Wizard of Odd: 1965 Zenon Zemi
Angular lines, sweeping curves, bright tones, and mysterious origins. What more can you ask for from a super-rare Japanese electric?
As a young lad, I always liked geometry and was drawn to the way patterns, shapes, and lines are ever-present in the world around us, if you simply look around. Even the way I play guitar draws on geometry, because I memorize scales by their shapes on the fretboard. Of course, geometry drives guitar design, as evidenced by this compelling example from Zenon that probably would’ve made Euclid, Pythagoras, or Archimedes proud.
This Zenon Zemi (Photo 1) is a real departure from the typical output from the Japanese factory, which was located near the idyllic Lake Suwa area. The company had some seriously cool designs back in the day, often featuring elegant lines that resembled rolling waves. This Zemi is a total mash-up of inspiration that’s reminiscent of line art or maybe parabolic art. The body profile combines all sorts of elements, from angular to sweeping and sharp to contoured (Photo 2).
This slightly offset body balances extremely well, like a fine samurai sword. The guitar also features other common elements of the era—a stiff tremolo, a semi-translucent pickguard, and white pickups—and everything was designed in-house, which is particularly noteworthy. Also, during this era many Japanese guitar manufacturers didn’t place a model name on a guitar headstock, so the presence of “Zemi” is somewhat atypical (Photo 3).
As for the pickups, they have an incredibly sharp tone—really trebly and biting. I always love a bright-sounding guitar, so I got along just fine with this little ’ol Zemi.
I discovered this Zemi and a few other hard-to-find guitars outside of Tokyo, in the suburb of Saitama. A fellow who owned a building in the area had amassed quite a collection of vintage Japanese guitars. He had inherited the building and guitars from a family member who apparently repaired and sold guitars back in the ’60s. Through a friend, this collector in Saitama would send me photos of guitars I’d never seen before and I would simply pick and choose which ones I wanted. It was the greatest!
I owned this Zemi for a few years and never planned on parting with it, but one day I received an email from the owner of a large music store in Tokyo. His dream was to create a museum of sorts that would feature live music and house rare and vintage Japanese guitars. So if you ever get to Tokyo, check out Ikebe Gakki and the live music bar there. That’s where you can see (and maybe hear) this über-rare Zemi in person.
Watch the video demo: