The Long, Winding Story of a Vintage Japanese Douglas Guitar

Ok people, sit back and let me tell you about this wacky Japanese electric.  A few years ago I found this in a backwoods pawn shop collecting dust.  It had been there for years and it just intrigued me.  I’m a lover of all wacky, bizarre guitars and this one just spoke to me, like “help!”  Anyway it came in a cheap chipboard case (which I still have) and it was labeled “Plays Great”.  Needless to say after a quick look-over this guitar was basically unplayable but I bought it anyway because it was just too cool!There were a few things that made this stand out right away!  First, it had a ONE-BOLT NECK!!!  In all my searching I have NEVER seen this except on some Valco guitars, but this Douglas design was sooooo primitive.  Needless to say, we did a lot of shimming on this neck!

OK so here’s what Dano Dave did to save this guitar:

NECK- Truss rod worked and the neck could be adjusted for some really low action.  I initially thought that the fretboard was maple since it was covered in so much crud!  After removing the neck he sanded and cleaned the fretboard and lo and behold there was rosewood under there!  He sanded out all the weird humps and bumps, removed the frets, and re-fretted with medium gauge wire.  He got that string alignment spot on and set the neck and the correct angle

ELECTRONICSDano went over every solder joint and wire in this guitar!  Check out the crazy switch with the “RIZM” label!!  Pickups in this guitar are very interesting, they look like humbuckers but they’re single coil types with that awesome 60s garage sound. I call it the “empty beer can” sound!  The pups have low output but somehow sound pretty grindy and raw at low volumes.  It’s like they have some sort of natural echo thing going on.  The pickups have not gone microphonic but as with all of these vintage beauties, super high gain is not really an option.  A small overdriven amp with tons of reverb and you have the sound of 90% of the Nuggets bands!

PLAYABILITY- When I got this guitar, it had just a few sad remnants remaining of the original trem system.  One year at the Philly guitar show I saw an identical guitar and I took pics of the factory trem system (btw, the dealer at the show wanted $599!!!) and after searching for years I found an identical unit!!!  The original factory string alignment had the high e string totally off the fretboard so some adjustment needed to be done there.  I also put on a different bridge of the same era. Tuners are the standard Japanese strip type and are OK, totally typical and hold a tune.  The tremolo system is pretty crude and only useful for some wobbly work, like a bigsby.

BOTTOM LINE- The body had plenty of wear all over and this guitar DID NOT play like a Les Paul Custom!  Some would call the wear “mojo” which is totally dumb, but what amazes me is that someone really played the hell out of this guitar back in the day, and it was SO UNPLAYABLE!!  I love that someone loved this thing and the guitar earned the wear because of it.  It’s probably the reason I had to save it from that pawn shop years ago.  Listen, people collect and love these weird Japanese guitars nowadays, myself included. What most people don’t realize is that they often need a ton of work to get them stage ready.  That’s what I want from these guitars, I don’t want wall hangers (although they do look lovely on a wall), but rather I want something I can grab and play right NOW.  Anyway this guitar was ready to be loved again and I’m glad I saved it!

 I have no idea who manufactured this guitar other than it’s obviously Japanese.  I do think it might be historically important because it’s crudeness lends me to believe that this was a very early import, like early 60s.  Features like that single screw neck and the contour on the front. This guitar was probably built by one of the smaller, currently unknown factories in Japan.  This isn’t a Kawai or Teisco.  I’ve only seen three of these guitars in my life including mine (the others at the Philly guitar show, and on the cover of a 7″ from the Australian band The Makeouts)  If anyone has any information, I’d love to hear about it!

 By the way, I needed up selling this guitar on ebay to a great musician named Joshua Johnson, aka Pinche Gringo.  He plays real raw garage type music that just rocks! Check him out at http://www.myspace.com/pinchegringoband.

Advertisements

27 thoughts on “The Long, Winding Story of a Vintage Japanese Douglas Guitar

  1. Josh says:

    G’day! I scored one of these in pretty rough shape from under a pile of junk at my local guitar store here in NSW Australia! No idea what make it was… no “Douglas” or any other badging for that matter….. but I loved all the chrome!!! Anyway I have fixed it up and would love to send you a couple of pictures! Can you send me your email? *(or is here somewhere and I missed it?)

    Cheers mate

    Josh

  2. joe salmon says:

    where to buy these? I had a Zim Gar puke green and garish red with accordion style switches 4 pickups i would love to buy one of that ilk at reasonable price–but where??

    1. drowninginguitars says:

      Small town, dirty, pawn shops and music stores. Look for stores that don’t use Internet and are only found through word of mouth. The kind of store that hasn’t changed in 30 years, or more.

  3. Nick Bennett says:

    Wow! This is the first time I have ever found info on one of these! My grandpa had one, and I found it in his house in a closet after he died.I’m thinking about getting it fixed up. There’s just something very beautiful about it. I have been trying to research its origins for a while now,and i’m very thankful for this post. Thanks, man!

  4. Anonymous says:

    The pickups look like the same as used on some early Guyatone guitars. they are quite odd. coil wrapped around a bar magnet and inbetween each of the screws is a little square magnet. I recently rebuilt a guitar with these pickups on and like you say very low output. The ones I had measured 2.3k but unique cool sound. a pic of the insides can be found here: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/R4KPNihj5-RDWYqZ4XE5kNMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink

    Cheers

    1. drowninginguitars says:

      That’s a great observation, thanks for sharing! My thought is that another electronics maker in Japan was copying the Guyatone design, rather than Guyatone actually making these pups. Then again, that’s just my opinion. It’s always hard to say for sure with these oldies!

  5. Anonymous says:

    all people nead the bizarre guitars in the home,and mabye the santas not live the home,hi like the real bling to.

  6. CityWolf says:

    Hi, thanks for the information. I’ve been a lot of time looking to know something about Douglas guitars because I have one, so thanks a lot for the post. It doesn’t look the same as what I’ve seen here so I’ll share you some pictures. Wait to see the pickups, maybe you had but I’ve never seen nothing like them. The guitar was a shame when I found it but now it looks much better 😉 I’m trying to find more information, maybe you can help me, is it the same email?

  7. Anonymous says:

    hi, have you se the name on these guitar-hickory? i hope you can tell mi somthing,i have mail you the pict. have a Nice cristmas……. best regards stig

  8. Paul says:

    I Have one too! Found it under a pile of junk in my basement 21 years ago when I was 20 years old. Took it up to my apartment and hung it on the wall. And then it followed me from my early twentys and til today. Last friday, that is 31th of januari 2014, I plugged it in for the first time into a guitar speaker… and it worked!!! One string was broken but still.. Each one of the three mic´s worked and also the volume knob and the other knob below. Even tryed out the Rizm/Solo effect.. really nice.. I´m not a guitar player but I was curious.. and still are… Very cool and unusual piece as I no understand.
    Best regards Paul from Sweden

  9. josh hack says:

    Hey. I just acquired one on these from a friend. Completely intact with all parts,case and the amp that came with it! I’m a guitar collector and this one threw a curve ball at me. Can’t wait to go home and fix her up! Your article definitely helped me out.

  10. mike says:

    I have two of those guitars. the first one i got for a christmas in 1966 and i stil have it. the second one i got in 1980. Those guitares are just awsome… wery rare and today just hanging on the wall.

  11. stig. says:

    hi i have a good day- i bay one no name douglas-hickory guitar. and i have all3. have you info to conrad 12 strig? best regards stig.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Any chance you would have a wiring diagram for this? I just picked one of these up and wiring is non existing. Thanks cj

  13. davejames says:

    Thank you for posting this article. My parents gave me a Douglas for Christmas in 1967 and I played the heck out of it. It was my first electric, sadly, sold it a few years later. I remember the raised metal pick guard, funky pickup selector switches and whammy bar. Mine had a multi-bolt neck plate. After my dad minimized the neck bow and shimmed the heel, it played rather nicely. Man..the memories…

  14. Goran Kjellvander says:

    I have one I bought second hand in Colchester, England the summer -64. Mine might be older, since it has much simpler slide microphone switches than the accordion type. Changed the temolo for a Hagstrom tremolo back in the day, but I still have the original one!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s