For this post, I figured I’d use this wonderful old Kawai electric to show how vintage Japanese guitars can be dated and researched. Of course this is all my opinion and I’m sure some of my presumptions can be argued, but what the hey, I’m giving it a whirl!
When I first saw this guitar I noticed the pickups right away. They’re like pseudo-copies of Italian pickups, particularly Eko pickups. The Japanese were really copying Italian designs in the mid 60s, and I think the mid-60s was the high time for Italian electric guitar success, so the pickups in vintage Japanese guitars can sometimes point to year of origin. These pickups are very strong and not microphonic at all. They were designed very well and I love them! All the pickups read out around 7k and there is one option on the rotary switch that combines the bridge and middle pickups for a nice 13k output. I’ve seen a few different versions of this type of pickup, and I’ve seen guitars similar to this branded as “Kawai” and “Mayfair.”
Next let’s check out the neck plate. This is about as nondescript a neck plate as you’d ever come across and doesn’t really offer a clue as to who, or when this guitar was made. I often look at the neck plates for similarities to help identify and date, but more often than not, neck plates don’t offer up much. Matsumoku made guitars are an exception!
Pickguard material and design is another piece I look at. This pickguard is seen on only a few Kawai-made guitars, and often only with this type of pickup. And then check out the body shape. Very reminiscent of Heit guitars, with that curvy cutaway at the butt. Just another little clue. And within 13 seconds of publishing this post, Nate DeMont mentioned that this body style was a copy of Italian Welson guitars. I should mention though, that the Japanese guitar makers of the time often copied each other as much as they copied designs from other countries!
Next check out that tremolo. Since I’ve been playing and studying vintage Japanese guitars, I’ve seen this type of tremolo here and there, but after looking at a couple reference sources I think I can (somewhat) safely surmise that this tremolo was only used from 1965 to 1967. Boy, these trem units work very well, and it’s nice to see one still attached. This type uses a comparatively complex arm attachment, and when the arms are gone it’s just about impossible to find a replacement! You’ll often just see an empty hole on the trem plate!
The other thing I immediately liked about this guitar is the flame wood on the neck and headstock. I racked my brains for a long time trying to figure out who made this guitar, and since all that was left of the headstock badge was glue residue, I was stumped for a while. But when you look closer, that truss rod cover gives some more information. You see, I found these truss rod covers on Kawai guitars (like the Hound Dog Taylor models) that were made in 1964 and 1965. I call it the “arrowhead” truss rod cover. I’ve never seen this exact truss rod cover on any other guitars.
So now I had a small time window to look at when you combine the pickups, tremolo, and truss rod cover. Other people will often look at knobs, truss rod placement, neck joint, tuners, string retainer, and even neck inlays. I look at those things too, and some are more helpful than others. But each guitar is really a case study unto itself! So I say this guitar is a 1966, give or take a year. Now some of you may be thinking, “why does it matter?” And I can agree with that to an extent, but for some strange reason I think this research is FUN! Maybe I should call this one the NERD POST! Who cares man, I just love it. And I bet if you’ve read this far, then you probably love it too! But when I started playing these guitars, it was all about the affordability and the sound, and this guitar just has the sound in spades! Mike Dugan kinda went a little nuts with this demo, but honestly this guitar plays so well. It’s an inspiring instrument! Dano did his usual amazing job on this guitar with a refret, electronics work, and final set-up. AND his work is actually affordable!! I keep tellin’ y’all, contact THE MAN when you want to turn your vintage beauty into a player! And tell him Franco sent ya!