This ’70s Japanese lawsuit-era guitar was brazenly designed to mimic a Martin D-41, and to our columnist’s ears, sounds just as good as the original.
It’s a 14-fret dreadnought acoustic with a spruce top and rosewood back and sides. It’s appointed with beautiful reduced-hexagon abalone inlays, matching binding, and multi-stripe detail throughout. The logo reads vertically instead of horizontally, and it has a rich, powerful tone. Surely I’m referring to an heirloom-quality, America-made Martin D-41, right?
On the headstock, Takamine imitated the style of the vertical Martin logo. Takamine took the same approach to their Guild and Gallagher copies.
Nope! I’m talking about the delightful 1978 Takamine F-450S-A, an unashamed, fractions-of-an-inch-accurate copy of one of Martin’s most prized designs. According to Takamine’s 1976 catalog, the F-450S-A was “the finest guitar made by Takamine,” featuring genuine Pacific abalone pearl inlaid by hand. The catalog boasts of the experienced older craftsman slowly teaching young apprentices the “Takamine way” to make guitars. While there can be no doubt the F-450S-A is a fine instrument, the Takamine way sure looks a lot like the Martin way to us!
A revealing statement can be found just a page further in the catalog: “To the eye and to the ear, a Takamine matches any guitar on the market today.” You don’t say!
“To the pocketbook however, a Takamine is no match. Play and compare. You’ll find the sound you want at about a third the price.”
The logic was simple: A quality Martin clone made cheaply in Japan could easily be marketed to American consumers who couldn’t afford the real thing. While researching, I came across this illuminating post on The Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum: “Being from Western North Carolina and picking out with older folks on porches, I could never afford a Martin. When we would be picking, others would come up and say I like your Mar... tin... and then stop and look like they took a bite out of a rotten tater.”
Takamine mimicked other brands, too. The same 1976 catalog features the name “Takamine” contorted into the distinctive “peaked” Guild logo. Not too long ago, we had a Takamine-made Gallagher copy come into Fanny’s House of Music, with the famous Gallagher “G” subtly morphed into a “T.” This period in the 1970s is often called the “lawsuit era,” a term that refers to a 1977 lawsuit filed by Gibson against Ibanez for infringing on their headstock design. The phrase “lawsuit era” might suggest that American companies were suing their Japanese counterparts left and right, but the truth is, lawsuits were rare, and Gibson and Ibanez settled out of court. There was no lawsuit against Takamine for their headstocks, although Martin did send a cease and desist letter. Soon, Takamine, Ibanez, and other Japanese companies began cranking out great original designs of their own, and the lawsuit era was over.
The oblong-hexagon abalone inlays on the fretboard are another feature of this guitar that resembles a Martin.
According to the Takamine catalog, the back and sides of our F-450S-A are made of jacaranda, and, boy, did that ever send me down a rabbit hole! It sure looks a lot like rosewood to me. Besides, with everything else on this guitar being such a close copy of a D-41, why would Takamine use an entirely different species of wood for the back and sides? Jacaranda is a genus of 49 species of flowering plants, and rosewood belongs to the genus Dalbergia, which famously does not flower. Everyone knows that. (Just kidding.)
As it turns out, the journey the word “jacaranda” takes from Portuguese to Japanese to English can leave us with a term that generally means “rosewood,” even though jacaranda is a very different species. Washburn, Tokai, and other Japanese manufacturers sometimes even listed fretboard material as “Jacaranda (Brazilian Rosewood),” which is nearly enough to turn my brain to mush! At a certain point, one has to admit defeat and begin climbing out of the rabbit hole. We may never know exactly what species of wood we’re dealing with here, but who cares when the guitar sounds this good?
The Takamine catalog says the back and sides are jacaranda, a colloquialized umbrella term that often just means “rosewood.”
The neck of our Tak’ has a comfortable medium-C shape and nice low action. It’s clearly a well-built instrument with good volume and depth of tone. It’s in outstanding condition for its age, with hardly a mark on it, which means there’s a lot of songs in this old gal! It may be a mere “knock-off,” but don’t knock it ’til you try it. It’s a great guitar and I can’t wait to see who it inspires next.
Patterned on Mosrite’s Joe Maphis model, this luxurious guitar is truly one of a kind.
Before the Mosrite brand was born, its founder, Semie Moseley, was just an independent luthier trying to make a splash. In the same way Paul Reed Smith pitched his pre-factory builds to Carlos Santana and Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Moseley found his first golden ticket in a Southern Californian picker by the name of Joe Maphis.
Back in the mid-1950s, Moseley got fired from Rickenbacker after making a guitar of his own. Soon after, he built a three-necked amalgamation that contained a standard guitar, an octave guitar (one octave higher), and a mandolin—all in a single solidbody electric. The goal was to attract attention, and attract attention it did.
Joe Maphis was a flashy country player who led the Town Hall Party radio show, which was beamed all over Southern California and into Northern Mexico. Maphis requested a double-neck version (without the mandolin), and from then on Moseley was a known entity, crafting about one custom instrument a month for years.
This close-up brings the brass nut, elegant binding, Grover tuners, and sterling silver headstock inlay into focus.
Later, in 1960, Maphis got a proper Moseley-made signature model, with a body that looked like an upside-down Stratocaster. In the early ’60s, the Ventures—the top-selling instrumental rock group who helped codify surf music—became Mosrite’s distributor. They took a Maphis-style signature guitar as their own, and created a rush of capital and orders.
Johnny Ramone’s 1965 Mosrite Ventures II model fetched nearly $1 million at auction in 2021.
Business went up, business went down. Mosrite’s distributor agreements and parent companies came and went. As Moseley wrote to clients and inquirers in 1986: “Some day, in the near future, the Semie Moseley and Mosrite Guitar story will be in process. It will read like a fairytale—a drama—a love story; from rags to riches—to rags—to the fight back, from one major tragedy to another, from the very beginning through its evolution to the 1980s.”
But by then, despite the vagaries of the musical instruments industry, Moseley was back doing what he had always done best: building incredible custom guitars. And that’s where we pick up the story for this month’s Vintage Vaultfind.
Walnut pickup rings machined to match the bird’s-eye maple body surround these split-coil humbuckers.
After Maphis’ death in 1986, Moseley created this one-of-a-kind beauty for a friend, Ross Coan Jr. While standard Joe Maphis models had spruce tops and single-coil pickups, this Maphis-style custom build has a bird’s-eye maple top and unique split-coil humbuckers. But it retains the bound neck and beveled edges that Moseley must have learned first-hand from Rickenbacker’s Roger Rossmeisl, along with the angled neck pickup, metal nut, dual-knob, and 3-way pickup-selector switch of Moseley’s previous models. And the headstock and fretboard inlays are sterling silver.
Take a look at those pickup rings, too, which—unlike pickup rings on nearly any other custom guitar—are remarkably gorgeous and carved out of a wood that perfectly complements the maple top. Obviously, Moseley put a great deal of care and consideration into this build. He even stamped the name and date of birth of his friend at the very last fret and inscribed the back of the headstock: “Hand made for Ross Coan Jr. by Semie Moseley 1986.”
It’s impossible to put a price on what this guitar would’ve cost back then. Whether it was a gift or a commission, it was a labor of love—a late-career testament to Moseley’s guitar-building prowess.
The back of this unique guitar is made of figured walnut.
George Gruhn writes that Moseley’s pre-Ventures custom guitars are highly sought-after by collectors. Johnny Ramone’s 1965 Mosrite Ventures II model fetched nearly $1 million at auction in 2021. But most production-era Mosrites—those that were notplayed by famous musicians—often sell on Reverb in the range of several thousand dollars.
Moseley signed and dated the headstock of this guitar built for his friend Ross Coan Jr.
This custom build from Moseley himself, who died just a few years later, in 1992, is currently listed for $12,500.
Sources include Reverb listings and pricing data, American Guitars: An Illustrated History by Tom Wheeler, and Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars.
This JTM45 is an amp of which rock and blues dreams are made on.
So often in the world of guitar and amp design, the earliest innovations are hard to improve upon. Companies spend years and countless dollars trying to tweak the formula just to wind up back where they started. The Telecaster still looks virtually the same 75 years later, and Marshalls are still the gold standard for classic rock ’n’ roll amplification.
This 1966 JTM45 might be the “holy grail” of Marshall heads. For most of 1965, the JTM45 featured the block logo design. This example sports the newly introduced and now familiar script Marshall logo. This is also the second full year of the black levant Tolex still found on Marshall amps today. Later in 1966, the small-box 50-watt Marshall heads would replace the JTM45s, making these amps relatively short-lived in their original incarnation, despite all their early adopters. Original examples like this are incredibly hard to find in the States, especially in excellent, stock condition.
With a gold plexiglass front panel and white back panel, this amp certainly has the looks, but as with most things in life, it’s what’s inside that counts.
Off with its hood! Here’s the power tube and transformer array in this 56-year-old tone machine. It’s a simple but potent mix.
The folded-end aluminum chassis features the early style lay-down power transformer with a top-mounted voltage selector. A pair of KT66 power tubes complements three ECC83 preamp tubes and a GZ34 rectifier tube, delivering the singing, sweet sustain you hear on countless records. With two channels and high and low inputs for each, the amp offers several distinct sounds, including the popular choice produced by jumping the channels with a patch cable, to combine the best qualities of each. (The bright channel has a bright cap on the volume pot and a second cap bypassing the 270k mixing resistor, FYI.)
“The previous owner is a Nashville sideman who has backed up legends like Hank Williams Jr. and Jimmy Hall.”
The 2x12 combo configuration of this amplifier is thought to be the type of amp Eric Clapton used for the so-called “Beano album” with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, officially titled Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton and released in July 1966. Pete Townshend and other players had been using Marshall amps live for some time, but it was Clapton’s combination of a PAF-equipped 1960 Gibson Les Paul and a JTM45 amp, as well as his insistence that the engineers of the recording session pull the microphones back and allow him to turn his amplifier up, that introduced the world to what these amps could do. Soon all the guitar greats on the London music scene were flooding Jim Marshall with orders. Clapton’s early successors in the Bluesbreakers lineup, Peter Green and Mick Taylor, also used Marshall amps for their times in the band, forever linking the sound of a Marshall amp to the British blues explosion of the 1960s. Soon you could hear Marshalls on nearly every record coming from England, and subsequently in the recordings of generations of guitarists around the world that they inspired. Classic albums by Humble Pie, the James Gang, AC/DC, Jeff Beck, and ZZ Top all demonstrate the 45-watts of solid power of a JTM45. Even today, no studio would be complete without some kind of plexi-era Marshall.
As often happens with plexis, at some point a tech hand-wrote the ohm-output position numbers on the white rear plate of this vintage Marshall.
This amp walked into our store some time ago and has been in our private collection since, but it’s now for sale. The previous owner is a Nashville sideman who has backed legends like Hank Williams Jr. and Jimmy Hall. Its condition reflects its status as the prized possession of a working musician. It’s been played but very well maintained and is in pristine running order. These were built to last, and this amp has performed faithfully for many years.
In the endless pursuit of tone, so often it seems the sound many of us are chasing is the sound of this amplifier. No matter how many pedals claim to nail it, or how many boutique amps copy the circuit, there is simply nothing like plugging into a plexi-panel JTM45. These amplifiers are in many ways a musical instrument unto themselves and have no doubt inspired and shaped guitar-centric music for 60 years.