‘Space Age’ Guitars

It was the fad of guitars made ‘for the masses’ in the 1960s for them to be somewhat space-age in their design. This nurtured  a generation of wide-eyed youngsters to not only believe that you had to actually plug an ‘electric guitar’ into the mains  (don’t !)  but that they were something that would take you to another world if you owned one!  Even notable artists of the newly burgeoning scene were not all brandishing Fenders and Gibsons (in the UK these USA imports were prohibited following the end of World War II) and so many other left-field manufacturers and models are to be seen in old footage of the day on Youtube.

One make of guitar many kids saw regularly and probably exclusively were Teisco guitars sold in FW Woolworths stores and branded Auditon. 

60s-woolworths wolverhampton

Teisco produced over a million guitars during the course of its history, but there are also a few million more Japanese–made guitars that are decidedly not Teiscos.

However, it’s important to note that all of these companies were Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) producers for a variety of brands both in Japan and abroad.

This means that a company (for example, Strum and Drum of Wheeling, Illinois) could approach a Japanese manufacturer (in this case, Sakkai) and ask it to produce a guitar branded for that contracting company’s in–house brand name (Norma).

Often, these guitar brands would source guitars from multiple manufacturers to fit different price points in their catalogues. The Norma brand has guitars that were made by Teisco Gen Gakki, Sakkai, and Tombo, as well as several other manufacturers.

This guide looks at all of the different guitar manufacturers working in Japan in the 1960s so that you can begin to differentiate between their products and get a better idea of what you’re buying.


C.1964 Teisco WG-4L


If we’re talking about guitars that are often mistaken for Teiscos, we need to start out talking about Teisco, which has a bit of a confusing history.

Teisco started making lap steels in the late 1940s, and by the ‘50s were making solid bodies and archtops. The company enjoyed increasing success right through the big Japanese guitar boom in 1965, but a 1967 downturn in fortunes resulted in the company and brand being sold to Kawai.

Teisco’s subsidiary manufacturing plant Teisco Gen Gakki (Japanese for “Tesico Stringed Instruments”) was not included in the sale, as Kawai decided to transfer manufacturing to its own plant in Hamamatsu.

Using Gold Foil Pickups to Identify Teiscos and other Vintage Japanese Guitars

Original Teisco factory guitars from before the Kawai sale can be some great players, and many of them feature highly sought after gold foil pickups made famous by Ry Cooder. But beware, many Japanese manufacturers made gold foil pickups that share some characteristics with Teisco’s, yet are not the same.

How can you tell these gold foils apart? Look for the fake set–screw pole pieces. On a true Teisco gold foil pickup, these six screws are on top of the pickup. But with Zen-On’s (or several other manufacturers’) gold foil pickups, these set–screw pole pieces run through the middle.

True Teisco Gold Foil Pickup


Non–Teisco Gold Foil Pickup

Teisco Gen Gakki

Originally the subsidiary manufacturing plant supplying bodies and necks to Teisco from 1963 to 1967, Teisco Gen Gakki continued as an independent company and continued to manufacture bodies and necks for a number of new companies (Honey, Idol, Firstman) emerging from the original Teisco ashes. All of these shortly went bust.

It also manufactured OEM guitars for domestic and overseas brands (most notably Norma) before going bankrupt sometime around 1970. Interestingly, guitars made at this factory never used plywood for bodies.

C. 1967 Idol PL-24


C.1968 Teisco Firebird Bass


Kawais are probably most often mistaken for Teiscos because Kawai bought the Teisco brand name in 1967 and continued to make familiar Teisco guitars, while adding new models every year. Though sometimes sharing some similar looks, Kawai guitars tend to be a bit inferior to original Teisco guitars, especially when it comes to the wiring and pickups.

C.1964 Kawai S-180 String Bar


There is one good way to distinguish a Kawai (or a Kawai–era Teisco) from an original Teisco: look for a string bar on the headstock. Kawai used this feature on a majority of its solid bodies, while original Teisco guitars never used string bars and instead favoured pitched headstocks.

Kawai continued to produce Teisco–branded guitars, amps, and even synthesizers in dwindling numbers up through the mid–‘70s. Occasionally, Kawai has periodically produced reissues of the most famous Teisco guitars: the K-series shark fins and the Spectrum 5.


Zen–Ons are No. 2 on the list of guitars most often mistaken for Teiscos. The Zen–On brand name is relatively unknown outside of Japan, but it produced a large number of OEM guitars for overseas brands.

As mentioned earlier, many of its guitars included a gold foil pickup that looks deceptively like the original Teisco’s. Zen–On also used plywood on almost all of its guitar bodies, though its top of the line and Morales–branded guitars sometimes featured two–piece sandwich style construction.

C. 1965 Zen-On ZES-170


C.1965 Zen-On ZES-220


C. 1966 Greco 912


Fujigen went on to achieve lasting fame as the manufacturer of Greco guitars in the ‘70s and Fender Japan in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. But Fujigen’s work in the ‘60s is our focus. The Fujigen hardware is the easiest way to tell these guitars apart from Teiscos. For example, Fujigen embossed “mic 1” and “mic 2” into their metal control plates, while Teisco did not. This is just one example, but it requires a bit of reading and studying about the nuances of that hardware to positively identify the Fujigens for what they are.

Fujigen was the largest exporter of guitars to the USA, with Kawai coming in a close second. Fujigen also used solid woods for the bodies, and worked closely with Matsumoku factory in the city of Matsumoto.

Many of these models still exist (in largely varying degrees of non-playability and incompleteness) and are increasingly finding their way onto ebay and Reverb.com to be met with a degree of nostalgic aspiration-over-logic all over again!


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The Thrill is Gone….

RIP BB King…

B King Lucille - Thrill is Gone

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Star-struck – Letter to the Editor!

guitarorama article - letter

It struck me, as I eagerly picked up my latest copy of Guitarist magazine and settled down to have that first flick-through of the edition’s offerings, (not too intently at first so that I could eek-out all the goodies a bit at a time over the month) that it was like being fifteen again! Fifteen for me was 1973 when there was no ‘Guitarist’. You got your miserly snippets of music and ‘God’ goss and gear gen from rags like NME or (less so) Melody Maker – you were in either one or the other camps; aspiring players NME, more ethereal LP deep thinkers, Melody Maker.

Back then a trip to a music shop too was an exclusive experience filled with wide-eyed, otherworld wonderment and massive intimidation. One of the largest names in music retail was Bell Music in Surbiton that by the virtue of their producing an annual mail order catalogue meant they reached out to other teenage-angst sufferers across the country. Bill Nelson was one such in Wakefield, relatively local boy Eric Clapton was another in Ripley…and me.

I remember the first time I got on my bicycle and made what seemed a massive two-hour cycle through alien territory to just ‘have a look through the window’. On my second trip I actually pushed the door, the bell went ‘ding’, faces turned to stare at my audacity and I walked in, closing the door behind me with reverence, Men were walking around in grey dust ‘lab’ coats, expensive guitar brands were locked in mahogany and glass cases. There were no Fender twins or Marshall stacks on the floor. Back then more familiar names such as Sound City, Carlsboro, WEM and Watkins dominated proceedings and stood amongst brass things on stands and ‘Pearl’ drums… oh and accordions!

With a heart racing, I could only stand about five minutes of being asked if I was buying anything that day and then I would grab a catalogue off the counter when no one was looking and race out.

Back home, I would settle down to have that first flick-through of the edition’s offerings, not too intently at first, so that I could eke-out all the goodies a bit at a time….

(This letter was indeed successfully published in the July 2014  issue of  Guitarist  – issue #382)

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10 Questions Asked…

Many Guitar Magazines have sections where they ask artists some fundamental Questions that I am sure we all find fascinating and often gets us thinking of our own answers… well – here are mine!                                             Pick amongst the irony!


1: What was your first guitar and when did you get it?
…in 1973 an AVON SG Japanese made copy – looked brilliant and rang quite nicely. Wouldn’t mind trying it through my ‘proper’ amps now!

2: The building’s burning down – what one guitar do you save?
I have two hands – 73 Strat and Vintage Hofner 457… I might dive back in for the 335 and the PRS Soapbar No – ’87 Yamaha SG2000s and f&*k the scars!

3: What’s the oldest guitar that you own?
My 1973 Fender Strat that I bought new in ’75 as it seemed no-one wanted a natural Hardtail…

4: And the next piece of gear you’d like to acquire?
62 RI Fender Tele with a Bigbsy – Prob Black/white binding

5: What strings do you use?
10s… Not fussy about make as I can make them sound good whatever.

6: If you could change one thing about a recording of yours, what would it be?
The first time I posted on Youtube I was so excited by the guitar I spoke way too much…sounded a right knobhead…!

7: What are you doing five minutes before you go onstage?
Tuning up & making sure my hair looks cool…(!)

8: …And five minutes after?
‘Counting the money’ (!) and wiping the spit, beer and sweat off my pedals…

9: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Eric Clapton said – “over to you” for the main solo at the Royal Albert Hall and I had no idea what song we were playing… I then woke up in a Cold Sweat!

10: What advice would you give your younger self about playing the guitar?
Copy and learn from every style – don’t be so pompous that you must be seen to be playing the current fad only. That ‘Fad’ has a basis in the unfashionable. Oh, and spend the majority of your budget on a good amp. Great tone encourages you more than what you look like in the mirror.

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1961 Epiphone Casino and 1959 Epiphone Devon amp

This 1961 Epiphone Casino was a near twin to Gibson’s ES-330.



This 1961 Epiphone Casino was a near twin to Gibson’s ES-330. Gibson had purchased Epiphone four years before this guitar rolled off the assembly line.

In 1957, Gibson purchased Epiphone, its major rival of the 1920s and ’30s. Production of new Epiphones began in 1958 in Kalamazoo, Michigan—home to Gibson at the time—using a few parts left over from the old Epiphone factory. (Most Epiphone parts had been destroyed in a suspicious fire.)

Familiar model names were used on many guitars in the new line including Triumph, Deluxe, Zenith, and Emperor. The electric thinline guitars (except the Emperor) had new names like the Sheraton (introduced in 1958) and the Casino (introduced in 1961).

The Casino was meant to be a counterpart to the Gibson ES-330 (which made its debut in 1959), and was nearly identical in every way except its cosmetic appearance. The Casino, like the ES-330, was fully hollow without a solid block running down the center of the body, as on the ES-335 and Epi Sheraton. The absence of the maple center block required that the neck join the body at the 16th fret, rather than the 19th.

The early Royal Tan Epiphone Casino pictured this month has features that distinguish it from later models. The headstock, like on all of the earliest Casinos, appears a little wider than a typical Gibson headstock with slightly different top curves. By 1963, it had become more elongated and narrower by the D- and B-string tuners. The dot fingerboard inlays on this early version would change to a wider parallelogram shape by ’62. The black plastic P-90 pickup covers were changed to metal covers by ’63. The 3-ply, white-black-white pickguard remained standard until the end of the model’s original run in 1970.

The original price for an Epiphone Casino E230TD in 1961 was $314.50, plus $50 for a case. The guitar’s current market value is about $4,500.

Our featured Casino rests on a 1959 Epiphone Model EA-35 Devon combo amp. The name Devon had previously been used for a budget Epiphone archtop before the Gibson buyout. The original information sheet included in the back of the amp reads: Its unbelievable value includes top mounted, four-tube chassis; top mounted control panel; 9 watts output, two instrument inputs; Jensen 10″ speaker, volume control, on-off switch, jeweled pilot light, protective fuse. Large professional size 20″ wide, 16″ high, 9″ deep; weight 20 lbs. The Devon’s original price was $95, and its current value is $500.

Like its counterpart, the ES-330, the Casino has a thin, yet completely hollow body.

The 9-watt Devon sports a 10″ Jensen speaker and a single volume control.

A toneful pair: Our ’61 Casino lounges against a 1959 Epiphone Model EA-35 Devon combo.

Original price Casino: $314.50 plus $50 for hardshell case in 1961

Sources for this article include Epiphone: The Complete History by Walter Carter, Gibson Electrics—The Classic Years by A.R. Duchossoir, and The Gibson 335: Its History and Its Players by Adrian Ingram.


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