Tag: Westone

Alvarez 5014

Alvarez 5014 Made in JapanAlvarez 5014, made in Japan in 1973

I recently found a 000-sized Alvarez for my friend Wolf. It’s a really nice little guitar that we both were impressed by. These guitars were made in Japan for the US market and imported by St. Louis Music in Missouri, the guys behind Westone. According to Wikipedia and Alvarez own site it was the legendary Kazuo Yairi that founded the brand in 1965 to make cheaper Yairi guitars for the US market. Having said that, it’s still unclear if all Alvarez guitars were really made in the K. Yairi factory in Kani, Gifu in Japan or outsourced on other factories in Japan, see Jedistar. These early 1970’s Alvarez are a bit different to the later Alvarez-Yairi guitars that got famous in the late 1970’s and 1980’s when musicians like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Bob Weir endorsed them. Not only is the label inside and head inlays different, but they also seems to have their own models, the later Alvarez-Yairi are exact copies of the Yairi models of the time but made for export to the US. Since there is a sticker with a serial number inside that correspond perfectly to the Emperor code that K. Yairi uses things point towards the Yairi factory. As with everything made in Japan during the 1970’s, there are some questions we might never find the answer too. Either way we have an awesome Japan made Martin 000-18 copy that Wolf is very excited to play, especially with my Bill Lawrence A-300 in the soundhole.

Alvarez 5014 Made in JapanAlvarez 5014 Made in JapanThe serial number starts with 48 which signify the 48th year of the reign of emperor Shōwa, which was in 1973. You can check the serial numbers of your Yairi or Alvarez here

Tacoma Stratocaster

Tacoma Stratocaster Made in Japan 1970'sTacoma Stratocaster, made in Japan in the late 1970’s

I haven’t paid much attention to electric guitars lately but then I saw this beautiful looking Tacoma Stratocaster and I couldn’t resist. I actually had a natural wood coloured Japanese Westone Strat that I really liked but sold last year since the neck profile was a bit too flat for my liking. This Tacoma has a neck profile right up there with my Tokai Silver Star SS-36 and my Fender Stratocaster, both made in 1979. I got confused when I bought this Tacoma, the auction was ending and I didn’t have time to do my research. I really thought that Tacoma had something to do with Tama for some reason, but apparently not. The only thing related to Tacoma that I have found so far is that Wutzdog guitars in Germany has two Strats from the mid 1970’s for sale and neither match mine. Mine has a fancy pants real inlay logo on the headstock while theirs have printed logos but then at least one of theirs have grey bottom pickups which I wished mine had too, my Tokai Silver Star SS-36 has that and they sound awesome. This Tacoma has some weird looking brass plate in the bottom but that might good too, I haven’t had time to play this properly through my Fender amp yet. Either way I really like this guitar and the neck is just a pure joy to play.

Tacoma Stratocaster Made in Japan 1970'sTacoma Stratocaster Made in Japan 1970'sI assume the guitar is from the late 1970’s considering the big head and feel of it, but who knows, they might have made Fender copies in the early 1980’s too. There is an American guitar company called Tacoma but I doubt that they have anything to do with these old Japan made guitars. If anyone knows anything about Tacoma then please get in touch.

Tacoma Stratocaster Made in Japan 1970'sThe wood is in great shape and it has a nice weight to it. This is the first time I’ve seen single coils with those heavy brass plates.

Tacoma Stratocaster Made in Japan 1970's pickupsAfter a bit of research I’ve come to think that perhaps my Tacoma was made by FujiGen. The guitar on the left is a Yamaha Super r’n Roller SR-400 and what I gathered they were made by FujiGen in the 1970’s. The guitar in the middle is an early 1970’s Matsumoku built Univox Strat. On the right we have my Tacoma and even though all three looks very similar I still think that the Tacoma and the Yamaha has the most in common.


Westone, Made in Japan

 Westone Stratocaster Made in Japan, Matsumoku 1979
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, Made in Japan, Matsumoku 1970's
Westone Les Paul copy, made in Japan by Matsumoku in 1970’s

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

Guitars for sale

I have a couple of more guitars for sale now so if you’re interested or have any questions just send me an email or give me a call 639586158.

1970's Japan made Hohner TelecasterHohner Telecaster, Made in Japan, Moridaira factory, 1970’s, 500€ SOLD
A great Telecaster copy in a good shape for age but with some dings to the bottom of the body. Frets are in great condition and there isn’t a single mark on the back of the neck. It’s a pretty heavy Telecaster with great sustain and nice feel to it. The pickups sounds awesome and everything is working fine, all original except for the 3-way switch that wasn’t working properly so I replaced it with a new one. Really fast and smooth neck, lovely to play. A great sounding guitar with amazing sustain and great Japanese build quality. Made in Japan by Morris in the Moridaira factory, where H.S. Anderson made the Mad Cats that Prince uses. You can read more about the guitar here and here is a Youtube clip.

VOX Les Paul Made in Japan 1970'sVOX Les Paul, Made in Japan, 1970’s, 350€ SOLD
This is the first Japan made VOX guitar I’ve found in Spain. It’s a pretty decent copy of a 1958′ Les Paul with a great feeling fat neck and narrow head. The body has a lovely grain and the guitar is in pretty good shape for the age with a couple scratches and a few dents. Frets show some wear but are still fine and everything is working perfectly. The humbuckers have a nice tone too them, not too heavy or muffled. A pretty versatile and nice guitar to play with great Japanese build quality. You can read more about the guitar here and here is a Youtube clip.

Maya F335G, Made in Japan 1970'sMaya F335G, Dreadnought acoustic, Made in Japan, 1970’s, 250€ SOLD
Japan made Gibson J-50 copy in a pretty good state for it’s age. I couple of marks on the spruce top and few knocks on the head but structurally very sound without any cracks. This Maya F334G was made by Chushin Gakki in Kobe, Japan, during the 1970’s. It has a really fat neck, it’s feels great to play, adjustable bridge with both bone nut and saddle. The sound is very full with a great booming bass, you can listen to it here. If you want more pictures  you can check the post I wrote about it.

Fender Telecaster TL52-75, ’52 re-issue, Made in JapanFender Telecaster TL52-75, ’52 re-issue Made in Japan, FujiGen 1987-1989. 900€ SOLD
In mint condition, all original, without any doubts the best Telecaster I have ever played. Imported straight from Japan. The only reason for selling is because I prefer fat 70’s necks. There is no way to find the production year of these A-serial Telecaster with the serial number on the bridge plate. However, it must have been made between 1987 and 1989 since it’s a TL52-75. They were called TL52-70 between 1984-1986 and then changed to TL52-700 in 1990. You can read more about the guitar here and listen to it in this Youtube clip.

Westone Stratocaster, Made in Japan, Matsumoku, 1979Westone Stratocaster, Made in Japan, Matsumoku factory, 1979, 400€ SOLD
An amazing Stratocaster copy from 1979 made in Japan by Matsumoku. In really good shape for age but with some dings and scratches to the body. Frets are in great condition and there isn’t a single mark on the back of the neck. The wood in the body is amazing, without any doubt the heaviest and most solid Strat I have ever seen with fantastic sustain. Really nice tone in the pickups and everything is working fine, the original 3-way switch has been replaced with an Oak Grigsby 5-way switch. Really fast and smooth neck, lovely to play. A great sounding guitar with amazing sustain and great Japanese build quality. Here is some more info about the Westone brand. Here is a Youtube clip with the guitar.

Radius gauge

Understand radius
My Westone Stratocaster is getting the strings adjusted to the 7.25″ radius of the fretboard

I recently received my Understring Radius Gauge set from the friendly Portuguese luthier supplier Guitars & Woods. If I had only bought this before I ordered four new sets of Jescar frets from Philaluthiertools. I stupidly thought that most of my old Japanese guitars had a radius of 9.5″, they didn’t feel as curved as my Fender Telecaster TL52-75, which I knew had a radius of 7.25″. It turned out that both my Greco Teles and Hohner and Westone Strats had a vintage radius of 7.25″, so now I have to order new frets for them. I have never really cared about adjusting the strings after the radius, I read somewhere that Eric Clapton and others had the saddles flat so I thought I could have that too but when I received my Greco Spacey Sounds TL-500 back in September and it had really well adjusted action set after the radius I instantly fell in love. It’s such a difference on a Strat or Tele with a 7.25″ radius, you can really see and feel the curve. I adjusted all the guitars I could according to their radius and in most cases I had to raise the string height on the D and G string, which makes them really snappy and twangy, it sounds and feels awesome on my Telecasters.

Japanese guitar brands

Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N, Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C, Greco Spacey Sounds TL-500
The Greco family, Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N 1977, Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C 1980, Greco Spacey Sounds TL-500 1979

I guess it will come as no surprise that I love Japanese guitars, especially Greco’s. I have over the years learned quite a lot about different brands and makers but it can get pretty confusing for me too. Luckily I found this great list of Japanese guitars brands, or rather a list of guitar makers. The list might not be complete but it’s a good start. Taken from Who Made My MIJ Guitar

This guitar manufacturer started out as a parts supplier in the early 1970’s. Atlansia didn’t begin production of guitars under their badge until infamous engineer and designer Nobuaki Hayashi of Matsumoku fame became the company’s president and chief designer in the late 1970’s. Since then, Atlansia has continued to produce cutting-edge guitar designs in Nagano, Japan. The company did not make any other badged guitars other than namesake Atlansia.

Chushin Gakki
Chushin is still in operation today in Nagano, Japan and does business with guitar giant Fender. I believe that Chushin may have been a member of the Matsumoto Musical Instruments Association listed further down because both companies produced Fresher guitars during different periods….with Matsumoto beginning production and Chushin ending it (perhaps because the Association was disbanded?). During the 1960-1980 period they were responsible for badges Bambu, Cobran, El Maya and Hisonus as well as some Charvel, Fresher and Jackson badges. The company may have possibly made some guitars with the Aztec, Maya and Robin badges, but that is not verified. Guitars made by Chushin from this period are well-made and appreciated by guitar enthusiasts worldwide.

Founded in the city of Matsumoto, Japan in the early 1960’s, Daimaru produced their own house brand, although they outsourced electric guitar production to Teisco during the 1970’s period. Daimaru appears to have gone out of business after 1980.

Dyna Gakki
Dyna Gakki began production in 1972 in the city of Nagano, Japan. They manufactured guitars for Fender Japan and Greco, so they couldn’t have been a terrible manufacturer as Fender is very choosy about outsourcing their product. Dyna was responsible for the JooDee badge and may have been a source for Japanese manufacturer Yamaki. Dyna also produced the infamous Ibanez badges for a short period of time.

Electric Sound Products (ESP)
Founded in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya, this wildly-popular manufacturer focused on making quality basses for export as well as electric guitars. ESP survived the ‘copy’ era and is still in business today. Badges made by ESP included their house brand ESP as well as Navigator during the late 1970’s. A possible badge made by the company was Robin.

Elk Gakki (also known as Miyuki)
Makers of the Elk badged guitar from the early to mid 1960’s to 1975, although other sources indicate that the Elk brand did not stop production until the early 1980’s. Elk badged guitars came in clear acrylics in addition to colors in the early 1970’s, which was an attempt to copy clear acrylics designed by the legendary Dan Armstrong in the late 1960’s.

Fernandes Guitars started production in 1969 in Osaka, Japan. It grew and became one of the largest producers of Japanese-made guitars, rivaling competitors Fujigen and Matsumoku. Fernandes produced guitars with the Burny and Nady badges as well as house brand Fernandes. A possible badge made by Fernandes was the oddly named Orange guitar.

Fujigen Gakki
Fujigen Gakki began operation in 1960 as a classical guitar manufacturer, moving into the lucurative electric guitar markets in 1962. The company was the largest producer of Japanese guitars during the 1960-1980 period. They were known for producing high quality products, especially for the badged guitar market, which is why the company was selected by so many major American brands. It wasn’t until 1970 that the company began making products for the venerable Ibanez brand, which was an unqualified success. Fujigen Gakki was the main manufacturer of choice for Greco badged guitars in the 1970 to 1980 period. They also produced guitars for major manufacturer Yamaha. Badged guitars made by Fujigen include Antoria, Epiphone, Jason and Mann. Badged guitars that may have been made by Fujigen Gakki were Marlin and St. Moritz.

Guyatone produced electric guitars for major guitar manufacturer Suzuki. The company also produced their house brand Guyatone. Badged guitars produced by Guyatone include Barclay, Broadway, Coronado, Crestwood, Futurama, Howard, Hi-Lo, Ibanez, Ideal, Imperial, Johnny Guitar, Kent, Kingston, Lafayette, Marco Polo (electrics only), Montclair, Omega, Orpheus, Prestige, Royalist, Saturn, Silhouette, Silvertone, Vernon, Winston and Zenta, an impressive amount of names produced by a single company. Other badges that may have been produced by Guyatone are Beeton (not to be confused by the Beeton Brass Guitar company founded in 1994), Bradford, Canora and Regent.

Hayashi was one of the premier acoustic guitar makers among Japanese manufacturers from this time frame. Hayashi bought out small manufacturer Zen-On in 1968 during a period of expansion for the company. Credited with making Pearl badged acoustic guitars, Hayashi was also responsible for making Cortez, Custom and Emperador acoustics.

Hitachi Gakki/Hitachi Musical Instruments Manufacturing
I’m unsure if this company existed or not, but since many major electronics manufacturers jumped into the electric guitar market in the 1970’s, it seems reasonable that Hitachi could have ventured briefly into guitar production. A seller of the badged guitar “Splender” claims it was made by this company. Yet another seller claims the badge Slendon was made by this company.

Hoshino Gakki Ten/ Tama
Hoshino Gakki were known primarily for producing Ibanez guitars during this time although that wasn’t the only badged guitar they made. Badged guitars produced by Hoshino include Cimar, Cimar by Ibanez, Penco, Howard. Tama Industries began guitar production from 1962 to 1967 as a factory of Hoshino, producing more badged Ibanez guitars as well as Continental, Crest, Goldentone, Jamboree, King’s Stone, Maxitone, Star, Starfield (some), Tulio and Jason. Tama eventually took over badged guitar production from STAR Instruments in the mid-1960’s. There’s some evidence that Tama began producing guitars under their own badge from 1975-1979. I’m unsure at this point if this Tama had any relation to the Tama that existed under Hoshino Gakki Ten.

Humming Bird
Little-known manufacturer in operation in the early 1960’s until 1968. Humming Bird made electrics that were copies of Mosrite guitars. It’s possible they also made acoustics.

Iida began manufacturing guitars in 1958 in Nagoya, Japan. Iida is still producing guitars, but mostly in their factory located in Korea. They were mainly responsible for producing acoustic and semi-acoustic rather than electric guitars for major manufacturers Ibanez and Yamaha. There is speculation that Iida may have assisted Moridara for a short period in making Morris badged guitars, but that is not verified.

Kasuga produced their own house brand in Kasuga guitars. For a brief period of time the company produced Yamaha acoustic guitars. Kasuga guitars were first sold in America in 1972. Unlike many Japanese manufacturers who outsourced their guitar production in other factories outside the main maker, Kasuga produced all their products in-house. Badged guitars known to have been made by Kasuga include Conrad, Emperador, ES-S, Ganson, Heerby, Hondo, Mei Mei and Roland. Kasuga went out of business in 1996.

Kawai Teisco
Kawai Teisco was founded by Atswo Kaneko and Doryu Matsuda. The company also produced the popular Ibanez badge in the 1960’s. Kawai Teisco made their own house brands Kawai, Teisco, Del Rey and Teisco Del Rey. Badged guitars produced by the Kawai Teisco factories include Apollo, Aquarius, Arbiter, Atlas, Audition, Avar, Ayar, Barth, Beltone, Black Jack, Cipher, Concert, Cougar, Crown, Daimaru, Decca, Diasonic, Domino, Duke, Emperador, Heit Deluxe, Hy-Lo, Holiday, Imperial, Inter-Mark Cipher, Jedson, Kay, Kent, Kimberly, Kingsley, Kingston, Keefy, Lindell, Marquis, May Queen, Minister, Noble, Prestige, Randall, Recco, Regina, Rexina, Sakai, Satellite, Schaffer, Sekova, Silvertone, Sorrento, Sterling, Swinger, Tele Star, Top Twenty, Victoria, and Winston. Possible badged guitars made by the company include: Astrotone, Demian, G-Holiday, Lafayette, Master, Orange, Tamaki and Trump.

Kyowa Shokai
This company, which may have been a distributor as opposed to a manufacturer, was a member of the Matsumoto Musical Instrument Association. They have been credited with Camel and Fresher badged guitars, although Freshers were also made by Chushin in the late 1970’s.

Ampeg was swallowed up by Japanese electrical giant Magnavox in 1971, when they wanted to get in on the electric guitar copy craze of the 1970’s. Magnavox produced electric and bass guitars under the Stud badge as well as the successful Ampeg brand. It’s been suggested that Magnavox was also responsible for producing Selmer acoustic guitar badges during this time, but that has not been verified. Selmer was sold to Magnavox around the same time they bought Ampeg, so it certainly seems plausible they could have made Selmer acoustic badged guitars as an offering for that market. Stud badged guitars were made until ’75, with Ampeg guitar production continuing until 1980. Opus was another badge made by the company. Magnavox lost their interest in Ampeg shortly thereafter and the brand languished until it was resurrected over a decade later by another American company.

Maruha Gakki
We know this company existed in the 1970’s in Japan because of stickers found inside repaired Maruha guitars. Maruha made high-quality acoustics, some of which are badged F. Hashimoto (some long lost master luthier?) along with the Maruha badges. These guitars are highly sought-after because of the overall quality.

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.

Matsumoto Musical Instrument Manufacturers Association
The Matsumoto Musicial Instrument Manufacturers Association was the organization responsible for Fresher guitars. Little is known about this association, other than it did not have larger guitar manufacturers Matsumoku or Fujigen Gakki as members. Nakai Gakki was a possible member of the association. Fresher guitars began production in 1973 by the Kyowa Shokai Company, an association member, which was also responsible for the Camel badge. It’s interesting to note that Fresher guitars were eventually being produced by Chushin, which leads me to believe that they may have been an Association member along with Kyowa. The beginning production year was considered a low quality benchmark for the company. The Fresher brand continuously improved in quality until 1980.

Maya Guitar Company
Located in Kobe, Japan, this manufacturer made the famous Maya brand guitar. Maya guitars were in production from 1970-1980. It’s been suggested that Maya may have been responsible for the Aztec badge. You’ll notice that Maya has been attributed to a company known as Tahara. At this point I do not know if Maya assisted in production or if Tahara produced some Maya guitars as a subcontractor. Maya and El Maya badges have also been attributed to Chushin Gakki. More research is needed to clarify this point.

Moridaira (Morris Guitars)
Founded in 1967 by Toshio “Mori” Moridaira, the Moridaira factory produced high-quality guitars, including the infamous Morris badged guitar. Moridaira also produced badged guitars for Hohner including Coronado, Futurama, H.S. Anderson, Lotus (some) and Sakai.

Nakai Gakki
Little-known manufacturer from Osaka, Japan, this company is responsible for the oddly named John Bennet badge. Nakai has been mentioned as a possible Matusmoto Musical Instruments Association member in the past. The company still exists and is producing musical instruments, quite a feat in light of so many manufacturers who faded after the golden electric guitar age.

Shinko Musical Company
A very small, unknown company that is attributed to being the manufacturer of the Pleasant guitar from 1960 to 1966. Shinko later moved to Korea sometime in the early 1970’s where they produced the Drive guitar badge.

Shiro Musical Instrument Manufacturing Company, Limited
This little-known company is responsible for the St. George badge. This particular badge was made from 1963-1967. It also produced the rare Shiro guitar. It is possible that the company may also be responsible for the Pleasant guitar badge after 1966. This company may have been a small offshoot of Aria Guitar Company, founded by Shiro Arai, but that has not been verified as of today.

STAR Instruments
This company slowly merged into Hoshino/Tama but prior to their unification, produced instruments with the Star badge, mainly drums. They also produced guitars, including the infamous Zim-Gar badged electric and acoustic guitars. Over time, drum production was segmented to Pearl, while guitar contracts were taken up by Tama. Zim-Gar production was relatively short, as these were budget guitars made for K-mart between 1962 and 1968.

Suzuki Musical Instrument Manufacturing
Suzuki had two factories in Kiso and Hamamatsu where they made popular Suzuki guitars. The Hummingbird Suzuki guitar was manufactured in the Kiso factory. Suzuki is also credited with making the Canora and Takeharu badged guitars along with Marco Polo acoustics. Holly is another badge ascribed to Suzuki, although that has not been verified.

Founded by a father and son, Ryohei Tahara and the unknown Tahara. I do not know which was the father and which was the son. The company existed until the late 1979 when it was bought up by Saga Musical Instruments. In all, the company existed less than a decade as Tahara. Both the Maya and El Maya badges are attributed to Tahara. Saga Musical Instruments exists to this day.

Founded in 1962 in Sakashita, Japan, this manufacturer survived the copy era and is still producing guitars to this day. Takamine was among the first to make and export electric acoustics with their own house brand, although they are primarily known for their acoustic guitars. It is unknown if they made badged guitars.

Terada was one of the smaller Japanese manufacturers of acoustic guitars during the period of 1960 to 1980, producing products for Epiphone, Fender Japan, Grapham, Gretch and Vesta. Terada produced some Kingston badges until 1975. Other badged guitars produced by Terada include some Burny badges and interesting Thumb guitars. Terada has been in continuous operation since 1912.

Tokai 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.

Tombo was the only Japanese manufacturer who produced Norma badged guitars. Tombo made Norma guitars from 1965 to 1970. Badged guitars produced by Tombo include Angelica, Asama, Columbus, Condor, Duke, Horugel, Kinor, Montaya, Queen, Regina, Schaffer and Yamato.

Is there anything T. Kurosawa didn’t attempt to manufacture in the 1970’s? Yes, Toyota manufactured a high-end line of acoustic, electric and bass guitars from approximately 1972. Toyota ceased manufacturing guitars in a short span of time (probably because they didn’t sell), although exactly when in the 1970’s production ended, I’m not sure.

Yamaha/Nippon Gakki
Founded in 1946, Yamaha is still going strong in the electric guitar market as a manufacturer. During the timeframe this article covers (1960-1980) all Yamaha guitars were made in Japan, although not necessarily in their factories as they outsourced to other manufacturers.

Yamaki was founded in the 1960 by brothers Yasuyuki and Hirotsygu. Yamaki exists today as a major manufacturer of guitar parts for outside Japanese guitar manufacturers. Yamaki produced a house brand, as well as Daion, Dion, Grande and Jedson badged guitars.

Zen-On (see also Hayashi)
Little known Japanese manufacturer who was out of business by 1968. Zen-On made electric guitars with the house brand Zen-on badge, as well as Beltone, Morales and Zenon badges. Zen-On bought out Hayashi, but exactly when that took place is clouded in mystery.

Thanks again to Who Made My MIJ Guitar for the extensive research. Another great source is the Japanese site Music Trade, where you can read Koyama’s first hand experience with some more obscure brands. I have only tried Fender Japan (MIJ and CIJ), Greco, Tokai, Fernandes, Morris, Suzuki, Westone, Hohner, CSL and Teisco so if you have any questions regarding these brands your are more than welcome to get in touch. I did a previous post about the quality of Japan made guitars that can be found here, Are all Japanese guitars good? Here is the Japanese section of the Claes collection, however some of these guitars have found a new home now.

Japanese guitars, MIJ, Made in Japan
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

Set neck or bolt on

A lot of people I have met over my 20 years of playing guitar have told me how horrible bolt on guitars are. This is the general opinion amongst guitar players and it can easily be seen in the second hand value of old Les Paul or SG copies for an example. “Oh it has a bolt on neck, well then I’m not interested.” I think it’s important to remember a few things. Most guitars were bolt on in the beginning, especially Japanese guitars up until 1973-74. It seems like it was only Gibson and the American makers that knew how to make set necks or maybe it was just too expensive to copy for brands in Europe and Asia. If you look at all the amazing German guitars from the Sixties like Hohner, Höfner or Italians like Eko, or even Swedish like Hagström, they will most likely be bolt on up until the early 70’s. My Hagström HIIN OT that was made in Sweden in 1975 has a bolt on neck, this was standard for a lot of brands back then. This was not a cheaply made instrument and back in the day it was good enough for both Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. It’s an amazing guitar and I doubt it would be any better if it had a different neck joint. With a set neck I think they would have had to make both body and neck thicker, which would be hard for Hagström to sell since they were known for having the fastest necks in the world. A combination of thin necks, special H truss rods and amazing Swedish wood was their selling point when they broke in to the American market in the late Sixties. I don’t think that Frank Zappa thought his Hagström guitars were useless just because they had a bolt on neck.

Frank Zappa Hagstrom guitars

For me the quality of the guitar in general and what type of wood is being used is way more interesting than if the neck is screwed on or glued. There is a lot of discussions whether set necks has greater sustain or not and again, it’s probably more down to the wood than which type of neck joint the guitar has. I guess there could be a slight difference in sound depending on how the neck is joined together, at least if you are going to believe this Guitar Player article. Then again, it’s not really fair to compare a Gibson guitar with a Fender guitar. I think pickups, body shape and wood has more to do with why a Telecaster and a Les Paul sounds differently, not the fact that the necks are joined differently. It would make more sense to compare two Japanese Les Paul copies of equal age and quality, one with a set neck and one with a bolt on. I doubt that you could hear the difference.

If we are going to trust the old, set necks has more sustain, then all Fender instruments should have less sustain. I would have to say that I disagree since I have played and heard Stratocasters with amazing sustain. Again, I believe that the quality of the wood is causing the sustain, not the glue or screws. The most important part, as always, is to play what you like and don’t care what other people say. I’m 100% sure that a Japan made Les Paul copy from the 1970’s with bolt on neck that cost ¥50 000 back then sounds better than any modern far east made copy with a set neck. It’s all about the quality of the instrument, not how the neck is joined to the body.

Westone Les Paul, Made in Japan, Matsumoku, mid 1970’sMy bolt on Westone Les Paul copy from the 1970’s made by Matsumoku in Japan.

Are all Japanese guitars good?

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.

Japanese guitars, MIJ, Made in Japan
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.

Japanese guitars Playsound (Teisco) 1960’s, CSL (Charles Summerfield Ltd) 1980’s, Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N 1977

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.