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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.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Maya Guitar Mystery

It's not often I get a possible three makers for a badged guitar, but that's the current situation I have with Maya guitars.

Maya guitars were manufactured in Japan in the 1970 decade.  I always thought that Chushin and Maya Guitar Company were the manufacturers responsible for producing the badge.  Not so!

Recently I discovered evidence to the contrary in the form of a new unknown company:  Tahara.  And it seems pretty ironclad.  So what's the problem you ask?

The problem is that there are three manufacturers who have been cited as being the producer of the badge:  Chushin Gakki, who may have produced a few Maya guitars here and there, the Maya Guitar Company which existed in Kobe, Japan, and finally Tahara, which was eventually sold to Saga Musical Instruments.  Saga has published a letter stating that Tahara did in fact, produce Maya guitars during the 1970's.

Chushin Gakki often did work for other larger manufacturers back in the 1970's, usually those with contracts from American companies like Charvel.  We know that some Maya guitars were made by this company, because they were shipped to foreign countries, including America, where they were sold.  These Maya guitars are copies of the famous El Maya badge.

So the problem arises between Tahara and the Maya Guitar Company (also known as Maya Musical Instruments).  Tahara did not exist long, less than a decade.  Maya might have been some sort of collaborative effort or association, whereby various companies worked together on a project.  Maya also existed for a relatively short period of time.  So who gets credit for the Maya guitar badge?  The case for Tahara seems far more substantial in light of the evidence provided by the company now in existence after Tahara's demise.  But I truly wonder if perhaps Maya existed as a company and if they had as a collaborator Chushin Gakki and Tahara.  It's a marvelous tangle to unwind.  Were there Maya guitar badges that were different from El Maya?  Were Chushin Maya's different than Tahara Maya guitars?

It's something I'll be looking into over the next few months.  If I figure it all out or find someone who knows the answer, I'll share it with you here.

Maya.  A badge with an uncertain maker.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

St. George Guitars....A Sainted Name For a Badge

Well, as you may have guessed over the past few weeks the Torchman has been busy.  Checked out a few concerts in my area and enjoyed the stylings of Steely Dan and the ever-talented Peter Frampton.  But I noticed as I was hanging around Detroit a guy playing one of those old St. George basses from the 1960's. 

You may recall some St. George guitars were made in Japan, although a few originated in the sunny state of California.  Japanese MIJ St. George guitars were manufactured by the Shiro Musical Instrument Manufacturing company, although I've seen them listed as a Kawai Teisco product.  My thought is that perhaps Teisco outsourced the manufacture of the badge to this small company.  What is known is that St. George guitars were made between 63-67 by Shiro.  I gotta admit, the guitar sure does look like a Teisco.  Perhaps someone out there can enlighten me. 

St. George guitars came in electrics and bass models with the funky white St. George shield badge to remind us that it was named for a saint.  Well, actually, it was named for a store with the moniker St. George.  St. George guitars were sold in New York and California, although I've seen them elsewhere.  Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, plays a St. George guitar he bought in a pawnshop in Canada.  Is that cool or what? 

The St. George badge was also slapped on a few amps, which are apparently sought-after because they were made by the infamous amp master Ray Massie, who struck out after working for Fender to create his own company in California in the late 1950's early 1960's.  Which means that the amps aren't Japanese.  Isn't this fun?

A few St. George guitars (very few) were made by master luthier Paul Barth in Riverside, California.  These guitars were made by his company, Bartell.   They're extremely sought-after because of the high-quality woods used in construction and come in both 6 and 12 string models, both bass and electrics.  The Bartell St. George's have only a script signature "St. George" on the guitar instead of a shield badge like you find on the Japanese-made St. George guitars.  It's rare to find them for sale and when they do come up, they sell for thousands of dollars.

On the whole, St. George is a well-loved, easy to play badge which is appreciated by guitarists everywhere.  You can find Japanese St. George guitars for as little as $100 here and there.  A great buy for a decent guitar!

St. George.  Named for a Saint.  Still awesome after all these years!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Special Edition: New A Perfect Circle Song, APC in Detroit

Friday night I got to see the most awesome A Perfect Circle concert I've ever been to.  Howerdel was in rare form and James Iha was excellent as always.  They played the set list they've been playing throughout the 2011 tour in this order:

1. Annihilation
2. Imagine
3. Weak and Powerless
4. The Hollow
5. What's Going On
6. People Are People
7. The Outsider
8. Peace, Love and Understanding
9. When The Levee Breaks
10. The Noose
11. 3 Libras
12. Gravity
13. Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie
14. Orestes
15. Passive
16. Counting Bodies Like Sheep....
17. Fiddle and Drum
18. By and Down (new)

Here's the video for By and Down:


We had 90 minutes of pure vintage APC....it was freaking awesome!  James Iha stole some thunder with his terrific rhythm guitar work and keyboard skills.  And who could forget Maynard Keenan off in the corner like a dark scarecrow?  Wicked.

Best song of the evening was "Counting Bodies Like Sheep..."!  They cranked it up, even though it was towards the end of the show and really brought it home for the crowd. 

I hope to god they come out with some of that new material they've been working on soon....if "By and Down" is any indication of how good it will be.  And I want to see them again.  And again.  And again.

Here's the local review for the show here...they loved it as much as I did.  

Come back to Detroit, APC! 



Thursday, June 30, 2011

Laguna Strat copy...

Found a cool lost badged guitar on ebay today:  A sunburst Fender Strat copy with the name of "Laguna" in script.  Here's a few pics from the seller's page:





Here's the link to the eBay page:  http://cgi.ebay.com/VINTAGE-GUITAR-MADE-JAPAN-OLD-GUITAR-COOL-GUITAR-MIJ-/320711616940?pt=Guitar&hash=item4aabe6e9ac

I think this might be from the 1980 period, although if it was from the late 70's (78,79) I wouldn't be surprised.  MIJ Laguna guitars seem to be getting a good reputation from owners as a good starter guitar.  Anyhow, thought I'd share with the group before I head out on vacation for the 4th!  Have a great holiday!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life Guitar Mystery Solved, Atlansia Guitars

It's not often that I find an answer as to who made a particular guitar within a week or two, but in the case of the Life guitar, that's what happened.  It seems Life badged guitars (which is a horrible name for a guitar) were made in the late 1970's-early 1980's in Korea and are not Japanese! 

Now to an apparently well-known, still in existence guitar manufacturer, Atlansia.  I did not know that this wasn't a Matsumoku badge until I did a little research and discovered it was connect to the Matsumoku story due to the current president of the company, Nobuaki Hayashi.  Hayashi was the creative engineering genius behind many of Matsumoku's extensive catalog, particularly the Aria badge.  Some Aria Pro II guitars designed by Hayashi carry the old H. Noble signature...something to be proud of if you own one of these early Hayashi designs!

As to when Atlansia came into being as a corporation, that's a little vague.  The Atlansia company website claims 45 to 40 years of history depending on what page you're on.  That would peg the founding of the company around the late 1960's early 1970's period.  Other sources claim Atlansia came into being only 30 years ago, or in 1981.  There are a few examples of Atlansia guitars before that date made in the late 1970's that may have been the beginning of Atlansia production, but that still wouldn't account for for the 40-45 year claim. Perhaps Hayashi is counting his years at Matsumoku or the company just wasn't making badged guitars until the late 1970's.  There's some evidence that Atlansia made guitar parts during the early 1970's and perhaps that explains the discrepancy.

To look at the extensive catalog of Atlansia guitar design, it's fairly innovative, especially in later designs.  Hayashi has clearly grown in his work over the decades and it shows in both his bass and electric models. The out-of-the-box jumps he makes in creating visually inspiring guitars is something to behold.  Here's just a few pics of modern Hayashi design to whet your appetite:


Atlansia Concord DX bass...can't you just picture that axe in your hands? 

This is a recent Hayashi concept model. It's a 7-string guitar which is just experimental at this stage. 

 This is the Atlansia Peleske model electric.  Wicked!

The Atlansia Solitaire ARS bass...I have no clue how you'd play this one. 

The strange Atlansia Oxford HBX2 bass 

An Atlansia Garland bass guitar
 

Just compare the above to all those old Aria Pro II designs we all know and love.  It's amazing that Hayashi has kept his designs evolving over such an extensive period...and a tribute to his mastery of guitar manufacturing art.  Atlansia guitars are still made and sold exclusively in Japan, which is a shame if you ask me.  I can't believe they wouldn't find a ravenous market here in America. 

Atlansia guitars.  Made in Nagano, Japan.  An amazing evolution from a former Matsumoku designer!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Attention All Readers Residing in Germany...

I was recently contacted by a person who owns what they believe to be a Life badged guitar  They say they think it's a lost MIJ badge with both electric and acoustic models made in the late 60's to 1970's period.  The claim is that there are a lot of these guitars being sold in Germany.  Do you have one?  Are they Japanese?  A quick glance found absolutely no information on these guitars.  Let's help a brother out here!  In the meantime, I'll try to get a pic of his so we can all see what we're looking at. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Daion, Anyone?

Today I thought I'd change it up and post on the higher-end of the scale, both by year and quality with the Daion badged guitar while I'm waiting to get those lost Magnum badge pics.  Made by Yamaki, these electrics and acoustics were well-received by the public when they debuted in 1978 and were made well beyond the 1980 benchmark.  Yamaki also made their own house brand which included both electrics and acoustics as well.  The company was founded much earlier than the Daion badge appeared, back in 1962 by a pair of brothers:  Yasuyuki and Hirotsygu.  The company still exists today as a supplier of high-end guitar parts for foreign guitar manufacturers.  Here's just a few pics:






Daion guitars were manufactured after Yamaki had really established itself in the market.  The acoustic guitars are highly sought-after by collectors all over the world for their quality, and the electric guitars which have an unmistakable rosewood and maple neck design, are just a joy to behold.  Much has been written about this famous badge, including several fan sites in Japan.  The distinctive script badge and tuning-fork logo are symbols of quality to Daion owners and collectors around the world.  Here's just a few sites on this legendary badge:

http://daionguitar.com/index.php
http://daion.client.jp/
http://daionsonline.wordpress.com/

Just a quick tip...if your Daion is from Australia and has a sticker "Daion" badge instead of a plate, you have a Korean-made Daion in your possession.  These were made well after 1980.

Happy collecting!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Magnum Les Paul Guitars-A Lost Japanese Badge?

I found a Les Paul copy the other day that frankly has me stumped.  The badge is "Magnum" and it sure looks and feels like a vintage Japanese guitar!  With a bolt-on neck (minus the MIJ stamp) and a really solid feel, I asked the person selling it if they knew much about it.  "No," he said kind of sheepishly. "It looks like a vintage Japanese copy to me."  I've got a shot of a couple from Harmony Central for an example.


Here is the one I found in dark, blood red.  It's got the exact pickguard as the above example.  But notice...no higher end mother of pearl.




I realize I need to get closer and sharper pics of the red than what I have...which is fine, as I found a blue bass Magnum just the other day.  More pics on the way!  Ay-yi-yi!

Black seems to be the more popular color of the ones I've been able to locate online for examples.  The one I found was dark red like blood minus the mother-of-pearl inlays. It had silver pickups that looked pretty fragile (I'll be willing to bet owners of these guitars replaced these as quick as possible). Since I live in southeastern lower Michigan, I quickly discovered that the "Magnum" badge was sold locally at Royal Oak Music in Royal Oak, Michigan.  The music store has long since disappeared into history.  It looks like "Magnum" was sold in Chicago as well so maybe it was only distributed in the midwest in America.  There's a lot of reference to Magnums being widely sold in Australia, so they must have been manufactured in good quantities as a 'starter' copy guitar and distributed there as well.  It's so interesting where all these badged guitars end up!

Now what makes it far more difficult in pegging who made the Magnum badge is the fact that there was ANOTHER company in Vietnam who made "Magnum" badged guitars!  However, those Magnums are described as cheap laminated guitars that have a horrible sound with an approximate manufacturing date somewhere in the 1980's.  The Magnum I'm looking at is definitely from the 1970 period and solid.  There are also the famous Eastwood Magnum basses and acoustic Magnum Opus guitars which are made domestically both in the United States and Canada. 

It's clear the Magnum I found was the lower-end model because of the lack of mother-of-pearl inlays and the cheap pickups. 

But I still can't determine if this guitar IS Japanese.  Some argue that it is based on styling...it's rather similar to a Daion Les Paul from that period but god, you could say that about a lot of other Les Pauls from the golden 1970's Japanese copy era!  Others insist it's a Chinese product.  It's such a mystery.  I'm going to  go back and see if I can find a serial number on the one spotted.  In the meantime, check back...I should have those photos up soon so you can see it.  The guitar IS for sale, so if anyone is interested, let me know and I'll pass along the information on the seller.

If you have any information or want to share your Magnum, add it to the blog!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Maruha/F. Hashimoto Guitars

In investigating the Maruha badge, this is what I've found thus far:

Long ago in the 1960's in Japan was a small company known as Maruha Gakki (maybe).  Maruha made badged acoustic, archtop and parlor guitars (which are REALLY nice with great pearl inlays!).



Maruha parlor guitar...sweet!

 Jedistar quotes another source that says these guitars were made by another company:  Gakki Seizo.  I've not been able to figure out if Maruha Gakki really existed or if Maruha guitars were in fact, produced by Gakki Seizo which DOES exist.  It looks like the run they had was through the 1970's and some Maruha guitars were badged F. Hashimoto... although who he was or if it was just a name they picked is a mystery.  The F. Hashimoto badges seem to be valued by blues and folk players for the guitar's sound quality and are more valuable than the Maruha.  Here's a few examples:



Maruha cherryburst from Japan


Check out the scroll label...


Maruha Archtop


F. Hashimoto


F. Hashimoto


Friday, May 6, 2011

Updates, Updates, Updates

If you haven't checked out my Hubpages page of Made In Japan badged electric guitars from 1960-1980, you should.  I've made a lot of updates, adding guitar badges and a few overlooked manufacturers from the period.  If your guitar badge from this time isn't listed, tell me!  I'll be happy to add it.  I'll continue to do research into these 'lost' guitars...badges where we have no idea which manufacturer made them.

 To date, this is the list of unknown maker badges:

Alex, Andre, Aquarius, Aquila, Asco, Aztec, Bradley, Cameo, Capri, Cipher, CG Winner, Crown, Dorado, El Degas, Encore, Fandel, Feather, Goya, Granada, Intermark, Madeira, Maier, Marchis, Maruha, Matador, Melody, Moon, Norwood, S.G.C., Sigma, Yoshi, Zim-Gar

If you have any information on the maker of any of these guitars, PLEASE contact me!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Queen, Correction

Well, shoot.  Sometimes Torch forgets a few things and I'll be gosh darned if it didn't happen during the the May Queen article. I neglected to mention (and thanks to all the readers who pointed it out) that some May Queens were badged "Kimberly".  Sorry for the oversight.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Rare Jack....

Black Jack guitars are RARE. So rare, in fact, that I've never seen a picture of one. They seldom come up for sale and are a bit of a mystery.  Made in the 1960's, these hollowbody and semihollow electrics and basses have been attributed to Matsumoku, who made so many of these mystery badges.  Black Jack has been compared to examples from Univox, also a Matsumoku badge, although others believe it to be from another unknown manufacturer. Violin-shaped and a trifle old-fashioned, Black Jack is another lost page in the history of MIJ guitar lore.

Do you own a Black Jack?  Share it with us!  Send a pic!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Teisco May Queen...A Glimpse Into the Future of Electric Bodies

Since it's coming into the month of May, I thought I'd write about the coveted and rare May Queen guitars by Teisco.  These guitars were made in the late 1960's at the height of psychedelic rock and it's clear Teisco was creating products for that market...unusual guitars that these early rockers would find cool and affordable.  Teisco was known for playing with body shapes and explored the ways in which guitars could be transformed in appearance without losing their sound quality.  The May Queen was no exception with its almost palette-like shape, which some claim was inspired from a Vox design.  I've often wondered if the "May Queen" badge was the inspiration for the lyric 'It's just a spring clean for the May Queen' from Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", which came out in 1971.  Most May Queen guitars that I've seen are in tuxedo black and white, but there are a few out there...very few...that have a red finish that reminds one of a brick color. Another rare color for the May Queen is a beige finish that's kind of blah.  May Queen guitars have a distinctive pickguard with a 'signed' "May Queen" above the Teisco brand in old script.  Here's the red and black side by side:



How beautiful is that?  If you own one or have owned one in your lifetime, you are or were extremely blessed. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Marchis Guitars, Part II

Well I've got something to show you this week, rather than a long discussion.  Here's the Marchis that's from Flat Eric's Blogger page:





This looks almost exactly like East Bay Ray's Marchis from the Dead Kennedys.  Natural finish, natural neck. Did they really come from the factory this way?

Now here's a Marchis from Carl, another owner.







This Marchis is obviously a much earlier Les Paul example.  What's striking is the simple black neck.  Carl says that the original scratchplate was black, too.  Notice that the later version has an applied badge plate screwed on, while the earlier version appears to have been attached as simple label.  But the script is identical.

So here are two examples of this rare guitar.  Do you have one?  Is it similar or different than these examples?  Let me know!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Marchis guitars

A reader begins his message to me with "I understand you have a great knowledge of guitars..."

Oh gosh.  I wish.

Then he asks me about Marchis guitars.  This is a badge I've never even heard of.  Nor seen.  There doesn't seem to be many of them, from a quick glance at the internet.  I did find a fellow blogger with a page on it.  My reader said he has a Les Paul Gold version of the Marchis and Flat Eric's photos show a Telecaster thinline guitar that just about matches one in a 1974 Greco catalog.  Greco utilized Dyna, Fujigen and Matsumoku in manufacturing their guitars, so it's conceivable that Marchis was a badge made by one of these three manufacturers.  Both Matsumoku and Fujigen are the most productive of the timeframe in which Marchis would have been made, however, Dyna made quality guitars as well (they were used by Fender, which is pretty darn selective).  Is it possible that Marchis is a lost Dyna badge?

And much to my surprise guitarist East Bay Ray (Dead Kennedys) owns a Marchis....which is shown in a January 2006 Guitar World on page 33.  So it can't be that horrible of a guitar.

So does anyone else own one of these lost guitars?  Tell me!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Early Guyatone Madness

I've not posted recently because I caught the flu from hell.  Literally.  I went to a concert in Hell, Michigan, and was sick as a dog the day after!  Anyhow, I thought I'd take the time today to talk about some of the legendary Guyatone guitars from the early 1960's.  Guyatone made some pretty cool house brand guitars during their days of Japanese guitar madness.  Let's take a gander.

The LG50 was made a little before the period I've been researching in the late 1950's, but it was exceptional in popularity.  Guyatone badged some of these beauties with the Antoria badge. Most of the pickguards on these guitars are white, but I've seen a few with mother of pearl which just adds to the lustre.  They tended to have blonde finishes and were played by top guitarists of the time, including Jeff Beck and Ringo Starr.

The LG60B reminds me of a tux with its black and white appearance.  The pickguard is the traditional white but really sets off this cool bass electric.  An early guitar (some were made before 1960) and extremely rare, you've got a prize if you can find one of these vintage axes.

If you've never seen an LG130T, you need to.  These compact  tremolo electrics from the early 1960's are a favorite among players who prefer offset waist guitars.  It also helps that they had beautiful chrome pickguards, although my friend Noah disputes that (he says it's damn ugly). 

The Guyatone EB4 is an extremely early example of the basses they made in that 1960's period.  They were another offset waist guitar and super rare if you can find one.  I've never seen this guitar in person.  Check out this video:


Sweet.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pearl Guitars...brought to you by Matsumoku and Hayashi

Pearl badged MIJ guitars have a mysterious history depending on whom you talk to. They appear to have been widely distributed, finding their way to Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States so they must have been fairly successful.  I haven't seen proof that the Pearl badge originated from the infamous Pearl drum corporation although the logos are suspiciously similar.  Perhaps it was a brief venture during the guitar craze of the 1970's by that company.  We may never know.  Most people assume that Pearl badged guitars were made by the famous percussion instrument maker and Pearl guitars are often sold with that information presented as fact.  Perhaps someone can enlighten me.  Till then, I'm on the fence about the origin of Pearl guitars.

Pearl electric guitars which were made by the venerable Matsumoku, were good Les Paul copies.  They came in sunburst and blond finishes from what I've seen of them.  Pearls were carried by Great West Musical Imports to the North American continent and I do not know if they distributed the guitar badge worldwide exclusively.  Some have mother of pearl pickguards in addition to the Pearl badge inlay, which add to the beauty of the Pearl image.  It would be interesting to know if they originally came that way from Matsumoku.  They seem to be pretty rare here in the United States but far more numerous among our friends in Australia so I wonder just how many were sold in their heyday.  They appear to be classified as a medium-quality guitar, but they sure look good to me. 

Pearl acoustics, however, were made by top Japanese acoustic guitar-maker Hayashi. They appear to have been gorgeously crafted with inlays of mother of pearl on the frets on occasion. Most Pearl acoustics from what I've seen were made of high quality tonewoods based on Gibson designs, although I'm not an acoustic guitar expert.  Finishes can be anywhere from sunburst to natural and they seem far more numerous in existing quantities than their electric cousins.  Pearl acoustics are praised by their owners as high-quality instruments and little wonder...they ARE Hayashi products!  You can read more specific information about Pearl acoustic guitar models HERE by Blogger friend Martin on his Vintage Japanese Acoustics blog.  

Another interesting thing with Pearl badges is that some "Pearl" inlays are gold and others mother of pearl.  I wonder if one color denotes a higher-end instrument model.  Again, I don't know the answer to that.  Yet another mystery to solve. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Quest Atak V

Of all the crazy MIJ guitars I've seen, this one is really unique.  They're a little outside my area of study, since they were made in the 1980's, but they so embody the era of metal bands and long hair.  The Quest Atak series is pretty awe-inspiring in designs from the time, but the Atak V is an axe to savor.  Want to see the fluid, flying shape of one?  Go to this webpage.  Awesome, isn't it?

In addition to the crazy shape, I love the color blending on the guitar...it looks like it just came out of a fire someplace.  Must be some hot guitar madness being generated by that Atak.  Looks like you can score an Atak for as little as $120, but that's peanuts for as beautiful as these guitars look to me. 

If you own one of these pieces of guitar art, let me know how they sound!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan Quake 2, Hy-Lo, Hi-Lo?

Been watching the devastation over in Japan...yikes.  I honestly don't know if they will ever be able to return to normal after this.  Still haven't heard from some of the larger guitar manufacturers to find out if their factories still stand...and if the talented people making guitars in the region are still with us.  We'll just continue to pray to the guitar gods that all is well.

Meanwhile, a mystery has unfolded.  Two guitars:  Hy-Lo or Hi-Lo.  Made by the same company?  I don't know...after looking around and viewing a few for sale here and there, I have a hunch that these badges were made by different companies-thus Hy-Lo and Hi-Lo.  My guess after reading a lot of boards from owners is that Hy-Lo was made by Kawai Teisco, while Hi-Lo was a Matsumoku badge.  Why?  Well, one person claims that they bought their Hy-Lo from a Teisco catalog back in the late 1960's (nothing like an eyewitness account from a direct owner).  And Hi-Lo electrics sure look like a Matsumoku product to people who collect Matsumoku badges.   I really don't know.  To add to the confusion, both electrics and acoustics were made with this badge name, so it must have been somewhat successful as a badge here in the United States.  For now, I've got them divided on the list under these makers until someone puts me right who knows the answer or I find a person with  Hi-Lo who can testify that it was made by a specific maker because they have direct knowledge of it.  I'm confident that Hy-Lo is a Kawai Teisco product.  What I don't know, what I'm unsure of, is the Hi-Lo badge.

Does your head hurt reading this?  It hurts mine just thinking about it as I write.  Sorry.

Anyhow, if you know of the origin of Hi-Lo guitars, let me know.  I'm going to take an aspirin now and lie down after that previous paragraph.  Whew.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japanese Quake...Damage to Guitar Manufacturers So Far....

After seeing the footage from the great Japanese quake of 2011, one can't help but be awed at the destruction.  Many of us in the guitar world are worried about factories in the areas affected that produce the guitars we love to both play and purchase.  After taking a look at the information available the only guitar manufacturer who released a statement was Yamaha.  Yamaha said their factories were not damaged significantly if at all by the earthquake.

Another source claims that Tokai factories are safe after the quake.  Fujigen Gakki reports on their company blog that the factory is safe and everyone is ok.

I have not been able to locate anything from Hoshino Gakki, distributors of Ibanez and Tama instruments.  Chushin Gakki is located in Nagano and there has been no word issued from the factory.  If anyone knows the status of their factories, let me know.

Now I just read that one of the nuclear reactors in Japan has melted down...dear god.  We can just pray and hope that things improve from here on out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mike Starr, tribute to a kick-ass bass guitarist

Can't tell you the disappointment that came with the death of Mike Starr.  He was really terrific as a bass player.  When I saw Alice In Chains live years ago, he was freakin awesome!  I can't believe he was only 44.  Sounds like he couldn't break his addictions...so sad.  Rock music loses so much talent to drugs and drinking. Starr's playing on "Facelift" and "Dirt" earned him the recognition he so deserved as a top bassist.  He just played back in May of last year with Ace Frehley at the VH1 concert!  And now he joins former Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley in death.  So sad and yet...so predictable.

Monday, March 7, 2011

JooDee solved...Do You Have An Elk?

Had a message from a guy out on the west coast who's a collector of JooDee guitars.  He shared with me that he nailed down the company of origin for these beauties:  Dyna Gakki.  Which was one of the companies cited in many JooDee discussions!  He said he got the information from a former Dyna executive in Japan.  So I feel confident that we can say Dyna is the maker of the JooDee badge.  Whew.  Only god-knows-how many more badges to go....

Read some interesting things on the Elk badge too, from Vintage Guitar magazine.  I had it in the wrong place, as there was an Elk Gakki in Japan!   From the pics, these were pretty cool looking guitars.  Finding a clear acrylic Elk was fascinating as well.  Does anyone remember a major rock star of the 1970's who played a clear acrylic guitar?  If there was one, I don't recall it.  Anyway, Elk seems to be a pretty scarce badge.  Have you seen one?  Own one?  Did Elk Gakki make anything else? 

So many questions....I may have to learn Japanese.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Checkin Out Some Vintage Ibanez and Weymann Guitars

Had a pretty good weekend last week and checked out some new talent.  One was playing a pretty decent Gibson from the 1980's with gold pickups...sweet.  Another had a vintage 1940's Weymann electric with pearl inlays that was outta sight!  Sounded pretty good, too!  Also saw two Ibanez beauties:  a 1979 bass in honey, Musician MC300NT and a 1973 custom cherryburst Les Paul copy.  Getting to hold them and just look at the craftsmanship was a pleasure.

But I also stumbled upon a new badge this week.  Gession.  Apparently, this was a guitar made in Japan in the 1970-1980's period.  It's a Les Paul with a pancake body...with a darkburst over yellow finish.  Has anyone seen a Gession before?  Rumor has it that it was a Tokai badge, but I don't know...I've certainly never seen one or heard of the badge before.  The person who had it got it at a local flea market pretty cheap (it's not in the best of shape, but playable).  Yet another mystery to solve in the MIJ world.

Oh, well.  I've got a good 40 years yet to look into this.  And learn.  Maybe even solve some of these questions.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Need to thank a couple of shredders, Yoshi guitars?

I still haven't heard from anyone about JooDee guitars....but I keep hoping.  I have heard from a couple of resident experts on guitar badges "Feather" and  "Crown".  Thank you for your input!!!  I also have found a new guitar that needs researching...Yoshi.  Sounds like an old anime character. 

If you checked out the page lately, you'll notice the table is gone.  I decided to hide it as I was making so many changes to the original list that I felt it was only adding to the confusion for people reading my written listing.  I'll put it back up when I've made more corrections.  Corrections ARE going very well, thanks to several helping hands and a few new places to do research!  I'm even more hopeful that we'll have a good list within a year or two instead of the decade I was anticipating!  So thank you once again! 

Keep those questions and comments coming!

Monday, February 21, 2011

JooDee Guitars

In researching MIJ guitars, one badge name comes up frequently:  JooDee.  It's been the bane of my existence lately.

Why?

Because nobody can seem to pin down with any accuracy who made the darn thing. 

I've talked to local dealers, read articles and threads online...yet I can't seem to pin it down to one or two companies.  One source even suggested that there was a JooDee manufacturing company in the 1970's, a fact I haven't been able to find any evidence of. 

Who made JooDee guitars? 

God.  I may be spending a year just on this one.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Orlando Guitar, A Friend and an Inability To Find Information....

So people ask, 'Hey, Torch! How'd you get this research blog started since you don't play?!'

Good question.  Here's the story.

Torch has a good friend called Noah.  Yeah, like the ark.  He's a musician and plays guitar for screamo bands.  Anyhow, while visiting him one afternoon, he says "Got a new guitar.  It's cool.  Want to see?"

I said sure.  And he brings out this guitar with 'Orlando' on the mother of pearl. A nice guitar.  Wicked.

Noah plays it for a song or two.  Then he sighs.  "Isn't it cool?  I wish I knew who made it...."

I laughed.  "Look on the Internet!  Everything's on there!"

"Not this guitar." said Noah.  "I know, I've looked.  I can find this model and a picture of one like it, sure.  But NOBODY knows who made this brand.  NOBODY."

I snorted. "Yeah, right.  Come on, SOMEBODY has to know."

"Then you find 'em"  Noah said.  And that was the start of my search.  I promised Noah I'd have his answer in a week.  A week turned into two weeks. A month.  Two months.  Finally after THREE MONTHS of reading everything I could find, both online and in print, I discovered ONE person who had an Orlando in his shop which needed repairs.  In taking the guitar apart, he found an ARIA label!  Solved!  Noah was totally geeked to hear the news.

But it bugged me.  It bugged me that it took that much time and effort to find the answer.  So I began the quest to get it all in one spot, as accurate as possible.  Why?  Because I don't think ANYONE should have to work that hard for a simple answer!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Well the good news is you have more information....

The fellow that was unhappy with my list wrote back and was REALLY nice about it.  Really nice.  He explained a lot and told me a few things to look into or just plain set me straight where the list is way off, which was a good thing.  So the long and short of it is, I know more about the topic but I've got a lot more work ahead to make it accurate. Sigh.  Such is life.  Nothing comes easy.

And I just want to say here and now that guitar collectors are some of the nicest and friendliest people on earth.  I've got a friend who runs an in-home concert venue for musicians who has been so sweet about helping me through my frustration in researching this topic.  Another friend of mine, who manufactures guitars, told me I was plain crazy to attempt such a list...that it couldn't be done.  But it hasn't stopped me from trying.

I leave with a quote from the great Albert Einstein:  "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called Research."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oh god...the comment I didn't want to see

Well, everything was going just fine...got some new information to add to my list...when a reader out there in cyberspace says "Hey, Torch!  You're waaaay wrong on some of those brands...." 

Oh god.  Please don't tell me that.  Please don't tell me I wasted months of reading threads, articles, magazines and a book here and there.  Please don't tell me the list is wrong or somehow, I got the wrong information. Please don't tell me that.

Damn.  Double damn. 

Sigh.  Well, it's not like I've been studying this for 20 years. Or 10.  Or 5.  I'm a relative newcomer.  And I just want to help the vintage guitar community find information.  ACCURATE information!

You know, one of the sites I found as I read was Jedistar.  If you haven't seen it, you should.  I was in awe. To think that someone, somewhere, took the time and effort to put all that information on the Internet in easy to search form....it made me realize how important collecting is to the vintage guitar community.

Sigh.  I'm nowhere near that high point of Jedistar.  I'm not a Jedi yet.  And I want to correct the damn list.  And I don't know if the guy pointing out my failure will bother to take the time to explain where I'm wrong, damn it.

Now what should I do?  Take it down?  Forget the whole thing?  Put all that work aside and say "Forget it?"

No.  I don't give up that easy.

I guess I just wrote all this to say if you see a error or omission, LET ME KNOW!  I want to get it right.  REALLY!  

Now if I could just get some sleep.....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Starting the blog...calling all shredders!!!!

As just a simple country person with little to no musical ability who has never owned a guitar or played in a band, it probably strikes you odd that I'd have an interest in vintage guitars.  But in doing research on various obscure badged guitars for friends of mine, I found something endlessly fascinating as an amateur historian and internet geek!  Much of what is known about this topic comes from enthusiasts only. To my knowledge other than the occasional article in a vintage guitar mag or paragraph in a vintage guitar collectors' book no one ever addresses the missing information in sum.  It is something that needs to be tracked down and recorded.  To do that, I need all you shredders and threshers out there to help me!

So I started this blog in a five year mission....no, that's Star Trek.... to gather all the bits of information out there on obscure, branded or badged guitars...to try to go back in time, find out who made them and why, and hopefully provide badly needed information to the folks out there who play and own these things and just love 'em to death!

This week I gathered what I know so far from the 1960's-1980's era, which I posted on Hubpages under the title Japanese Manufacturers of Made In Japan Badged Electric Guitars from 1960 to 1980.  This was a period where Japanese firms made hundreds of badged, low priced guitars that were modeled on the more expensive great American guitars during the height of electric guitarsmanship.  Kids everywhere wanted to play like Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana, so they got their parents or saved their money to buy Les Paul or Rickenbacker copies made in Japan or Korea for the American market. 

American manufacturers like Aria and Ibanez gave contracts to Japanese companies to produce products that were copies of famous Fender and Gibson guitar designs, reproducing them into cheaper versions with cool sounding names like Raven, Shadow and Vox.  These were transported and sold right here on main street, sold by the thousands...until Fender and Gibson sued for copyright infringement to stop their flooding the American market with copies.

The odd thing is, some of these cheap 'copies' are highly sought-after collectibles that guitarists LOVE to play! 

So let's begin the investigation, my soulful friends, and figure out....WHO MADE MY VINTAGE GUITAR!