Here’s the third installment of factory tour articles that detail my adventures in Japan. Back in the spring of 2013, I spent two weeks traveling around Japan and completing research for a book about vintage guitars. I spent one day here in Matsumoto, at the Atlansia guitar factory. Atlansia guitars are probably the most creative on the market, and the mastermind behind it all is Hayashi Nobuaki (He goes by H. Noble).
Noble is a totally interesting man with a fascinating history. He started off working at the famous Matsumoku guitar factory in the early 1960s. Noble designed almost all the Matsumoku-built guitars throughout the 1960s and 70s. The guy was, and continues to be, a prolific designer. But in the truest sense of the word, Noble is an artist. He is a painter, writer, photographer, and designer of all things. I liked him immediately!
Touring his small factory was one of the coolest experiences of my life. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the factory, but trust me when I say this man is a genius. He actually designed almost all of the machinery in his shop. AND he also built almost all of it! Even his fret cutting machine was creative! Like a little robot! In his workroom he had many parts he had built himself. It reminded me of the early days with Leo Fender, or Semie Mosely. Where all the parts were thought out and built by hand. Noble approaches all his guitar designs from a creative angle, and avoids “copy” guitars. To me, he is a true holdover from the awesome Japanese guitar designers of the early to mid-60s. Like I said before, I really liked this man!
Noble is currently building all sorts of interesting guitars. He experiments with different woods, pickup placements, and headstock designs. He has models with moveable pickups! Of course it’s all built by hand, by the man. One cool thing are his headstock design options, where even small details like angled tuner posts find a useful purpose.
I loved many of his guitar designs, and I will own a few one day! Noble thinks of everything with these new designs. Things like balance, tone, and functionality all combine into very artful pieces. This room sort of served as a showroom and my mind was just blown as I tried to comprehend these designs. Taking it all in was akin to entering a casino for the first time. Sensory overload! In a good way of course.
One of the main reasons I visited Atlansia was to learn more about the old days of Japanese guitar manufacturing. Matsumoto City was, at one time, the center of guitar production in Japan. There were several large guitar factories including Fujigen (which is still there), and Matsumoku. The Matsumoku factory produced a huge amount of electric guitars in the early days of the 1960s. And I was shocked and impressed to learn that H. Noble had designed almost all of them. The man was THE MAN!
When we visited his shop, he surprised me with a few photo albums of all his 1960s guitar designs. These were almost all prototypes, although many did eventually go into production for various companies like Arai, Conrad, and Bruno. H. Noble’s first shot at designs were almost all “home runs” in my mind. Even at the dawn of this man’s career, his visions were evident and just flat out gonzo! Surprisingly, many of his more extreme designs never made it past the prototype stage, but at least he had the photographic evidence.
He gave me a great education about the early days, and how balance and originality of design were just as important as how a guitar sounded and played. See, I sort of dislike the copy era Japanese guitars of the 70s and 80s. I understand why the guitar companies in Japan shifted from original designs to copy guitars. And I don’t bemoan the loss of creativity. I mean, business is business and many of these guitar companies were scrappers. The ones that survived the crash of the guitar boom had to get by on their skill and craftsmanship. But it was cool to listen to H. Noble talk about his design theory and how it all applied to guitars. He’s just an original and I feel that owning one of his guitars would be like owning a painting from a famous artist.
I could’ve seriously spent several days at his shop, since he was so interesting. I do need to learn more Japanese though. After a few hours of intense conversation, I really got him to laugh when I displayed my size 13 shoes bursting out of his slippers! He got a kick out of that. In Japan, you always take your shoes off when entering a house. And all the homes have “guest” slippers waiting for you. One of the running jokes during my trip was how none of these homes had slippers that actually fit my big paws!
Anyway, H. Noble can found on Facebook, and you can visit his website too. Atlansia guitars are just crazy cool, and the man behind all these designs deserves a lot of recognition. See, back in the day, Matsumoku guitars were probably the best guitars coming out of Japan. They were always built well, and they always aged well. Many of the engineers and designers from that company have faded from memory, and from the Earth. So to meet and talk with H. Noble was a great experience for me. If you’re interested in his guitars, you can contact his company, or contact me and I’ll help you out!