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Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional 5002 Electric Guitar - Black

Within the TeleStar Orbit (Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Electric Guitar)

I think there’s an illusion among many vintage guitar enthusiasts that the 1960s were some sort of candy store filled with glittering guitars at every turn. Certainly the remarkable variety of brands and designs that were produced and have survived help foster this illusion of abundance. But the reality on the ground back then was quite different for most of us. Few of us ever encountered a guitar like this 1967 TeleStar until well after the fact!

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional 5002 Electric Guitar - Black

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional 5002 Electric Guitar – Black

When Telestar—the first communications satellite and this guitar’s namesake—was launched in 1962, I was living in a small-to-medium sized city in Michigan about a 100 miles north of Detroit. I knew about Gibson guitars, of course, and Kay and Harmony (mainly through the Sears and Wards catalogs). Even though my heroes, The Ventures, played them, I’d never heard of Fenders, much less Rickenbackers, or EKOS or Teiscos, for that matter. Inevitably, my horizons expanded to include more than Midwestern guitars, but that MicroFrets or TeleStars ever existed at all came as a revelation only years later when I became something of a guitar archaeologist. I don’t think my experience was atypical.

One corollary of the illusion about the abundance of ‘60s guitars goes beyond awareness. It’s that they were so abundant. That is, that millions and millions were produced and sold. This is just not the case. The only documentation available is from reports in The Music Trades of the time, for Japanese electric guitars. The peak year was 1966, when 618,000 were imported. By 1968 the number was down to 385,000. By 1969 it was 150,000. American or European numbers aren’t available. In any case, when you spread those numbers over the plethora of brands that created the illusion in the first place, you begin to see that the quantities of many of these guitars was relatively small.

I became aware of TeleStar guitars (sometimes it was Tele-Star) when I started buying obscure paper. Somewhere along the line I obtained a brochure with a business card for one Maurice Laboz, 1129 Broadway, New York City, stapled to it. And even then, I really only began to get a clue when I met Chip Coleman, who had a vintage guitar shop in China Grove, NC, and had a large personal collection of TeleStar guitars and basses. At the time, I was working on the Kramer history and my collaborator lived in South Carolina. He had a large personal collection of Kramers. So, I put my young son and my photo gear in the car drove southward while my Kramer buddy loaded his daughter and his Kramer guitars into his car and headed northward. We rendezvoused at Chip’s place and I got all these great photos of Kramer and TeleStar guitars.

That great experience put me onto the scent, and before long I had a couple TeleStars of my own and had documented the line as far as was possible.

TeleStar guitars were being sold by 1965. While it’s not certain, many features of these guitars suggest that most, if not all, were built by Kawai. In the past I’ve speculated that there might even have been some greater business connection between Laboz, TeleStar and Kawai, similar to that of, for example, Hoshino (Ibanez) and Elger, but probably there’s a simpler answer that Laboz just got his guitars from Kawai, or whatever the trading company representing them was. A rather remarkable number of models were offered in the catalogs over the next few years, helping to reinforce the illusion of plenty. It’s unlikely that large numbers of each of these models were actually produced

In 1967, following the corporate gobbling frenzy of the times, TeleStar became a part of the Music-Craft Electronic Corporation and moved to 651 Broadway. It was from this era that the TeleStar Professional Solid Body Sparkle Electric 5002 seen here comes. Sort of inspired by a Burns Bison, this is a Kawai product. Like many ‘60s Japanese guitars, a light weight, delicate wiring, and slightly awkward sliding controls tend to cause folks to look down on these guitars, but they really can be set up to play and sound satisfactorily. However, let’s face it, the reason you really want one of this is for the sparkle finish, little silver specks that would make this guitar twinkle in the spotlights!

TeleStar guitars, including the sparkles, lasted into 1969, around which time the warehouse burned down, and the company moved to Secaucus, NJ, and became a distributor of music accessories.

Guitars like this sparkling TeleStar are certainly eye-candy. They’re just not as common as many once thought, probably only distributed on the East Coast. Still, if not common, no illusion either!

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Sparkle 5002 Electric Guitar

Coincidences & Satellites (Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Sparkle 5002 Electric Guitar)

Over many years of writing about and photographing guitars, I’ve had numerous occasion to take pictures of guitars “on location.” That means packing up rather bulky photographic gear—cameras, tripods, lights, backdrops—and voyaging near and far. Sometimes this took place at a vintage guitar shop, sometimes at a collector’s place. When it came to the subject of TeleStar guitars, I got to combine both.

Actually, the coincidence of dealer and enthusiast coincided with working two rather disparate brands at the same time, TeleStar and Kramer. At the time I was working on the Kramer history with Terry Boling, who lived in South Carolina at the time and had a nice Kramer collection. I was also working on TeleStar and was in touch with Chip Coleman, who has a music store in North Carolina and a nice TeleStar collection. Into this mix was the fact that I lived in Pennsylvania and had more vacation days than my wife and I used some of it to take road trips during the summer. So, I combined all these and my son and I headed for Coleman Music, while Terry packed up his truck and drove north for the rendezvous. We set up a makeshift studio and I took pictures of both collections. We can talk Kramer later.

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Sparkle 5002 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Sparkle 5002 Electric Guitar

TeleStar guitars, basses and amps were sold by the Tele-Star Trading Corporation (Importers and Exporters), 1129 Broadway, New York, headed by Maurice Laboz, about whom we know very little. There’s a possibility that Tele-Star had some sort of direct relationship with the Japanese manufacturer Kawai, since many features on TeleStars smack of Kawai and many were definitely built by Kawai, but any formal connection other than as a supplier is only speculative. The first TeleStar guitars appeared in 1965 and were pretty primitive short-scale beginner models, except for an amp-in-guitar made by Teisco, a version of the Teisco TRG-1.

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Sparkle 5002 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Sparkle 5002 Electric Guitar

Early TeleStars tended to stay among the offerings, sometimes with slight modifications, with new, better models added. However, the cool thing was the addition of a new Professional Solid Body Speckled Electrics line in 1966. Speckled by any other name means “sparkle” finishes. I’ve not seen any ’66 catalogs, but these were probably similar to what we have here, possibly with narrow oval pickups.

In 1967 the name of the line changed to Sparkle Solid Body Electric Guitars, and included the 5002 (two pickups with vibrato), 5003 (three pickups with vibrato) and 5004 (four pickups with vibrato). Sparkles came in gold, silver, blue and green flecked finishes. These are what are mentioned in the catalogs, however, I own this black 5002 with silver flecks plus a cream-finished one with multi-color flecks, so obviously those were offered as well. (It’s possible that these finishes signify that these are later than 1967.) You can see why Chip was into them. Who wouldn’t be?

Seen here is a c. 1967 TeleStar Professional Solid Body Sparkle Electric Guitar 5002 built by Kawai. As you can see, it’s kind of modeled after a Burns Bison. The sliders are on/off switches, with a volume and tone control. Basic but good enough to do Pipeline.

Look, you’d never confuse this with a Fender (or probably even a Burns Bison), but it sure has style, and, like most Japanese guitars of this period, actually plays very nicely once it gets the benefit of a good set-up, which most didn’t. Pickups from this era are hit or miss. If you’re lucky, they have a crisp, clean single-coil sound, with a tendency toward being microphonic, which is good or bad, depending on your point of view. Usually the weakest links are use of teeny wires for the harness and crummy tone caps, which this guitar shares.

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Sparkle 5002 Electric Guitar

Vintage 1967 TeleStar Professional Sparkle 5002 Electric Guitar

In 1967 the company changed names to become the Tele-Star Musical Instrument Company, now a subsidiary of the Music-Craft Electronic Corporation now at 651 Broadway. That probably indicates that they were purchased by Music-Craft, or whomever owned/set up the company. At the same time violin- and teardrop-shaped guitars joined the line.

The sparkle solidbodies continued into 1969 pretty much unchanged, but by then kids were high listening to Hendrix, Clapton and the Doors. It’s hard to imagine Hendrix playing a sparkle TeleStar! TeleStar begins to fade after this. At some point their New York City warehouse burned down and they relocated to Secaucus, NJ. With the move guitars were gone for good, and Tele-Star distributed accessories. In around 1982 Laboz, who was still in charge, sold the company to Fred Gretsch, Jr., and it effectively disappeared.
Fortunately, Chip Coleman had more than just the sparkle TeleStars for me to photograph, but it’s really the Sparkle TeleStars we remember with fondness.

Michael Wright, The Different Strummer, is a collector and historian whose work is featured in Vintage Guitar Magazine.

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!…