Beauty and the Beast- 1963 Kawai S-80 Bizarre Japanese Guitar

Kawai Bizarre 1Well, whaddya think about this one?  Ugly?  Sorta cool?  Total gonzo?  The shape is definitely out there, but overall the guitar is standard fare for early 60s Kawai solid body electrics.  The great Hound Dog pickups, and metal guard, the rocker switches, and the dreaded set-neck/bolt neck combo!Kawai Bizarre 2Check out that body shape!  I’m sure this guitar was meant to “copy” the strange Teisco SS and SD guitars.  Normally these Kawai S-80s featured a double cutaway style, but on this one all they did was chop off that lower horn!  The body is made of solid wood, and it’s actually nicely figured!  This guitar also had one of the nicest fretboards I’ve ever seen, it was really highly figured and just gorgeous.Kawai Bizarre 3You can see the solid wood construction of the neck and headstock here as well.  But alas, no adjustable truss rod.  Which is problematic when you look at the next photo!Kawai Bizarre 5Yes, there it is, the dreaded early Kawai neck joint!  There’s the beast!  Man o’ man, those joints are real buggers.  See, when you take off that neck plate, there’s an addition screw under there securing the neck, and then after you take that out, you see that the neck is glued into the heel.  It’s a tight fit, and is done well from a carpenter’s point-of-view.  But from a guitarist’s  angle, it’s problematic.Kawai Bizarre 4Neck angles were never very good on most vintage Japanese electric guitars.  But if you’re going to use set-neck construction and no adjustable truss rod, then you’d better get that neck angle correct!  Oh, and I almost forgot, they applied the finish of the guitar over the neck joint!! Unfortunately, the neck angle on this guitar was WAY OFF!!  So we got to work by removing the neck (and breaking the finish at the joint!), using a heat gun to get it straight, and then adding a bunch of shims to get the guitar playable.Kawai Bizarre 6

It’s sort of a shame with these old Japanese guitars.  They have such a bad rap, but they do have potential, with some work.  I just can’t help but give them a little love, even the ugly ones!


8 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast- 1963 Kawai S-80 Bizarre Japanese Guitar

  1. Jim Barlow says:

    Awesome! I’ve got a St.George triple p.u., ser.#001 of 2 (the only one with a “handle” cut into the body) that I bought New in ’63 which still plays like it did the day I picked it up at Sherman Clay, although it’s finish is beyond rough from use. I spoke with Mr. Gruhn years ago (’93-94) about the value (for ins.) but couldn’t take it to Nashville. I’d be interested in your thoughts on it though it won’t be sold but passed on to my grandson. Thank you, in advance, for your time. Jim

  2. joe chambers says:

    This was the same style as the first electric guitar my parents bought for me in 1966 brand new in a pawn shop in Phoenix City Alabama. It had the name “Cortez” glued on the headstock. The shiny pick guard snagged me like a silver spoon grabs a large mouth bass. The action at the nut was so high my guitar teacher said ” Joe, Chet Atkins couldn’t play this guitar”. You could not make a clean “F” chord at the nut. I was stuck with it for two years until the folks saw I was not going to stop playing so they bought me a used Fender Musicmaster with one pick up, white with red pick guard. I learned more in the next two months on with the Fender than the past two years with the “Cortez” but as most players who let their first guitar get away I wish I still had it.

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