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.
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|
|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.
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 |
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.
|1964 Kent 650|
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
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 |
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|
They all have the same size metallic logos on the headstock.
|Late 1960's Kent 800 series|
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.
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