“What’s a Teisco?” 1968 Del Rey EV3T Electric Guitar

This is a question I get all the time, so I figured it was high time I talked a little about Teisco and why a lot of people think every Japanese guitar is a Teisco.  See, back when I started having fun with vintage guitars, people in the USA used the term “Teisco” to refer to any old Japanese guitar.  I suppose it was what you could call a “blanket” statement.  People do the same in other countries where old Japanese guitars are called Top Twenties or Hertiecasters.  Anywhoo, the name Teisco comes from the company with the same name.  Teisco began as a company right after world war II, in Tokyo.  At first the company made lap steels, amps, and pickups.

Then in the early 1950s six string hollowbody guitars appeared, and then later in the 50s solidbody guitars arrived.  In the late 50s, Teisco guitars were being exported to various ports around the world, and many of the guitars came with the Teisco label.  Of course, in the states Teisco guitars also carried other labels like Silvertone, Kent, and Zim Gar (to name a few).  But Teisco was sorta unique because many Teisco guitars carried the Teisco name.  For instance, Guyatone, Fujigen, and Matsumoku were some of the other Japanese guitar factories back in the 60s, and rarely did these guitars ever have the name of the company on the headstock in the states.  Guyatones were mostly sold as Kent guitars in the USA, and were labeled Guyatones in Japan.  Fujigen and Matsumoku made thousands of electric guitars and I have never seen a single one with the Fujigen or Matsumoku name on the headstock.  It just didn’t happen.  So with Teisco, many guitarists saw that ‘ol Teisco name up there and it just became synonymous with Japanese electric guitar.Del Rey EV3T 3There was also variation with the Teisco labels, like “Teisco Del Rey” and simply “Del Rey.”  So you can see why that name became so common.  But as always with these vintage guitars, it’s not always as simple as a name plate.  Take this cool old EV3T here.  The original headstock badge says “Del Rey” but this old guitar isn’t a Teisco.  Confused?  OK so let’s define a Teisco guitar.  The Teisco company closed shop in late 1966, and sold all the assets to the giant Kawai company.  The transition happened slowly, but by mid-67, all Teisco guitars were being made at the Kawai factory.  So originally you have true Teisco guitars being made at the Teisco factory from the 1950s to 1967.  That was a good 17 year stretch for Teisco electric guitars.  There’s no argument that any guitar from that time period is a Teisco.Del Rey EV3T 1Kawai continued to make the same guitars that Teisco made, like the ever popular Spectrum 5 guitars, and the shark-finned Teisco “K” guitars.  In fact, Kawai made standard Teisco guitars well into 1968, when new designs started to appear.  Before 1968, Kawai made guitars with the Teisco brand name pretty much the same way that the original Teisco company made the guitars.  Teisco branded guitars became some of the finest to be produced at the Kawai factory.  So maybe we can agree that the Kawai-made Teisco guitars can also be called true “Teisco” guitars, because they were made with similar quality as before.  Vintage guitar freaks like to argue these points, but I hear from a lot of people who simply want to know who made their guitar.  But this Del Rey wasn’t made at the Kawai factory either!Del Rey EV3T 2So what’s up with this guitar?!?!  I mean, it looks like a 60s Teisco guitar right?  Well, kinda/sorta.  See, almost the entire Teisco guitar lineup, from the original Teisco company to the Kawai-made Teisco guitars, were all chronicled in catalogs.  That was another feature that set Teisco apart from other Japanese guitar factories.  Teisco printed catalogs in English almost every year in the 1960s.  And this guitar never appeared in any of the catalogs.  So the skeptic in me would say, “so what, there’s always strange guitars that weren’t represented,” and that’s partially true.  But again, this guitar isn’t a Teisco.Del Rey EV3T 4At the end of the 1960s, the electric guitar market was in serious decline, and Kawai, along with many other guitar manufacturers around the world, began to scale back production.  Many foreign companies even began to halt exports.  In the USA, large instrument importers and distributors were forced to carry cheaper products to compete in the dwindling market, and this guitar comes from that late 60s period.  The Del Rey name was used by the W.M.I. company, and W.M.I. simply stopped exclusively using Kawai-built Teisco guitars to carry the Del Rey name.  In fact, many of these later Del Rey branded guitars weren’t Kawai-built Teisco guitars.  I’m not sure what factory made this Del Rey EV3T guitar, but it wasn’t Teisco and it wasn’t Kawai.Del Rey EV3T 5Are you wondering, “How does this guy know for sure?”  Well, there’s a simple reason behind this meandering tale.  And if you have the attention and comprehension skills to make it this far, then you deserve to know.  This guitar’s body is made of plywood.  Yep, and guess what?  Guitars made at the Teisco factory during the 1960s, didn’t use plywood for the bodies (well, actually the very early, heavy, and short lived SD-4L and SD-2L Teisco guitars that were covered with laminate tops used some kind of heavy wood that may have been construction grade ply). And Teisco branded guitars made at the Kawai factory during the 1960s weren’t made with plywood bodies either!  Of course there may have been a stray example here and there, but as a general rule and from my interview with the Kawai factory manager of the time, Kawai used solid woods for all Teisco solid body electric guitars. There are other small components and features that separate this guitar from Teisco guitars, but I won’t bore you with the color of grounding wires, or the dimensions of neck pockets, or the use of string retainers, or the variations of Teisco pickups.  Let’s just say if you have a guitar with a plywood body, and I’m not talking sandwich construction, then it probably it isn’t a Teisco.Del Rey EV3T 6 Now when I went to Japan I asked a lot of people about this particular guitar.  I had me stumped!  I mean, if a guitar has a Teisco label or a Del Rey label then it has to be a Teisco, right?  And the answer to that question is no.  I asked former Teisco and Kawai employees about this guitar, and they all agreed it wasn’t a Teisco or a Kawai Teisco.  Now that Teisco name may be so ingrained in your brain that it won’t matter what factory made a particular guitar.  Maybe the Teisco name has just become universally associated with vintage Japanese electrics, and that’s ok.  But if you’re like me and interested in the history of old guitars, then maybe this will clear some things up for you.  And if you don’t believe any of this, then we’ll just have to leave you with Mike Dugan having some fun on this old Del Rey and giving it some proper playing.



11 thoughts on ““What’s a Teisco?” 1968 Del Rey EV3T Electric Guitar

  1. Zurdo says:

    the Volume and Tone knobs in this Teisco Del Rey are identical to those used in the Kent 820 guitars except they are in a silver color, the Kent knobs were a mat gold color. I have one of those Roller Bridges as shown in this guitar, it is a copy from the Gretsch roller bridges and the chromed base of the bridge assembly is identical to the Rickenbacker chromed base. The Teisco Roller bridge was designed for a solid-body guitar, while the Gretsch Roller bridge was designed for a semi-hollow arched top guitar.

  2. Sid says:

    Thanks for sharing this very interesting read. I love how you describe your research on those obscure vintage guitars. Did you ever find out which brand did make this guitar, and where it was produced?

  3. Sam Higgins says:

    I have a Teisco branded tulip style guitar with 1 pickup but it has a plywood body and a laminated neck that I think looks like oak. It has a Teisco badge nailed to the headstock. Is it a Teisco because the whole guitar is pretty much
    made of laminated wood?

  4. Richard Berman says:

    I owned one of these about 10 years ago and did some research because almost no information was available. Here is what I learned: The EV3T was indeed made by Sakai, but was never meant for the US market. The only two places where it was sold were Australia and Canada. I tracked down a former buyer for Simpsons (defunct Canadian department store chain) that sold a lot of Sears products in Canada in the 1950s and 60s. Silvertone was a Sears Brand, so these were actually sold under the Silvertone name in Canada. He said that it was common for Simpsons to sell items that Sears didn’t, even though they came through the same wholesalers. This was one where Sears declined to sell the model, but Simpsons did. After talking to a few other folks I calculated out that fewer than 350 were ever made, making it one of the rarer Teisco (and Teisco-derived) models. Most were sold in Canada and Australia, but a number of them DID make it to the US – those are the only ones branded as Del Rey. My estimate is that fewer than 100 were ever sold in the US; Sears never sold them, which is why it’s not in any of their catalogues. I talked to a guy who said that the entire lot of unsold EV3Ts were probably sold to a dealer in LA, which is why almost all of them ended up in California. I bought mine in Toronto and ended up selling it to a guy in the Bay Area. It was hands-down the worst instrument I have ever owned – it looked cool, but the construction was awful and the intonation was a medical oddity.

  5. Sheryl Jo Wilson says:

    My husband bought his in 1968 at an Arlenes Department Store that is also now no longer in business. He left it to our daughter and we too are curious about its value. It is in immaculate shape.

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