This awesome 1982 Westone Thunder came in recently for some love and a complete overhaul to get it playable again after sitting around for a while. We don't see a lot of these Westones here in Australia as they were a Japanese built guitar made by the great Matsumoku factory for a US importer dealer St Louis Music who also imported guitars under the Electra brand. While the name Westone was owned in the US by St Louis Music, these guitars were marketed directly to dealers in Europe from the factory and hit UK and US shores in 1981 after Matsumoku had displayed prototypes at several trade shows in '80.
While there was an Australian distributor for Westone, we mainly got similar guitars branded with Aria and Aria Pro II here and looking at this Westone Thunder it's easy to see the similarities in design and construction, especially with the Cardinal series guitars which we saw in much higher frequency.
I'm a huge fan of guitars from this factory and when these guitars were being manufactured Matsumoku employed more people than both Gibson or Fender and were very much involved in R&D directly with customers, retailers and distributors. Much like the heady days of Japanese guitar manufacturing in the mid 60's, these companies put a lot into developing the best possible instruments they could make.
Along with high quality timber, expertly sourced and dried, the build quality of these guitars was superb and were excellent value compared to equivalent quality US made guitars at the time.
The Thunder model came in many different versions and even had different versions within the same model designation but this one here is clearly an early Thunder 1A (despite missing its original trussrod cover with model designation) with non-string through body and early Westone logo.
While the original Thunder 1 had some of these features this one is designated an "A" because of the active electronics it carries. Designed and built in house at Matsumoku, this shows another level of R&D this factory was prepared to go to to bring quality and features to the market.
This active circuit is a medium to high output boost circuit with an active (+13dB) tone circuit activated by one of the 3 small mini toggles near the pots. This gives a clean, very low noise gain with the tone control having a centre notched pot with active treble in one direction and active bass in the other.
This circuit, along with coil taping on both pickups and phase switching in the middle position makes this a VERY versatile guitar indeed. This circuit is very similar to the active Aria Pro II circuit fitted to the CS-500 although it had a 6-position tone switch.
One of the original F-450 pickups was dead and we discussed me rewinding it or fitting different pickups. We eventually ended up choosing a set hand made by my good friend Mick Brierley who never disappoints with his amazing pickups. I asked Mick to make a set of high output PAF style 4 conductor open coil humbuckers, so we had a set that played well together and once i got these in I had no regrets. They sound so good in passive mode in both single coil and humbucking and while I'm not usually a huge fan of out of phase middle positions, these work really well.
Then you have the option of that amazing active boost and tone control to add even more to this set up.
The original knobs and trussrod were missing so I made a new cover (without the model designation) and found similar knobs that looked kind of right. I then serviced the electronics, did a fret dress and full setup and enjoyed playing it for a while.
With this high-quality laminated ash, maple and walnut body, bolt on 24.75" 3-piece laminated maple neck with rosewood fretboard and high-quality hardware including brass bridge and nut, this guitar is a lot of guitar for what would be to many a very overlooked brand.