Photo 1

I think it was primarily a Northeast thing, but there were these amazing catalogs back in the day that were put out by a company called Lafayette Radio Electronics. These catalogs are such a cool flashback for radio geeks and electronics tinkerers that I still get giddy and buy up old examples every chance I get. Lumped in with all the CB radios, hi-fi stereos, and shortwave receivers were electric guitars, amps, and effects. The Lafayette catalogs even sold the same Rotovibe and Uni-Vibe pedals used by Hendrix.

When you peruse a bunch of these catalogs spanning the ’60s, you start to see the transitional path of tastes and styles in electric guitars. It’s like you’re viewing the history of the business unfolding, as American guitars get replaced with Japan-made instruments and the designs move towards a more constricted approach by borrowing from familiar Fender and Gibson models. For whatever reason, however, the Kimberly Deluxe (Photo 1) continued on into the 1970s in all its gold-and-green glory.

Photo 2

I’ve written my share about the insanely adventurous Kawai-made electrics from the ’60s, but even Kawai had scaled it way back by the end of the decade—except for this 4-pickup monster. It’s in my favorite guitar color, greenburst, and is a true throwback—a psychedelic leftover that refused to move on. Its design is similar to that of the Italy-made Eko Kadett I wrote about a few months back [“A ’60s Solidbody That Would Make Sergio Leone Smile,” December 2020], but the Kimberly Deluxe was a little more out there in almost every way.

I’m sure part of the appeal of the Kimberly Deluxe rested in the imaginations of us radio and electronics geeks who salivated over gadgets and widgets with a space-age flair. The guitar’s pickups (Photo 2) are a variation of gold-foils that all read in the mid 4k range. But typical of Kawai wiring, it’s all in series, meaning that the output increases as you switch on the pickups. For instance, with only the bridge pickup turned on, the output is 4.57k. Add the second pickup and it goes to 9.17k. But bring in the third pickup and it flies to 13.77k! And with the neck pickup engaged, the output is a whopping 18.43k, which is a lot of output for a 1960s Japanese guitar. The KD is a super-aggressive affair, and there was a time I actually owned and used five of them. They sound so interesting with fuzz and gain. Plus, switching on a Deluxes’s pickups turns into a master class on how to boost your tone on the fly and scale back your pedalboard at the same time.

Photo 3

Also referred to as a “Bison” model, these instruments went by “Deluxe 4 Pick-up Solid Body Electric Guitar” in the Lafayette catalogs, with a corresponding model number of 24599WX. By the way, the guitar was priced at just $44.95 brand new. An optional case would set you back an extra $8.95. To further the deal, Lafayette also offered complete “guitar outfits” that paired the Kimberly Deluxe with an amp, cable, strap, strings, picks, pitch pipe, and an instruction book with a record—all for $148.75! Yep, those were the days.

Lafayette branded the majority of their guitars Kimberly, but the same model and variations of this guitar were sold elsewhere with different colors and pickup configurations. I’ve seen them branded as Sekova and Clear Sound as well, but in the end, all the coolest stuff was found in the Lafayette catalogs. Unfortunately, the Kimberly Deluxe ended its run by the mid-1970s, and Lafayette went bankrupt a few years later. Though I was only old enough to catch the tail end of all the Kimberly coolness, let’s all give it up today for the last of the original space-age guitars!

Hear this late-’60s/early ’70s Kawai Kimberly Deluxe—and some references to Link Wray and surf music—in this demo by Mike Dugan.