The Finger Talker!! – 1972 National Telecaster FT440-2 (TC-51) Guitar

National TC51 1Oh yes folks, this guitar was really called the FINGER TALKER!!!!  Oh boy…. the folks back then were definitely creative when it came to naming guitars.  It’s like they gave simple designations like “J3″ or they came up with crazy names like the “Beat Blaster.”  There seemed to be no middle ground.  And the same could be said for a Telecaster.  You could shell out the few hundred for a actual new Fender Telecaster or you could pay around $100 for something like this Japanese made Tele.National TC51 2And what a time warp this guitar turned out to be!  Check out the old Rolling Stones sticker lovingly placed on the bridge cover!  Speaking of bridge covers, these are ALWAYS missing but it’s nice to see a complete example like this.  I always looked at the Telecaster design and wonderfully utilitarian and man, Leo Fender really aced this early design.  It’s tried and true and basically unchanged for over 50s years.  Japanese copies like these were all the rage in the early 70s and there still seemed to be a market for these guitars.National TC51 3Notice how the pickups are the same in the bridge and neck positions.  A lot of players would scoff at such an anomaly, but really if you give these National Teles a chance then you’re in for a really good sounding guitar!  These pickups really cook and almost always read out in the high 5k range.  National TC51 4This particular example had a sticker on the back that read “TC51″, which was the manufacturer’s model name.  These appear with a few different brand names but I always refer to these as National Teles because it seemed to be the most common brand name affixed to the headstock.  It’s interesting to me that the TC51 designation probably referred to this model being an early copy of a 51 Telecaster, which is way before anyone at Fender or CBS probably realized that the early Telecasters were done right and simply great.  These Japanese made examples are like the first “reissues”!!National Tele neckThe necks on these are nicely contoured and have a slab of maple (or something similar) glued to the top of the neck.  I’m not a wood guy but I guess that’s Sen wood or something similar to mahogany.  I dunno… you can argue the finer points of wood in the comments section below.  What I do know is these guitars have a minor cult following and I always see these sell quick.  Even this one sold quick, and after owning a few I realized these are just nice old examples of how the Japanese were quickly learning what made a good guitar.National TC51 6I’m not exactly sure who made this guitar, but I suspect it was Suzuki Violin in Kiso, Japan. Not 100% sure, but that factory seems to be the best candidate.  Either way, if you’re on the lookout for something vintage and quirky, grab a Finger Talker!!

“Guitar Mike” – 1960 Teisco J5 Electric Guitar

Teisco J5 1Ahh, the small wonders that are early electric guitars.  When you examine many of the first solid body electrics from Harmony, Kay, and Valco (in America) and Teisco and Guyatone (in Japan), then you see many similarities.  Small bodies, thick necks and usually powerful pickups.  You really can’t compare these early offerings to Fender or Gibson made guitars, who really seemed to be light years ahead in design and approach.  But the “secondary” makers were all building electric guitars with a similar mindset.  Of course you can argue the nuances and construction techniques, but when you start to think on a global level…Teisco J5 2Take for instance this early offering from Teisco.  These “J” models were built in the late 50s and lasted until around 1961.  Probably 1958-61.  Somewhere thereabouts.  Anyway, this model wasn’t the first solid body offered by Teisco, but it is arguably the first Teisco solid body Teisco electric that didn’t share lap steel characteristics and lap steel pickups.  Previously, many Japanese solid body electrics were a sort of “bridge” between lap steels and electric guitars.  This meant you could play the guitars sitting down or standing.  But this model was an actual “upright” electric guitar!  Hey, novel idea!  These were also among the first guitars aimed at western players and people.  Notice the little label on the pickups?  They say “Guitar Mike.”  They were using English words now and these guitars were being sold at American military bases and installations in and around Tokyo.Teisco J5 3This was the only Teisco style headstock to feature this shape and the double racing stripe just looks so cool.  And there’s that early Teisco “swan” logo that I love.  The tuners are very decent on this guitar and really these are well-built instruments.  They features all-wood construction and good frets.  Of course, they are crude when compared to modern guitars, but the Japanese electric builders (there were only two during this period, Teisco and Guyatone) weren’t that far behind many American guitar makers.  This J5 model didn’t have any pickup switching per se, but rather there were two volume knobs and one tone knob.  Think of this model more as a “blending” combination.Teisco J5 4The neck is very thick and features a wonderfully deep V carve.  I really like that full V shape in my hands when I play guitar, but there aren’t any current makers that feature such a deep V.  Once again, I’m always in the guitar minority!!  But there was a reason behind this thick neck, and that was to overcome the string pull without having a reinforced rod.  The set neck design is very similar to the 1950s Harmony Stratotone, but the angle is never quite right on these guitars.  Back then, if you had the good action at the first few frets, the “cowboy chord” area, then you were all good!  But as you go up the neck the action gets higher and higher.  These guitars were usually like this from day one.  It can be corrected with a few different methods like heat and neck resets.  Teisco J5 5What I find amusing about these 1950s Japanese solid bodies is that almost all of the bodies and necks were made by one man living in Tokyo.  See, at this time Teisco was primarily an electronics manufacturer and not a woodworking shop.  So all these bodies and necks were being churned out by one guy who lived near the factory.  But this same guy also made guitar bodies for Guyatone!  So the first two electric guitar makers in Japan, had factories that were within walking distance in Tokyo, had the same small woodworking shop making all the wood portions for both companies!  He must’ve been busy as hell!!  Teisco J5 6There weren’t many of these guitars made and even fewer have survived the years.  There was also a one pickup variation of this model called the J4.  But both models are scarce.  I was lucky enough to buy two of these.  The first was when I visited Japan, and the second I bought here in the states.  This is the second guitar and it came with the original case, chord, and two of the strings.  I left the strings on there because I also found out that during the early days of Teisco, the employees were actually making guitar strings in-house!  How crazy is that!?!?  They bought piano wire from Germany and somehow figured out how to make the different gauges.  There weren’t any electric guitar string makers in Japan!!

Anyway, here’s a video of Mike Dugan playing the first J5 I bought.  Dig it!

“Thumbs Up!” – 1966 Guyatone LG-180T Japanese Electric Guitar

Guyatone LG180T 1Such a strange guitar, totally original design here.  Hailing from the mid-60s, this LG-180T comes from perhaps the best era of Guyatone electrics.  The oversized body, the slim neck, and the headstock that’s reminiscent of a hitchhiker…this model represents some of the coolest of all the Guyatone guitars.Guyatone LG180T 2From the early 60s until around 1966, Guyatone guitars were appearing with regularity in the USA as Kent guitars but models like this one began production right around the height of the electric guitar boom.  This LG-180T was introduced in 1965 at the same time as the famous LG-160T Telstar, and for some unknown reason Guyatone had Yamaha in Hamamatsu make all the wood parts for these guitars.  There was a definite uptick in quality with these Yamaha-made Guyatone electrics, and the increased quality was the result of plenty of research by Guyatone.  The company really wanted to compete with the professional level American guitars by Fender and shed the label of cheap import guitars.Guyatone LG180T 3This headstock is either the ugliest or the coolest of the Guyatone designs.  I can’t decide which.  I will say no other guitar company ever put out anything like this.  You have to give the Guyatone designers credit for trying to be original!  This model was never exported, and Guyatone decided to forgo an adjustable truss rod.  Instead, they used a light alloy non adjustable core to reinforce the neck.  Speaking of the neck, this model features the most odd feeling neck!  It’s very thin but has a deep shoulder (if that makes any sense).  Totally strange!Guyatone LG180T 4This particular guitar I found in Kentucky!  Probably brought home by an American serviceman, it had lived a hard life and was dirty from head to butt!  Man, this this needed all sorts of tender loving care but in the end it became a rather good player.  The bridge on this guitar wasn’t that great, but I appreciated its simplistic effectiveness.  The tremolo worked well and the tremolo cover was still on the guitar!.Guyatone LG180T 5In early 1966, the Kent deal with American importer B&J ended and new Guyatone guitars all but disappeared from US shores.  I’ve often wondered who ended this relationship (Guyatone or B&J) but what is known is that at this time Guyatone was designing and producing some very solid instruments.  But this particular guitar was very short-lived and only appeared in the 1966 and 1967 catalogs.  After that it disappeared along with all the other Yamaha-made Guyatone electrics.  By 1969 Guyatone had gone bankrupt for the first time and thus ended the coolest bizarre Guyatone electrics.Guyatone LG180T 6

 

 

 

The Victoria Secret – ca. 1964 Victoria Zenon Electric Guitar

Victoria Zenon 1 Presented here is one of the cooler, early Japanese imports from that wonderful by-gone era.  Everything about this guitar reminds me of an ocean wave… details like the multi-pickguard, the body shape, even the rounded tremolo cover… it’s all contains this “sweeping” design aesthetic that Zenon guitars were famous for.Victoria Zenon 2See what I’m saying?  Like one of those old Japanese ocean paintings!  Well, at least to my eyes.  Anyway, this particular model came in a few different colors that I’ve seen… sunburst, red, and a sea foam green color.  The three pickup configuration is sorta unique but those two pickups near the bridge can really drive an amp in a bright, aggressive sort of way.  I also like the switching on this guitar via that rotary switch.Victoria Zenon 3Here you can see just a small fragment of what is left of the original Victoria label.  I’ve only ever seen this model with the brand name Victoria.  Now speaking of that Victoria name, it’s a total mystery who used that brand name.  It probably was used by an American seller/importer/distributor and almost every Victoria I’ve been able to document has been a Zenon guitar.  The few other Victoria guitars I’ve seen were really interesting models by mostly unknown Japanese factories.  But damn, I’d love to know who held that Victoria name.  It only existed for a few years in the mid-60s, so if you have a Victoria guitar then you have a solid date of 1964-66.Victoria Zenon 4These guitars used plywood bodies that were well-contoured and easy to sling around.  The finishes are very well-done and really these guitars can be good players.  They don’t have adjustable truss rods but the necks to stand up well to the passage of time.Victoria Zenon 5The most interesting aspect of these “wave” Victorias is the neck plate.  See how the neck attaches at the body but then the neck plate extends up onto the neck?  How interesting/weird is that?  Only the earliest Zenon guitars used this neck plate attachment.  So strange how the early designers thought, but then again it’s not a horrible idea.  Probably overkill, but it does point to Zenon.  Zenon was and still is a music publishing company in Japan, kinda like Hal Leonard in the USA.  In the late 50s Zenon decided to capitalize on the growing guitar popularity by buying a local guitar factory.  In the early 60s they started to produce electric guitars and did switch production to another nearby factory.  So this guitar probably dates to the first electric guitar production because after 1965 you never see this neck plate again.Victoria Zenon 6Either way, whenever I saw one of these old Victoria guitars I just bought it.  The necks have a great medium contour and feel great.  As is often the case, these old pickups were exclusive to this model, but did make a few rare appearances here and there.  Very rare units though, and they take high-gain effects very well!  That’s always a bonus.  Check out Mike Dugan playing this guitar below!

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!

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.