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Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Domino Californian Electric Guitar

Not to be confused with the recently re-issued California Rebel by Eastwood Guitars, the Domino Californian came out a few years earlier. Imported to New York by Maurice Lipsky Music Co., these Japanese guitars were part of a series of models branded “Domino” throughout the 1960’s.

Vintage 1960's Domino Californian Electric Guitar (Redburst)

Vintage 1960’s Domino Californian Electric Guitar (Redburst)

This model was an obvious take on the VOX Phantom from the same era. VOX initially made guitars in England then transferred production to Italy. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones popularized the Phantom and the Teardrop models, so Lipsky was quick to jump on the opportunity with the Domino brand.

The California was available in 2 or 3 pickup configuration. Main colors were White or Redburst as shown below, but have also been spotted in canary yellow and sonic blue. They all sported the rather unique woodgrain pickguard which looked like a 1950’s kitchen table top. It was also available in a Bass version.

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

In keeping with the Domino theme this month, let’s take a look at the Domino Beatle Bass. Imported to New York by Maurice Lipsky Music Co., these Japanese guitars were part of a series of models branded “Domino” throughout the 1960’s.

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

This model was an obvious take on the Hofner Beatle Bass from the same era. The Hofner brand were German made guitars and basses and had been making top quality instruments for many years without much popularity in North America. However, once Paul McCartney surfaced with his lefty Hofner bass, everybody on the planet wanted one. Hence, once again Lipsky was quick to jump on the opportunity with the Domino brand.

The California was available in 2 pickup configuration, 3-way switch, volume and tone. Main color was Sunburst, but I’ve seen them in White, Redburst and Greenburst. They all sported a wooden floating bridge and single f-hole.

Vintage 1960's Domino California Rebel CE82 Electric Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: Vintage 1960’s Domino California Rebel CE82 Electric Guitar

In the 1960’s Maurice Lipsky Music Co., a prominent importer and distributor in New York City, developed the Domino brand of guitars. One of my favorites from them was the Californian Rebel. Lipsky was also the company that offered the Orpheum brand of guitars from the 1950s on. Many Orpheum’s were made by United Guitars of Jersey City, NJ, the successor to the Oscar Schmidt Company. There is some evidence that Lipsky’s Orpheum name was used on some Italian Wandré guitars, as well.

Vintage 1960's Domino California Rebel CE82 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1960’s Domino California Rebel CE82 Electric Guitar

In 1967 Lipsky introduced a line proto-copies carrying the Domino brand name. Most were inspired by European models such as the EKO Violin guitar. Among the offerings were two models sporting a California cache, the #502 Californian, an asymmetrical copy of a Vox Phantom, and this #CE82 Californian Rebel. It was a semi-solid, since most of it is solid, but built in halves with a sound cavity routed out under the one sound hole. The top has a nice German carve relief, the slotted head adds a kind of retro vibe and cool dots along the top side of the bound fingerboard. What looks like a rosewood pickguard is wood grained plastic. Featuring high output for a single-coil pickups, two sliding switches for on/off control and a tremolo.

Who actually built this guitar is unknown, but these pickups appear to be associated with Kawai guitars, and that’s probably a good guess. Rumor is www.eastwoodguitars.com is planning a reissue of this guitar before the year is out.

California Dreamin’ (1960’s Domino Californian Rebel CE82 Electric Guitar)

And we’ll have fun, fun, fun ’till daddy takes the T-bird away. The beach. The sun. California has flirted with national popularity ever since the Gold Rush. And when filmmakers discovered the endless summer of Hollywood, its ascent to national dominance as a symbol became assured. But it really wasn’t until the 1960s that California became the center of the youth-culture universe. From the Beach Boys to the Doors, California was where it was at. So, when the Maurice Lipsky Music Co., a prominent importer and distributor in New York City, wanted to name the more adventuresome parts of his Japanese-made Domino line, creating an association with the Left Coast seemed natural.

Vintage 1960's Domino Californian Rebel Electric Guitar

Vintage 1960's Domino Californian Rebel Electric Guitar

Lipsky, by the way, was the company that offered the Orpheum brand of guitars at least from the 1950s on, if not earlier. Many Orpheum’s were made by United Guitars of Jersey City, NJ, the successor to the Oscar Schmidt Company. United also built most of the Premier guitars sold by the Peter Sorkin Music Co. There is some evidence that Lipsky’s Orpheum name was used on some Italian Wandré guitars, as well.

In 1967 Lipsky introduced a line proto-copies carrying the Domino brand name. Most were inspired by European models such as the EKO Violin guitar. Among the offerings were two models sporting a California cache, the #502 Californian, an asymmetrical copy of a Vox Phantom, and the #CE82 Californian Rebel (wouldn’t California Rebel have made more sense?) shown here. As far as I’m aware, the Californian Rebel was like no other guitar available at the time. I suppose you’d call this a semi-solid, since most of it is solid, but built in halves with a sound cavity routed out under the one sound hole. The top has a nice German carve relief, which makes the painted-on “binding” kind of amusing! The slotted head adds a kind of retro vibe. Note the cool dots along the top side of the bound fingerboard. What looks like a rosewood pickguard is wood grained plastic. Like a lot of mid-’60s guitars, the vibrato has a flip-up mute, basically a spring-loaded bar with a piece of foam rubber that deadens the strings. Kind of neat, but it’s hard to imagine how anyone would use it.

Vintage 1960's Domino Californian Rebel Electric Guitar

Vintage 1960's Domino Californian Rebel Electric Guitar

With these big chunky pickups you get a 50-50 chance on having good sound, or maybe much better than that. Most are pretty high output for a single-coil. I once bought a bag of these and found pickups ranging from 5K to a whopping 13K resistance (a hot Humbucker runs around 8.5K)! To make these even cooler, the two sliding switches are attached to different value capacitors to give you more tonal variety.

Vintage 1960's Domino Californian Rebel Electric Guitar

Vintage 1960's Domino Californian Rebel Electric Guitar

Who actually built this guitar is unknown, but these pickups appear to be associated with Kawai guitars, and that’s probably a good guess.

Alas, the 1960s were closer to the heavy, meandering solos of the Doors than the strum-a-lum twang of the Beach Boys when this guitar appeared. Besides, the guitar boom of earlier in the decade was grinding rapidly to a halt. 1966 was the peak year of guitar imports, with a dramatic decline in ’67. In 1968 Valco/Kay and a bunch of Japanese makers went out of business. Maurice Lipsky drops from sight around this time, and the industry went through a period of transition which yielded the Copy Era of the 1970s. Still, the Domino Californian Rebel is a very boss guitar, perfect for picking Pipeline on the beach at sunset.

Motorcycle Mama (The Story of Kawai Guitars)

Return with us now to ancient Japan, when mighty Shogun warriors roamed the countryside like Medieval knights righting wrongs by wielding sacred iron battle axes… Oh, wait; this is about guitars, isn’t it? Still, when you gaze on this 1968 Kawai Concert, you’re looking at a remarkable example of early, idiosyncratic Japanese guitar design that, in a way, has more to do with being Japanese than with the demands of export marketing. Maybe this was because by 1968 the market was pretty soft, so it didn’t matter if they turned the designers loose. Or maybe it was an expression of pride. Or something in the water. Whatever the reason, in 1968 there was this whole batch of bizarre Japanese guitars that were unique and strange, many of them employing what seemed to be Asian aesthetics, most, though not all, from Kawai and its subsidiary Teisco.

Kawai was founded in 1927 by Koichi Kawai in Hamamatsu, Japan. Mr. Kawai’s vision was to create top-quality pianos, a quest in which he certainly succeeded! Kawai added guitars to its repertoire in around 1954 and eventually became a player in the ’60s Guitar Boom. Like many Japanese electric guitars, most early Kawai guitars were slightly frumpy, although my impression is that their electronics were a little better than some contemporaries. Probably the most prominent brand names in the U.S. manufactured by Kawai were TeleStar, whose sparkle models have a small but devoted following, and Domino.

1967 Kawai Concert Electric Guitar

1967 Kawai Concert Electric Guitar

In January of 1967 Kawai purchased the Teisco guitar company, but they appear to have operated the two companies pretty much separately. Both lines featured exclusive designs and different pickups. Teisco continued the vector of evolution it had taken, ending up with the Spectrums and finally the mini-Strats, before becoming the Kay brand in the U.S.

1967 Kawai Concert Electric Guitar

1967 Kawai Concert Electric Guitar

But in 1968, both Kawai and Teisco freaked out. Kawai produced models such as the axe-shaped Concert, plus a variety of unusual VS violin-bodied guitars (including one with 16 strings and its own pickup mounted parallel to the strings, whether sympathetic or strummed, who knows?), the Splender, shaped like a banjo, and another model shaped like a sitar. For Teisco, ’68 was the year that gave us the famous artist-palette-shaped May Queen, wildly flared, asymmetrical Fire Bird, and long-horn Phantom. One other company, Firstman (unrelated to Kawai), produced a model similar to the Concert called the Liverpool.

1967 Kawai Concert Electric Guitar

1967 Kawai Concert Electric Guitar

Like the Concert shown here, all of these oddballs were hollow, some like the Fire Bird in a traditional sense, others like the Concert consisting of two hollow halves glued together. The result is a cool, easy-to-carry guitar. The scrolled neck on this model was made of many multiple thin maple laminations, similar to the trademark designs of Framus. The big chunky pickups can have a pretty decent output, though it’s somewhat mitigated by the lightweight body. In addition to this black finish, there was also a sunburst, at least.

Look, these are really, really cool guitars. It’s not known whether these are particularly rare or not, but they were only made in 1968. Neither is it known if they were ever exported out of Japan. You sure don’t see many of them. Which is funny, because, let’s be honest, guitars like this are more about being seen than being played! Though the axe effect could come in handy if your fans decided to attack!…