japan made

It sure looks like a banjo, but this vintage Kawai-made instrument is definitely a guitar!

I’ve been hunkered down in the basement with my dogs while my family is upstairs blowing their noses. I’m the only uninfected person in the house. Last night, while I was trying to stay germ-free, I was digging on Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2021 film, Licorice Pizza. Set in 1973 in California, the soundtrack features a great assortment of songs I’d never heard before and some classics. One song that was playing in my head for the rest of the night after I watched the movie was “Let Me Roll It” by Paul McCartney and Wings. That song reminded me of the guitar education I got from my buddy Mike Dugan, who has been playing guitar since before the Beatles played in the U.S.

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An example from the Ibanez "lawsuit era"

For those old enough to remember, the Ibanez instrument company hasn’t always been associated with the modern stylings of their famed RG model, Vai JEM, or Gilbert Fireman. Back in the ’70s, the company was just starting to get a firm grasp on the artistic and production techniques that would define them as a major player in the musical instrument industry. Around this time, Ibanez’s reproductions of various Gibson designs instigated one of the industry’s most notorious lawsuits. In 1977, the Norlin Corporation—which owned Gibson at the time—sent a cease-and-desist warning to Ibanez. Gibson’s lawyers felt the best plan of attack was to base their lawsuit on similarities in body style and utility. On June 28, 1977, the case of Gibson v. Elger Co. opened in Philadelphia’s Federal District Court. In early ’78, the two sides reached an agreement: Ibanez would halt production on the look-a-likes if Gibson would refrain from any more lawsuits. Not only did this suit attract major attention to the burgeoning Japanese guitar market, but it also forced Ibanez to sink or swim by developing their own designs.

Here’s an example of an Ibanez “lawsuit-era” guitar. The 1976 Custom Agent Artist 2405 in a transparent maroon finish is a great example of Ibanez’s penchant for melding traditional design with artistic flair. The maple-topped mahogany body sports a mother-of-pearl inlay at its lower bout, matched by equally extravagant MOP fretboard inlays, and a headstock shape reminiscent of their mando-design. The pickups were originally Super 80 models, but were replaced with double-cream DiMarzio Super Distortions before the current owner purchased the guitar years ago.

Thanks to Dien Judge for the opportunity to feature this fine instrument.

The history of Samick and a budget acoustic find

Hey Zach,
I’m just learning how to play guitar, and I picked up this Samick acoustic from a buddy for $60. It has the following information inked on the label inside: Model LW-025G, Serial No. 96122756, Made in Indonesia. I really don’t know much about guitars, including this one, and I simply bought it for something to learn on. Can you tell me a little about the guitar and if it is worth anything—although I suspect not.

Minnetonka, Minnesota

Hey John,
The beauty of the guitar industry today is that with so many price points available, just about anyone can afford a guitar. Many players consider Samick to be a budget brand because of their low price points, but the company offers much more than cheap guitars. I’ll discuss Samick’s history a bit and tell you more about your acoustic guitar.

Samick was founded in 1958 by Hyo Ick Lee in Korea as an upright piano manufacturer, and by 1964, they were the first Korean piano exporter. In 1965, they began building guitars, and in the early 1970s they had added grand pianos and harmonicas to the line. In 1973, the company incorporated as Samick Musical Instruments Mfg. Co. Ltd., and in 1978, they opened a branch office in Los Angeles. In 1992, they built a factory in Indonesia to produce a majority of their instruments.

What many people may not realize is that Samick actually builds guitars for many other trademarks and have been doing so for many years. It may come as a surprise to many, but several Epiphones, Fenders, and other American-trademarked guitars are actually built by Samick in one of their factories. Many manufacturers in the US do not actually own an overseas production facility, so they outsource the construction to companies such as Samick. Because of this, Samick is one of the highest-producing instrument manufacturers in the world, if not the top. In a sense, Samick is a current day “house brand.”

The LW-025G is a dreadnought-styled guitar that was part of Samick’s “Standard Series” offered in the 1990s. Introduced around 1994, it features a laminated spruce top, nato back and sides with black binding, a 20-fret rosewood fretboard, a black pickguard, and gloss finish. In terms of features, this guitar is exactly what the series describes it as: standard. The serial number, starting with “96” means the guitar was built in 1996. The LW-025G was produced through the late 1990s until Samick discontinued their entire line of guitars for a new series.

Samick doesn’t use traditional retail pricing for their guitars, but instead list a “dealer net” amount in their price lists, which basically is the amount a dealer pays for an instrument. Samick also enforces a strict minimum advertised price (MAP) policy to guarantee top margins for their dealers without having an arbitrary retail price. Not many guitar companies operate with a pricing structure such as this, but it has proved to be very successful for Samick. The dealer net price for this guitar in 1997 was $105 (I don’t have a price list from 1996). Today, the guitar is worth between $135 and $175 in excellent condition and between $70 and $90 in average condition.

The owner of this guitar actually brought it into our office, so I had a chance to physically inspect it and play it. The guitar has noticeable wear, but is structurally intact, putting it in average condition. The action is set evenly, the guitar played on all strings up and down the fingerboard, and the intonation is spot-on. Most collectors will consider this guitar to be trash, but for entry-level players, it’s a treasure—especially considering how hard it can be to find an inexpensive guitar that plays this easily with correct intonation. Part of the process when it comes to determining if a guitar is “trash or treasure” is to see how well the guitar plays, which is difficult to do by simply looking at pictures.

After Samick discontinued this line, they introduced a new line of guitars in their 2000 catalog. Designed by Greg Bennett, these were called the “Signature Series.” Since 2000, all Samick guitars are actually branded Greg Bennett and have a stylized “S” logo with “Greg Bennett Design” on the headstock. Samick continues to produce a wide variety of guitars from entry-level models to higher-end production models. To offer more high-end instruments, Samick opened their USA Custom Shop outside of Nashville, where they are also now headquartered. Samick also only sells their instruments to independent music stores to give them competition against the big-box stores—a treasure in today’s market for sure!

Zachary R. Fjestad
Zachary is the author of the Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and the Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers.
Questions can be submitted to:
Blue Book Publications
Attn: Guitar Trash or Treasure
8009 34th Ave. S. Ste #175
Minneapolis, MN 55425