started to think, well what could be better than Greco’s Maxon pickups, well the Ferndandes grey bobbin pickups, any day. Who was making Fernades in the late Seventies, well Tokai. Does that mean that this Tokai Silver Star will have some form of similar pickups? I tried to do some research but before I had even come to any conclusion I was the happy owner of a 1979 Tokai Silver Star SS-36. It was a Monday morning, I was a bit hungover, most of my guitar purchases has been made in that state, or perhaps when I’m drunk. I tend to be really concerned about money, I like to plan ahead, save for a rainy day, and then suddenly I sit there in front of the computer drunk or hungover without any filters whatsoever and just thinking GAS, GAS, GAS.
To be honest I didn’t know that much about Tokai, a part of me has always classed it like Ibanez, kind of bellow Greco in terms of quality. Then again, I can’t really say that I have felt a huge difference in quality between the Fender Japan made by FujiGen or the ones by Tokai, but everyone seems to prefer the Made in Japan to the later Tokai built Crafted in Japan. I have a 1991 Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul copy that is awesome but that doesn’t mean that an entry level Strat from 1979 would be equally good, but luckily it was. The Tokai Silver Strat SS-36 was the cheapest in the line of the late Seventies Fender copies that Tokai made but I think the main difference between the top and the bottom was if they had 3 or 4 screws bolt-on-necks, how many pieces of wood was used for the bodies and the quality of machine heads and hardware, and less about the pickups. Or perhaps these are the shittiest pickups Tokai produced and they still sound awesome.
Tokai (Tōkai Gakki) Tōkai Gakki was founded in 1947 and is based in Hamamatsu, Japan. Tokai began production of acoustic guitars in 1965 and by 1968 was producing electric guitars for the American market. Tokai still exists as guitar manufacturer. Tokai made guitars for Fernandes, Mosrite and Fender Japan. Tokai badged guitars included the house brand Tokai as well as Cat’s Eyes, Conrad, Drifter, Hondo, Love Rock, Mosrite, Sigma and Silver Star. Possible badges include Artist Ltd., Gaban, Gallan, Gession and Robin. It’s suggested that Tokai made Hummingbird acoustics as well, but if these were related to those made by Humming Bird I haven’t quite sorted out yet. Taken from my previous post about Japanese guitar brands
Fender replicas were started in 1977 officially. These were great guitars too. Using good quality wooden material with great craft man ship. “Springy Sound” Stratocaster replicas and the “Breezy Sound” Telecaster replicas are superior to the original Fender. Tokai has own factory and has built guitars for many famous known brands such as Fernandes and Fender Japan. For that mean, Tokai is only one original electric guitar manufacturer in Japan. (Note: Fender Japan used many sub constructors such as Fujigen, Dyna, Tokai, and Terada. The JV and E serial were made by Fujigen. Tokai made has “Made in Japan” under serial number in cursive handwriting). Taken from Music-Trade Japan
The guitar has a really nice soft U-shaped 1-piece maple neck with a nut width of just 40.6 mm, which didn’t feel that different to me. The body is 4 pieces Sen (Japanese ash) with poly lacquer in the classic 1970’s Fender 3-tone sunburst, which I truly love. I’m not sure if the pickups are similar to the L-5000 Vintage Arched PP Grey Bobbin pickups that the Fernandes RST-50 ’57 had or just some other grey bottom pickups. I tried to find some more information about them but they are just refereed to as grey bottom Tokai PU at Music-Trade Japan. Tokai Was building Fernandes at this time so I assume they would have used similar pickups for both. Either way, I love the pickups in this Tokai and it sounds almost as good as the Fernades did. I added an extra spring to the tremolo block since I never use the wammy bar and prefer a more solid hardtail feel, just like a real late 1970’s Fender Stratocaster.
I will try to get a new video up soon where I play a bit louder so you can hear the pickups properly, I was worried about the neighbours, and ideally play a bit better.
Well here it is, I might not play any better, but at least it is a more of it. I changed the string to 010, always Ernie Ball Regular Slinky, raised the action and fitted a 4th spring to the tremolo. Not sure what difference it made sound vice but it made it felt better to me playing.
On Saturday I found myself a Maya F335G. As mentioned before, I’ve been after a Gibson J-45 or J-50 for quite a while so when I saw this Japan made Gibson J-50 copy I couldn’t resist. It was in a terrible state and strung with 4 nylon strings so I couldn’t test it but I trusted my gut feeling. It doesn’t sound like a Gibson J-50, I didn’t really expect it too either, but it does sound pretty good. I would say that it sounds better than the two Suzuki’s I used to have, the Kiso Suzuki WE-150 and Suzuki Three-S F-120, even though the build quality is pretty much the same. There is a huge step up to my Morris WL-35 and Morris W-40 and my beloved K.Yairi TG-40, both in build quality and sound. Having said that, there is something with this Maya that I really like, it has way more bass then the Suzuki’s and overall a pretty nice and full sound. The only downside is that it feels pretty stiff to play so I will probably put 011’s on it next time I change the strings. According to my previous post about Japanese guitar brands Maya was made by Chushin Gakki in Kobe, Japan, during the 1970-80’s. Even though I really like this guitar I have it listed for sale if anyone is interested in buying it.
Maya F335G made by Chushin Gakki in Kobe, Japan
The previous owner had used a collection of random oversized wood screws to keep the machine heads in place so the first thing I did was to remove them and fill the holes. I polished the frets and oiled the super dry fretboard and then put on a bone nut and saddle which improved the tone quite a lot.
The Claescaster, put together in May 2013 out of a Mighty Mite Swamp ash body, Tonerider Vintage Plus pickups, Wilkinson hardware and a cheap but fairly fat China neck.
Last night I decided to change the pots and install a treble bleed on my new Claescaster, I never liked the feel of the CTS pots I had on. I’m still not sure if I like the new changes or not, in my head it sounded better before but I stupidly forgot to record it so I can’t compare the before and after. I think it had a clearer sound with more highs, now I feel that the neck pickup is more muffled. I’m not sure if this is down to cheaper pots, the treble bleed or the wiring. I changed the wiring too from a more standard wiring to Seymour Duncan’s suggestion for a ’66 wiring which matched what I had seen for the treble bleed. Maybe it has more to do with the changes in wiring than the actual treble bleed because before I had an old 50′s vintage wiring to help with the lack of treble at lower volumes and I was pretty happy with that. I’m so confused with all the different wiring options, I have no idea who’s doing what to whom, and where? I might just have to redo it again and copy the original wiring on my Greco TL-500 or my Fender TL52-75, they both sounds great.
The new Claescaster got a treble bleed and the ’66 wiring, bottom right photo shows the original wiring on my 1979 Greco TL-500
Update: December 27, 2014, Since I had the soldering iron out to fit the electronics in my new home built Claescaster I took the treble bleed out in this one and changed the wiring back to it’s original 50′s vintage wiring
The old Claescaster before and after the transformation, well I just changed the pickguard.
I recently did a little order from my favourite Hong Kong site, EY Guitars. I wanted to change the pots on the new Claescaster, I’m really not happy with the fancy CTS pots I got and decided to put on some Asian ones instead. I also ordered a new black pickguard for the old Claescaster for 5€, I had grown tired of the cheap looking tortoise that has been on for 4 years. I also changed the knobs for flat topped gold ones so now the old Claescaster looks just like the new Claescaster, if it wasn’t for the Fender logo and the beautiful wood grain on the swamp ash body on the new one.
Now I have two Claescaster’s that looks pretty much the same. Boring perhaps but I really love the look of the 1970’s Fender Telecasters with their 3-tone sunburst, black pickguards and maple necks.
I’m after a Japan made Martin D42/D45 copy. If anyone happens to see one for sale, please let me know. It doesn’t have to be a Alvarez or Yairi, Morris, Mountain, Suzuki, Aria and pretty much anything else would do as long as it’s made in Japan in the 1970’s or early 1980’s. However, it has to have the hexagon inlays and binding around the top and soundhole.
Sometimes I wish I was stinking rich so I could buy all the guitars in the world. Then I realise that my life would probably not be that much better just because I had a million guitars. I wouldn’t have time to play them all and after a while I guess nothing really impress you. If you have a couple of Jimi Hendrix Strats in your collection then the Strats that you have that didn’t use to belong to Hendrix would probably feel pretty boring in comparison. I don’t have any really expensive guitars in my collection. Mainly because I’m not rich enough to buy a 1952 Telecaster, a 1964 L Series Strat or a 1958 Sunburst Les Paul, but also because it would be pretty pointless. When would you actually take out an instrument and play it if it was worth ten thousands of Euros? You would be so scared that something happened to it that you just kept it in a vault, like John Entwistle did. Guitars are meant to be played, and adored, but mainly played. I prefer to have guitars that I can use, bring to gigs and rehearse with, as well as hang on the wall and adore at home. Therefore I think guitars for around 500€ are ideal, at least for me. If you know what you are doing you can still get amazing Japanese guitars for 500€, especially on eBay. Expensive enough for having descent quality but cheap enough to replace if something happened to them so you really dare to use them.
A nice example of a guitar worth around 500€, well maybe more like 600-700€. Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C, Made in Japan, FujiGen 1980
I would say yes and no. Most of the early Japanese guitars I have tried have a rather “toy guitar” feel to them. My Playsound from the late 1960’s is fun to play but it’s a pretty horrible copy of a Telecaster. A lot of Japanese acoustic guitar manufactures jumped on the bandwagon and started to make electric guitars in the mid Sixties since that seemed to be what the kids wanted, here you can read more about Japanese guitar brands. Some of them managed to make pretty decent copies of American Fender’s and Gibson’s and others came up with pretty elaborate and creative designs of their own but in general they weren’t that good guitars. Most of the guitars made in the 1960’s didn’t have that great wood and the hardware was normally pretty weak but sometimes the pickups could be all right. Ry Cooder still prefers the Japanese gold foil pickups for his slide guitars and they have been quite popular in American surf music too, this could simply be because that was what people could afford back in the days. It’s important to remember that a lot of the Japanese guitars in the Sixties were mainly made as cheap entry level instruments for the West, not as elaborate copies of the real deal for professionals as they later became in the Seventies and eighties. Some early Fender and Gibson copies are horrible just because they didn’t have any real American instruments to copy, they had to rely on photos and come up with their own solutions to solve the problems that Leo Fender and the boys had already figured out back in the fifties.
The Japanese collection at the moment: Fender Telecaster TL52-75 1987, Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N 1977, Greco Spacey Sounds TL-500 1979, Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C 1980, Tokai Love Rock LS-55 1991, VOX Les Paul 1970′s, Hohner Telecaster 1970’s, Hohner Stratocaster 1970′s, Tokai Silver Star SS-36 1979, Jazz Bass 1978, Fender Squier 1993, Maya F335G 1970’s, K.Yairi TG-40 1977, Morris WL-40 1973, Morris WL-35 1970’s
The big change came around 1972-74, this is also when most Japanese guitar manufacturers started to put serial numbers on their instruments. Lack of serial numbers could be a good indicator of the quality, or rather the lack of quality, of an instrument but not always. There are amazing Matsumoku made Greco’s that were made in the early Seventies that lack serial numbers. I would say that most Japanese guitar makers, or at least the successful ones, started to get it right around 1972-74. Especially the Fender copies but also the Les Pauls started to really feel and sound like the real deal around this time. Most copies in the sixties were either Stratocasters / Telecasters or SG’s / 335’s, and unfortunately most of them were pretty cheaply made. In the early Seventies Stratocasters kept being popular but most makers started to try to make Les Paul’s now as well, most with bolt on neck, and some with pretty good result. Some makers kept on making low cost instruments for export and others started to make amazing quality instruments that wasn’t particularly cheap at the time. The model number is often a giveaway of the original price so my Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N would have cost ¥50 000 back in 1977 when it was made, that’s around $500. This is not true for all brands but a lot of them started in the mid-70’s to price the instruments after the model number, or rather the other way around, and this is probably the easiest way of determining the quality of a Japanese instrument. I’m not sure what an American made Gibson Les Paul Custom cost back in the mid-70’s but if one of Greco’s top of the line like the EG-1500 cost ¥150 000 that would have been a huge investment back then, around $1500. The second hand value today, at least for the famous brands like Greco, Tokai, Ibanez and Fernandes, is roughly what they cost new. A Greco EG-500 Les Paul copy tend go for 500-700€ on eBay, the same for Tokai and Fernandes, slightly less for unknown brands. A Les Paul tend to be worth a bit more than a Stratocaster, I guess because they made more Stratocasters so they are more common or maybe it’s just because Les Paul’s are more popular today. Rare models, don’t trust people who say that the guitar they are selling is rare on eBay, I mean really rare and high end models tend to cost like a real Fender or Gibson from that time.
So what is so good with Japanese guitars? I would say the wood and the craftsmanship. Americans got really sloppy and so did the European manufactures when the productions became too big in the Seventies. Cheap Japanese made guitars, at least after the mid-Seventies, are still really well made. They tend to have good solid wood, great weight and sustain and an amazing quality feel to them. This is of course not true for all of them but at least the Japanese guitars I have played have had a great feel to them. When they made budget instruments in Japan during the Seventies and the Eighties they didn’t cut cost on wood and workmanship, only on hardware and electronics and that’s fairly cheap and easy to upgrade yourself. The best guitars I have are all made in Japan around 1980, that seems to be the height of Japanese guitar manufacturing.
The Playsound guitar was labeled as Audition on the amp and Playsound on the guitar, a beginners set made by Teisco in the Sixties and sold by Woolworth in the UK. I found the whole kit very cheap in a charity shop in South Woodford, UK, the first guitar I bought to collect rather than play. CSL was made by Ibanez in the Fujigen factory and relabeled CSL (Charles Summerfield Ltd) for their UK import. I found it in a second hand shop in Spain in a terrible state so I bought it and cleaned it up and gave it as a present to cheer my girlfriend up after a hospital stay, so techincally not part of my guitar collection. Pretty classic Ibanez head from the 1980’s so clearly made after the 1977 lawsuit. Amazing neck, good feel in general but pretty weak pickups and cheap hardware. The Greco was imported straight from Japan last year, the first guitar I actually bought from outside EU. Amazing Fujigen built Thinline copy, strong original Maxon pickups but not too dark for being humbuckers and with a really fat neck, just as I like it.