1965 Zen On ES-70T
I've written about Zen On before here with their wonderful Morales Mosrite copies from the late sixties but prior to them they were making great solid body "offsets" with awesome wave scratchplates for both the domestic, and US markets.
Zen On is one of the older Japanese music companies and started life as a music publisher in the 1930's and bought a guitar manufacturing factory in the early '50's in the mountains of central Japan.
In '65 Zen On started making solid body electrics and most were heavily influenced by Fender offsets with some very nice aesthetic twists and turns. The ES-170 is one of my favourite guitars and a lot of their designs took Fenders and added strange angles and curved lines to exaggerate the shapes.
These solid bodies were all laminated solid timber and are well made. Their finishes are great and the two tone sunburst on this one is very nicely done and moves over to the neck and headstock.
The neck is a thick bolt on maple with bound rosewood fretboard. Unlike a lot of other competition at this time in Japan these have a full 25.5" scale length which actually makes the body feel small. The headstock is a classy six a side with typical tuners for mid sixties Japanese guitars.
The scratchplate has the typical "wave" styling and is a silver backed clear acrylic plate, not aluminium like a lot of people think. While Zen On did use metal plates on some guitars most used this "Rickenbacker style" clear acrylic with a painted back technique.
The pickups are pure gold foil. Of course, gold foils have become quite "famous" in recent years but this just refers to the (usually) chrome metal cover with cutouts and a foil material underneath between the cover and bobbin. While there's no strict "rule" about how gold foils sound they generally have a reasonable high output with great frequency response which gives them a real shimmer. These measure at about 5.5K (in the guitar) so not huge but do have great output and plenty of top end. The pickups "float" on top of the scratchplate with foam spacers.
The hardware is all good quality albeit basic. The bridge is a typical early sixties plastic "floating bridge" with adjustment on the base plate for slight intonation changes. The vibrato is similar to the Hagstrom vibrato but with the pivot under the main plate, rather than on top.
The electronics are typical mid sixties Japanese with rocker ON/OFF switches and volume for each pickup and a master tone.
The ES-70 was 7,000 yen in '65 and the ES-70T (vibrato) was 8,000 yen with a three pickup version available caled the ES-80T for 9,000so the price was comparable to the Guyatone LG-50T of the same time.
This guitar is all original except the foam under the pickups, which had deteriorated into that powdery mess like inside an old MXR pedal (yeah, you know the stuff). The big neck and small body, together with the full scale length make this guitar seem .... different to other mid sixties Guyatones and Teiscos. This feels more "solid" in the hand but more like a toy to play. It's big neck is not for me but is easy to get used to and comfortable after a short time. It sounds GREAT and plays well, and looks, well .... GREAT.