In the early sixties when I was a guitar student, budget priced Japanese guitars were starting to become available, and my first experience of an electric guitar was one of these instruments that was owned by a seasonal worker on our family vineyard. I don’t recall the brand of his solid body electric, but at the time I thought it was fantastic. As I grew to learn a bit more about guitars it became obvious that the Japanese guitars available to us in rural Australia were vastly inferior to American brands such as Fender, Gibson and Gretsch, or Australia’s own Maton guitars.
Eventually I became the proud owner of a red Fender Mustang, and although this was only one step up from a student model in the Fender range, it was streets ahead of any other electric I had played. It took me a long time to accept the fact that a quality Japanese guitar was not an oxymoron.
Many high quality guitars have come out of Japan, but this Teisco J1 student model is definitely not one of them. It has a single pickup, a non-compensated bridge, and an uncomfortably chunky neck that probably deterred all but the most determined students.
The Teisco guitar company came into existence in 1946, and began making solidbody guitars around the mid-fifties. Early Teisco guitars designs were influenced by Gibson models of the day, but also had some elements of lap steel guitar design. The J1 was one of their earliest models, and this example is probably from the late 1950s, although it could be an early sixties model. It was given to me back in the eighties by a friend in Perth who knew of my interest in guitar curiosities.
This guitar has one great feature, and that’s the pickup. It has a trashy tone and sounds great for slide playing. Players such as David Lindley and Ry Cooder have long recognised the tonal qualities of vintage Japanese pickups, and prices on the vintage parts market reflect a strong interest in original units.
For those with an interest in early Japanese guitars I recommend a great book by Frank Meyers called “History of Japanese Electric Guitars” (www.centerstream-usa.com)