Like plants, Japanese guitars have an almost secret life of which few people outside are aware. While many Americans in the ’60s were seeing fairly low-end commodity guitars at the neighborhood Western Auto, there was actually a thriving and fairly innovative domestic guitar scene that produced some cool and relatively decent guitars, including this Guyatone LG-160T from 1967.
Guyatone dates to 1933, when Mitsuo Matsuki and Hawaiian/Spanish guitarist Atsuo Kaneko (who would later help start Teisco) founded a company called Matsuki Seisakujo, which sold Rickenbacker-inspired Guya guitars. In 1948, Matsuki formed his own company called Matsuki Denki Onkyo Kenkyujo, which introduced the Guyatone brand in ’51 and the following year became known as the Tokyo Sound Company. Americans got their first taste of inexpensive Guyatone guitars in the early ’60s with Kent solidbodies imported by Buegeleisen & Jacobson.
While Tokyo Sound was cranking out cheap guitars for both home and abroad, it was also developing more interesting instruments that reflected distinctively ’60s Japanese tastes and were not widely exported. Like many of these, this mahogany-bodied/maple-necked LG-160T combines the strong affection the Japanese had for the Ventures with some innovative ideas about guitar electronics.
The Ventures took Japan by storm, and the fascination led to interest in Mosrite guitars, which they endorsed. Guyatone produced a number of Mosrite-inspired models, with their reverse bodies and German carve top relief typical of Semie Moseley’s creations. These included more conservative treatments such as this LG-160T and the much more popular Sharp 5, which was much more narrow and pointed. Note the zero fret, mini-dot inlays and roller bridge, as on a Mosrite.
Other domestic trends can be seen in the pickup layout, which puts a single-coil at the neck and then a pair, like a humbucker, at the bridge. This was very similar to the layout on early Yamaha solidbodies and a few other J apanese brands. Which came first is unknown, but in Japan in those days, guitar ideas spread very quickly. The three-way select treats the lead pair of pickups as if both coils are on (though not in humbucking mode) unless the sliding switch is thrown, which cuts out the middle coil. This gives you quite a bit of tonal flexibility with a variety of coil options; a simple but clever design.
Guitars like this are still not at the quality level Japanese makers would achieve a few years later, during the “copy era” of the ’70s, but they’re clearly a step forward from those early Kents. Their whimsical styling, novel electronics, and generally good workmanship make them pretty impressive for the time and far more interesting than the majority of their low/midrange American and European contemporaries. And because they weren’t (for the most part) shipped abroad in any great numbers, they’re pretty scarce in these here parts. Now the secret’s out!
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.