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Weird Guitars: Vintage Freak Show

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Guyatone LG-160T Telstar
The Telstar perhaps best epitomizes extreme Japanese designs of the ’60s. Its name and look are clearly inspired by the sci-fi themes prevalent at the time, as well as the general fascination with space travel, satellites, and such. The guitar was embraced by many Japanese “Group Sounds” rock bands (a style comparable to U.S. garage-rock of the ’60s).

Guyatone guitars were designed and made by the Tokyo Sound Company, which was started by Mitsuo Matsuki, who had been making electric instruments since the 1930s. In the 1950s, Tokyo Sound made Guyatone electric guitars just a 10-minute walk from the original Teisco factory in Tokyo. A somewhat friendly rivalry developed between Teisco and Tokyo Sound, and guitar players in Japan often found themselves in one of two camps, much like U.S. players tended to prefer either Fender or Gibson. Tokyo Sound guitars were often sold in the States under the Kent brand, but more extreme designs like the Telstar were typically reserved for the Japanese market.

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Telstars, first introduced in early 1966, were made in small numbers until around 1967. They were considered good instruments for the time. Yamaha (Nippon Gakki) made the wood parts, and Tokyo Sound installed their own pickup and hardware designs at the factory. Electronics include an on/off switch for each pickup and a preset tone switch that accentuates lows or highs. Guyatone pickups usually sound quite good, but Telstar single-coils are some of the best. Despite their appearance, they sound similar to vintage P-90s—much fatter than a Stratocaster.

The necks have a deep shoulder but feel thin in the palm of your hand, much like classic Rickenbacker necks. They’re steel-reinforced, but not adjustable. (There were Telstar guitars with adjustable truss rods, but they were typically export-only models.) The “monkey-grip” was intended as a carrying handle, and its position offers optimal balance.

These guitars rarely surface on the used market, so it seems few were made. But the Telstar design found its way onto record covers, which may explain why you could find plastic toy models of it for sale, too. This particular Telstar came from an old warehouse in Japan, where it had been sitting in its case since the late ’60s.

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