1960's Victor / NIVICO SG-12
I recently wrote an article about one of my all time favourite guitars, the Victor SG-18 and it's history with JVC in Japan. The only other guitar made by this short lived collaboration between Matsumoku and JVC was the cheaper SG-12, which, while not (to me) as beautiful; as the 18, has a really nice design aesthetic. I always like when guitar designers can meld straight lines with curves and still make it look organic.
This was the entry level version of the 18 but shares many of the "important" parts that makes it sound and play very similar to it's bigger sibling. Those amazing high output pickups, made by JVC are really strong and great sounding. Of course the 12 only has two of them with a simpler ON/OFF rocker switch system for each located near the pots for easier installation, and a master volume and tone control. These use the same crazy output jack as the 18, which I've never seen on another guitar.
The scratchplate is simpler also not having the rolled edge to make it raised from the body, instead being a flat sheet of chrome plated metal. The flat top of the scratchplate lines up perfectly with the same vibrato system used on the 18 but without the built -in "buzz stop" but, in a nice design feature, the holes for the buzz stop are used as the bridge height adjustment mounting holes.
The bridge is of course a much simpler non intonatable plastic unit as seen on many cheaper end Japanese (and US) guitars from the period. This makes intonation a little "tricky" as you move up the neck but the overall quality of the guitar is still there and it plays and sounds great.
The body and neck are the same solid timbers as the 18 and the top horn is very similar in shape on both with the 12 being a much shorter (and smaller), swashed in body design.
The neck feels the same but, this one doesn't have timber dot inlays and has the truss rod adjustment at the headstock end, like ALL other Matsumoku guitars except the SG-18. That's right, it's THE ONLY Matsumoku made guitar from this period with a truss rod adjustment at the body end. JVC must have thought the expensive model should be more like a Fender, which it's heavily influenced by. The truss rod cover is the typical chrome metal cover used on some Matsumoku made guitars at this time.
This guitar was sold as a JVC Baladeer as well with a small JVC logo on the end of the headstock and an intricate black and gold Baladeer logo under the tuners. This one has the more common "His Master Voice" with NIPPER, the famous dog listening to the gramophone logo.
Victor also made amplifiers, as many guitar companies did during the boom. Unlike many other guitar companies, Victor probably made these amplifiers in house as they were already manufacturing a lot of appliances and sound audio equipment. As I said in the previous blog, JVC contracted Matsumoku to make the bodies and necks and they manufactured everything else and either assembled in house, or delivered the parts to the factory to be assembled.
Even though this was the "entry level" Victor it was still a little bit more expensive in it's market. At 13,800 yen it was slightly above other brands entry level guitars (mostly under 10,000 yen) which it was competing against like cheaper Guyatones and Teiscos and this model seems to be even more rare than the bigger SG-18, which was 19,800 yen.
By early/mid '66 the JVC guitars were gone although some amplifiers seem to have kept going for a little longer. They were probably more adept at selling electrical audio equipment than guitars and by '67 guitar sales had dropped dramatically in Japan.
This same body and neck does seem to have been used on other "brands" made by Matsumoku and even may have been around BEFORE being a Victor? The great Drowning in Guitars site has one of these made under the Palmer/Tempo brand (by Matsumoku) that appears to be made before they started using the "Steel Reinforced" marked neck plate. The Palmer version has it's own hardware giving more credit to the idea that JVC made all the hardware for these themselves. They may have introduced the SG-18 as the deluxe model and needed an entry level for the market of started with the 12 and wanted something nicer for the flagship model?
Either way, they're very cool, and rare vintage Japanese guitars with a great story.