Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Morris MD-520

Morris were one of the largest manufacturers of high-end acoustic instruments from the 70's through to the 90's in Japan, building a reputation for high quality craftmanship and use of top grade woods. Any wood they used for the soundboard was dried in their warehouse for 7 years before being used in construction.

The company was founded on an inspired visit to the Martin guitar plant in the late 60's, where on return to Japan they set up to produce quality copies of various models of Martin guitars. Early guitars made some success as entry level imports to the West, using primarily high quality plywood construction. However, as the 70's progressed, so too the skill and accuracy of the luthiers. Morris turned more to their own home market, where the guitar market in the 70's in Japan was hugely competitive, with more than 20 different factories making excellent copies of popular American acoustic models; the success of Morris to become the largest next to Yamaha is testament to their quailty and value for money. Nowadays, Morris still produce guitars, primarily focussed on smaller bodied, finger-styled guitars that retail for +£1000. A good google search will offer up more info.

This model, the MD520, was introduced in the late 70's with a retail price of Y35,000. My one is from 1984. The 2nd top model of the MD range, this features a really lovely solid spruce top, one of the best in my collection, and coral rosewood back and sides, with a simple mosaic inlay down the centre of the back. The body is bound with ivory and simple abalone pufling - nothing too flashy but with a high attention to detail. The neck is a 3-piece mahogony, bound again with ivory and simple position dot markers. The headstock has gold finished Morris tuners, and a classy Morris vertical headstock logo inlayed abalone, inspired by Martin guitars in the 70's. This vertical logo style was used by a number of manufacturers for their higher-end models. It is a lovely looking guitar in nearly new condition - the owner before me must of hardly played it, with the ivory binding hardly yellowed by daylight making me think it lived in its case most of its 26 years. The spruce top has dried out to produce a truely lovely warm tone, loads of woody character and volume, with a ringing resonance.


For more images, click here

As much as i love this Morris, my collection is nearing 35 guitars, so i need to sell a few along the way. For those viewers interested in buying it, please visit the listing here or send me a message.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Westone SW35

With the Antoria, i had really sparked something. I got to thinking about originals, rather than rebrand imports, and took my research from there; domestic models that were never really sold to the West. This fascinated me, considering how familiar we are with almost all the commonly known Western brands shops stock; as a budding collector it was a revelation. The number of different brands is quite astounding - there really were dozens of quality guitar factories each making their own take on famous American acoustics, a lot of which are completely, or little known to the West.

The first of these i obtained was this Westone SW35.

Westone was the brand name used by Matsumoku of Japan for their own line of stringed instruments; a name well known in the West - not so much for their acoustic line but rather their electric and bass line they manufactured in the early 80's on through to the later 80's. The acoustic line is quite rare, and was manufactured in the mid 70's, with very few making it outside of Japan. Matsumoku itself is a well known name, not primarily for it's own Westone brand, but rather for who they made guitars for: Japanese Epiphones, Aria Pro and Pro II, Washburn electrics, and some Greco electrics. It is an impressive list and variety of models, and these are held in very high regard these days - try and get ahold of a 70's Washburn semi-acoustic and you are looking at quite a sum of money, let alone an Epiphone Sheraton or a Greco Supersound. In regards to the Westone brand, it was a chance for Matsumoku to put some new original designs and technology into their craft on both the electic and acoustic guitar lines. One of the areas for originality was the neck. Matsumoku must of felt a dislike toward the convential glued neck joint, or bolt on neck joint; a lack of resonance, sustain and tone perhaps, or perhaps just the feeling of a slightly disjointed whole. Whilst on the electric line it is easy to see the neck-thru designs employed first on the Westone electrics, and then on Aria and Grecos; with the acoustic line, this neck joint is much less noticable without inspection of the soundhole. What you find is Matsumoku designed a 5-piece neck, that fuses into the body of the guitar, coming into the body of the guitar inplace of the traditional neck block. What it creates is a more complete resonating peice of wood, and an exceptionally strong neck. A strum of this SW35 and the response is outstanding. Very alive, very characterful, full of tone and bass response. D45 tone is not a million miles away. So pleased with what i heard that i searched out a second one and bought it as well.

Now the specification of the guitar; I might mention just now, but models made for the Japanese market largely follow a simple model name - price relationship. For example, this model, the SW35, originially cost 35,000Y in 1974-1975. Additionally, the W stands for Western, largely meaning it's American sounding/modelled. The S is still a bit of an unknown to me, i have read that it means Strong, in relation to the bracing of the top, which lends itself to being louder and brighter. It could also mean Solid, as this model does have a solid spruce top, and it shares model names with an Aria range of mid 70's acoustics - Aria had an LW range which were laminate, and an SW range, which were solid top. In regard to the Westone, i will take the S to mean both Strong and Solid. About the SW35; it's a simple looking guitar modelled after a Martin D41, with quite simple abalone rings around the soundhole and purfling around the body. The top is solid spruce, whilst the sides are rosewood, and the back is 2-peice rosewood with an attractive mosaic down its centre. The neck is adorned with simple dot markers, a squared headstock, and gotoh tuners which are excellent. Considering it's quality of tone, it is quite something to learn that this SW sits in the middle of Westones acoustic range, with the SW80 being the top of the SW range at 80,000Y. I have yet to come across any of those!


Full set of images: here

Friday, 4 June 2010

Antoria F212

This guitar purchase was largely spurned on from the Lorenzo, which had kick-started my research on these old UK imported guitars from Japan. As mentioned in the previous post, i had learned that Antoria was the better known alternative branding of 1970s Ibanez-made acoustics. These were imported and rebranded for JT Coppock Leeds Ltd, who had been rebranding guitars as Antoria since the 1950s, both electrics and acoustics. Ibanez itself has a colourful history stretching back to its beginnings in 1908, when the Hoshino Gakki company began importing Salvador Ibáñez guitars from Spain to Japan. This continued until the destruction of the workshop during the Spanish Civil war, the aftermath of which saw Hoshino Gakki purchase the branding rights of Salvador Ibáñez and begin making their own guitars under this guise in 1936. Over time this became shorted to Ibanez, which has been in place since the 1960s.

These Ibanez-made Antoria acoustics were made at the FujiGen Gakki factory in Japan, which has grown to have a weighty reputation for quality, and not without reason; the fan base for guitars of many different ilks manufactured there is wide and growing. Ibanez guitars of this period are particularly well known as being modeled on famous American guitars by Fender, Gibson, Guild and Gretsch, growing to such accuracy that the lawsuit period ensued. This model i have is the F212, which is a lovely copy of the Epiphone Frontier flattop first introduced in 1958. This was an unusual model from Epiphone under Gibson control, as it was the first flattop acoustic from them to have the flat-shoulder design, which was a feature generally associated more to Martin guitars. In some ways this makes this guitar of mine quite quirky, as it has a shorter and thinner body, and shorter neck than a standard dreadnought, but larger than your normal folk or O-shaped body.

The guitar itself has a solid spruce top finished in a very tasteful vintage sunburst finish with ivory purfling, walnut back and sides, a nice short V-shaped neck with pearloid box position markers and that distinct mustachio headstock. The gold kluxon style tulip tuners are an upgrade to fall even more inline with that Frontier look, and do the job well. The saddle is a light rosewood, and sets the adjustable bridge - a terrible invention really, that was pretty popular back in the day, so in authenticity to the original, features here. In a folk guitar like this, i would be in no rush to go to the expense and hassle of changing it to a fixed bridge; the tone is crisp, quite dry and woody, more cold than warm, with good sustain, which i find quite perfect for folk country songs. One look at the guitar and you'd say it sounds exactly what it looks like it should. And it does look good.


Full set of images:

I haven't come across too many acoustic Antorias, which tends to make me think people keep ahold of them. One even gets the glory of featuring in the Oasis "Wonderwall" video, a J200 model. A small bit of fame.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Lorenzo: Model # 153

So my first foray into these vintage Japanese guitars was this Lorenzo #153. Lorenzos from this era (mid 70s) were imports branded under Fletcher, Coppock, and Newman, who were a UK musical instrument supplier (amongst other wholesale ventures) started in 1965. FCN continue to have instruments branded to this day, and have always been primarily aimed at beginner-intermediate quality instruments. As for the Lorenzo brand, it is harder to trace at which point they moved from manufacture in Japan to Korea; most likely the later part of the 70s when the Japanese economy was increasing to a point where it was cheaper to have these entry level models made in neighbouring Korea and Taiwan. I have been told the original Japanese Lorenzos were made at the same plant as Ibanez (and Antoria, another UK import brand that is a good deal more known). Nowadays, Lorenzo are an entirely different maker of guitar, made in China.

The Lorenzo has lived it's life and is now mainly just a showpiece for me. The neck has curved up with the adjustable bridge as lowered as possible, and the action is just too high. This is mainly due to the truss-rod being broken and thus not holding form. I have been tempted to put a new saddle in and try the heritage low-tension strings and have it tuned to open C to see if this makes it more playable, but that is a project down the line. As my first foray it was a good find.

The body is in really good shape, with very few knocks or scratches. The soundboard is aged spruce, and is ply to the best of my judgement. It is very difficult to tell in some cases, due to the finish on the ply wood being so good. There are some arguments that some of these ply soundboards sound truely fantastic, and this was no bad sounding guitar by any means. The bridge is rosewood, with an adjustable bridge mounted in it. The sides are ply brazilian rosewood, as is the outer panels of the 3-peice back. Back in this era, brazilian rosewood was not as rare as it has become, so features as a ply finish on quite a few models. The inner panel is of curly maple, which does look fantastic. Interally, the wood is uniformly rosewood - if the outer finish and inner body wood finish don't match up, it is usually a sign of a slightly lower model. It is very tidily braced and finished, with the bracing modeled on the 70's era Martins with the non-scalloped braces. The neck is a nicely grained mahagony, and it has in-house diecast tuners, which work very well. The previous owner upgraded to a bone nut.


full set of images: