The "official" Johnny Ramone signature Mosrites
Well folks. Being a Mosrite AND a Ramones tragic it was only reasonable I would have these ....... right ?
Mosrite and Japan have a long and involved history dating right back to the 60's when the Ventures first toured Japan in 1962 with a bunch of Mosrites in tow and made an incredible impression on the Japanese that still runs deep today. Within a very short time Semie was exporting Mosrites to Japan to fill the need for fans of both the Ventures, and US culture, especially R'n'R culture.
In the mid 60's there were lots of Japanese guitar manufacturers making very Mosrite inspired guitars to fill the gap in price and availability from the real thing. The story of the Japanese Mosrite clone is a long, involved and very misunderstood story but the one thing for certain is for many years, Japanese manufacturers made pretty much exact clones, with names, logos and designs illegally, and, some of these guitars are excellent. Over the years I have owned probably over 150 Japanese Mosrite copies and some have been as good, or better than some of my real US Mosrites. I still own a few including one that I believe is one of the first Firstman/Mosrite Japan examples made. But all that is a completely different story that I may (or may not) have time to blog one day. Onto these two for now.
The official Johnny Ramone signature model came about when one of the companies in Japan, Fillmore, who were one of the companies making copies of Johnny's famous slab body MK II gave him one on a Japanese tour to use as a back up (which sold at Christies in 2012 for $35000) and eventually signed a deal with Johnny in about 2000 to make an official version. Like all Mosrite/Japanese issues it's always hard to know exact details and time frames but there were 30 of these made available, with Johnny signing them at a guitar show, in 2000. These sometimes get confused with the GPC slab bodies which were made in Japan (by Dark Cloud I believe) and sold in the US with or without Johnny's signature. The big difference at a glance is of course these have the slighly larger, angled headstock and do not have the Ramones logo or Johnny's signature printed on the headstock.
The first time I saw them available to buy from Japan would have been around early 2001 and press from Fillmore at the time said there would be a limited edition run of 100 of each in white or blue. These came with "official" stenciled hardcases, certificate, paperwork, stickers and a Ramones pick, and of course, the Ramones logo and Johnny's signature printed on the headstock. From what I could work out these were NOT offered outside of Japan and followed their strict domestic sales policy, probably because of legalities over copyrights, names etc.
I contacted friends who helped me buy guitars from Japan back then and asked them to be on the lookout for either, or both.
When the first one (the white one) turned up it was basically the same as the std Fillmore MKII of the time. Like ALL Japanese versions of the "slab body" I've owned they're heavier than the originals. The shape is exact and because these were Johnny models they didn't need any Mosrite hardware like the pick ups, vibrato or bridge as Johnny had replaced all of these on his original. I go into some details with my copies I made HERE and HERE and as I had owned quite a few Japanese Mk II's by this stage I was constantly looking for "the right one" to turn up that felt like my originals.
I had always kept an older Japanese copy by Mosrite Japan (KuroKumo) I had bought in the 90's and fell in love with once I'd done some work to it and of all the ones that have come through over the years, it's still the nicest copy (apart from mine) that I've owned, although it is heavy and the headstock isn't right (nerd!!). I'll do a blog story on that one some time too.
Anyway, I ended up getting one of each of these, what turned out to be, first issue versions from that initial run and like the standard versions they are close but don't feel or play (or sound) like the originals. The main issue with the "feel" is of course the modern finish on them. That "plastic" feel that most new guitars have make it harder to play fast Ramones style chords and the neck is slightly wider than the originals. The fretboard radius is flatter and the headstock/volute area is different as well but these are all minor issues that, unless you owned an original wouldn't be apparent.
The main "problem" with these really is the electronics and "angles". I don't really care about the neck pick up as Johnny never used it as it wasn't even connected but the bridge pick ups on these Japanese copies NEVER sound thick enough to replicate Johnny's tone through any Marshalls. The pick up can't be adjusted high enough to get any string grab and even though this model has a real Dimarzio FS1 (just like Johnny's) the real slab bodies have the strings running lower to the body with less neck angle and therefor lower at the bridge. It's one of the reasons I run a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder in the bridge which has much bigger magnets and get's closer to Johnny's tone on these Japanese copies.
After these initial runs of 100, Fillmore kept cranking these out with softcases and stenciled hardcases but mostly without all the certificates and paperwork, although the "Dlx" version seems to have been available with most of the bling. They did still have the Ramones logo and the Johnny signature printed on the headstock and after a short period started appearing in other colours like sparkle gold and black, which Johnny did own in his original line up of Mosrites. At some stage the neck plates went to the "kidney bean" shaped plates instead of the neck ferrules and they started appearing in "sparkle metallic" finishes with a metallic flake blue with white pearl plate and gold hardware being the final injustice for me personally. For me the classic "white and blue" slab body Mk II's ARE Johnny's guitars so these two are the only ones I need (and by need I mean nerdily want) so this game is over.
After the licencing ran out with the Ramones estate Fillmore just went back to making this guitar in the standard Mk II or the MK II deluxe. It's essentially the same guitar without the Ramones logos and candy. Johnny's estate signed a deal with Hallmark guitars to make the new "official" signature model which is a copy of his earlier version when the tailpiece had been changed to the Gibson unit (on the white one) and the original Mosrite vibrato base plate with the Gibson stoptail (on the blue one) but it was still running the original Mosrite Mk II pick ups just like Johnnys originals. They also do a version of the original MK II slab body (albeit with the original vibrato) for those who love that guitar but aren't really Ramones fans ...... Um ?
All in all these are pretty good guitars and close copies of the original with the shape, contours and sizes very close. As a Ramones nut AND a Mosrite nut they were obviously going to be a something I ......... needed. I don't actually obsessively collect from either camp and I don't buy guitars for myself anymore at all. With Mosrites getting WAY TOO expensive (even these are starting to fetch too much) for me and Ramones memorabilia and merchandise coming from everywhere I'm not about to start now, but these are two kind of special items to have.