Class is IN!! 1966 Kawai (Mayfair) Japanese Guitar

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!


11 thoughts on “Class is IN!! 1966 Kawai (Mayfair) Japanese Guitar

      1. Gregg says:

        Got it, especially since I’ve never seen two exactly alike. I’m trying to restore it for him, and the hardest thing I can’t find is that knob for the pick-up switch like on your Mayfair. Do you have ? I’d definately be interested. Thanks

  1. Larry Kading says:

    Just picked up a guitar as the bonus to getting my hands on a Rangemaster case. Went the nerd search and seems the only post that came up spades was yours. Almost identical to yours except there is a “Prestige” badge on the headstock. Knobs are different in color (black) but the rest is all the same. Thanks for the post. Was just going to toss this one aside but may take a second look at it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    finally, i’ve found a guitar with the same pickups than mine!

    a month ago i got a jaguar / jaguarillo style 12 string electric guitar
    pickups are the same even the pickguard looks kinda shown in this post.
    it doesn’t have a brand onit (as usual in vintage japanese guitars)
    but it has an old “made in hollywood” label on the neck plate.

    it seems to be a guitar made of different guitar parts
    a bro from another post told me that maybe it has vintage framus and teisco / kawai parts

    i’ll leave my email to show some pictures:

    so please, if anyone can help me to identify my guitar
    it would be great.


  3. Evan Jones Thorne says:

    What is the bar on the headstock, between the nut and the tuners? I just acquired a vintage Teisco neck with what are very obviously holes for that type of bar, but I can’t figure out what it’s called, let alone where to find one. It isn’t a standard retainer bar–any help would be appreciated!

    1. drowninginguitars says:

      Sure, that’s called a string retainer. It’s intention was to get downward tension on the strings as they travel over the nut. Each manufacturer used different designs, so you’ll have to measure those holes.

  4. ken hendrix says:

    my brother in the philippines in 1967 sent me almost the same guitar same color same pick ups bridge is different my body is strat. ive lost the tremelo bar and spring most beautiful sound cost him 25 dollars then.

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