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One of the finest wood factories in Japan, Matsumoku played a major role in Japanese electric guitar production. Located in Matsumoto, the factory name came from the combination of the words “Matsumoto Mokkou-jo” (woodworking plant). Initially a subsidiary of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, Matsumoku’s primary business was the production of wood cabinets, panels, and accessories for sewing machines.
In the early 1960s, Matsumoku was slowly losing work to overseas competition and the Singer Company ceased its partnership with the factory. But Matsumoku was a modem factory with good management, and most importantly, had excellent wood drying facilities. It made for the perfect guitar factory, and around 1962, Fujigen founder Yuichiro Yokouchi formed a partnership with Matsumoku to make electric guitars. This relationship lasted for several years, and worked very well for both companies
because of the proximity in Matsumoto.
By 1965, Matsumoku began making guitars for many other companies, including Arai, Colombia, and Victor. Matsumoku also started to produce its own guitars for export.
Matsumoku employed some excellent craftsmen, designers, and engineers. One of these employees was Norikatsu Harayama, who was director of engineering during the 1960s. He was a master woodcraftsman who went on to make guitar necks and bodies for ESP, Kramer, Schecter, and Moon guitars. Mr. Harayama also produced necks under his own brand, Jaramer. Another employee of Matsumoku was Hayashi Nobuaki. Initially, he was employed as a guitar designer. Helearned woodworking from Mr. Harayama, and designed most of the Matsumoku elec_tric guitars of the 1960s and 1970s.
Matsumoku continued to produce electric guitars throughout the l970s and 1980s under various names including Aria, Electra, Epiphone, Fantom, Skylark, Vantage, Washburn, Westone, and Univox. The factory closed in 1987 and was torn down a few years later. A park now resides in the location of the factor y, with a marble guitar monument standing at the former entrance.
This was the first electric guitar design made by Matsumoku, that wasn’t destined for Fujigen Gakki. Initially made for the Nippon Columbia Co., the original model name was CSG-631. This model was one of the first eletric to carry the Aria name, but it was also branded as Sorrento, Kingston, Leban, Orpheus, Tulio, and a few others.
Hayashi Nobuaki started designing almost all the Matsumoku electric guitars, starting around 1964. These guitars represent some of his first designs. Early Matsumoku electrics were generally built very well, and had excellent finishes that stood up to the passage of time.
The Victor Company of Japan entered the electric guitar market in 1965 with these two models. Expensive in their day, the SG-18 and SG-12 had bodies and necks made by Matsumoku, and electronics that were supplied by Victor. The SG-18 is unique since it was one of the only Matsumoku-made guitars with truss rod access at the heel of the neck.
After completing his university studies, Hayashi Nobuaki began to work for Matsumoku. His experience started with the Singer partnership, but soon his overflowing creativity was put to use as a guitar designer and craftsman. Hayashi documented all of his designs in photograph albums.
By the late 1966, Matsurnoku-rnade electric guitars were being produced in very large nurnbers. The quality of these guitars is generally very good, and these rnodels, such as the Conrad Bisons, becarne huge sellers in the USA.
Arai is a familiar name with many guitar players, and Aria branded guitars were very popular as affon instruments with good quality. But Arai & Co. was actually an import/export company and never owned a guitar factory in the 1960s. Founder Shiro Arai started his company in 1955 by trading guitars and guitar strings , but Arai was soon exporting all types of goods including porcelain tiles and construction materials. Arai & Co. played a huge role in spreading japanese electric guitars all over the world. Its sales network included major buyers in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East!
Shiro Arai was known as an accomplished guitar player, and dealing with instruments was his favorite type of trading. Arai represented several large guitar brands in Japan, including Framus, Guild, Rickenbacker, Epiphone. Matsumoku made most of the “Arai” and “Aria” branded electric guitars, and by 1968 Arai guitars were flooding the world’s markets.
Elk Ltd. was started around 1963, and the brand was sold almost exclusively in Japan. Founder and president Yukiho Yamada loved western-style music and was an accomplished musician. He also excelled in electronics and initially made good quality guitar amplifiers carrying the “Echo” name. By 1965, his amplifiers carried the “Elk” name, and electric guitar production began. Initially the company had Chaki Gen Gakki in Kyoto produce the wood parts of the electric guitars, but eventually Matsumoku took over production of Elk guitars. Early Elk designs were strongly influenced by the Fender Jaguar, which the company engineers had studied. Because president Yamada was a musician, he understood the need for quality instruments. Elk guitars were never massproduced, and the quality of these guitars was usually very high.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Matsumoku was one of the finest guitar factories in Japan. The company was producing a large amount of guitars for Arai, Epiphone, and Univox. Matsumoku also began the shift to straightforward copy guitars, and the factory would go on to produce some very fine guitars throughout the 70s and 80s.
Thanks to Frank Meyer for this chapter about Matsumoku. Now be sure to buy his book, and learn about the other guitars in his book.
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