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

6 comments:

  1. Hi - you seem to know a great deal about these old Jap acoustics - hope you dont mind me asking your advice - Im stuck between two guitars an early 80's Morris MD520 or a md 70's Tama 3560 (deadringer for a D45) Im favouring the Tama as in an ideal world Id buy a Martin D45 but as your aware they costs thousands - the Tama is around £700 and in excellent condition and the Morris around the £400 mark - which in your opinion is the better guitar? I cant try either guitar as overseas so any information/advice would be greatly appreciated - many thanks, regards Ste

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    Replies
    1. Hello,

      It heavenly depends on wether if the soundboard is solid or not and playing conditions of course. But taking into account they both have solid tops (sides and back are almost always
      laminated on the earlier Tama's) I would choose the Tama.
      Very well crafted!

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  2. I have a 3557s in OK shape, but the top has multiple digs. Any thoughts on the value? Can it be refinished?

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  3. I own the Tw-09, beautiful guitar, lovely projection and tone. This guitar rivals my Martin and Gibson guitars, for sound and quality of build. I urge you to try one if you haven't I'm sure you won't be disappointed! Does anyone else own thus model?

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  4. Thanks for sharing these information. Probably you are able to tell a bit more about the connection between the Tama workshop
    and the guitars built there in collaboration with Juan Orozco, Sakurai and Kohno. I'm responsible for the Juan Orozco Blog but
    the collaboration between Kohno and Tama has always been denied by Kohno! As for the Tama guitars: Indeed beautifully built but the fretwork could have been done better. The outs ends tend
    to pop up at some places as is the case on my later Ibanez Artist AR300 electric guitar. Besides that slightly more massive fret wire
    could even improve tone. I'm planning to work on that item.
    I owe a 3558S and a TG120. Any ideas about the serial numbers?

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  5. Wish I could add a picture of the Spanish heel of a Juan Orozco #15. It clearly says TC-15 right on it! I have a Tama TC-10 which actually is the exactly the one pictured on your website DasPasKunst. Lovely guitar and top notch quality. Most were cedar tops but mine is spruce and boy does it sing.

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