Sunday, April 24, 2011

Kawai Guitars And The Company's Subsequent Brands

Kawai was founded in 1927 in the town of Hamamatsu Japan with the goal of building quality pianos. The founder was Koichi Kawai.
The 1950’s signaled a new era. Baby boomers wanted their children to have things they never had, including a music education. I recall door-to-door accordion salesmen promising parents, their offspring could really go far if they would just sign up for lessons on the squeezebox and buy a starter accordion.  Country music was evolving more into the pop market, so the guitar was a natural for the youngster.
Mr. Kawai made a decision in 1954 that his company would enter the guitar market. At first, Kawai turned out mostly inexpensive acoustic guitars at first and then branched into electric models. 
Kawai and Apollo Electric Guitars
Around 1964, the British Invasion hit and subsequently flooded the market with inexpensive Asian made instruments, most of which were wild designs based on some American models.  By the late 1960’s, there was a glut of bizarre cheap guitars that looked like they were designed by Franz Kafka.  Many had as many as four pickups and a few came with five pickups.
Kawai Guitars sold under the Dominoe Brand.
By 1967, Kawai purchased the Teisco company and began exporting guitars under the Teisco, Telestar, Kimberly and Domino brand names. They also built guitars for the large St. Louis Music company under the Apollo brand. During this year, I definitely recall seeing Teisco and Dominoe guitars offered in music stores and pawn shops.

The designs grew weirder. By 1968, the Teisco May Queen appeared. The company  offered an axe-shaped guitar long before Gene Simmons hit the scene. Under the Domino brand, Kawai produced a guitar modeled after the 5 sided Vox Phantom. 
They also offered a banjo shaped six string guitar the called the Splendor. Most of their product line were solid body instrument that used soft wood for the bodies. However, Kawai and its subsequent brands also built hollow bodied and acoustic instruments.
Hound Dog Taylor with his Kawai Guitar
The bodies produced by Kawai were thinner than anything Fender or Gibson ever produced. The necks were made of harder wood, but because this was before the invention of CNC equipment (for that matter computers), the necks were not that accurate and playing could be difficult.  The pickups were generally single coil and utilized foil material for the pickup covers. The tuners were either six-in-a-row style or 3-in-a-row with plastic buttons.
Kawai manufacture Kay on left - Kawai model on right
As the years went on Kawai began producing guitars under the Kay brand name, when Kay of Chicago ceased manufacturing and imported all of its product.

What puzzles me is how much these instruments are fetching.  I have seen people asking $800 to $900 US dollars for Kawai brands that originally sold anywhere from $25 to $50 in the late 1960’s. Yes, the shapes are interesting. Yes, from a collectors point of view the prices are less than what is asked for a 1957 Stratocaster. In my opinion, they were not great players back then and are not getting any better. However, from the point of being unusual and unique, Kawai guitars and all of its brands, live up to that standard.

1970's Kawai
Kawai continued to build guitars throughout the 1970’s.  These instruments were a big improvement over those of the 1960’s and were based on popular American guitars, although much of the electric line featured a slotted headstock.




5 comments:

yetti said...

Baby boomers had children in the 1950s?

Unknown said...

Long shot, but was seeking info on an old Kawai guitar I bought. Classical GT662 probably made in the 70's. Completely blonde color, and the most beautiful back I've ever seen. Possibly sycamore. I can find nothing about it. J

cooter05 said...

How can u find the model number and I'm having the same problem can't find anything on the one I have

Stephanie Thorisson said...

i have a kawai ke-10 performer and i wonder how much its worth

Jason Cochrane said...

Hey in the photo of different guitars made badged as "Domino" the pic of the guitar and amp combo; can you tell me what model that is or if you have any infor on it? I own one badged as "Lero" but have also seen one with two pickups badged as "Festival" and help you can give is much appreciated!!