I've been collecting vintage Japanese guitars for many years and as I've mentioned before, 2 things changed everything in the 90's for a budding collector stuck in the far reaches of Australia. The internet and the Rittor Music book Bizarre Guitars.
Flicking through Bizarre Guitars was like an awakening for me. Although I was mainly obsessed with Mosrites, my love of all these crazy shapes and designs was a revelation to me. Everything didn't have to look like Fenders and Gibsons. Even stuff that looked like fenders and Gibsons didn't look like them.
In that book is a picture of a Greco KF-190 which was a very Tele inspired guitar in amongst lots of Jazzmaster and Jaguar inspired guitars. The offset design seemed to really capture the Japanese market, more so than Teles and Strats and the Greco stood out as a different Fender inspired guitar.
While it then took me some time to get hold of a Greco KF-190 (in the early 2000's) I had since seen an even better version online in Japan and wanted it even more. The Greco, which was made by Fujigen was cool, but I was more obsessed with the Matsumoku made Arai Diamond 2000T which came out around the same time in 1967/68.
I'm a HUGE fan of Matsumoku made guitars and these 2 Tele inspired guitars sometimes get confused or even interchanged despite actually being different guitars. Not only is all the hardware different, with the Aria version having the GREAT vibrato and floating bridge with plastic roller saddles that I love so much but the bodies are slightly different shapes.
I actually prefer the Aria body shape with its more extreme top horn cutaway and slightly more elegant bound headstock (some Grecos had a similar bound headstock) and that great Matsumoku neck.
While it took a bit longer to finally get an Aria version, I had already sold the Greco by the time I got this one so I couldn't do a side-by-side comparison, but I remember instantly preferring the Aria version for both playability and sound.
Being a hollowbody these were branded as an Arai Diamond and appeared in catalogues in '68 surrounded by Gibson, Hofner and Rickenbacker inspired hollowbodies. The body is well made and is a thinline (42mm) flat top and back full hollowbody with a bridge/vibrato block. The body has front and back 5 ply binding and is .. big, being 375mm across and 450mm long (A Tele is 320 x 405mm) but substantially lighter than a Tele.
The pickups are single coils pretending to be humbuckers and are floating in the scratchplate with no blocks or bracing under the top to support them. The Tele control panel is replaced here with a thick 4 ply plastic plate with a Gibson style 3-way toggle with master volume and tone controls.
The beautiful 3-piece neck is bolts on via the usual Matsumoku "Steel adjustable neck" 4 screw plate and as mentioned has a bound headstock with bound and inlaid rosewood fretboard.
This really is a joy to play and look at. It's probably my favourite Tele inspired shape and along with the great Guyatone LG-20, is among the best "Teles that aren't Teles" around. I'm a huge fan of this type of construction and use a very similar idea in my TMI guitars partly influenced by these vintage Japanese guitar manufacturers. Maybe I'll make a TMI version one day?