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A Sharp Venture (1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5 Electric Guitar)

Well, well, well. What have we here? On the surface, of course, it’s a 1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5. A sight little seen in North America, but not uncommon in Japan, at least once upon a time. And if it makes you think of a little bit of a Mosrite on drugs, well then you’re not too far off the mark! Welcome to a bit about the Ventures and the early world of copy guitars!

1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5 Vintage Electric Guitar

1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5 Vintage Electric Guitar

It shows my age (everything does now anyway), but around the time I was hitting my teenage years, I discovered what was then still a fairly obscure band called The Ventures and their record called Another Smash. At least they were obscure for northern Michigan. This was also about the same time that I figured out I wasn’t going to be either the next Johnny Unitas or Al Kaline (a famous slugger with the Tigers). My dream became to learn those songs, which I eventually did more or less and I still play some of them to this day. The Ventures went on to have a bunch of hits, perhaps the most famous of which was their streamlined version of Johnny Smith’s “Walk, Don’t Run.” Their popularity eventually led to a relationship with Semie Moseley and yielded the Mosrite Ventures guitars, which was literally based on a tracing of a flipped-over Strat! Plus the groovy German carve around the edge that Semie had learned from Roger Rossmeisl.

Even though the Ventures seemed to keep increasing their record output, their popularity didn’t quite keep pace. In the US, that is. At a time when Jimi Hendrix and Fresh Cream were all the rage, the Ventures just didn’t seem relevant. What saved the Ventures’ career during those lean years when they were eclipsed by Bob Dylan and the Beatles was an astonishingly virile popularity in Japan. The Japanese obsession with the band extended to everything Ventures including Mosrite guitars. By the mid-‘60s, when Japanese guitarmakers finally began to become competitive in the American market, they hit upon a strategy of imitating the competition. Which, at the time, was European guitars. Among the early Japanese imitations were the violin-bodied copies of EKO’s popular copies (of Hofner’s copies of Gibson’s…well, you get the picture).

1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5 Vintage Electric Guitar

1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5 Vintage Electric Guitar

Wholesale copying of American guitars would come later, but the honor of the first American design to be copied probably goes to the Mosrite Ventures. By 1966 or ’67 many Japanese guitarmakers were building guitars inspired by Mosrites, with extended lower horns and/or German carves and/or slanted neck pickups, etc. Among the earliest and goofier of these in Japan were these Guyatones.

Guyatone was one of the first guitar manufacturers in Japan. It was founded in 1933 by Mitsuo Matsuki and Atsuo Kaneko and began selling Hawaiian guitars with the Guya brand name. After the War, in 1951, the company switched to using the Guyatone brand. Guyatones were among the earliest Japanese electrics to come to the US, imported by Buegeleisen and Jacobson with the Kent brand name.

1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5 Vintage Electric Guitar

1968 Guyatone LG-350T Sharp 5 Vintage Electric Guitar

This 1968 Guyatone LG-350 Sharp 5 is actually kind of a flipped-over Mosrite, ironically enough! It’s hard to tell from the photos, but it’s finished in a really cool dark metallic blue color. The pickguard is also blue. Its single coil pickups are not typical of most Guyatone guitars that made it to the US. This was a pretty high-end guitar for Japan at the time. The edges aren’t exactly German carve, but they are beveled. The vibrato is a pretty interesting in-body design that emulates the feather-touch of a Mosrite. An unusual feature for the time is covered tuners, sort of like European Van Ghents. And you gotta love that headstock! This is a sweet guitar way ahead of the usual quality you find in Japanese guitars of this era.

By the time this guitar was made, other guitars closer to Mosrite were beginning to appear made by Teisco, Kawai, Firstman, Aria, Zen-On, Humming Bird, Suzuki, Minister, Audition, Monica and others. And the first near-copy had made it to America in the Noble EG 686-2HT, a variant on the Mosrite Combo, marketed by Chicago’s Strum & Drum. By the early 1970s Mosrite knock-offs had become standard, like one of the most famous, the Univox Hi Flyer. But as sharp as those are, that’s another story!

1967 Fender Wildwood Acoustic Guitar

I was going to do this month’s piece as a continuation of my last piece on Magnatone amplifiers. But, as life so often does, it has intruded and a piece I was going to buy for said article fell out of my grasp until next week, when it will be too late to have a new column. Hence, this piece, which will have to hold its place in the rare and oddball guitar column world until next month.

So, what could possibly take the place of an overview of the 5 major periods of collectible and not-so-collectible Maggie amps? Why something from Fender, of course.

Fender?…I can hear you say: Oddball? Fender is the Ward Cleever of the guitar world. The Mr. Suit and Tie, super reliable but nothing odd at all about them company in guitar manufacturing. Well, that’s true, if you’re taking your Tele reissue and your Silverface Twin out for a weekend ride at a club. Great stuff, but hardly oddball. But Fender did have some very cool misses along with their many hits over the years and some of these are under-appreciated gems. Some are crap—like those toxic oil tank effects units that can poison you if you open them up for maintenance, but some of the products are great vintage pieces that aren’t catching “Fender” money on the vintage market.

1967 Fender Wildwood Acoustic Guitar Ad

1967 Fender Wildwood Acoustic Guitar Ad

Case in point? This 1967 Fender Wildwood acoustic guitar. In the mid 60’s, with Roger Rossmeisl (who had earlier done some great designs for Rickenbacker) at the head of design, Fender tried to break in to Gibson and Martin territory with their Coronado models (aims at Gibson’s 335 and other hollow and semi hollow guitars) and their acoustic line (aimed at both industry standards in those fields: Gibson and Martin). The models included The Kingman, the Concert, the Malibu, Newporter, Palimino, Redondo, Shenandoah and the 12 string Villager. The Wildwood VI was essentially a top of the line Kingman with the Wildwood added.

They were both pretty much flops from the get-go. The electrics used (for the first time in Fender’s history) out-sourced pickups from DeArmond. And no matter how sweet these may sound on your Harmony hollows, they squealed up a feedback storm in the late 60’s. Remember, this was the time when amps were getting bigger and bigger…put any DeArmond-loaded guitar in front of a 100 watt stack and you’re in for trouble. But, remember, too, most people are using 40 watts and below these days, so the Coronado’s reputation as a feedback monster isn’t so cut and dried as it might seem.

But, again, they weren’t right for the market—or maybe people just weren’t ready to accept Fender as a hollow body or acoustic guitar maker. No matter what the reasons, they flopped, badly. In a last gasp attempt to keep the lines moving, Fender introduced the “Wildwood” series. These were trees that fender injected dyes into, and then used the wood in various wild and wacky colors in the guitars. Why they couldn’t have just stained spruce and mahogany is beyond me, but, hey, if they wanted to inject their own Fender Forest full of dye, what’s it to me.

All of this made for some pretty radical looking guitars. Acoustic guitars with bolt-on necks, six on a side tuners and “wild” wood on the back and sides? Very oddball. But how do they play and sound?

Well, first of all, they are the best playing acoustic I’ve ever played. Anyone who’s primarily an electric guitar player should fall in love immediately with these acoustics. The necks are pretty much the same necks off the 1966 Jazzmasters (with the block inlays). They play like…well, they play like electric guitars. Thin, fast necks, great action and responsiveness. A true joy to play.

And how do they sound? It may be an acquired taste, but I love their sound. Much brighter than, say, a Gibson Hummingbird (but, then again, the Wildwood IV is the only acoustic I’ve ever played that plays easier than a Hummingbird). And, if it’s brighter than a Gibson, it’s probably a lot brighter and not as booming as a Martin dreadnaught, right? But these Fender acoustics occupy their own sonic space very well. They cut through a mix and they have a very nicely balanced top and bottom (not a ton of mid).

So, if you’re an electric player looking for a really cool looking, sounding and great playing vintage made in the USA acoustic, you could do a LOT worse than picking up one of these oddball Fender Wildwoods. In great shape, they’ll still run you from $400-1,000, depending on the model. They aren’t your standard Fender fare—but try one out—you won’t be disappointed.

Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll (1967 Fender Coronado XII Wildwood 12-String Electric Guitar)

Yeah, man, that’s why we get into guitars, isn’t it? All of which is evident in this cool Summer o’ Love 1967 Fender Coronado XII Wildwood!

1967 Fender Coronado XII Wildwood 12-String Electric Guitar

1967 Fender Coronado XII Wildwood 12-String Electric Guitar

Whether some cat took LSD, or anything lighter, while playing this guitar is also unknown. But there’s NO doubt drugs were involved. That’s because this is a Wildwood. And we’re not talking Jersey Shore here.

Well, ok, we really don’t know for sure about the sex and rock. This is a Fender electric guitar, after all, and I don’t think someone bought it to play jazz standards. Or Kumbaya. So that’s a yes on rock ‘n roll. And, anyone who’s ever played rock, by definition, had to think playing it would lead to at least the chance of a score – I know it’s circular logic, so let’s move on to the drugs.

1967 Fender Coronado XII Wildwood 12-String Electric Guitar

1967 Fender Coronado XII Wildwood 12-String Electric Guitar

The Wildwood concept was invented by a Danish inventor, who hit on the idea of injecting dyes into growing beech trees. As the trees matured, their wood grain colored in green, gold and purple, gold and brown, dark blue, purple and blue, or blue-green. Someone at Fender, thinking this must be what the kids were looking for, bought the idea of making guitars out of Wildwood. Groovy.

The task of designing Wildwood guitars fell to Roger Rossmeisl. Roger is hardly a household name among general guitar fans, but he’s known to cognoscenti. Rossmeisl was born in Graslitz, Germany, in 1927. He learned guitarmaking from his father, Wenzel, who built Roger archtop guitars during the 1930s and introduced the first electric guitars to Germany in 1947.

1967 Fender Coronado XII Wildwood 12-String Electric Guitar

1967 Fender Coronado XII Wildwood 12-String Electric Guitar

In 1952 Roger came to the US and landed a job with Gibson. The gig did not work out. Persistant, Rossmeisl went West and hooked up with F.C. Hall and Rickebacker. Accounts are fuzzy about the next facts, but by 1956 Rossmeisl was responsible for designing the Combo 600 and 800 series solidbodies, the legendary 4000 bass, and the Capri lines. He introduced both the top-relief German carve to American guitars (cf Mosrite; Semie Moseley briefly worked for Rossmeisl) and the more specific cresting wave design.

That alone would be enough to secure his fame, but Rossmeisl next approached Leo Fender about designing a line of bolt-neck acoustics in 1962 and was hired. In 1963 Fender’s broomstick acoustics debuted with a support dowel running from heel to tail and, significantly, exotic woods. Not new but cool. And not popular.

Roger is supposed to have known the Danish drug dealer and brought him to Fender. The Wildwood acoustic dreadnoughts and thinline electrics debuted in 1966. Which brings us back to this Coronado XII. The colored graining is in nifty green. The construction is solid, though hollowbodies without a log are not my favorite. And, even though my father hailed from Toledo and I’ve lived there several times, the Glass City’s DeArmond pickups have never been on my must-have list.

Fender Wildwoods officially lasted until 1971, but they were hardly a success, and are now a part of guitar legend. Japan’s Teisco company produced some knock-off Wildwood-style guitars, but they were not any more popular. Roger Rossmeisl returned to Germany and eventual obscurity. Leaving us only, I guess, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll – and the Fender Coronado XII Wildwood.