Japanese Vintage guitars – the situation in the late 70ies /early 80ies

Posted on 11 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Vintage guitars

When I started playing the guitar in 1979 (after hearing a certain Mark Knopfler playing Sultans of Swing) I wanted a Strat of course. At that time Fender made exactly one model – the “Stratocaster”, no Deluxe, Standard, Hot Rod, Super, Extra, and the like – only and simply the “Stratocaster”.
On the other hand you had Japanese copies by a zillion of manufacturers it seems. At that time nobody knew that there were actually only a few Japanese companies who produced them and that they were marketed under many different names here in Germany or in the rest of the world.

My first Strat was a 2nd-hand Fender Stratocaster from 1976 in sunburst with a black pickguard and white knobs. It was very heavy but looked pretty much like Mark Knopfler’s guitar – well, it was a real Strat – and differed only in details like the bigger headstock or the bigger Fender decal.

Prices for a new Fender were about 900 – 1200,- DM (would be 450 – 600 €), while the Japanese copies were about 175 – 350 €.

My first Japanese Strat was a Tokai: I was in a guitar shop and there was this fiesta red Strat (you never saw a red guitar because Fender had discontinued all red colours in the late 60ies !!), it even had a small headstock like an early 60ies Strat (this was a sensation, all Strats and all copies had the big head), and it was feather light, played and sounded really cool. Even the decal with the Tokai logo looked like a Fender script logo! It was the perfect 1:1 copy of a ’64 Strat. Fortunately this was shortly before Christmas so I got this guitar (which cost the equivalent of 420,- €) for Christmas. It became my number one Strat then and sounded much better than my Fender.

Soon after Fender reacted to these high-quality copies of vintage Strats in two different ways: a) they copied the ’57 and ’62 Strat themselves (the birth of the “Vintage Stratocaster” model) and b) they made a deal with the Fujigen Gakki company (who built e.g. Ibanez and Greco guitars) to produce a Japanese version of the vintage Strats for Fender. These were marketed under the name “Squier”.

Both appeared about the same time in the shops here in Germany. I remember that we all were surprised that the Japanese Squier guitars did not sound inferior to the US versions, in the contrary, in many cases I liked them better. The first Squiers were available in three-tone sunburst (’62 model with rosewood fingerboard) and two-tone sunburst (’57 model with maple neck), but a few months later they were available in white, black and fiesta red as well.

The fiesta red was too light and rather orange compared with the original, but it looked great! I bought a ’57 Squier Strat in fiesta red in 1983 which I will feature in one of the next articles.

Mark Knopfler himself also got one of these Japanese vintage copies: a blue Fernandes Strat which he used for some stuff around the time of Love over Gold. John Suhr said that this guitar was one of the best-sounding guitars Mark had.

Fender took legal actions against these copies and won, so about 1984 the period of ultra-close copying came to an end. In the last years prices for these guitars have gone up more and more, but with prices about 500 – 1000,- € they are still affordable. There are more and more websites dedicated to these Japanese vintage guitars, a sure sign that they are becoming cult guitars themselves. If you want a real 30ys old vintage guitar, look out for the Japanese Greco (“super real” series), Tokai (“springy sound”), Squier JV (JV for Japanes vintage, later Squiers came from Korea or other Asian countries), or Fernandes. I am sure it is not only a good investment but also a good chance to get a perfect sounding guitar.

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How to avoid RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist pain etc. when playing guitar extensively (part 1)

Posted on 8 CommentsPosted in Guitar in general, Misc

RSI – the nightmare of musicians, even a Mark Knopfler got RSI problems on a tour a few years ago.

RSI is a relatively new expression for a relatively new kind of health problem. RSI stands for ‘repetetive strain injury’, which means “any of a loose group of conditions resulting from overuse of a tool, such as a computer keyboard or musical instrument or other activity that requires repeated movements. It is a syndrome that affects muscles, tendons and nerves in the hands, arms and upper back.” (from Wikipedia)

Repeated movements are nothing really new, I guess a smith did repeated movements quite a lot when hammering on a piece of steel, even hundreds of years ago. I think the reason why a smith can do so without big trouble is that these movements require a lot of strength which comes from groups of rather big muscles. Muscles can be trained, and in a way they like it to work because this is what they were made for.

What however seems new to me are repeated movements that don’t require much force but a rather subtle control of small muscles. A good example might be clicking your computer mouse. Have you ever asked yourself how many clicks you might do when working or playing on the computer for some hours? Clicking once in a few seconds seems realistic to me, so let’s say there are maybe 6 clicks a minute, which means 360 per hour, or maybe about 1,500 when you spend some hours on a late night computer session (and we haven’t even talked about double-clicks yet).

And here exactly is the problem, going 1,500 steps is probably no problem for man, but our body is not designed to move one single finger a few thousand times within a short time.

What exactly happens to our body when overusing single muscles? Since muscles can only do one particular action, which is to contract (they cannot ‘push’, for these opposite movements we have a coresponding  antagonist muscle), overuse results in a contracted muscle state, in other words, the muscle does not relax to its full length after the job but remains slightly contracted – or cramped, a bit shorter than it was before. This contraction disturbs the balance of different muscles, and as our body is an ultra-complex system which means everything works together in some way, other parts of the body can become effected as a consequence, e.g. a contracted muscle causes a higher tension on the tendons, and this leads to a higher friction which results in a possible inflammation, and so on.

Nevertheless, there are people who work on the PC or play guitar all day without getting these problems, while others do.

And this is my message: there is hope – it is not an unavoidable problem, even if you decide to do nothing  but playing guitar all day long. I am convinced that the real problem is not the repetetive movement itself, but the way we use our body and our mind ( !! ) while doing these movements. More details and what this means exactly will be covered in one (or more) of the next article(s), also what to do for prevention or as a therapy to recover. Stay tuned.

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Detail pictures of 1936 National Style-0

Posted on 11 CommentsPosted in Guitars, Mark Knopfler gear, Vintage guitars

One of Mark Knopfler’s most famous guitars is surely his National Style-O (read “style – oh”). This is the guitar on the cover of Brothers in Arms.

AFAIK he bought this guitar from his buddy Steve Phillips long before Dire Straits, it was his second National (the first was a Tricone from the late 20ies which he bought from an old man in Wales).

What makes a National unique is not only the metal body but the resonator – something like a mechanical loudspeaker so to say. The first National appeared in the 1920ies, at a time long before electric amplifiers were used for guitars. The resonator increases the volume of the guitar so that it was ideal for street musicians or everyone who had to compete with other instruments in a band. More general info on resonator guitars be found in the Wikipedia article.

In this post I want to present some detail photos of a National, a 1936 model that is very similar to Mark Knopfler’s – which seems to be probably from about 1937 to me.

This guitar sounds fantastic. I had a metal Dobro guitar which I bought in the late 80ies, thinking that all metal resonator guitars should sound pretty much identical (and there was only Dobro who produced them at that time). When I first heard this guitar however, I immediately decided to sell the Dobro because it sounded miles away from this one.

The body is brass (some other Nationals like the Duolians were steel), and the neck might be mahogany (not sure). The neck is extremely fat. It has a V-shape with such a depth that many capos (e.g. my favourite the Shubb capo) do not open wide enough to be used here.

The fingerboard is slightly curved what I prefer over the flat ones that were common a few years before.

But now enjoy the slide show with a lot of pictures. I will report about some other details of this guitar (including pictures of the interior) in a future article.

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