Let’s say you want to grab some attention at a gig. You’re perched on stage and want all eyes to gaze past the lead singer and wonder, “What is that guy playing?!” There are many ways to illicit this reaction, but one strategy nobody would expect is to go all in for made in Japan rarities by Guyatone.
Throughout the decades, Guyatone has gone by several different names. Yet, no matter what name is on the door, Guyatone’s history ranks them among the earliest guitar and gear brands in Japan. To be sure, they began building instruments as early as 1933 and by the mid-1950s and ‘60s were a top contender for solid-body guitar sales in Asia with a distribution reach that included a number of other brands, not least Ibanez. Their decorated catalog has included guitars, amps, and an ever-growing army of pedals. Yet, in all of this, Guyatone has never shied away from show-stopping and even controversial designs.
So what vintage made in Japan gear by Guyatone would make for a one-of-a-kind rig?
Let’s start with the guitar. While you’d be well-served with any pick in the catalogue, my pick would be the Rhythm Maker. Originally released in the early ‘60s, the instrument has an asymmetrical Strat-eque body, a set of what seem to be foil style pickups, and a switching system that you might need an electrical engineering degree to sort out. While it’s tough to gauge the success of the guitar then, Ibanez channeled this design in a reissue known as the Jet Star 2 in the early 2000s. If all the quirks and curiosities of the instrument weren’t enough to make this a top pick, perhaps the fable that Hendrix reportedly played on in his early days would make for some interesting post-gig banter.
So what about your amp? Guyatone has you covered. Since I’m a fan of the silver face era Fender amps, I’d pick the Guyatone GA-1050 Reverb Jazz. While Guyatone gear tended toward off-the-beaten trail designs, they were also known for their clones. This amp replicated the Fender Twin Reverb, complete with the unmistakable blue font on silver faceplate and a modified Guyatone insignia clearly inspired by the west coast script of vintage Fenders.
Now onto what we’ve all be waiting for, the effects. Guyatone’s catalogue is deeper and more diverse than most, so a top pick is tricky. Yet one item stands out as iconic, rare, and exceptionally sonic: the Guyatone AE-5 Analog Echo. While Guyatone is known for their compact pedals today, in the early ‘70s they released a series of delay units that looked almost like amp head. The unit included a set of separate channels with individual EQ controls and shared echo volume, repeat, and speed controls. All of these blend together to offer up an unmistakably warm and warbley delay sound. It might take countless hours of trolling pawnshops or vintage gear stores in Tokyo to find this exact rig, but any piece of it would certainly turn some heads. With such a deep heritage in guitar and gear innovation — and at times murky details on the history of individual items — any dose of old school Guyatone would grab attention at your next gig!