This month’s quirky guitar was originally a mystery, now solved. Your author consulted “History Of Japanese Electric Guitars”, the informative and recent book by Frank Meyers, and discovered that this Telestar electric was made by Kawai, circa 1967. Frank considers the sparkle finish Kawai instruments as that company’s most famous design. Let’s take a look.
According to Frank, Telestar guitars were distributed by the Tele-Star Company, located on Broadway in New York City. Telestar was run by one Maurice LaBoz, whose last name graces another line of MIJ electric guitars. Their first electrics were rudimentary student models, but the sparkle guitars were a step up in looks, as you can plainly see. Believe it or not, these guitars were originally called “Speckled” guitars upon their debut in 1966, but the name was soon changed to “Sparkle.” The guitars came in a number of colors, including white, gold, silver, blue, black, and green. You may agree that this green sparkle example is a rare thing of beauty; or you may not, depending upon your taste in guitars. This author thinks it’s a pretty cool looking guitar, and a rare one that I would happily add to my collection.
This guitar appears to be completely original and is apparently based upon the Burns Bison design, with a body and neck of indeterminate wood construction. The two single coil pickups are controlled with one volume and one tone knob, and two black slide switches mounted on a metal plate, highly reminiscent of the Fender Jaguar. The neck is a full feeling C shape, with 22 frets, a rosewood fretboard, pearloid inlays, and a Fender Strat-like headstock. The whammy bar is intact, a rarity on most MIJ 60’s guitars, and the pickups are similar to others used on many Asian guitars of this period. The bridge features adjustable saddles, a plus for a guitar of this origin. It’s clear the Sparkle series guitars were intended as a step up from the normal Asian-made guitars of that period. Indeed, the Telestar feels solidly made and has obviously stood the test of time for the past fifty years. And the neck was straight, often a rarity unto itself on Japanese electrics.
When played at a reasonably clean volume, the Telestar proved itself a viable instrument for rhythm work, surf, or garage rock, but when heavily overdriven, the unspotted pickups were hard to control, resulting in feedback, a fact not uncommon in guitars of this era. One of the slide switches was a bit finicky, but a little solder and perhaps new wiring would remedy that. In most cases, funky 60’s MIJ electrics make great slide guitars, and there’s no doubt this guitar would also.
If, like me, you find this green sparkle Telestar irresistible and can’t live without it, the price is a cool $800, which is a good bit more than the top price quoted in the Vintage Guitar 2017 Price Guide, which values this baby at $450. Maybe that fact will allow a prospective buyer some negotiating clout.
The author wishes to thank Buzzy Levine of Lark Street Music for his cooperation.