Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Follow-up stories: The DiMarzio "Cellophane" Strat
Whilst at risk of alienating the anti-Strat contingent out there, today I want to talk about the background to this particular little-known instrument, the DiMarzio Cellophane Strat. It's just a little footnote at the bottom of the history of the Strat, the DiMarzio corporation, and Japanese guitars in general, but it's footnotes like these that I find particularly fascinating.

I originally saw this guitar for sale on eBay in March 2008 and instantly fell in love with it. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, DiMarzio - known for their pickups - branched out into a whole range of guitar parts - not just pickups and hardware but bodies and necks too. You could build a whole guitar exclusively from DiMarzio-branded parts. I remember this well as I used to have one of their catalogues from the period and in my mind's eye I was putting together various combinations of parts to create my dream axe.

The seller of this particular guitar claimed that it was put together from DiMarzio parts as a showpiece for the 1984 NAMM trade show. Unfortunately I have nothing but his word to either confirm or refute this, but it does at least sound plausible.

He also mentioned that the body and neck were made for DiMarzio by Charvel during their now legendary San Dimas era, so as far as I was aware this red Strat was, despite not being a Fender, an American guitar.

The auction finished without anyone bidding on the guitar, and I was so annoyed at myself for not bidding as I could have bought it for the starting price. However, soon after it was re-listed, and this time I made sure to put a bid or two in. However, I was up against a competing bidder this time around, but they didn't put up a fight and I won the auction at a little over the starting price.

When the guitar arrived in May 2008 I was surprised that the deep red colour looked a lot more salmon-pink in real life, although it seemed to change depending on the lighting conditions. It turns out that there are no identifying names or marks on the guitar anywhere, other than the bridge saddles being stamped "DiMarzio".

The body and neck - as you can see - are coated in a see-through red plastic-like finish, this being known as the "cellophane" finish. The grain of the wood beneath is quite clearly visible, despite the vivid colour. I have seen one or two other examples, but these have been "super-Strat" types rather than the traditional Strat-layout. Some guitars just featured the cellophane red neck on non-cellophane bodies, such as played by guitarist Earl Slick (who of course is known for his work with David Bowie). This is understandable, as DiMarzio parts would have beed used in various mix and match combinations. As far as I am aware, they were never sold as completed guitars. (But if you know differently...)

Recently, a guy named Steven Beall contacted me via the comments of this blog. He had this to say:

I have one of these red necks I bought in 1985 and love it. A few years back I heard rumors they were made for Dimarzio by Charvel and did some investigating. I contacted Steve Blutcher at DiMarzio and he said these cellophane necks were made in Japan by a small company called Harayama (now defunct) not Charvel. I would assume that the matching bodies were also made by that company because of the finish.

Charvel did indeed start making bodies for DiMarzio in the late 70s - early 80s to fill a gap in cash flow until Grover Jackson could get his own line of guitars under production but that agreement ended prior to 1984 when the first of these cellophane necks and bodies were made because Charvel was well into the production of its own Charvel brand and had no need or available resources to sub-contract parts manufacturing out to other companies.

Sadly, as I found out too, not only is this guitar not USA made, it's not a Charvel either. I hope this helps clear up any questions.

Far from being disappointed, I think this makes the story even more interesting. I have no problem with this being a Japanese guitar - I'm a big fan of Japanese-made guitars. They are often finely-crafted instruments with top-notch attention to detail. However, I'm not aware of the name Harayama - very possibly this was another factory that built guitars for other brands.

If anyone reading this has any DiMarzio or Harayama-built guitars, with cellophane-finish or otherwise, please get in touch!

G L Wilson

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  1. Hey there,
    Here is my Dimarzio parts guitar:

    I bought the parts for it at the NAMM show in Chicago 1987 and had it put together in 88 or so.\.. Rick Nielsen of the band Cheap Trick has one like it that he bought from them in 1985 or so (Check out their video for the song "Tonight It's You).. I was somewhat copying him while buying it but did my own thing pick ups wise. Mine has a pre amp built in and has had a couple different pick ups installed and locking tuners later added. The neck and body change colour depending on the light source. The body sometimes looks orange while the neck is pink.. Using a flash they look the same colour. I think the difference is that the neck and body are different woods.

    I had Rick sign mine in 1998:

    Feel free to add this one to your blog with the others.

    Have a good day,

    1. Hi Jeff. Unfortunately I get "Access denied" on your photos.

  2. I found some more information on a Leslie West Dimarzio strat that goes along with what I discovered. This guitar is almost identical to the one I built back then with a a red neck, black Dimarzio body and black 1-hum pickguard. Mine however had a Kahler instead of the traditional trem.

    From the page:

    About the Guitar:

    DiMarzio are known mainly for their pickups, but back in the 1980s they put their name to a full range of spare parts from hardware to bodies and necks. The body and neck were made for DiMarzio by Charvel during their legendary San Dimas.

    The neck of this guitar is coated in a see-through red plastic-like finish, known as the "cellophane" finish. The grain of the wood beneath is clearly visible, despite the vivid colour. Some guitars just featured the cellophane red neck on non-cellophane bodies, such as played by guitarist Earl Slick or Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick).

    As indicated by Steve Blutcher at DiMarzio these cellophane necks were made in Japan by a small company called Harayama (now defunct) and not Charvel.

    Anyhow, this guitar is one of two DiMarzio Stratocaster style guitars built for Leslie West, one with 3 single coil pickups and this one with DiMarzio MegaDrive pickups.

  3. Here you find info about mine. Notice the none cellophane neck. Bought in Norway in -84.

  4. Here you find info about mine. Notice the none cellophane neck.

  5. Hi there!
    I own one of these pink/orange-cellophane Strats in very good condition!

  6. I have a complete "DiMarzio" Strat that my friend Luthier Bob Meltz from Wakefield, MA put together for me in 1988. It has a Pink Cellophane Neck (Probably made by Harayama) and DiMarzio (Charvel?) body which we painted solid blue. We put a wild pickguard on it to save $$$ from painting it crazy. The body is a little heavier that my '91 Strat Plus but we did put a Floyd Rose on it. We originally had Duncan Stack pickups but changed them out for EMG Golds. It was similar to one Bob made for me in 1984 and he actually beat Fender with a TBX like control for the pickups by a few years. I still have it and you can see and hear it a video of me from 9 years ago. The neck looks sort of orange in the video but it is definitely pink. I do believe they also made a burnt orange and a blue neck as well. I remember seeing earl Slick play one which made me get one. Ignore the 'Harmony' sticker I put on the headstock. Check out the video.

  7. "Harayama" refers to Norikatsu Harayama. He was the director and chief luthier of the famous (and long since defunct) Matsumoku guitar factory in Japan. He was a master at his trade and ultimately branched out on his own, building necks and bodies for companies like ESP, Kramer, Schecter and Moon guitars in the early 1980s. Dimarzio didn't source bodies and necks from one manufacturer. They sourced from several, including ESP. The Charvel sourced stuff happened in the 1979/80 period, as Charvel quit supplying parts after 1980 in order to focus on in house Charvel production. I have a Dimarzio rising sun super strat, a one humbucker only guitar that was very likely Charvel sourced.



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