Are You Experienced? -1963 Valiant EJ1 Japanese Guitar

Oh boy, this guitar can teach us all a lesson on the early Japanese imported guitars.  I’ve owned this one for a while, and although I always loved how the pickup sounded, the darn guitar just never played right!  I couldn’t explain it, but the whole guitar just seemed “off”.

Well, after many years of fighting this guitar Dano finally figured it all out.  I want you to check out the picture above.  Notice the two screw holes above the bridge?  Well, that’s where the bridge was screwed onto the body from the factory.  But check out where the bridge now resides.  That, my friends, is sort of a big mistake.  See, to have a guitar properly intonate (an excuse me if you already know all this) the distance from the nut to the 12th fret should be the same as the distance from the 12th fret to where the strings break over the bridge.  Well, this guitar was off by an inch!  Previously I didn’t even realize this was even possible!  I never even thought to check, but in the years since I’ve learned that little nugget I’ve noticed many early imports with this same issue.  Some bridges are off by a little, and some are off by a lot!

So what do you do with a guitar like this one?  Well I suppose a lot got stuck under beds or into closets, or into the trash!  I mean, if you were trying to learn on a guitar like this you probably lost your mind!  Of course yours truly just kept on playing it, wondering why all the scales sounded better one fret up!  To be honest, the pickup in this guitar is the real reason to buy this model and it’s two pickup brother.  This thing is just so damn gritty and raw!  But almost every one of these guitars (I’ve owned four at one time!!!) has weird issues to work out.  I call ’em “quirks”.  You may call it a turd.

You see, these guitars were some of the very earliest Japanese imports.  In Japan, Guyatone and Teisco had already been building instruments for many years when the guitar boom took over and factories in Japan that had previously made cabinets, shoes, furniture, and violins were pressed into service as guitar makers.  And this is one of the guitars to come out of the multitude of “new” guitar factories.

As you can imagine, there were plenty of growing pains that came along with these new factories.  The differences in climate really messed up whole shipments of guitars.  Electronic components were often used with improper values, and pickups were being designed on the spot!  See, there was such a demand for guitars in the early 60s that even with all the American companies churning out HUGE amounts of instruments, it still wasn’t enough!  Then come the Japanese, as a result of enterprising American businessmen, and soon Japanese guitars were pouring into the USA at a price point that no maker in America, England, Italy, Germany, or anywhere else for that matter, could beat.

These guitars came with several brand names, and many of the ones I’ve seen are labeled Valiant.  One pickup Japanese guitars are really awesome because they are still very affordable and work great with a slide.  I mean they sound SERIOUSLY good!  I have to laugh at ebay auctions that state “this is my slide guitar.”  That’s often code for “the action is so high the guitar is unplayable”!!!  Of course all this can be sorted out without too much pain.  It just takes some time, patience, and sometimes a six pack.  A guitar like this will cost you about the same price as a set of 1963 Fender pickguard screws, or a single 1959 Gibson Les Paul knob!  See where I’m coming from?  By the way, we tried something new for this demo, so check out the end of the vid!  Mike Dugan just plays songs on the fly, one take, it’s amazing!


15 thoughts on “Are You Experienced? -1963 Valiant EJ1 Japanese Guitar

  1. Dan Pessell says:

    Thanks for this and all your posts, Mr. Drowning. For the record, my first electric guitar was a 1984 Harmony “Est. 1894” dual humbucker Les Paul Jr. copy. For years I thought I just didn’t know how to adjust a guitar properly. Great sound, terrible intonation. I have since replaced the stop tailpiece with a tune-o-matic bridge 3/4 inch north of factory. What a difference and a relief. Am refinishing and shielding the previously un-shielded electronics. I’ll keep you updated.

    By the way, when I get my 68 Coral Fiddle Bass fixed, I’ll be sure and send you a picture. It was a beauty, but not treated well by its previous owner.

    1. drowninginguitars says:

      Wow, thanks for sharing! I think a lot of players overlook things like intonation and just end up getting rid of an otherwise great sounding guitar. And that Coral bass, please send pics!!

  2. John says:

    Wow. I did not expect tone like that from that monster. And Mike, is a hell of a player. Wish i could play like that. I still just play in box 1 of the pentatonic. Someday. . . . Love your guitars!

  3. Phil says:

    I don’t know how much you want to know about these old Japanese guitars, but you should try contacting Nate at Demont Guitars. He figures there were more than 70 Japanese guitar factories in the 60’s. I believe this one was made in the Sakai factory. I got one at a guitar show yesterday and it’s incredible. I don’t have to fight mine at all!

  4. Tom says:

    I had a two pickup version of this guitar under the name Marvel with a tremelo bar talipiece and volume and tone knobs for both pickups. The finish was exactly the same on mine, black to cherry to mahogany sunburst. Played mostly 60’s pop and Brit invasion (Beatles, Stones, Kinks), but the amp I had to run it through was a very basic cheap Kay and didn’t get much tone out of it. This instrument in the video sounds great!

    1. John Spears says:

      I have a marvel like you have described and have been trying to find out more about it. Mine is red with the two pickup combo but the switch plate/pickguard is different. Close, just different.

  5. Andrew Knaap says:

    Wow. Thanks for all the information on this guitar. I just picked one up at a garage sale this morning for $10.00. It doesn’t have any strings. It’s dark blue with a horrible sparkly finish.

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