Columbia guitars

Another short lived and little known vintage Japanese guitar brand is the reasonably small production guitars and amps made in the mid 60's in Japan under the Columbia name.

To understand where this fits in you have to go all the way back to the late 1800's when an American gentleman named Kang Er started trading in Japanese made recording equipment from Yokohama and in 1907 set up the US-Japan Recorders Manufacturers. In 1927 this company merged with the Japanese Columbia Records and became Nippon Columbia in 1946. 

By the early 60's guitar sales were starting to really take off and everyone wanted a piece of the action. In Japan at this time there were still only a handful of manufacturers making good quality instruments and one of them was of course Matsumoku. This factory, which had been making wooden cabinets for Singer sewing machines quickly adapted to making fine instruments and was supplying Fujigen Gakki with all their wooden parts starting around 1963.

 

In 1964 they decided to make guitars for other brands and introduce their own brand, Aria (or Arai as it was still spelled) and 2 of the initial brands that quickly took advantage of this were both in the recorded music and home appliance world. Columbia and Nivico/Victor would both start partnerships with Matsumoku to make guitars for their domestic electronics shops in Japan. While both brands would only last a couple of years, the guitars under their brand names were all spectacular. All 4 of them. 

The guitars made by Matsumoku under the Columbia brand name would, like the ones made for Nivico, only include 2 models. 

The CSG-631 would be the first guitar model made that wasn't for Fujigen and like a lot of Japanese designs around this time would be heavily influenced by Fenders relatively new Offset design. 

 

With a scale length of 25.5" and an offset body it was firmly planted in the Jazzmaster/Jaguar camp but in typical vintage Japanese style it would feature local innovation and design. The raised pressed metal scratchplate would also be used on the Nivico guitars (although those parts were built by Nivico) and housed 2 high output single coils with all metal covers and angled height adjustment.

The electronics are simple with master volume and tone (tone running backwards like so many Japanese guitars) and a tone switch and on/off rocker switches for each pickup.

 

The bridge is a simple height adjustable bar with what would become a common Matsumoku designed vibrato with chrome cover. The body is thin and smaller than a Fender with a very comfortable bolt on neck with oversized headstock. The big half round chrome trussrod cover and string hold down bar would be used on both Columbia and the Nivico SG-12. This is also the first time (that i know of) that we see the small neck plate with the now famous "Steel Reinforced Neck" writing.

 

The other Columbia branded guitar is much more of an anomaly and seems very out of place for it's time. The CSG-691 is also Fender influenced with lashings of Burns (UK) thrown in, and sports essentially a Fender headstock, but, is a proper baritone guitar with a scale length of 27".

It's unclear why a baritone was offered at this time but companies like Danelectro had been marketing them for some years and within a year or so of this one Teisco released the TB-64, which was a baritone version of the TG-64.

 

This Columbia is a great guitar and shows the quality of instrument Matsumoku could make very early on in their career as a guitar manufacturer. The body is slightly thicker at 30mm but a lot bigger and more substantial to hold. The pickups are the same although now there's 3 and they don't have angled adjustment and the electronics are essentially the same as the cheaper model except with 3 rocker switches for the pickups. 

This upmarket version also got the new and VERY nice vibrato system with floating bridge that would be commonplace on mid to high level Arias for years to come. Based on a Fender design, it really is a work of art and I think is more precise than the Fender unit. Coupled with the "hung" roller bridge and it's a great set up indeed.

 

The neck is very comfortable and apart from the long scale length feels just alike a regular guitar neck at 43mm at the nut and 53mm at the body end. 

 

Columbia, like Nivico/Victor, also marketed guitar amps (more on them soon) to go with these guitars although both manufacturers being electronics manufacturers themselves made these amps in house. Interestingly, the Columbia ones were made with input from Denon, who were owned by Nippon Columbia by this stage.

These are great sounding and playing guitars like the Nivico ones and while both brands only lasted from '64 to '66, they are (to me) an important part of this vintage Japanese guitar journey and an intriguing part of the Matsumoku story.