Emperor’s New Clothes! – 1970 Emperador SG Guitar

Emperador SG 1

So check out this old guitar…beginning of the Japanese copy era stylings with that Gibson SG shape.  Although this model carries some of the Japanese flair with more extreme cutaways and body sculpting.  Most folks would just look at this one and think it was just another copy.  But look a little closer with me….Emperador SG 2This guitar has Guyatone components, but it’s not a Guyatone guitar!  Like that tailpiece/tremolo.  That was a Guyatone exclusive, found on the famous Sharp 5 guitars and a few others.  And then those pickups, those are also Guyatone pickups.  In fact, those were specially designed Alnico units (which sound really nice) from around 1967.Emperador SG 3Even that darn truss rod cover is a Guyatone model!  The Emperador brand name was used by a Canadian importer so if you live up north you may have seen this name before.  The logo was applied over that cool sparkle finish and then lacquered over.  It’s like a raised plastic logo.  Sorta cool!Emperador SG 4Venturing into the body I also noticed the Guyatone pots and electronics.  So what’s up with this guitar?  Well, I’ve seen this model before and they seemed to come in two finish options…blue and red.  I like these guitars quite a bit, but this was the first one I’ve seen with the Guyatone components.  Well, here’s how it shakes out.  Guyatone Co. went bankrupt in 1969.  The owner/founder of the company was Mitsuo Matsuki and believe me when I say this guy was a scrapper.  He had just built a new factory and unfortunately the guitar business was crashing all round the world.  Mitsuo sold off most of his stock and and this particular guitar maker purchased some of his old parts.Emperador SG 5This sort of thing happened a lot in Japan during the 60s.  For instance, some factories only made the wood portions of guitars.  And other factories only made the electronics and/or accessories like tremolo units, tuners, etc.  During the 50s and 60s in Japan, many guitar factories simply partnered with others to make whole guitars.  During Guyatone’s run, there were some years when they made guitar bodies and necks, and other times where the work was farmed out.  But Guyatone consistently made electronics like pickups, and they were some of the best to come out of Japan.Emperador SG 6Basically what we have here is like a “combo” guitar that shared Guyatone components during a time when Guyatone was struggling.  Mitsuo Matsuki came out in the 70s by rebuilding his company from the ground up, and Guyatone guitars did rather well in the 70s.  But this guitar was made during that strange window of time where Guyatone was at the lowest point in the company history.

We recorded two videos for this guitar, but the second one is blocked in certain countries. Either way, enjoy Mike Dugan playing in both videos!

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1990s Fujigen PP4-380 Electric Guitar

Fujigen PP4 1During the 1990s there was a slight resurgence in old guitar designs and retro nostalgia.  These were the times when Kawai reissued some of the old Teisco guitars, the Danelectro brand was revived, and there were some cool guitars coming out.  Surprisingly, Fujigen decided to release these “PP” guitars in several variations.  Check out that design!  A little bit Galanti, a little bit Teisco, and a little bit Valco…I see all sorts of design inspiration in this guitar!  Fujigen PP4 2Fujigen is probably the finest of all the Japanese electric guitar makers, and this guitar is just top notch.  Maple neck, basswood body, fine components, good pickups, etc., etc.  The neck has a nice C shape and isn’t super thin like the Wizard necks Fujigen is so famous for producing.Fujigen PP4 3Fujigen has mostly been making guitars for other companies like Ibanez and Fender, so it’s cool to see the Fujigen name on the headstock.  These guitars were only sold for short while, and only in Japan.  The guitar player in the Japanese band Shonen Knife also endorsed this model (I believe it was Naoko Yamano).  I vaguely remember these guitars when they came out because Kurt Cobain really liked the band, and I seem to remember seeing a pic of the band and thinking “what kind of guitar is THAT?”Fujigen PP4 4The guitar is really lightweight and has an interesting brushed matte finish that was exclusive to a few of these models.  The finish is super durable and wears well.  This is the kind of guitar you could sling around all night!  The build quality totally reminds me of the Fujigen Fender guitars they were building at the same time, although the electronics seem to be a step up.Fujigen PP4 5There was a catalog for these PP guitars but it’s as scarce as finding one of these guitars.  It doesn’t list black as one of the colors for the PP4, but here it is!  No matter, because I’m just happy Fujigen designed and produced a guitar like this.  Fujigen made some really cool models back in the 60s, and when I visited the factory and company executives, I tried my best to convince them to reissue some of their old designs!Fujigen PP4 6This is the perfect type of guitar for those who love unique body styles but don’t want to invest in an older guitar that will need work.  And these don’t need much work!!  I love the pickups on this guitar, and it has a great, strong Telecaster sound, maybe a little Danelectro thrown in there!



“What’s a Teisco?” 1968 Del Rey EV3T Electric Guitar

This is a question I get all the time, so I figured it was high time I talked a little about Teisco and why a lot of people think every Japanese guitar is a Teisco.  See, back when I started having fun with vintage guitars, people in the USA used the term “Teisco” to refer to any old Japanese guitar.  I suppose it was what you could call a “blanket” statement.  People do the same in other countries where old Japanese guitars are called Top Twenties or Hertiecasters.  Anywhoo, the name Teisco comes from the company with the same name.  Teisco began as a company right after world war II, in Tokyo.  At first the company made lap steels, amps, and pickups.

Then in the early 1950s six string hollowbody guitars appeared, and then later in the 50s solidbody guitars arrived.  In the late 50s, Teisco guitars were being exported to various ports around the world, and many of the guitars came with the Teisco label.  Of course, in the states Teisco guitars also carried other labels like Silvertone, Kent, and Zim Gar (to name a few).  But Teisco was sorta unique because many Teisco guitars carried the Teisco name.  For instance, Guyatone, Fujigen, and Matsumoku were some of the other Japanese guitar factories back in the 60s, and rarely did these guitars ever have the name of the company on the headstock in the states.  Guyatones were mostly sold as Kent guitars in the USA, and were labeled Guyatones in Japan.  Fujigen and Matsumoku made thousands of electric guitars and I have never seen a single one with the Fujigen or Matsumoku name on the headstock.  It just didn’t happen.  So with Teisco, many guitarists saw that ‘ol Teisco name up there and it just became synonymous with Japanese electric guitar.Del Rey EV3T 3There was also variation with the Teisco labels, like “Teisco Del Rey” and simply “Del Rey.”  So you can see why that name became so common.  But as always with these vintage guitars, it’s not always as simple as a name plate.  Take this cool old EV3T here.  The original headstock badge says “Del Rey” but this old guitar isn’t a Teisco.  Confused?  OK so let’s define a Teisco guitar.  The Teisco company closed shop in late 1966, and sold all the assets to the giant Kawai company.  The transition happened slowly, but by mid-67, all Teisco guitars were being made at the Kawai factory.  So originally you have true Teisco guitars being made at the Teisco factory from the 1950s to 1967.  That was a good 17 year stretch for Teisco electric guitars.  There’s no argument that any guitar from that time period is a Teisco.Del Rey EV3T 1Kawai continued to make the same guitars that Teisco made, like the ever popular Spectrum 5 guitars, and the shark-finned Teisco “K” guitars.  In fact, Kawai made standard Teisco guitars well into 1968, when new designs started to appear.  Before 1968, Kawai made guitars with the Teisco brand name pretty much the same way that the original Teisco company made the guitars.  Teisco branded guitars became some of the finest to be produced at the Kawai factory.  So maybe we can agree that the Kawai-made Teisco guitars can also be called true “Teisco” guitars, because they were made with similar quality as before.  Vintage guitar freaks like to argue these points, but I hear from a lot of people who simply want to know who made their guitar.  But this Del Rey wasn’t made at the Kawai factory either!Del Rey EV3T 2So what’s up with this guitar?!?!  I mean, it looks like a 60s Teisco guitar right?  Well, kinda/sorta.  See, almost the entire Teisco guitar lineup, from the original Teisco company to the Kawai-made Teisco guitars, were all chronicled in catalogs.  That was another feature that set Teisco apart from other Japanese guitar factories.  Teisco printed catalogs in English almost every year in the 1960s.  And this guitar never appeared in any of the catalogs.  So the skeptic in me would say, “so what, there’s always strange guitars that weren’t represented,” and that’s partially true.  But again, this guitar isn’t a Teisco.Del Rey EV3T 4At the end of the 1960s, the electric guitar market was in serious decline, and Kawai, along with many other guitar manufacturers around the world, began to scale back production.  Many foreign companies even began to halt exports.  In the USA, large instrument importers and distributors were forced to carry cheaper products to compete in the dwindling market, and this guitar comes from that late 60s period.  The Del Rey name was used by the W.M.I. company, and W.M.I. simply stopped exclusively using Kawai-built Teisco guitars to carry the Del Rey name.  In fact, many of these later Del Rey branded guitars weren’t Kawai-built Teisco guitars.  I’m not sure what factory made this Del Rey EV3T guitar, but it wasn’t Teisco and it wasn’t Kawai.Del Rey EV3T 5Are you wondering, “How does this guy know for sure?”  Well, there’s a simple reason behind this meandering tale.  And if you have the attention and comprehension skills to make it this far, then you deserve to know.  This guitar’s body is made of plywood.  Yep, and guess what?  Guitars made at the Teisco factory during the 1960s, didn’t use plywood for the bodies (well, actually the very early, heavy, and short lived SD-4L and SD-2L Teisco guitars that were covered with laminate tops used some kind of heavy wood that may have been construction grade ply). And Teisco branded guitars made at the Kawai factory during the 1960s weren’t made with plywood bodies either!  Of course there may have been a stray example here and there, but as a general rule and from my interview with the Kawai factory manager of the time, Kawai used solid woods for all Teisco solid body electric guitars. There are other small components and features that separate this guitar from Teisco guitars, but I won’t bore you with the color of grounding wires, or the dimensions of neck pockets, or the use of string retainers, or the variations of Teisco pickups.  Let’s just say if you have a guitar with a plywood body, and I’m not talking sandwich construction, then it probably it isn’t a Teisco.Del Rey EV3T 6 Now when I went to Japan I asked a lot of people about this particular guitar.  I had me stumped!  I mean, if a guitar has a Teisco label or a Del Rey label then it has to be a Teisco, right?  And the answer to that question is no.  I asked former Teisco and Kawai employees about this guitar, and they all agreed it wasn’t a Teisco or a Kawai Teisco.  Now that Teisco name may be so ingrained in your brain that it won’t matter what factory made a particular guitar.  Maybe the Teisco name has just become universally associated with vintage Japanese electrics, and that’s ok.  But if you’re like me and interested in the history of old guitars, then maybe this will clear some things up for you.  And if you don’t believe any of this, then we’ll just have to leave you with Mike Dugan having some fun on this old Del Rey and giving it some proper playing.


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!

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!