Samick Motherlode

December 2014
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Weird Guitars: Vintage Freak Show

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feat


Imperial “No Name”
Imagine my astonishment upon seeing this oddball in an Atlantic City pawnshop! This poor old guitar was in sad shape and needed some love. I call it a “no name” because I haven’t discovered which Japanese factory produced it. In July of 1965, the Japanese Music Trades magazine stated there were 24 known electric-guitar makers in Japan. But there were five more “unknown” makers that no one seems to remember.

The origin of this guitar remains a mystery. There’s no record of this model in any catalog I’ve seen in Japan or the U.S. Several sources state that this guitar was sold under the “Burns” name in Japan, and the “Imperial” name in the States. I was lucky enough to buy another one of these in brownburst, but it had slightly different build characteristics.

Watch a demo of the Avalon AV2T

When I visited Japan in 2013, I showed pictures of this guitar to everyone I met, including older designers, engineers, company presidents, and factory workers. No one remembered this model, but one electronics engineer seemed to remember the split-coil pickups as the work of a husband-and-wife team who fashioned pickups as a side business in Nagano. Peering under the pickguard, you can see that the pickups were handmade—even the metal covers were cut and tooled by hand. When I study these old parts, I marvel at the resourcefulness of workers who just made things as they went along, despite the lack of industry standardization.

Like the Greco “Shrike,” the Imperial’s pickups have two three-slug coils under each cover, with on/off switches for each coil. The pickups offer some truly unique sounds. Overall, they sound a bit thin, but they have a nice surf tone and work well with an overdriven tube amp.

I’ve figured out about 85 percent of the Japanese mystery guitars of the 1960s, but the artist who made this remains unknown—for now.

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