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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Orange Guitars...Fruit or Color

Imagine for just one moment you are in Japan in the 1970's.  You are a guitar manufacturer.  Everyone assembles at a table to sift through new names for their badged guitar.  Someone suggests "Orange" as a name.

Freaky, huh?

There is a manufacturer named Orange located in Singapore today. Since 1968, Orange has been making amps along with guitars with the name of Orange.  Perhaps demand was so great that they chose Fernandes (one of the makers of Burny and Nady) to meet demand.  Fernandes was no small operation, as they were competing with some of the biggest manufacturers in the Japanese heyday of copied badged guitars.  I'd have to believe Orange was in America before the move overseas, but I can't confirm that.

Do you have an Orange?  Take a bite out and send it along to share!

Friday, April 13, 2012

It's been a while....

I'm baaaack......

It's been a busy few months and I've received a lot of questions.  I'm going to work on getting back to all of you who wrote and offered information-thanks a lot for all the kudos people have sent along!  You should be seeing some of my new stuff soon!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Silver Star....A Legend Born Of Seven Years

What hasn't been written about the legendary Silver Star?  Made by Tokai beginning in 1978, Silver Star was a Fender stratocaster copy based on the CBS-era guitars made in the late 60's-70's period.  Silver Star was made exclusively for the Japanese market, however, their quality was far and away better than Fender guitars of the time. 

Tokai celebrated a number of high-profile owners, including legendary guitar god Stevie Ray Vaughn, who was prominently featured on a Tokai catalog endorsing company products in the 80's. He also owned Tokai axes, including a "Springy Sound" guitar and a "Tokai" badged guitar which sold at auction by Christie's auction house in 1984 for a cool $20,315!  Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame also wields a Tokai Love Rock on occasion.  Chris Cornell of Soundgarden plays a Tokai SG-75.  Bass guitarist Erdal Kizilcay (say that five times fast), who has played with Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Roger Waters and Tin Machine, also wails a Tokai strat from time to time.  Roger Waters has also delved into Tokai guitar territory, which tells you how good Tokai made their products during the heyday of Japanese guitar excellence.  That's quite a list!

Some Silver Stars featured a 3-bolt neck, while others had a 4-bolt.  The script writing of the badge is so close to Fender's signature that it had to have seriously pissed off Fender execs.  Earlier versions of the script were gold or black depending on the model, with the script changing to all black by 1984, the year before the end of the Silver Star lineup. 

In 1987, a Korean manufacturer called Un-Sung bought the Silver Star brand and produced guitars with the name, which is disappointing when you consider what Tokai was able to do with the badge.

Silver Star wasn't as successful sales-wise as the "Springy Sound", so it faded after 1985.  But there are literally hundreds of these guitars still around, on the market and fetching good prices.  It's clear to see that many consider these good quality guitars, some even saying they are better built and better sounding than any Fender of the time the Silver Star was made.

Silver Star.  Something to look forward to as a quality investment in guitar history.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Camel Guitars...Cigarettes and Progressive Rock

When it comes to the guitars named for strange things, Camel comes to mind.  The image of that one or two humped animal as the inspiration for a hot guitar seems almost impossible.  What are the odds?

Camel guitars were made by the Matsumoto Musical Instrument Manufacturer Association, who had as a member the Kyowa Shokai distributors responsible for the badge request.  There's evidence pointing to makers Chushin, Nakai Gakki, and possibly Tahara and the Maya Guitar Company as being members, although that's not confirmed.  The Fresher guitar badge is reported to be the 'sister' to the Camel, which makes since since both were made by the Association.  Both Camel and Fresher badges were made in the 70's during the end of the MIJ electric guitar craze.

Camel guitars came in both Les Paul and Stratocaster versions, although it seems that few were sold.  The headstock has appropriately two humps (were they being too literal?).  I've also seen an example of a Les Paul that's a student version...interesting since so few were sold and just think of selling a guitar with a badge named after a cigarette to a child THESE days!  It's been suggested that the Camel badge was named for the infamous cigarette brand as some kind of promotional prize....which would be interesting if it were true.  I put in a call to the R.J. Reynolds company to see if they were aware of the badge or had anything to do with its creation.  They did not have any information on the guitar.

There was also a rock band named Camel which formed in 1971.  Perhaps someone was in awe of this group and decided to name a guitar after them!  The band is still active and recording, although they have stopped touring due to the health of founding member guitarist/frontman Andrew Latimer.

Camel.  A mysterious badge that appears from time to time like a mirage, surrounded by rumor yet somehow authentic.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Maya/El Maya Guitar Origins...Rokkomann badged guitar?

It's taken me a bit to get back to work on this, but I've looked through what I have and here's where I stand on research thus far...

Rokkomann....everybody pretty much agrees they were a distributor...BUT there is an example of a an electric guitar made in the 1970's period with the name "Rokkomann" on it.  It makes me think they either had this made for themselves as a 'brand' or they dipped into actual production during the red-hot 1970's electric guitar craze.  Interesting if they did.  Rokkomann clearly bought the Maya trademark in January of 1976.  One wonders if they indeed had the name trademarked prior to that date, since Maya guitars were clearly in existence prior to 1976.

Tahara...according to Saga Musical Instruments, who bought Tahara, the company made mandolins and acoustic guitars in the 1970's with the "Maya" badge...zero El Maya guitars according to sources at Saga, although they're often credited with making both badges.  Tahara was located in Matsumoto, Japan, not Kobe, which is interesting...and Saga didn't buy them out until the mid to late 1970's. 

Maya Musical Instruments....I can find no evidence for this company's founding, although it's stated universally that the company was located in Kobe (as was Rokkomann) and was destroyed in an earthquake in 1995-96.  It's suggested the company took their name from Mount Maya which is near the city of Kobe, Japan.  It company existed because we have labels inside Maya and El Maya guitars with their name.  Perhaps Rokkomann owned Maya directly...I don't know.  I'm unaware of any other guitar badges made by Maya, although that lies in the realm of the possible.

Chushin...I'm convinced that Chushin was responsible for some El Maya badged guitars made in the 1970's because of the high quality they demonstrate.  El Maya guitars were made well after 1980 and are still prized by collectors, although they were not high sellers when they were available new.  I also believe Chushin was responsible for some Maya electrics as a lower-end alternative to the El Maya high end guitars made back then.  Chushin was often utilized by high-volume makers like Charvel and Jackson, so it's reasonable that Rokkomann would select them to produce both badges for the world market.  Chushin is still in existence so we might be able to get an answer from someone about when they made the badge in their factory.  There's evidence Chushin may have been a member of the Matsumoto Musical Instruments Association which was where Tahara was located, so perhaps Maya and El Maya were products from the Association.  It may be that Rokkomann approached the association at first to produce the badges until it dissolved, we just don't know yet.

Props to Memag and others who contributed so heavily to the first discussion on these guitars!

Monday, August 29, 2011

New Updates to the MIJ Page!

If you haven't dropped by lately, check out all the new updates on my MIJ page including:

An A-Z sortable table of unknown maker badges
New makers:  STAR Instruments, Tahara, Nakai Gakki and more
Updated Maker's Badges table as far as I've been able to sort out who made what
Awesome links...because I'm not the only one with an interest

Stop on by!


Monday, August 8, 2011

The Magnavox Ampeg Story

Both Magnavox and Ampeg are companies of tortured development, ever-changing and shifting priorities to meet with the demands of the fickle markets across the world for electric and bass guitars.  Ampeg's now-you-see-it, now-you-don't history and Magnavox's slow rise to the pinnacle of electrical product genius before fading into one of the boys of electronic manufacturing in Japan are epic in scope.  So sit back, be patient, and allow me to unravel the intertwined strands of these great companies during a period when they produced guitars for the foreign markets across the world, much to the delight of Japanese guitar collectors.

Ampeg began its life way back after WWII, just before the rock-n-roll craze of the 1950's.  It was an American amplifier manufacturer and fairly successful.  Even today, Ampeg amps from long ago are sought-after and desirable.  Anyhow, Ampeg began producing guitars in 1962 in partnership with United Kingdom company Burns, focusing on bass guitars because of their work with amps.  Ampeg grew successful and moved into making their own guitars by '66 and by 1969, partnered with Dan Armstrong to produce those unique Lucite bass and electric guitars we all know and love (even if we can't hold them up for very long).  Those guitars were 100% American-made.

You say: "Hey, Torch!  What's any of this got to do with Japanese Ampegs?"

I'll get back to that very shortly.

Magnavox also began in America, much like Ampeg, only decades earlier.  The company was founded in 1917 and began producing speakers for the emerging radio and later, television markets, eventually being sold to the Japanese as they began buying many of our our electronics manufacturers.  In the 1970's, Magnavox was on the cutting edge of early technology in both sound and video.  In 1972, the company was the first to develop a video gaming system and they also produced the first laser disc, forerunner to CD's and later the Blu-Ray disc, which was developed by a competitor, Sony Electronics.  In the early 1970's Magnavox saw that there were vast opportunities to make money producing electric and bass guitars for the American market.  Rather than start from scratch, they sought companies who already had guitar production, but were struggling against Japanese-made products.  They found Ampeg and Selmer.  Ampeg was purchased in 1971.  Selmer was purchased in 1969, although it's unclear if Selmer was an American manufacturer of undetermined origin.  It certainly could not have been related to the legendary Henri Selmer of Paris, France, as that company still exists today as a worldwide corporation of fine instrument craftsmanship.

Once Magnavox had both players in place, they began producing Japanese-made Ampeg badged guitars.  They also developed a new badge, Stud, which they made for a fairly short time, less than five years.  Ampeg guitars continued production until Magnavox suspended all guitar operations in 1980, because of their new focus on the emerging videodisc and gaming markets.  At that point, Ampeg ceased to exist.


There has been some hints that Magnavox was responsible for the MIJ Selmer badged acoustic guitars from this same time period.  While it looks very plausible, I have been unable to confirm that at this time.  Magnavox did buy the company, but whether or not they produced acoustic guitars is unclear.  It could be that Magnavox farmed out the production of the badge to another Japanese maker who specialized in acoustic guitar making.  We simply don't know.

Magnavox continues to exist to this day as a Japanese electronics manufacturer, while Ampeg was resurrected in the 1990's when it was bought by an American company.  Today, Ampeg guitars are once again being produced, however, it's unclear if they are being built in America as the company outsources work to places like Vietnam and China.

So that's the story.  If you have a Japanese Ampeg or Stud, you have a guitar produced by one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world today.  It was an experiment by a giant Japanese corporation that ultimately failed because they did not have the expertise to make it as successful as companies like Matsumoku and Fujigen were able to.

Japanese Ampegs.  The lost and final decade of an American original.