Samick Motherlode

December 2014
more... Builder ProfilePerformance Guitar

Hot-Rodder to the Stars: Inside Performance Guitar


How did this all begin?

I started making guitars when I was fifteen years old. At that time I couldn’t buy a guitar. A friend of mine had a Japanese Guyatone or a Teisco. At that time Japanese guitars were of poor quality. A professional player couldn’t use them. A beginner or an intermediate player could use them. I wanted to learn to play, but I couldn’t buy one, so I made a guitar myself [Laughs].

What kind of music did you play?

I wanted to play The Shadows and Cliff Richard. Hank Marvin was amazing. At that time The Ventures were really popular in Japan, along with The Astronauts.

What was your first good guitar?

The second or third guitar I made was a high quality guitar. Japanese professional players couldn’t buy Fender or Gibson. The price was really high and not many music stores carried Fender or Gibson. In the early sixties there were maybe only one or two stores in Tokyo that carried those. Lots of American artists would come to Japan to perform and later sell their American guitars in music stores or pawnshops.

What was your first American guitar?

When I was seventeen I bought a Fender Jazzmaster. Back then a Jazzmaster cost the same as a Yamaha upright piano [laughs]. I joined a country western band, like Buck Owens & His Buckaroos. That’s how I met Randy Meisner. He was the first bass player for The Eagles and used to play with Buck Owens and Ricky Nelson. He came to Tokyo with Buck Owens; at the time the security in Tokyo wasn’t so tight and through some connections I got backstage. The Buckaroos were a great band.

How did you become a guitar builder?

A friend of mine had a Fender and I took a look at it. I figured I could make something close. My father had a lot of tools and machine tools. He also had paint, so I figured I could make one at home. I made a violin when I was nineteen. I still have it.

The first guitar I made was a copy of a Jazzmaster, and it sounded very good. I had other friends who were professional players. When they saw the Jazzmaster I made, they asked me to make guitars for them. Soon other bands heard about me through word of mouth and I started making guitars for them. I also built amplifiers. You couldn’t get Marshall or Fender amps in Tokyo back then so I built amps in that style. I also built high-wattage amps. I built forty-eight amps for local bands.

Yamaha later hired you. What did you do for them?

I was a technician for Yamaha because I was one of the few people who could work on both guitars and amps. Also, the guitar factory was far away from Tokyo and I lived in Tokyo. I was the liaison between the factory and Tokyo. I did repairs and modifications for guitars, amps and keyboards. This was from 1968 to the early seventies. I left Yamaha to come to America to become a student at pilot school, then I got my pilot’s license. By the time I came to America I had a background in guitar and amp building as well as car and aircraft mechanics.

You later got hired by Fender, how did that come about?

In 1971 I tried to get a job at Fender but they wouldn’t hire me because they didn’t know who I was [laughing]. There were a lot of people waiting in line to get hired at Fender. My resume wasn’t good enough, so I got a job at Van Nuys airport as an aircraft mechanic. In 1975 I met a guy who was a foreman for the Fender service center. Between him and a contact that I knew in Japan, I was eventually hired by Fender. I was an advisor who was the liaison between Fender Japan and Fender America. Fender imported guitars and parts and I knew the Japanese market well. I did market research for new models, supervised construction and worked on the Fender ‘F’-Series acoustic guitars. I was at Fender for eight years.

When did you start Performance Guitar?

I started Performance Guitar part time while I was still working at Fender. That was for four years. I started out working from my garage. It wasn’t everyday. I had to eventually quit Fender to build the company.

Who were your early clients?

One of my first clients was Andrew Gold. He was a big songwriter and played with Linda Ronstadt. He wanted a custom guitar that looked like a Rickenbacker but sounded like a Stratocaster.

How did you do that?


We made the neck so that it was Fender scale and made the inside of the pickups like Stratocaster-style single coils. The body looked exactly like a Rickenbacker guitar.