Monday, 1 November 2010

K Country D380

K Country was the main domestic guitar brand name for Kasuga Musical Instruments Mfg Co Ltd, made from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. Kasuga itself is one of the oldest stringed instrument manufacturers in Japan, started in 1935 by Miki Bukichi in Nagoya Japan. They started in making violins, banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles before starting the range of guitars in the 1960s. Along with acoustic guitars, they also made electric guitars, occasionally branded as Kasuga but more often made for another company, such as Tokai, and early Japanese Fender models. In regards to their acoustics, they made the Madeira acoustic guitars for Guild in the 1970s, which does relate heavily to this model featured. Kasuga closed in the mid 1990s.

The D380 is a special edition model based on the Guild D50, a true american classic guitar, and a real king in bluegrass music. Due to Kasuga making the Madeira Guild models, this lends itself hugely to the domestic K Country models being as accurate as possible to the original Guilds. With already owning a Guild GAD-40, the appeal to owning one of these models was understandable, particularly given all the bluegrass features present on it. It has a solid spruce top, with andes rosewood back and sides, with a wood mosaic inlay as the back central strip, A tortoiseshell Guild shape pickguard stretches round the soundhole, and the rosewood Guild styled bridge features a bone saddle and curved bridge pin hole positions; all true to the original. The neck is three piece mahogany with a bound rosewood fretboard. This is a beauty, with the handcrafted position marker inlays, each with a unique bluegrass style design. Again this feature can be seen on some old Guild D40s out of Rhode Island. I think it looks fantastic, and more than a few folk have commented on how much they like them. The headstalk is typical Guild shaped, with some quite unique tuners - whether these are Gotoh or Kasuga designed models i don't know, but they work well and look the part.

Sound wise; well it sounds like a Guild. In that completely distinct way they do, this is a bluegrass delight with some medium phosphor bronze strings on, real clarity and depth to the tone. Flatpicking is really its thing.

Here are some photos to enjoy:

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As ever, you can find the rest of the photos here.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Yamaki YW-50-12

Another brand to talk about is Yamaki, a name perhaps more familiar than others written about so far. An excellent retelling of its history comes from an exert from a magazine that a poster on the acoustic guitar forum put up. I will quote from there:

"The complex story of Yamaki guitars is entwined with the histories of a number of other Japanese companies. In the late 1940s, brothers Yasuyuki and Kazuyuki Teradaira started working for Tatsuno Mokko, an instrument-building firm that later split into two different companies, one of which was called Hayashi Gakki. In 1954 Hayashi Gakki was bought out by Zenon, a large music distributor. In 1962 Yasuyuki left Zenon to start an instrument distributor he called Daion, which means “big sound” in Japanese. In 1967 Kazuyuki left Zenon to produce classical guitars under the name Yamaki, an auspicious Japanese word meaning “happy trees on the mountain.” By the early 1970s, Kazuyuki expanded the Yamaki line to include a large number of steel-string guitars, many of which were based on C.F. Martin and Co.’s designs and were distributed exclusively through Daion. Along with Yamaki guitars, Daion sold instruments from Shinano, Mitsura Tamura, Chaki, and Hamox, some of which were built by Yamaki at various times, and Harptone guitars, which they imported from the US.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Daion began exporting Yamaki guitars to America, where they were well received. By the early 1980s, however, Daion felt that the Yamaki Martin-style guitars were getting lost among similar instruments from other Japanese builders like Takamine, Yasuma, and C.F. Mountain, so they redesigned the entire acoustic line and started building acoustic-electrics and solid-body electrics as well as oddities like double-neck acoustics. They dropped the Yamaki name and rebranded their instruments as Daion guitars. Daion began an extensive advertising campaign to introduce the new line around 1982, but this was a time when musicians were more interested in the new MIDI-equipped synthesizers than in guitars. In 1984 Daion stopped importing guitars to America and soon went out of business. Yamaki, on the other hand, survived the downturn of the 1980s and now makes parts for other Japanese guitar companies."


I think that covers it very well. Indeed, Yamaki guitars were sold to the West, though for some reason Canada was the one country to be most exposed to their models. I think their is a strong fanbase for their guitars there due to that. As ever, the top of the range models still seem to be more prominent in native Japan than anywhere else, with prices well above $1000 being the going rate for these.

I have a few Yamaki guitars; the one i am featuring here is one i sold earlier in the year. This 12-string Yamaki YW-50-12 was made in 1981, and originally retailed at 50,000 Yen. It is quite a stunning guitar by any measure, with its fine slotted headstock, central maple inlay, and the beautiful orange/green/cream/black chevron purfling, and then the quality of the tone woods used as well. Yamaki guitars are well reputed for their excellent stock of wood used in their guitars, and this is a great example of an even, tight grained solid spruce top and fine figured rosewood used in the sides and as the outer panels of the three-piece back. The bound rosewood fretboard features some of the nicest positional marker inlays i've seen, namely a rectangle in mother-of-pearl overlayed by a thinner and longer rectangle in mexican shell abalone. Highly skilled stuff, and not too bling on the eye. As you go up the mahogany neck, it is hard not to notice a rosewood veneered slotted headstock, which are exceptionally unusual for a steel-strung guitar. Nothing looks quite so good once you see it, something so vintage about it. Don't get me wrong, it's a bit of a pain in the ass to restring! But once you have, and you strum a lush open chord on this, it's entirely worth it. Sonorous, a classic full 12-string ring sings out. Wonderful stuff.

I do have a second one of these from 1984, but the headstock was poorly padded in transport and arrived to me split at the joint, and sits awaiting repair. I have no doubts it will play as well as this, but wont be in such fine condition.

Here are some photos to enjoy:

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Please find additional photos here

Friday, 8 October 2010

Jagard JD-85S

There can be no mistaking what this is a copy of; the Gibson Dove is legendary. First made in 1962 in Kalamazoo, the Dove was the second Gibson acoustic to feature the flat-shoulder design made famous by the Martin D-series guitars, the first being the equally famous Hummingbird. Though similar in appearance, the original Dove featured a solid Sitka spruce top and light bracing, with solid maple back and sides, the ornate engraved pickguard - probably one of the most famous pickguards ever designed, and the two doves on the bridge. On to that a longer 25.5" scale length fretboard with split parallelogram inlays, gave the Dove a loud, bright and rich sound, and a unique image.

It's little wonder that the Japanese guitar industry of the 70s sought to make their own models of it, with so many famous musicians using them at some point or another, demand was high, and import prices of the Gibson models were far beyond their economy. As with the Martin models, they took the original Dove apart and examined how it was made, and went about re-creating it - Jagard were one brand of many with a Dove model, other better known ones likely being Burny, Greco, Morris, and Yamaki.

Jagard guitars were crafted at the Terada guitar factory, which was one of the largest guitar manufacturers of the time in Japan. Terada built guitars of all ranges and prices, for a number of different brands, and even used a mail-order system to sell guitars through magazines, mainly under the guise of Tomson guitars. Regarding Jagard guitars, i can only guess the name was inspired from the Rolling Stones front man! A lot of people have quite a laugh when i tell them the name of the brand of this guitar, and it is quite a novelty. However, as the model name/number suggests, this is quite a guitar, retailing originally at 85,000 Yen in the mid 70s - a huge sum of money in perspective. This is the most expensive of the original priced guitars in the collection, and you really did get something extra for your money here.

Finished in brilliant sunburst, it looks stunning. The solid spruce top, the maple sides, and a three-piece maple back with intricate wood mosaic inlays between each panel, double bound in ivory white, are all beautiful. Next, the rosewood Gibson-style bridge features mother-of-pearl dove inlays, and the pickguard is tortoise-shell with mother-of-pearl dove and hand etched details. A plus is the bone saddle, a marked improvement over the original tune-o-matic style first released on the Gibson. On to the body is a red-woodstained mahogany neck with a bound rosewood fretboard featuring mother-of-pearl split parallelogram position markers, up to a bone nut and an ivory bound moustache headstalk with Jagard in italic mother-of-pearl inlay, and the Gibson style crown and truss rod cover. The tuning pegs are Japanese high-quality Gotoh style which wind smooth and hold tight. Inside it's clean and tight, with a detail woodpatch branded with "Hand Made Jagard Model No. JD85S Made By Terada".

With so many Martin copies in my collection, this model is a rarity. The maple back and sides and the fine spruce top really make this guitar sing loud and crisp, shimmering in harmonic chords. I have Newtone light bronze strings on it just now, and it is amazing the volume out of the lights it produces. A set of mediums will be tried next. I really must get a recording and share it.

Until then, here are some photos to enjoy:

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You can find the rest of the photos here

Monday, 4 October 2010

Tama 3555

Tama guitars are something special. Handmade by a select group of Ibanez luthiers for a few years in the mid to late 70s, they represent amongst the highest quality guitars of the period, both in skill of craft and the materials used. Anyone that owns one appreciates that fact and tends to treasure them, though there is an increasing awareness of their quality and a few are appearing on ebay, generally between the $500 to $1000 region just now; still frankly modest considering their quality and the respective price of a like-sounding Martin. I would expect as the years go by, those figures will rise and rise.

Unlike Pearl, Tama acoustic guitars were a Western brand only, with models released for the US and European markets, whilst few people in their native Japan are familiar with the name outside of the Bluebell models Tama built. Ironically enough, the West are not familiar with Bluebell guitars at all. Another entertaining point is that these Tama guitars are essential the same as the Ibanez Artwood Series I models of the time, which were again sold specifically to the West - another fine example of the Brand-crazy business that was prominent at the time in Japan. The jig-saw gets bigger and bigger all the time...

It seems Tama had two distinct series of guitars, defining their early period (1974-1977) and later period (1977-1979). The early period models are defined by 4 digit nomenclature, and occasionally an S or P to identify if the top was Solid or Plywood, though Tama moved swiftly to using solid tops only in construction. My 3555 model is almost the entry level model Tama offered in 1974, which is quite mind boggling when you consider its quality. It features a fantastic solid top, rosewood back and sides, with double abalone binding on both the top and the back,and wood inlay mosaic down the centre of the back, all beautifully done. The bridge is ebony with a bone saddle. The mahogany neck is quite a chunky C profile which suits my large hands and is an ease to play, finished in semi-gloss, with a bound rosewood fretboard and finely finished frets with mother-of-pearl dot position markers. The headstock is square shaped with a rosewood veneer and Tama logo in mother-of-pearl and a Tama truss rod cover, with Japanese tuners very similar to what are on the Pearl PF-770 - these are not the normally seen gotoh tuners found on most Tamas, though they look original. It also has a Made in Japan sticker on the back of the headstock; I think may well be a Japanese released model/prototype, though i can only be speculative about such. The serial number inside the soundhole would make me think it was made 1977 though.

One of the real joys about the Tama luthiers is their hand finished bracing. These hand scalloped braces are quite beautifully done and are of the highest quality fit - most owners believe it is this attention and subtle craft that makes these guitars sing with such depth of tone and crisp volume. It is a true pleasure to play and own.

For an excellent resource on Tama guitars, visit J├╝rgen's website here

Here are some photos to enjoy:

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For the rest of the photos please visit here

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Kawai F-500D

Kawai, another of Japans' musical instrument giants, are much better known for their pianos and fine violins than acoustic guitars, but they did dabble with guitars along the way! Dabble being apt, because there is a mix of quality out there; some very clearly entry level and novelty guitars, plywood construction and toys, both electric and acoustic, and then a much more select choice of high quality guitars made around the mid-70s to the early 80s, the top models of which were hand-crafted using selected tone woods, and made in much smaller quantities than the lower priced models. Manufactured at Kawai Gaki, these hand crafted models began at the F-500D model, priced at 50,000 Yen at release, up to the top of the range FD-15, priced at 150,000 Yen. I have two F-500D models, made quite clearly at two different years and by different hands. This is the earlier one of the two being featured in this entry, and is a firm favourite in my collection.

This F-500D is a much loved and used model, with the odd scuff on its back, and worn frets which i'll need to have replaced a little while down the line, the top beginning to belly slightly but not enough to cause problems... but i doubt this guitar would sound as good without all the signs of its use. Regarding its specs, it features a select solid spruce top which really is fantastic - laced with silk (that fine cross grain sheen you see looking at an angle across the wood), aged and tight grained, particularly around the centre of the body. Over all the years of playing, this has opened up to offer up a world of tone. It has abalone purfling round the body and soundhole, and select rosewood sides and back, with a mosaic inlay down the centre back joint. The bridge is honed from select rosewood, as is the fingerboard which features Mexican shell hexagonal position markers, and is bound to a select mahogany neck. The headstalk is Martin square shaped, with Gotoh machine heads and the Kawai logo inlayed in abalone. It is all solid and attentive stuff. The real magic in this guitar is the bracing inside - the hand-crafted point really comes home here, with hand-scallopped and shaped bracing, that is exceptionally clean and smooth. Notably these braces are shaped slightly thinner compared to those on the early 80s F-500D i have, which gives each their own character.

I have tried to take some photos to show the quality of woods and craftmanship in this model below:

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You can find additional photos here

Friday, 24 September 2010

Pearl FW-135

Another Pearl guitar, this time modeled on a Gibson acoustic design, quite likely the Songwriter, but with their own details to mark it apart. The Pearl FW-135 (yet another different model name - price association), was priced at 35,000 Yen on it's release in the early 70's, and as per the previous entry, was only available for a couple of years.

Manufactured at the Hayashi Gaki factory, it is again beautifully built with some fine features. It is a solid spruce top dreadnought, with maple back and sides, finished in a fine sunburst, even on the flamed maple back with a gold and black weaved purfling down its centre. The top and back have cream bounding that has aged that nice vintage yellow, which sets off nicely against the black edge of the sunburst. It has a Martin style rosewood bridge and a quite unique crescent/half moon shaped pickguard with a woodgrain-like effect, which has a real appeal about it. The neck material is hard to tell due to the black finish, most likely nato or mahogany, and most likely 3-piece. It features a rosewood fingerboard, with split-trapezoid position markers in mother-of-pearl, and cream binding. I've always liked that Gibson inlay design. The headstock design is also similar to Gibson, but altered into a simple tri-point with mother-of-pearl Pearl logo on the top. The tuners are another unique design on this guitar - Japanese-made saucer shaped machine covers with round buttons. Again i have no complaints about the sturdiness of these and i like the look of them. Once again the Pearl truss rod cover also features on the headstock, this time without the P logo on it. Internally you can see "Pearl Guitar. Folk. Made by Hayashi" stamped on the central strip and the ripples of the maple, with solid bracing and clean and tidy joints. Another really well constructed guitar in near-new condition, quite something for nearly 40 years old.

At the moment i have Newtone tru-bronze lights on it, and you get that warm round sound, quite bright and less bassy than some of the others, its really nice to strum chords away on in folk and country songs, or picking melodies further up the neck. I should like to try it with some phosphor-bronze strings on it some time; it's hard to tell til you try out the different types what one suits the guitar best but i think it might offer another bluesy tones as well with those on. Either way, it is a fine player and a fine looker.

Here are some photos:

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Additional photos are here

Monday, 20 September 2010

Pearl PF-770

Pearl; a name synonmous with quality drums for the past 30 to 40 years. Lesser known is the acoustic guitars they offered in the early 70s. Like Tama, the acoustic offerings were not available very long, perhaps a span of 3 years, before they focused all efforts on the percussive side of the business. Unlike Tama, these didn't have any exposure to Western markets and remained in the domestic market only. Whilst Tama used a select group of Ibanez luthiers to make their exceptional guitars, Pearl had their acoustic guitars constructed by Hayashi Gaki.

Hayashi Gaki was another guitar factory in the Matsumoko region manufacturing a number of different brands, including Nashville and Mountain in the early 70s. At the time of manufacture of Pearl acoustics, a Mr Mamose worked there as a design engineer - a man of repute in the Japanese acoustic guitar market. From this early start designing Pearl acoustics, he went on to produce Rider guitars for a couple of years (1975-1976) before founding the Headway guitar line in 1977, which continues today. These are both highly sought-after brands with models demanding high prices in their native Japan. Yet again, these both remain quite unknown to the West; a common theme of this blog...

The range of Pearl acoustics offered was quite vast, from entry level 15,000 Yen models, up to 200,000 Yen top of the range models - a huge amount considering a Martin D45 retailed at 245,000Y at the time. Despite a large range, Pearl acoustic guitars are quite rare given their short selling period. Currently i have 4 of them, with the first to cover being the PF-770, which retailed at 77,000 Yen back in 1971. The price puts it up as about the second or third most expensive model i own going by the original retail price. This PF is a standard dreadnought body, with a solid spruce top with triple cream binding. The sides and back are Indian rosewood, with an intricate mosaic purfling down the centre of the back. The bridge is a light rosewood with a bone saddle, and the pickguard is a funny thing - cushioned vinyl with the original P logo on it. Quite amazing that it's not worn off. The neck is a 3-piece mahogany with a chunky volute neck joint and a bound rosewood fretboard, and a Martin-style headstalk. The headstalk has a mother-of-pearl inlay of the Pearl logo, a bone nut, and what i think are nickle Japanese-made old-style button tuners that hold tuning very solidly. It also has a chunky black/white truss rod cover with the original Pearl P logo on it.

Tonally, it rings out; loud and full, well balanced, and lasts on and on. So lively, it feels like the whole body ripples under a hard strum. I have Newtone tru-bronze lights on it and find they suit this guitar really well. The harmonics on it are quite astounding. Honestly, I wasn't quite expecting this richness of tone when i bought it, i was primarily taken with the idea of it being another Drum company making an old acoustic (read anything about Tama acoustics and you will realise why such enthusiasm for trying another drum companies efforts at acoustics) and the fact it had so much of its original style and quirks.

Here are some photos:

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As ever, for additional photos go here