Mid 60's "no name" baritone
One of the things I love about vintage Japanese guitars is that things keep popping into your world that throw you a slightly curved ball. It's the same thing I love about Mosrite. You can be into them for years, and own lots of them, but every so often something comes up that just makes you look at it and go, "well, I haven't seen that before" ... You just don't get that with Fender or Gibson.
I've owned and played hundreds, maybe thousands of vintage Japanese guitars over the years and while to the untrained eye they all look the same (or similar), there were SO many factories during the boom time ('64-69) making guitars for SO many brands, both domestic and export that you still see cool stuff coming up.
We used to of course call them all "Teiscos" or "cheap Japanese guitars" not knowing their history or looking into the features that might give away just what they are. This is one of them.
One way to tell who might have made something was the hardware and pickups. While some factories shared these parts, it usually at least narrows it down a little. The thing is, some of the bigger factories (Teisco) made their own hardware while others (Guyatone/Tokyo Sound Co) made hardware for their guitars, and also sold to other factories. This means that hardware and pickups may appear on guitars not made by the hardware manufacturer.
Some of the big factories bought their pickups from other electronics manufacturers, like Fujigen, one of the biggest guitar manufacturers in Japan, from 1965 bought all their pickups from Maxon, who were an electronics parts supplier. However, Maxon also sold pickups to other manufacturers so you can't say anything with their pickups was made by Fujigen. There were many factories making pickups and hardware to try and keep up with the furious rate that Japan was selling and exporting guitars during the 60's.
Some electronics factories made complete "drop in" units which were the scratchplate, pickups and pots and switches, already made and ready for assembly.
Now, brands also used different factories and/or changed factories as demand grew, so the same brand/shape guitar could be made in different factories with the same, or different hardware.
Brands and factories worked together as a group and had national meetings on how to improve the quality and reputation of Japanese made guitars. This close working relationship also makes it hard to pin point where something might come from.
So, clear as mud right?
Well, most of them are pretty easy if you know what you're looking for. Body shapes, headstock shapes, pickups, scratchplates, vibratos, trussrod covers, inlays, tuners, switches, neck plates etc can all sometimes giveaway a manufacturer. Stripped Teisco scratchplates and their 4/2 headstock came in late '65/early '66 which is pretty recognisable. Some shapes were only produced for a short time and appear in catalogues which date them and give us a brand, if not a manufacturer. Some manufacturers made all their own bodies, necks and hardware, and some factories have dead giveaways in construction methods like multi laminate necks (Shinko/Kawai/later Fujigen etc) or mortise and tenon neck joints.
Some factories/brands used only solid timber while some only used laminate, and some used both.
Well, I'm glad that all makes sense and makes it much easier for you to identify your old Japanese guitar. Right?
Even with all my experience in being obsessed with these guitars for years I still can't say FOR SURE what this guitar is .. exactly.
I would say the construction is pure Shinko Gakki. The mortise and tenon neck joint is typical of them, .... or earlier Kawai, who bought out the Shinko factory in '66 AND Teisco in '67, melding manufacturing and hardware into the deal.
Kawai had starting using laminated bodies by the mid 60's and the headstock is reminiscent of the oversized "Fender" style used on Kawais for a couple of years.
However, the pickups, which are original, appear to be Maxon units, which Kawai didn't use "much" and the switches are not ones I've seen on other Kawais. I have seen a VERY similar guitar listed as a Kingston, and was thought to be made in the Fujigen factory, which would make sense with the Maxon pickups.
The "square top" inlays with a double at the 12th were used by Fujigen for a short period of time but also appear on Teisco guitars from the mid 60's which, you guessed it, weren't made in that factory.
The original vibrato is missing and has been replaced with this old Teisco style unit, which is a real shame for trying to work out what this is. It doesn't show any construction methods familiar with Teisco/Teisco Gen Gakki but, as I said, does have similarities with the Shinko factory from the mid 60's.
Except, the remaining original hardware (tuners/scratchplate/pickups/switches/knobs) don't appear to be from the Shinko factory, or Kawai, who could have made this after they bought the factory in '65.
It shows all the hallmarks of mid 60's ('65-67) construction and hardware so I would very confidently say it's from that time period, but, this one might have to go into the "vintage Japanese guitar" description as an unknown maker/brand ?
With all that sleuthing aside, it's a very cool guitar. It's 27" scale makes it easily in the baritone world and it plays really well with a very comfortable neck. The body is thin and light but there's plenty of sustain and bottom end.
The pickups, if they are indeed Maxons, are full and clear and have plenty of drive. The real drawback of course is, that non intonatable bridge so once you wander up the dusty end of the fretboard, things start to wander a little off. If you were serious about playing it up that end, I'd change the bridge to something more ... workable.
All the switches and pots work fine and the vibrato is smooth. It has it's original hardcase, which again, doesn't give anything away as case manufacturers were working as hard as guitar makers to keep up with demand and brands didn't use dedicated cases.
So, if you've got this far, you're probably into this sort of stuff and I'd love to her from anyone who can definitively tell me where this was made and for whom. Like I said, finding this stuff out is what makes these guitars so interesting.