These guitars were normally sold by brokers, who usually re-branded them or had them rebadged them prior to shipment, then sold them to music stores, department stores, and even pawn shops.
I cannot describe the incredible demand for guitars and basses after the British Invasion. It was a fad, but many companies saw it as a bull guitar market and rushed in to make money.
|Teisco Factory circa 1960|
By 1956 the name was changed to Nippon Onpa Kogyo Company, then in 1964 it was changed to Teisco, which most sources explain is an acronym for Tokyo Electric Instrument and Sound Company. However, according to the company founder, Mr. Kaneko, that was not the case. He simply liked the name Teisco. There was another company called Tokyo Sound Co Ltd, that built Guyatone guitars. Teisco is the name that gave the company it’s recognition.
The Teisco brand lasted until 1967 when the company and assets were purchased by the Kawai Musical Instrument Company. At that time, Kawai discontinued the Teisco brand on their guitars, but kept the brand name for use on their electronic keyboards.
The original company produced guitars for domestic use. Tariffs made importing foreign instruments unreasonably expensive. The company didn't begin importing guitars to the United States and United Kingdom around 1959. Typically these instrument were re-branded Teisco Del Rey (Teisco, the King), at a time when manufactures believed adding a Spanish sounding name to a guitar. ie. Greco, Alvarez, El Degas, made the instrument more appealing.
|Silvertone branded Teisco guitars|
|1967 Teisco U.S. Advertisement|
Teisco guitars were affordable and sold in the twenty to one-hundred and fifty dollar range during an era when the average salary of a family in the United States was less than $5,000 a year.
In 1965 a new Fender Stratocaster cost $200, so Teisco seemed to be a great alternative for many families of budding rock stars.
|1960's Teisco made Kent|
The Teisco guitar bodies were generally thinner than domestically produced guitars. The pickups were not nearly as advanced as those of U.S. guitars, and could be microphonic.
|Ry Cooder's '60 Strat |
with Teisco Gold Foil Pickup
Guitarist Ry Cooder, has replaced the pickups on several of his guitars with Teisco pickups. He likes the sound,
Teisco necks were sometimes thicker, and on some the intonation was off as you went up the neck. This was probably not a problem for those who did not advance beyond 3 chord strumming.
The hardware on these guitars was very basic. The machine heads were usually open gear style, the nut was plastic, the bridge and saddle were not tunable, and if the guitar had a tremolo unit, it was a very simple arrangement with one spring housed under a metal plate at the instruments distal end.
|Teisco Checkmate 4 pickup model|
One unusual aspect of Teisco guitars were the number of pickups found on some guitars. While most guitars came with one or two pickups, some Teisco guitars had as many as four pickups.
The earliest Teisco guitars were produced at a time when the Japanese market found it difficult to import US made instruments, so Japanese companies made “replica” guitars. This eventually lead to problems.
The earliest models designated for domestic use and import tended to resemble Gibson guitars. These were Spanish guitars, and Hawaiian electric guitars
By 1953 Teisco produced a series of guitars under the designation EP. These bore more of a Gibson-like shape.
|Vance Brescia with |
his Teisco EP-8L
Guitarist Vance Brescia has toured with Peter Noone / Herman's Hermits for years. Brescia saw a Teisco EP-8L at a music store. It was bolted to the wall as a decoration. He purchased it and has been using it for years.
In 1954, Teisco introduced a Les Paul Jr. type shape, the J-1.
The 1960's came, and Teisco guitars took on more of a Fender-like quality.
|Glen Campbell with T-60|
The model T-60 was a mainstay guitar for a young studio musician named Glen Campbell.
The scratch plate was made of metal, and it had 3 single coil pickups. Controls included a single volume and tone control, and a selector switch near the lower cutaway. The bridge/saddle unit was similar to the one on a Telecaster, with 3 adjustable saddles, though the strings attached to the bridges distal end.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this guitar were the cut-outs on the body, and the matching one on a headstock. Another unusual feature were the fret markers on the instruments rosewood neck. These looked a bit like croquet hoops, with a rectangle to mark the 12th fret.
The neck was capped in rosewood, and had small block markers on the lower edge, except the 12th fret had small block markers on both sides.
The headstock was similar to the one on a 1951 Precision bass, except it was finished in sunburst. A friend of mine owned one of these. They retailed for about $60, compared to the cost of an early 1960's Fender Precision bass, which sold for around $240.
Teisco produced many guitars, but a few that stand out from the early to mid 1960's. I saw dozens of Teisco ET-100's, and ET-200's in pawn shops back in the mid-1960's.
the first version
A several prior models with the same designation came out in the early 1960's, only it had a different shape that was similar to a double cutaway Gibson Melody Maker, only the lower horn was more set in. This guitar was not as elaborate, and came with a smaller metal scratchplate.
|First version ET-200|
This guitar also had several prior incarnations.
As I recall the original price of an ET-100 was around fifty to sixty dollars.
This was the 1964 Teisco TRG-1 which came with a "gold foil" single coil pickup, the volume and tone control were mounted on the top side of the guitar, along with a switch to turn on and off the amplifier. The amp worked on two 9 volt batteries that mounted in the rear. The 2" speaker was under the pickguard on the instrument's lower bout.
|1965 Teisco TRG-2L|
Teisco also produced some four pickup guitars under the ET designation. The ET-440 to be precise. These had four, count 'em four pickups, and four rocker switches.
|Different versions of the Teisco ET-440|
But Teisco also made other four pickup guitars under the Checkmate brand, the Norma brand, and the Kimberly brand to name a few. Some came with rocker switches, while others had simple slider switches. Some came with a single volume and tone control, while others had volume and tone controls for each pickup.
I fail to see the point of more than three pickups, but I guess it was a way to sell more guitars.
One of the most unusual Teisco guitars was the May Queen. Most sources date its origin in 1968. This was hollow, sort of a artists palette-shaped guitar, but with a large cutaway. This guitar was produced after Teisco was acquired by Kawai.
It came with twin single coil, and somewhat microphonic, pickups, and a tremolo unit. On the guitars upper side was a long cats-eye "f" hole, while the lower side had a long white pickguard that read "MayQueen, and TEISCO". On it were a volume and tone control, a thee-way selector switch similar to a Switchcraft switch, and the input.
The 6-on-a-side headstock had an unusual shape and its colour matched the body. The body on this guitar was very similar to the one on the 1967 solid body Vox Mando Guitar. The May Queen came in black, red, and yellow. It was a most unique design.
|Teisco Del Ray Spectrum 5|
I am saving the best for last; the 1966 Teisco Del Ray Spectrum 5 guitar. Teisco had made other guitars under the Spectrum series, but the Spectrum 5 was the top-of-the-line.
The headstock was like no other up to this point. There were four tuners on one side, and two on the other. It had a very unique shape. The colour of the headstock matched the guitars body, but the headstock also had a white plastic cover that set it apart.
The bolt-on neck was capped in ebony was topped with unique position markers.
The guitars mahogany body was offset, and a total space-age take on the Fender Stratocaster. It also featured a "German carve" that made the top stand out. The top also had a 7 layer hand rubbed finish. The guitar came in blue or red.
|Spectrum 5 integral bridge|
This guitar featured an "integral bridge" that moved with the vibrato to help with tonality.
|Teisco Spectrum 5 controls|
The guitar's three pickups were unique, as they were split and staggered with three pole pieces on bass side, and three more on the treble side. This was because the Spectrum 5 was a stereo guitar.
|Teisco Spectrum 5 - 2 inputs for stereo|
Teisco was acquired by Kawai guitars in 1967. By then Teisco had built over 1 million guitars. Kawai did maintain the Teisco brand name until 1969 on imported instrument, but kept the Teisco brand it on guitars sold in Japan through 1977. Guitars built and imported after 1969 seemed to lose the originality of the original Teisco instruments, and became copies of popular instruments.
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