1960's Victor / NIVICO SG-18's

As if any of you needed more excuse to know how much OCD I had when collecting guitars look no further than the glorious Victor / NIVICO SG-18, well, and the stupid amount of Mosrites I own I guess ... and the ......

This has been one of my personal all time favourite guitars since seeing one in a Japanese guitar book back in the 90's. I just LOVE this design and aesthetic and I personally think it's one of the nicest guitars ever made. 

But lets start with some nerd details. These are RARE, even in Japan and for many years were considered a ghost story of the vintage Japanese guitar world. NIVICO stands for Nippon Victor Corporation and in a way goes all the way back to the 1920's when JVC was started in Japan in 1927. In 1929 RCA purchased Victor (Victor Talking Machine Company) in the US, which also included the Victor Company of Japan (JVC), and made everything from radios, to valves (tubes) to phonograph records and later, televisions, and ran broadcasting stations across the US. RCA had been around since 1919 and was one of the biggest electronics manufacturer in the US, partly owned by General Electric and in the 30's JVC started making records and electronics in Japan for RCA in the US and it was a lucrative deal indeed. 

 

Of course, this whole thing fell apart when the US entered world war II and JVC was abandoned by RCA, who were one of the biggest contractors for the US military working on a new RADAR and radio development.  

 

In the early sixties RCA made contact with JVC again and they established the Nivico (Nippon Victor Corporation) brand for Delmonico's line of console televisions and stereos. This partnership became a pioneer in quadraphonic sound.

With the guitar boom hitting Japan hard RCA and JVC decided to enter into this whirlwind and these Victor / NIVICO guitars were the result. They only made 2 models, The SG-12 (more on them soon) and the upmarket SG-18, and they were only made for a couple of years probably from around mid '64 to early '66. 

 

So, as if that's not confusing enough, here's where things get more interesting. 

JVC were a huge electronics manufacturer but weren't in the business of making guitars, so, they almost definitely went to the GREAT Matsumoku factory with a design and got them to make these guitar bodies and necks for them. These show all the signs of mid sixties Matsumoku manufacturing and it was around this time that they started using the "Steel adjustable neck. Made in Japan" neck plates, which these guitars feature. These plates would later carry a serial number, making them easier to date.

The bodies and necks are very good quality, as Matsumoku were well known for. This factory always used solid timber, as apposed to laminated like some other factories and JVC either designed this shape, or had it designed for them exclusively as it doesn't appear in any other brands, which is rare for mid sixties Japanese guitars.

 

The solid timber body is thin and light with body contours and very well finished. The necks are solid Asian mahogany as used on other guitars from this factory but they are unique to this brand in construction and finish. The way the volute forms into the neck is unlike any other Japanese guitar I've owned or played and they have a body end trussrod adjuster unlike other Matsumoku guitars of the time.

And again, things get more interesting still.

The electronics and scratchplate were almost definitely made by JVC and either assembled in house of delivered to Matsumoku to assemble as NONE of the electronics and hardware has ever shown up on any other Japanese guitars. The electronics are all of a very high quality, as you'd expect from one of the worlds leading electronics manufacturers. The pickups are very high output with lots of magnetic flux. They are a very tall single coil and most (I've only seen one other without) have a full cover like a Mustang over the bobbins. They have an excellent, powerful output and sound amazing.

The switches are unique to these guitars and were probably used on some JVC appliances of the period, as is the amazing output jack which is the most industrial high quality jack I've ever seen in a guitar. All the wiring is metal braided high quality wire and the metal scratchplate, and steel sheet screwed to the body under the pickups are an excellent ground shield. 

 

The tuners are common mid sixties Japanese tuners on a very Fender inspired six a side headstock. Some have NIVICO on the headstock and some have, interestingly "His Master Voice" with NIPPER, the famous dog listening to the gramophone, which was a Victor trademark acquired by RCA. 

 

These are rare despite (or maybe because of) the fact that there's four here (and I'm ashamed to admit I do own more) and having these four together is a great opportunity to see VERY slight differences in manufacturing, meaning that they did evolve and develop even for a short period of time, which Japanese manufacturers were intent on doing throughout the sixties and seventies. 

Some have the pickup directions stamped INTO the scratchplate while others have them printed on, which inevitable wears off if played a lot. There is also a small difference in the nut area where they went from a wide Gibson style nut to a thinner nut on the end of the fretboard, or the other way around. 

 

Another interesting, and unique thing about these is they have timber dot markers in the fretboard, which is actually pretty cool. 

 

The vibrato is unique to this model and was probably produced by JVC as they had access to metal working factories as part of their appliance manufacturing. The interesting thing about this vibrato is it has a built in "buzz stop" (with roller) that I've not seen on other offset style vibratos. This of course keeps great tension on the bridge, which is like an offset design but ...

 

The bridge looks like an offset unit but has no adjustment for overall height? The posts are solid metal with pointed ends and sit in cups much like an offset unit. The only height adjustment is in the actual saddles which means they were very confident that the quality of body/neck construction/alignment would always sit the bridge height "about" right. 

All the chrome is of very high quality (probably better than other Matsumoku made hardware) and looks like 50's/60's appliance chrome work, like a nice old stove or food processor. 

So, while these have a very Fender "feel" to them, I think they're aesthetic is absolutely beautiful. The offset, slightly SG horns are beautiful on this shape and that amazing big chrome scratchplate sets everything off really nicely. REALLY nicely on this long body.

As part of my purging process I'll be selling a few of these in the shop so they can get used. As much as I love looking at them, they need to be played. They are great quality and play really well and are, even in the rare vintage Japanese guitar world, pretty hard to get hold of, which makes them even cooler. 

 

Oct 25 2017 Written By: Tim Brennan