For about six years in the 1960s, the Hoshino Gakki company (better known by their most popular brand, Ibanez) produced guitars at their Tama plant in Japan. And yes, it was the same place that produced the early Tama drums. The factory churned out some really kooky designs and this Hy Lo model 2103 is a good representation of the kook factor! The segmented guard is very reminiscent of the early UK Burns guitar design.Most of the Tama made guitars had their share of quirks. For instance, many of the clear celluloid pickguards they used tend to deteriorate over time. And the thicker guards they used, like on this Hy Lo, were prone to shrinking. But some of these Tama models had cool little details like sparkle inlays on the pickups, small puffy labels (remember those old puffy stickers?), and some cool graphics. Plus, this particular tremolo is one of my favorites from the old days! The switches almost always seem to be a source of frustration when it comes to tech work, and honestly they were some of the worst to come out of Japan. The switches never seem to be fully off, so unless you sink some work into them there is always this tone “bleed”, especially since the wiring is parallel.Notice that strip of darker wood running through the headstock. That was sorta a Tama trademark, as was the small metal label often nailed to the headstock. These guitars were made under a few different names (like Maxitone) and most had this small label with similar graphics. These Tama made guitars were also imported into many European countries, and it seems like the wackiest designs were destined for locations outside the USA. Serious collectors spend lots of time searching all over the world for those rare little weird nuggets of Tama guitar design. Hoshino made quite a few different models and the identifier is often located on the back of the headstock via that small sticker, which ALWAYS seemed to fall off! But the necks on these feel very fine, just a little chunky, and the bodies were almost always made of solid wood.Notice that little “Japan” stamp near the neck heel? And check out this subtle belly contour. And you have to take note of that trapezoid neck plate, that’s a definite Hoshino marker. This guitar is on the light side and balances real well.
I haven’t seen too many of these model 2103s, so I’d say that this is a rather rare model. I’ve seen maybe three in about five years. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re not floating around out there. It just means there ain’t too many of them! At least we have this one documented for posterity. Dano at Happy Guitar Repair made this one playable, and Mike Dugan makes it play.
22 thoughts on “Searching Hy and Lo – 1966 Hy Lo Model 2103 Hoshino Gakki Guitar”
I’m pretty sure I have one of these. Looks just like it. Sounds good to me. Been in the closet for years.
I got mine second hand, and never played it. If I remember correctly, the original owner got it for Christmas from his parents. It was in the Sears or Montgomery Ward catalog. They were a military family. I have the original cardboard case. Love the way that feller makes yours sound! (laughs) I never really found any information on it until now – looking for info on a Conqueror strat copy for a friend.
Cool man, thanks for sharing!
Funky guitar! It’s a long shot but maybe you can answer: I found your videos while looking through various surf guitars. I’m trying to find a treble-rich guitar that produces a kind of ‘ring’ in the upper middle frequencies, which some surf-era guitars seem to. I like the sound of some Telecasters in this respect, but I figured there have to be some relics of the past that produce interesting sounds. Any suggestions?
Wow man, that’s a tough question to answer. There are a lot of older guitars from the 60s that seem to have that ring-like quality going on. I think old Hagstrom single coils have a good surf tone, and old Guyatones do too. Especially the ones with the P-90ish type pickups.
Thanks a lot! Those are great starting points. P-90 does sound like a step in the direction as well.
Sure man! Really, a lot of these cheap Japanese electrics are great for surf sounds too. Plus they’re cheap enough that you can try them out and experiment.
Cheap Japanese electrics — are you talking about the Hagstrom and Guyatone? I thought Hagstrom were largely made in Sweden (that’s what eBay seems to suggest, anyway).
Nah, I meant in addition to the Hagstrom and Guyatone I mentioned before…
I have a model 3903 Hy Lo guitar. Can you please give me a price on it. You can reache at 804-479-9142
I can’t say for sure unless I see some pictures.
How is that bridge set up?
What do you mean?
I have the same guitar except it says “wildcat iv” with a paw print on the pick guard, yours is the only other one I have seen that has a name on it
It says wild cat where yours says highlo
Mine also has 4 pickups
i have a hylo model 1802 mint ….whats it worth.
Loaded question…what’s the condition, playability, originality? Gotta factor all that in you know?
Plays great ,condition 9.5 all labels and tags ,very lite area scratch will send video
I have a hy-lo amp with tremolo It needs some work ,only a tube any know about these amps? I know it sounded great when it ran about 30 years ago.I*ve never seen another one like it.hy-lo made a lot of guitars.but not amps I think it was made in 1965
I got myself one of these gems yesterday at a local junk store.Owner bought from an estate sale.Got an awesome deal😂Was wondering possible general value almost have it completely cleaned a d re strung.
Just picked up a “Howard” version of this guitar. Model 1804, still has the stickers and is the 4-pickup version!