Beauty and the Beast- 1963 Kawai S-80 Bizarre Japanese Guitar

Kawai Bizarre 1Well, whaddya think about this one?  Ugly?  Sorta cool?  Total gonzo?  The shape is definitely out there, but overall the guitar is standard fare for early 60s Kawai solid body electrics.  The great Hound Dog pickups, and metal guard, the rocker switches, and the dreaded set-neck/bolt neck combo!Kawai Bizarre 2Check out that body shape!  I’m sure this guitar was meant to “copy” the strange Teisco SS and SD guitars.  Normally these Kawai S-80s featured a double cutaway style, but on this one all they did was chop off that lower horn!  The body is made of solid wood, and it’s actually nicely figured!  This guitar also had one of the nicest fretboards I’ve ever seen, it was really highly figured and just gorgeous.Kawai Bizarre 3You can see the solid wood construction of the neck and headstock here as well.  But alas, no adjustable truss rod.  Which is problematic when you look at the next photo!Kawai Bizarre 5Yes, there it is, the dreaded early Kawai neck joint!  There’s the beast!  Man o’ man, those joints are real buggers.  See, when you take off that neck plate, there’s an addition screw under there securing the neck, and then after you take that out, you see that the neck is glued into the heel.  It’s a tight fit, and is done well from a carpenter’s point-of-view.  But from a guitarist’s  angle, it’s problematic.Kawai Bizarre 4Neck angles were never very good on most vintage Japanese electric guitars.  But if you’re going to use set-neck construction and no adjustable truss rod, then you’d better get that neck angle correct!  Oh, and I almost forgot, they applied the finish of the guitar over the neck joint!! Unfortunately, the neck angle on this guitar was WAY OFF!!  So we got to work by removing the neck (and breaking the finish at the joint!), using a heat gun to get it straight, and then adding a bunch of shims to get the guitar playable.Kawai Bizarre 6

It’s sort of a shame with these old Japanese guitars.  They have such a bad rap, but they do have potential, with some work.  I just can’t help but give them a little love, even the ugly ones!

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The Devil in the Details – 1964 Teisco ET-440 Electric Guitar

Teisco ET440 1‘Wonderment’ is probably too light a word to describe the first Teisco ET-440 I ever saw.  I still remember it clearly, as it was way back in my early teen years.  Occasionally a few of us would venture out to local flea markets, antique shops, and swap meets to search out all kinds of treasures.  But there was this one particular old mall, full of second hand shops.  And in that mall there was a store called (as I remember) “Grendel’s Lair.”  It might have been called something different, I just can’t recall.  But what I do recall was this long hallway leading to the store, covered with old 45 records and magazines.  Entering the store, I was greeted with heavy cigarette smoke and almost constant rockin’ tunes playing from an old record player.  Man, I wish I could go back in time to that store!Teisco ET440 2That store had such an assortment of items it was mind-boggling!  Records, magazines, antiques, guitars, amps, stereos, juke boxes, and toys, all dating to the 70s or earlier.  This eclectic mix of goods seemed to reflect the personality of the people who owned the store.  As I remember, they were much older than me but seemed to be leftovers from the 50s. I think there was a guy residing behind the large counter, but I remember the lady who always seemed to be there.  She was like this combination of poodle dresses, black-rimmed cat glasses, and saddle shoes, but there was always like this punk edge about her.  It’s hard to place, and maybe my mind was just hazier back then, but I remember most folks seemed to be slightly scared of this skinny old gal.  Anyway, it was in this store that I saw the first Teisco ET-440.  This was early on in my weird guitar days, so I didn’t realize that this model was sort of special in the lengthy catalog of Teisco guitars.Teisco ET440 3Teisco was probably the most popular Japanese guitar name back in the 60s.  The company had been importing guitars to the USA since the late 50s, but in early 1964, Teisco guitars started to really flood the American market.  Then in late 1965, Chicago Musical Instruments became the exclusive importer of Teisco instruments.  This is when the guitar buying public started to see the more familiar striped pick guards and shark-finned K guitars.  But going back to 1964, this ET-440 model appeared.Teisco ET440 4

The grey “battleship” pickups were really unique and very short-lived, only appearing on Teisco guitars for a year or two.  And this ET-440 was the only one to feature four of the buggers!  These are good sounding pickups that were found on a few guitars from this period, including the ET-320 and the EB-200 bass guitar.  In Japan, the model names/numbers for these same guitars were different, but either way you slice it, they all featured these cool pickups.Teisco ET440 5Back when I saw that first ET-440 at Grendel’s Lair, I noticed the pickups.  Teisco was perhaps the first Japanese electric guitar maker to feature four pickups, and I just thought the model was the coolest darn thing!  But I also noticed some crack lines in the pickup housing.  And here is where the faults of these battleship pickups came to light.  Back in the 1964 catalog, this model was the most expensive model pricing in at $150.  But the devil was in the design of these pickups.  In the Japanese catalog, Teisco touted these models as “worry-free” since the pickups were housed in a molded resin.  But over time, the mold would often shrink and crack.  Because of the design, if the pickups failed, they were often impossible to repair.  Teisco probably realized this, because these pickups were gone and replaced with the square-polepiece models that were found on most Teisco guitars from late 65, on into the later 60s.Teisco ET440 6

I never did buy that first ET-440 back then, but I did come across this one and was real happy with the sound.  Whenever you come across these pickups, be sure to check for functionality.  This particular ET-440 that I bought had some interesting painted pick guards that gave the guitar a cool look.  But in the end all these guitars had the silver, metal pick guards.  So hey, if you want to take a chance on one of these rare guitars, good luck!  If the pups are working, it’s all worth it!



Humble Pie – 1963 St. George MJ2 (Teisco) Guitar

St. George MJ2 1 Such a humble little guitar, and such a beast at the same time!  Yes, these early Teisco-made solid-body electrics resided near the bottom of the Teisco catalog, yet these are perfect examples of how a guitar can get a bad rap and get passed over.  But seriously, these are killer guitars and I just love ‘em!St. George MJ2 2This model first appeared in Teisco advertisements in early 1963.  Known as the MJ2 model, in the states these carried the ET200 name.  Either way, these were the same guitars manufactured by Teisco.  In the early days, this model carried several brand names including St. George and Lafayette.  Lasting until around 1965/6, these guitars have that familiar “Matsumoto” area build technique with surface mounted pickups and the half guard that hides all the electronics.  It’s an efficient design that many manufacturers copied for many years in the early days of the 1960s.St. George MJ2 3Headstock shapes like these are just awesome!  So overdone and so gonzo!  Also, these usually have a really sharp “V” shaped neck contour that I also love.  I think I’ve owned at least 6 of this model over the years.  It’s like I can’t be without one!St. George MJ2 4This era of Teisco guitars can be somewhat crude to modern players, but really these are only a few hours of work away from being killer players.  They all feature contoured solid wood construction, good truss rods, and great sounds!  And most importantly, these are very affordable on the used market.  Of course the frets are still tiny, and the switches can get temperamental, but that can all be fixed!St. George MJ2 5This brings me to a question I often ponder.  If you wanted a guitar, what would you rather buy?  One of these oldies plus a few hundred dollars of work to get it playable, or a new guitar imported from China?  For me, the answer is easy!  But I truly think I’m in the minority because I’d mush rather buy one of these cheapies and turn it into a player.  How bout you?St. George MJ2 6These appeared in the 1964 Teisco catalogs and retailed for $90.  You could also buy an E-200, which was the same guitar, sans tremolo.  In the later 60s, similar guitars were retailing for MUCH less money and thus began the image of cheap Japanese electric guitars.  It was true in a sense, guitars did get cheaper (with exceptions of course), but the battle of the import prices were really waging, and good guitars like this one got lumped in with the rest of the imports of the 60s.  A shame because these are under appreciated, but good if you want a vintage guitar at a great price!








“The Cutting Board” – Late 1960s Zim Gar Electric Guitar

Zim Gar 1Here is the guitar I affectionately referred to as the “Cutting Board.”  I bought this one at the same pawn shop as my old Douglas guitar and this one here sort of represents the cheaper fare of late 1960s Japanese imports.  If the factory wasn’t making early copy guitars, they were making ultra cheap models like this one.Zim Gar 2

So why “Cutting Board”?  Well, this guitar was a flat piece of wood, with no contours whatsoever!  It reminded me of my eighth grade wood shop project, where a made a cutting board for my mom!  I mean, all you’d have to do is nail some rubber grippers on the bottom and put this guitar on the kitchen counter!  At least that’s what I thought…   The pickups are yet another variation of “gold foils” (I’ve documented 12 different types of gold foils now) and sound actually quite good. Nice and strong.

Zim Gar 5

The wood has a very interesting grain…for plywood!  Actually, there is a plywood core with a thin veneer, sort of like a sandwich.  But really I don’t care what kind of wood is used.  Plywood, masonite, barn wood….I just don’t care!  To me, a guitar is a guitar and thankfully I’m not obsessed with such things.  Zim Gar 3Zim-Gar was the brand name of Gar-Zim Musical Instruments located in Brooklyn, New York.  The company was run by Larry Zimmerman and his wife, and the couple was quite successful back in the day, making a living by importing/selling/distributing these Japanese imports guitars (and drums).  The company was active through the 60s, and was one of the first to introduce copy guitars of Strats and Les Pauls.  Zim-Gar mostly dealt with Kawai, but by the late 60s they were using other builders like the makers of this guitar (which is not known to me).Zim Gar 4

For some reason, I don’t see many Zim-Gar guitars anymore.  Back in the late 80s they seemed really plentiful.  Almost all the Zim-Gar guitars were standard fare, meaning there weren’t too many crazy designs.  Although I have seen a few truly strange hollow bodies that take off from violin designs.  Also, I’ve seen some headstock emblems that really look like “Lim-Gar” which is totally puzzling!  Zim Gar was also an early brand name for “real” Teisco guitars, pre-1965.  But these aren’t very common.Zim Gar 6

This guitar, like most from the 60s, really suffered from a bad neck angle.  But as always, Dano down at Happy Guitar Repair fixed it all up and got this one playing rather well.  I owned this guitar for many years before finally selling it off, but of course we had Mike Dugan record this one for posterity.  Cheers!