The flagship model for Japanese electronics juggernaut was here and gone in the blink of an eye, but certainly not because of quality issues.
Talk about a flash in the pan. The Victor guitars of the mid-1960s came and went so quickly that many folks simply forgot they once existed! This month, I’m going to talk about the Victor SG-18, which was honestly one of the finest sounding electric guitars of its day.
The SG-18 was the flagship guitar of Japan’s JVC company. I found this particular SG-18 in California, back when I used to search Craigslist ads from all around the country and try to convince people to sell and ship guitars to me. I found some memorable guitars that way, but this one was the king of finds. I bought it from a friendly fellow living in Anaheim who had originally purchased it from a record store where it was hanging on the wall. (Back in the day, record stores sold guitars, too.) Now, it’s hanging on my wall.
When I acquired the guitar around 2011, it was right when I was starting to get serious about researching old Japanese guitars. I had developed a few friendships with like-minded folks—both here and in Japan—but when I asked around about the guitar, nobody knew anything about it. It was a total mystery, but I was determined to figure it out. It’s funny to think about now, but my search actually got moving thanks to a Japanese friend’s grandma. She remembered the guitar from a record cover! We then collectively started finding old advertisements and other memorabilia to piece together the story of Victor guitars.
According to Hiroyuki Noguchi, the author of the excellent book ’60s Bizarre Guitars, Victor guitars were introduced to the world on July 14, 1965. The unveiling was a rather glamorous event held at JVC’s Tokyo office. There were journalists, celebrities, and musicians in attendance to see the new line of instruments, which included two solidbody electrics, three amplifiers, and a lap-steel.
The new Victor instruments were marketed as high-quality models and were shown in ads with some of the most popular celebrities and musicians of the day, including the French singer Sylvie Vartan, teen heartthrob Akira Mita, and singer/actor Yukio Hashi. Just imagine if some huge record label like RCA developed their own line of guitars here in the U.S., and had a huge event where Elvis, Paul Newman, and Elizabeth Taylor were in attendance. The company put on a massive media blitz, so you can find all sorts of cool advertisements and record covers with the SG-18 splashed all over, with lovely ’60s flair.
The guitar really is a hot little number. The body and neck were made at the Matsumoku factory in Japan, but the electronics and hardware were designed by JVC. The trio of pickups are high-output units that measure in the 9k range. Resembling the ones found on Fender Mustangs, the pickups used six slug magnets and a phenolic base, and produce hi-fi quality sound. The SG-18’s bridge is similar to a Telecaster’s bridge, and the tremolo has a Jazzmaster feel. Underneath the huge pickguard are the high-end electronics, which include the finest output jack I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s like a lifetime jack that was built to last forever.
Unfortunately, despite all the thought put into the SG-18, production only lasted a year and then disappeared into history. There really aren’t many of these guitars around anymore and most examples I see are in this bright cherry red. I occasionally see sunburst models, and there was also a white version according to the literature. Most of the SG-18s were only sold in Japan, but apparently some did make it to the States via record stores on the West Coast. If you happen to have one of these guitars hanging on the wall at your home, then hopefully you now know what you have, too!