Saturday, June 22, 2019

1960's Kent Guitars


Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!

I beg pardon, but back in the 1960's, the companies that were importing Asian manufactured guitars into the United States believed differently.

They were afraid no one would buy a guitar with the brand name of Matsumoku, or Hoshino Gakki, or Fujigen Gakki on the peghead.

So these import companies came up with their own American, or English sounding brand names, such as Holiday, Decca, Kingston, Lyle, Kent, and so many more.

In my high school days, when I started playing guitar, most guys or girls families couldn't afford a Fender or Gibson guitar for their young Beatle-want-to-be.

You may not know it, but the Gibson ES-335 was given that designation, because in 1958 when it was created, the guitars price was $335.00.  The average U.S. salary in 1958 was $3700.00. So the cost of most new, domestically produced guitars were beyond the reach of the average worker.

1965 Average Teen Garage Band 

So most of my friends played Kent or Silvertone guitars. At that time I figured those brands came from the Silvertone or Kent factory. Some Silvertone guitars were made in Chicago, by the Kay or Harmony companies, but there was never a Kent factory in the United States, or anywhere in the world for that matter.

Buegeleisen and Jacobson catalog

There was a musical instrument distribution company from New York City named Buegeleisen and Jacobson, that began importing Japanese manufactured electric, and acoustic guitars to the U.S in 1962.  And those instruments were usually built by two different Japanese companies; Teisco, or Guyatone.

Mid-1960's Teisco made Kent
 I saw a lot of this model back in the day

The rule of thumb is that the lower end solid body models were usually built by Teisco, while the more expensive semi-hollow, or hollow body electrics were manufactured by Guyatone.

1965 Guyatone made Kent

However determining the factory of origin is quite confusing, since some of the less expensive Kent models were the same instrument under the Guyatone badge.

Kent Badge

Early Kent branded instruments generally had a glued on badge with a metal "K", which sometimes covered up another brand name. Some of the Guyatone models of the same era had a metal "G" badge. However we can agree that the better models had the Kent logo inlaid in the headstock.

An incredible guitar boon occurred after the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in early 1963.

That show was unusual, since the first guitar boon occurred in 1956 after Elvis appeared on the Sullivan Show in 1956.

The distribution and import firm of Buegeleisen and Jacobson was there to fill the demand for cheap electric guitars. This company got their start in business back in 1897 as a wholesale distributor of guitars, and brass instruments for music stores.

This company first turned to Teisco in 1962, and that relationship continued until 1967. That same year they contracted with another Japanese firm, called Guyatone, and began importing guitars and began importing and distributing from both manufacturers.

There are no exacting records, but Buegeleisen and Jacobson  may have used other Asian musical instrument manufacturing companies. We know in later years they used a Korean company, best known for building pianos, called Kawai.

Mid 1960's Japanese Guitars
From 1962 to 1967 the U.S. market was flooded with cheap foreign guitars, since nearly every adolescent was eager to be a rock star. Once these guitars arrived in the United States, the Kent brand name, or another brand, was added to the guitars headstock.

1967 Teisco Del Rey Advertisement

The Japanese manufacturer Teisco, which is said to be an acronym for Tokyo Musical Instrument and Sound Company, also imported guitars and basses under a variety of brand names other than Kent.

These brands or badges included Silvertone, Lyle, Encore, Beltone, Winston, Kimberly, Audition, Decco, and more.  But we are going to concentrate on Kent Guitars.

1960 Teisco

Teisco had already began importing guitars to the United States as early as 1960 under their own brand name,  In 1964 the U.S. brand name was changed to Teisco Del Rey.  The Teisco company was sold in 1967, at that time the brand name ended. This explains why Buegeleisen and Jacobsen ended the contract.

Like many Asian manufacturers, Teisco, Guyatone, and others found a key niche in distributing instruments in bulk to American importers.

1965 Kent Copa
model 532

The first Kent guitars I remember seeing were listed as the 500 series, which came with the glued on "K" on the instruments headstock, and the 600 series, which had the Kent name in metallic letters glued on the headstock.  These were the  models that showed up as early as 1962 and were usually sold by department stores, through catalogs, and pawn shops. Music stores of the day had franchise agreements with the major guitar companies. If they offered a Kent guitar, it was usually because it was taken in as a trade.

Kent PB24-G
Hagstrom first Kent branded guitars got their start in the U.K. when Hagstrom of Sweden manufactured some budget instruments to be sold through a French company called Selmer. Since these instruments had vinyl bodies, the owners of Hagstrom feared that any damage due to poor manufacturing would besmirch their reputation, so those guitars were stamped with the Kent logo. In 1963 Buegeleisen and Jacobson began importing this model of Kent guitar to the United States and distributing it.

1964 Kent 650
From a prior article, you may recall that Jerome Herschman's company had been importing Hagstrom guitars under the Goya brand, and later under the Hagstrom name. Though they are the same guitars and basses, if it says Kent, it was brought here by Buegeleisen and Jacobson, if it says Hagstrom it was imported by Herschman.

These budget Hagstrom-made Kent instruments began being imported to the U.S. around 1963.

1967 Kent model 740

Besides the Series 500 and 600, there were the Series 700 and 800 models. Kent also distributed some hollow body guitars with single and double cutaways.

1967 Kent 820
 in back 834 Violin shape
and743 Bass

Some of the 800 series models resembled Gibson ES-335's or ES-175's.  At times the necks were topped with six-on-a-side headstocks. The 700 and 800 guitars had a round foil sticker with the model number and sometimes serial number pressed into it.

Kent Violin
Shaped Instruments

Kent also imported some violin shaped models, that were manufactured by Kawai of South Korea.

1963 Kent Standard on top
Professional on bottom

There are two lines of Kent guitars: a Standard series and a Professional series which were made by either Teisco and Guyatone.

1965 Kent Guitars

Kent also offered the Polaris series of early solid body guitars that did not have adjustable truss rods in the neck.

1965 Kent Americana Series
The Kent 510 Las Vegas is almost identical to the Guyatone of the same period. There were several similar, but noticeable different, body shapes in the 500 series Kent guitars.

They all have the same size metallic logos on the headstock.

Late 1960's Kent 800 series
The 700 and 800-series Kents were not made by Guyatone. They may have been made by Kawai/Teisco, however and expert on Japanese guitars of this era believes the Kent 700 series instruments were made by a small factory called Hayashi Mokko.  Most 700 and 800 models, except for bass and 12-string gutars, were equipped with a vibrato bar.

Some model 820s were equipped with a genuine Bigsby vibrato.

Teisco Gold Foil pickups

A unique feature of some Teisco-made Kents are the Gold Foil pickups.

Ry Cooder's guitar
with Teisco neck pickup

Guitarist Ry Cooder equipped his Stratocaster and some other of his guitars with these Teisco Gold Foil pickups, as he prefers their sound. With the rise in collectors seeking vintage Japanese guitars, value has been placed on these pickups.  Some vintage Teisco instruments have been trashed just for the pickups.

Southland Music Distributors

By the early 1970's, Buegeleisen and Jacobson went out of business and another distributor, Southland Musical Merchandise Corporation, acquired the Kent brand name.

This company shifted distribution from manufacturers in Japan to those in Korea, as the production cost was less.

1970's Kent guitar

The font for the logo changed when Southland took control, and emphasis was placed on lower prices with a higher profit margin at the expense of quality.

1970's Kent SG Knock-off

Most of these Korean made guitars were knock-offs of Gibson Les Pauls,  ES-335's and Fender Stratocasters, and copies of well known bass guitars. To this day, Southland remains a major music wholesaler, but now specializes mostly in music accessories.

Click on the links below the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for more information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)


doc said...

One of the Hello People guitarists used a Kent - it's on the cover of their first album, and I think you can see it in this video (go about 1 minute in):

The first album cover is here: said...

Thanks for stopping by Doc. David Bowie used one too.

~ Marc

GBC said...

The build quality on the later Kents is quite impressive.
The 700/800 series are nicely designed guitars.
I really like the triple binding.
I've got a white 820.

Merk said...

Anyone know anything about kent bonanza acoustic? Looks like a hummingbird knockoff. I cant find any info