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Wizard of Odd: The Incredible Tale of a Mid-’60s Aria Diamond 1402T

Sometimes, against all odds, you find yourself reunited with a long-lost friend.

I thoroughly enjoy hearing stories of how people’s lives have intertwined with guitars and music. Memories of youth are powerful and our connections to the past are often what shaped us today. It’s like hearing a certain song that immediately brings you back to a powerful memory. You dig? It can be that way with guitars, and some of my most rewarding moments as a researcher stem from hearing folks talk about their first guitar. Maybe it didn’t play that well and maybe it didn’t make you sound like your 6-string hero, but in a way, your first guitar is like your first love. A guitar can evoke memories connected to parents, houses, and towns that stay in our youthful reflections. It’s a beautiful thing!

And so it goes with this guitar (Photo 1), which was given to me for the promise I’d tell its story one day. It dates to 1966 or ’67 and was made at the famous Matsumoku factory in Matsumoto, Japan. Beatlemania was capturing the attention of nearly every kid at that time, and Hofner’s violin-shaped guitars were incredibly popular because of the Paul McCartney connection. Almost every Japanese factory was making a version of a violin guitar in the mid ’60s, and there were plenty of these models to be found all over the globe. This is an Aria Diamond 1402T—it even has a rhinestone gem embedded in the logo. Aria never really had their own factory, but the company used Matsumoku for many of the electric guitar models.

Maybe it didn’t play that well and maybe it didn’t make you sound like your 6-string hero, but in a way, your first guitar is
like your first love.

In 1978, a kid in Japan named Shin Orii found an Aria Diamond in a second-hand shop. Even though it was outdated at that point, Orii was smitten. Passing over the Fender and Gibson copies that flooded the store, he bought the 1402T, an Elk Fuzz (stay tuned for more about that pedal), and a little 10-watt amp. For two years, he practiced daily on this guitar, playing songs like “Satisfaction” and “Day Tripper.” But eventually Orii’s father grew impatient with his son’s devotion to music and corresponding lack of devotion to his studies. One night in a fit of rage, he snatched the guitar out of his son’s hands and tossed it out of a second-floor window onto the street below. It was the last time Orii played guitar in his home.

Now fast-forward to 2002: Orii was involved in the music industry and guitar development in his hometown of Matsumoto. One day he met Hajime Gotoh, a former employee of the then-shuttered Matsumoku factory who had some old design drawings from back in the day. As Orii thumbed through these drawings, he spotted the original design plan for his old 1402T (Photo 2), and the memories started flowing back. Over time the two men shared many stories from the past and grew to be friends. One day Mr. Gotoh mentioned he’d seen an Aria Diamond in a local pawnshop. Well, the two guys swung by that shop to check out the guitar. Would you believe it was the same guitar that Orii’s father had chucked out the window? Seriously, the guitar was the exact one! As a kid, Orii had placed a few stickers on his beloved guitar and those identifying stickers were still on the instrument.

Crazy stories like this find me all the time because of my fascination with vintage instruments. To all of you out there looking for that memory tied to a guitar and a place in time, here’s hoping your first love finds its way back home.

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