Sunday, 5 January 2014

A 1960s Japanese-made Zen-on plank
Isn't it bizarre that many of us can look at an old "junkshop" guitar like this 1960s Japanese-made Zen-on and feel not only nostalgic but also a sense of longing, when really in our hearts we know that these guitars feel awkward to play, are impossible to set up and keep in tune, and generally play like a dog? It's even more remarkable that there are people selling these for quite respectable sums of money, and that other people are parting with good wadges of cash for them.

I hear a lot of younger people complaining about entry-level, budget guitars and even some mid-price instruments as being "pieces of shit" but these guys just don't know they are born. They never had to put up with terrible planks like this Zen-on. There are so many very playable good quality cheap guitars being offered today that we would've given our right arms for when I was a kid.

But despite all that, I still LIKE the Zen-on. I can't really think why. (Let's face it, that bridge is never going to intonate properly). Maybe it could re-create that garage band sound.

Currently listed on eBay with a Buy It Now price of $449.99.

G L Wilson

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  1. I really don't understand the appeal of these guitars..... I never have really. The only company making decent guitars in the 60's was Yamaha, and even the great manufacturers of the future were still finding their feet... About the only use for these guitars is to pull a Robert Smith/Ry Coder and put the idiosyncratic pickups into a decent guitar. Truth be told most of the old school planks like these aren't worth the cost of the aftermarket tune o matic you are going to try and install on them.

    I suppose our real objection here is the cost. If they were terrible, and cheap then who cares? But terrible and cost more than a second hand squier classic vibe (which would easily beat them in quality) go to hell. This whole Mij infatuation has got to stop..... No I will not pay 950$ for an Epiphone ET series guitar! It is simply not worth it!

  2. You're right. Today's entry level guitars are better made and play much better.

    But they lack the originality and spirit of these guitars. These guitars convey, for lack of a better term, optimism... at least to me. The body styles and all those switches and knobs are inviting and make the guitar look like fun.

    And they are fun. And sometimes they play OK, they can usually be made playable anyway. The pickups are also really nice sometimes, and they're some of the best vehicles for fuzzed-out mayhem in my experience.

    All that is to say that I understand why they're increasing in value. They offer something unique in the copycat world of today's guitars.

  3. I agree with all these comments; today's guitars (entry level) cost less and play much better but if you are tired with Squiers , Epiphones etc... Why don't you give European brands a chance? I know their entry lines are often partly or entirely made in the far east but at least they have original models ... Höfner, Hohner, Lag, Hagström to name a few... I know Euro is high and Dollar is low so ,if you are american it could bring the prices up a little bit but not so much...

  4. @andsteve: Most are really bad, but the better models (the ones with solid wood bodies, proper bridges, decent tuners) can be very good guitars. The pickups can be microphonic, but that isn't always a bad thing. These pickups are often in strange sheet-metal housings with aluminum or brass tops which make them sonically unique. As far as body designs are concerned, they offer a much wider gamut than the half-dozen or so American guitar body types of the sixties. The whole MIJ infatuation is due to the fact that these guitars are unique designs and not just another Strat/Tele/LP/SG. You mentioned Ry Cooder, check out his gear:

    Then listen to his Mambo Sinuendo CD, played on a Guyatone LG-200t

    As far as being overpriced, they are at less than a third of what an American guitar of the era will bring, and there are far fewer of them, the good ones are still a bargain. Another thing to remember is that the better MIJ guitars of the sixties were made for the Japanese market. The Zenon shown needs a new bridge, nut and tuners, as would most guitars of its vintage, it's nearly 50 years old!

    1. I get what your saying, but the better models were yet to come at this point. As for the neccescary upgrading required, that's not cheap, and is not reflected in the purchase price for these guitars. The problem is that they really aren;t worth what poepl pay for them so people looking for the uniqueness they provide will opt out due to high price and the fact that '100% original' means 'in need of upgrade'.

      Your point about usa guitars, the only proper comparison point are silvertone's (all their brands) and airlines, there is no point comparing them to the likes of the big brands. And the cheaper usa guitars are still rightly cheap.

      The Overriding problem is that mij has come to be shorthand for high prices. I mentioned an epiphone ET? People have asked over 800$ for those despite there lack of quality or reliability. They are certainly not the best guitars to come out of the matsumoka factory. These guitars used to be cheap and therefore were picked up by the esoteric members of our brethren, and used to make great music. Now? Thety are too costly and so remain out of reach. Gibson melody makers are cheaper than these guitars, and the often costs as much as a junior. So why take the risk?

      something being stamped made in Japan ought not immediately mean it is worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars. For the sam reason that just because something is stamped fender doesn't mean we should be sucked in (MIM anyone?). I'm objecting to stupid pricing, not to mij guitars. I own 6 mij guitars, I'm already a part of the conspiracy! But the stuff I bought was not overpriced, It wasn't sold by some irate seller insisting that a plywood guitar fvrom the 60's/70's is worth 500$ despite a laundry list of problems. Basically, I hate dumb sellers. Unfortunately, they appear to be having a massive effect on the way we do business in the guitar owrld, and is sucks, powerfully.

  5. @andsteve: The only dumb seller is one who doesn't get a high price for his goods. The market will take care of itself. No one is forcing you to buy these guitars, the people who buy them have their own reasons—none of them rational.

  6. These Teisco guitars are fun to watch ans fun to tweak, that's why there's still a market for it. And if nicely set up, they are nice to play too. I spent hours at home fixing and setting up Teisco guitars I bought for very low prices or traded with entry level guitars. I litteraly learned my basics about wiring and set up while messing with these cool little beasts. Check out Dan Auerbach or Saint Vincent or Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or even the Smashing Pumpkins on Siamese Dream, they enjoy these guitars too and there's a reason for it. With enough love, they sound great!



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