(Scroll all the way down for the video demos!!)
Today I’m going to talk today about one of my favorite Japanese guitars to ever cross the Pacific! This Kimberly green burst guitar is often called the “Bison”, and although I have seen a vintage catalog from 1970 with this guitar, it’s simply called the “Deluxe 4 Pick-up Solid Body Electric Guitar”. By the way, it cost $44.95 new and an optional case was an extra $8.95. That’s a bargain!
I bought my first Kimberly in the 90s and simply fell in love with it’s exaggerated horns, the color, and the four pickups (I’m all about any guitar with four pickups!). It took me a while to notice, but these green burst guitars were styled after the Eko Kadett guitars from Italy. The Japanese really hurt the Italian companies of the time since they copied a lot of the Italian designs! Anyway, when I got it home it needed all kinds of work, particularly with string alignment and some wiring work. Although I have to admit these are some of the better made guitars from the era, and the wiring was pretty clean. Then about a year ago I bought a second one that was so interesting I had to drive to Brooklyn to get it! This one was labeled Kawai and gave me some direction for my research.
Before I get into these two guitars, let’s start with the Kawai company. The Kawai company has been in the game since the beginning. Common knowledge goes like this; Kawai started building their own guitars in 1956 and eventually purchased Teisco in 1967. The Teisco brand died off by 1973 but Kawai continued to build and import some cool guitars like the Moonsault. Kimberly guitars were found in Lafayette Catalogs which was an electronics retailer with stores all over the east coast and were based in New York. I’ve seen the 4 pickup greenburst in a 1970 and 1973 Lafayette catalog. I’ve also seen this same body shape in different colors (sunburst and redburst), different pickup configurations (one and two pickups), and different brand names (Sekova, Clear Sound).
I always believed the greenburst guitars only came with 4 pickups, until I came upon this Kawai branded jewel! In all my years, I’ve never seen a Kawai version!
It has to be rare, and the Kawai branded guitar was probably the very first version, or the very last. I can’t decide! Either way, I think it’s safe to assume that all these long-horned burst guitars were made by Kawai in the late 60s and early 70s. Let’s compare!
Both bodies, headstocks, finishes, and neck shapes are identical. Also identical are components like neck plates (rectangular, no text), string retainers, and strap buttons. Both have zero frets. The pickguards are identical except that the Kimberly floral pattern is gold and the Kawai is silver/white. The tuners are also identical except for the white plastic buttons and ferrules on the Kimberly and the metal buttons and ferrules on the Kawai.
Now the differences! Both guitars have a similar tremolo system, but I’ve often wondered which tremolo design was earlier? Can you date a 60s Japanese guitar based on the tremolo? Probably. I think the Kawai tremolo is earlier. Also both guitars have roller bridges but they are different in design, and again, which design came first? My research points to the Kawai labeled guitar. The knobs are plastic on the Kimberly and metal on the Kawai. The switches are both white but the Kawai has those bigger slider switches whereas the Kimberly has the smaller switches.
And then the pickups!!!! This is definitely the strong point of these guitars. In the Kimberly, the pickups are the famous Gold Foil pups that all read in the mid 4k. But the wiring is series, meaning that the output increases as you switch on the pickups. For instance, with only the bridge pup turned on, the output is 4.57k. Add the second pup and it goes to 9.17k! Add the third pup and it flies to 13.77k!!! And with the neck pup turned on the output is a whopping 18.43k, which is a lot of output for a 60s Japanese guitar!! AND these pups handle fuzz and high gain pretty well! Looking at the Kawai guitar, the pickups are unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. They resemble mini-humbuckers but they are some robust single coil pickups. But here’s where it gets cool. . .the bridge pup on the Kawai reads out at 4.91k! That’s a hot tamale! The neck also reads at 4.91k! But again, like the Kimberly, the wiring scheme is series so when both pickups are switched on, the output jumps to 9.82k!! This is like the hidden secret of some really cool Japanese guitars!! Dano sort of discovered this and actually made diagrams of the wiring so he could replicate it if need be. The Kawai pickups sound very strong, and also take fuzz and high gain applications very well! It seems to me that these early Kawai pickups look like the later Teisco Spectrum pickups. The ones that have that “treble” and “bass” sides (which by the way don’t sound all that great).
The necks are also a little different. The back of the Kimberly neck has the greenburst finish, but the Kawai neck is a plain natural finish. The Kawai neck has triple binding (!!!) and larger fret markers. I have a green sparkle Tele Star guitar with the same large fret markers. Lastly, the headstock of the Kawai has a wood grain appearance but the Kimberly has the greenburst finish.
So whaddya tink? Don’t be shy, come on up front and add your knowledge! Do you know which guitar is older? Do you own one of these? Do you love them? Of course you do. One last note, I’ve seen a Teisco ET220 with many similarities to the Kawai green burst. And check out the videos below! Mike Dugan is doing all the playing!