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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Japanese banjos


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/274885

Difstrummer - Posted - 11/27/2013:  17:36:59


Hi everyone!  There are tons of threads on various Japanese banjos archived here, but I'm interested in starting a new one based on research I've been doing recently.  This has been interrupted by my getting hit by a car while I was walking, but if you're curious, I'll revisit what I've found and welcome your input.  I had intended to publish more of this in Vintage Guitar Magazine, but, alas, their primary readership would rather read about Les Pauls and Strats than Japanese banjos:)  If I'm correct, this should help you all better identify what you're looking at.  This will unfold slowly.



Japanese-made banjos appear to begin in the very early 1960s, a response, no doubt, to their popularity in the Folk Boom of the time.  I have stared and stared at examples of these banjos (and purchased some) and have come to this conclusion: there are only 2 major Japanese banjo manufacturers, Kasuga and Iida.  There MAY have been a minor other maker or two, but I don't think so.  There are a ton of brands reflecting the typical complexity of dealing with Japanese instruments.  Some have the Japanese trading company's name (e.g. Aria, Ibanez, Morris, Tokai); others have the American (or other) importer/distributor's brand (e.g., J.B. Player, Ventura, Univox, Conrad).  But when you zero in on the characteristics, they divide neatly into two camps that are pretty clear: Kasuga and Iida.



As an aside, because of the script logo that Iida used is ambiguous (two "i"s), a lot of folks call these Jida, Lida, and Aida.  If you're searching on eBay, look for those.  Iidas have a following; Jidas don't!  Both Iida and Kasuga also sold banjos with their own name on them.



If there's interest out there, I'll start laying out the similarities and differences.  These are less clear during the 1960s but become pretty distinct in the 1970s.  By the 1980s Iida was pretty much left standing alone in the field, at least in terms of the American market.



In the meantime, I'll try to figure out how to attach some pictures to illustrate.  Thanks!



Michael Wright, The Different Strummer


Vapor - Posted - 11/27/2013:  17:57:16


Looking forward to more.  I always like reference material, and learning.


REarl - Posted - 11/27/2013:  18:06:59


Definite interest here. The first "real" banjo I owned was a Japanese banjo from the mid 70's. Really nice learner banjo, and it looked great as well.


desert rose - Posted - 11/27/2013:  18:28:37


If I can be of any help in your information search, send me a message



 



Scott


Difstrummer - Posted - 11/27/2013:  18:43:38


OK! It will take some time to review my research, but I will post it slowly and I think you'll like it. All these confusing brands become comprehensible and you have a better idea of what you want/need to have good examples! Eg, you'll know which Alvarez banjos are Kasuga or Iida. Fender Leos are Iida. Gretsch Dorados are Kasuga. Ibanez Artists are Iidas. I'm setting up an Aria guitar-banjo right now that's exceptionally cherry. This will be fun! Michael

blindLucky - Posted - 11/27/2013:  19:05:12


Sounds like a super project to undertake and I look forward to the wealth of information.

Good luck on attachments. I see where I am doing a "quick reply" a link to add attachments. Usually I put the ones I want on a desktop folder and name it something I can easily find.
I think it will have you browse for the attachment.

Good Luck and hope the recovery is going well

Lucky

dmiller - Posted - 11/27/2013:  19:09:20


GTR was made by Iida also.  


desert rose - Posted - 11/27/2013:  19:17:18


Uh... Fender Leos were one hundred percent Moridaira from first to last.



I worked at Fender USA R and D engineering at the time and Moridaira in Japan



 



Please contact me off list if you have any questions. Ive been here in Japan for 27 years working in the factories and know most of the individuals involved in banjo making back then



 



Ibanez artists were ONE HUNDRED percent Fujigen. I worked in engineering at Fujigen for eleven years and my partner now, his uncle was manager of Ibanez and Bluebell banjo production, Mr. Sugimoto



 



Scottsmiley



Edited by - desert rose on 11/27/2013 19:19:58

desert rose - Posted - 11/27/2013:  19:25:14


Im assuming you know this site



hawthorne.fastie.com



Its the best resource for starting any search about Asian banjos



 



Scott



Edited by - desert rose on 11/27/2013 19:25:52

revellfa - Posted - 11/28/2013:  05:56:48


This will be a great resource...I can't wait.

flailing - Posted - 11/28/2013:  06:23:56


Good timing. I have a Kasuga from 1974 and am currently looking at an Iida that looks like the peghead inlays says JMIida&Co. It has very elaborate fretboard inlays and gold hardware. I cannot find any pictures online of this model. Looking forward to your research.

steve davis - Posted - 11/28/2013:  06:52:06


Scott probably knows as much Japanese banjo history and facts as anyone.

Difstrummer - Posted - 11/28/2013:  07:54:09


All right! Scott says he worked with/at Moridaira and Fujigen. Rather than clutter this forum up with questions back and forth, I'm going to converse with him offline to clarify a few things before we get started. Yes, I know the Hawthorne site. It's an excellent starting point for brands, but not necessarily who actually manufactured the instruments. Hopefully, when we're done, we'll all be better able to track back to who sold a given brand and who actually made it. If you've followed my work with guitar history, you know I'm a big fan of Japanese guitars, and I like Japanese banjos, too! So, please stay tuned.

Scott, I'm going to draw up a list of questions for you and email you offline. Appreciate your help!

Michael

opotable - Posted - 11/28/2013:  11:01:16


quote:





Originally posted by steve davis



Scott probably knows as much Japanese banjo history and facts as anyone.



 





i'd enlarge on that statement and say that there's probably no more reliable english speaking source than scott.



 



am i reading this wrong or does mr. strummer already have a couple of facts wrong is his first 2 posts?


rbergesch - Posted - 11/28/2013:  13:18:15


How do the post-Martin ownership Vega instruments fit into your picture?

Difstrummer - Posted - 11/28/2013:  13:44:10


Actually, not much. Martin switched over to Japanese production of Vegas in around 1977 or '78. When the name was sold--to Global, I think?--if any were made they would have been Korean, not Japanese. Then the name returned to Deering after years of disuse and now they're U.S.-made again. Michael

Difstrummer - Posted - 11/28/2013:  13:47:37


Oh yes, and regarding Iida banjos, the previously mentioned site by Paul Hawthorne posts a few catalog reproductions, including an Iida. Check that to see if you find the banjo you're looking for:
hawthorne.fastie.com/asianbanj...alogs.htm

Michael

mikehalloran - Posted - 11/29/2013:  08:12:22


quote:





Originally posted by Difstrummer



Actually, not much. Martin switched over to Japanese production of Vegas in around 1977 or '78. When the name was sold--to Global, I think?--if any were made they would have been Korean, not Japanese. Then the name returned to Deering after years of disuse and now they're U.S.-made again. Michael



 





You are right about the Korean part but little else.



In the late '70s, Martin was running out of some of the critical metal parts they had acquired from Vega. Waverly had gone under ten years earlier and they needed a new supplier for the metal. They were already using Japanese Waverly copies of the tailpiece and the 5th string capo but they were going to need everything and soon.



Galaxy trading supplied the metal parts to Martin for a set of banjos that were displayed at the 1979 NAMM. There were two plectrums, two tenors and some five strings. When orders were underwhelming (nearly none) the decision was made to sell Vega to Galaxy Trading who made thousands of banjos under the name. The early ones appear to have been made in Japan but most are Korean and appear to be Samick to me.



When Greg Deering bought the name so tat he could make Pete Seegers, he didn't know that Galaxy had bought everything from Martin. Greg had to make a trip to the scrap yard to rescue thousands of Waverly parts plus tools, fret saws, drill press etc.



I learned part of the above from Mike Longworth and the rest from Greg Deering. In addition, I know the location of one of the plectrum banjos from the 1979 complete with the ephemera for the four strings. I've id'd two of the five strings but never saw the Martin flyer so I don't know how many models were made.  Martin never went into production.


Difstrummer - Posted - 11/29/2013:  11:48:54


Galaxy, not Global. Gs get confusing. Global bought Kay around the same time. I'm sure what you say is true. Both Samick and Cort made banjos and took over a lot of the Japanese trade in the 1980s. Kasuga reportedly had an operation in Korea, but I don't know anything about it, and that could simply have meant that they worked with another manufacturer in Korea. I know very little about Korean banjos.

Mike Longworth had a great memory. That Martin would eventually run out of parts makes sense. The last ad I recall seeing was for a Bicentennial model and that was still an American Vega. And I have heard the Deering part of the story from them, but that was much later. However, Martin did, in fact, import Japanese Vega-brand banjos at the end of the 1970s. I have the undated Martin catalog with I'm pretty sure what's a good chunk of the Iida line branded as Vega. They would never be confused with the American-made Vega line. I own a late '70s Vega Galaxie that, if not Iida, certainly looks and feels like one. Very fine banjo, a Mastertone copy with a carved heel. Hopefully, working with Scott will help clarify all this. Michael

mikehalloran - Posted - 11/29/2013:  22:39:39


Martin did not import Japanese banjos that they sold as Vega. There are a lot of Galaxy Vegas with fake Martin labels. Easily done - you can get fake labels anywhere if you want them.



After the sale, they did import Japanese, then Korean banjos that they sold under the Goya name but not Vega. I know the flyer in question but Martin sold Vega to Galaxy instead.



You have a lot to learn about this subject. Do your research and you will.



Edited by - mikehalloran on 11/29/2013 22:44:51

flailing - Posted - 11/30/2013:  14:02:58


Michael - I checked the Hawthorne site and the catalog does not have this Iida model.  It has a carved heel and vine style inlays.  Here are three photos of it.



 


Difstrummer - Posted - 11/30/2013:  14:56:16


Well, that's one beautiful banjo! Maybe someone else can help you ID it. Most Iida banjos simply had the "Iida" logo. With "JM Iida," this is clearly more of a presentation style, probably the work of JM. Michael

oriver63 - Posted - 12/01/2013:  06:42:26


Hello, Difstrummer.

The Iida brand is not famous at all in the market in Japan.

Difstrummer - Posted - 12/01/2013:  07:14:03


Very interesting. Are any Japanese-made banjos highly regarded in Japan?

Both Kasuga and Iida made concerted efforts to promote themselves in the U.S. Kasuga advertised to the music industry in 1972, including ads in Guitar Player and The Music Trades magazines. Some Kasuga-brand instruments (at least guitars and banjos) were made, which we know because they exist. However, they promoted themselves more as an OEM manufacturer. Thus, they show up as St. Louis Music's lower-end banjos with the Alvarez brand and on Gretsch's import line, Dorado. Iida also did a lot of OEM work, but they also tried promoting their own brand name, with ads appearing around 1977-78. They received excellent reviews in the press and I recall musician acquaintances at the time praising them as being on a par with American brands, if not better. Michael

opotable - Posted - 12/01/2013:  10:01:56


quote:





Originally posted by mikehalloran



Martin did not import Japanese banjos that they sold as Vega. There are a lot of Galaxy Vegas with fake Martin labels. Easily done - you can get fake labels anywhere if you want them.



 



After the sale, they did import Japanese, then Korean banjos that they sold under the Goya name but not Vega. I know the flyer in question but Martin sold Vega to Galaxy instead.



 



You have a lot to learn about this subject. Do your research and you will.



 





i'll stick my neck out and suggest that  end 70's/early 80's martin vega banjos might have been made in holland after martin bought the egmond factory.



i forget all the details but there's an egmond fan site with plenty interesting about guitars at least. and they did also make banjos.



 



i do not claim this is fact, just a thought.



egmond.se/egmond_se_History.html


Difstrummer - Posted - 12/01/2013:  11:35:47


All right. I've not tried to upload attachments so far, so let's see if this works and if you can see it. This is a c. 1978-79 Vega Galaxie, as shown in the Vega brochure of that period. I have to find that to confirm that it's a Martin catalog, which my memory tells me it was. This is a Japanese banjo, not a European one. I've not seen any Egmond banjos, but this is not one of them (that's a nice Egmond site, by the way!; I didn't know it--thanks!). Fingerboard inlays are the same as the Iida 235 except for 1, but since I think everyone sourced inlays from the same source, you can't tell much by that. Plus I think customers were given a smorgasbord of inlay choices and could pick whatever they wanted. If you can see the headstock inlay, Iida liked that little "foetus" design and used it, flanked by those two curleques, on head inlays and some truss covers. However, looking at the head shape, it's not like Iida, which was pretty close to Gibson. Heel is carved, as is back of hs. So, this may not be an Iida. When I find the Vega catalog, I'll upload a few pages. Michael



1978-79 Vega Galaxie by Iida


1978-79 Vega Galaxie rear

revellfa - Posted - 12/02/2013:  17:16:12


I'd love to know more about the Galaxy Vegas. I owned one and man it was a killer. I just uploaded a Youtube clip of my Dad playing it.

Difstrummer - Posted - 12/02/2013:  17:23:46


All in the works. Vintaxe.com has a copy of a 1982 Vega catalog, which would be Galaxy. The banjo is only on the cover, so there are no specs. However, it looks like a Masterclone with a vine inlay. As mentioned earlier in this thread, there's a really good chance that it's a Samick. They made a Masterpiece model which turns up in lots of places and looks a lot like the Vega. I've not played one, but they look like they are not bad. Michael

oriver63 - Posted - 12/03/2013:  03:13:38


Tokai-made banjos highest regarded in Japan.
Second, Fujigen-Made banjos regarded in Japan.

The Iida musical instrument is a manufacturer of an export speciality.
In Japan, "Pirles" banjo is the most famous brand of the Iida musical instrument.
And Pirles are lower priced banjos.
So, Nobody regards it.

oriver63 - Posted - 12/03/2013:  04:43:09


Hi Difstrummer

See this topic.
banjohangout.org/topic/273682
70's Fender Artist clone.

5drive - Posted - 12/03/2013:  06:45:38


I once owned a Vega VIP,with C.F Martin on back of headstock. This would have been around 76' or 77'. Cant remember if it was USA or not?


Tom Smith - Posted - 12/03/2013:  07:45:09


I have no idea, except I know of a good possible resource. I just saw another Youtube video this morning that reminded me ...



Nissing15 on YouTube is a Japanese banjo and guitar player and is very good. He is also very friendly and good at responding to posts, so I feel like he would answer your questions from from a perspective of one who lives there.



(the link is to his uploads page, which is mostly flatpicked guitar, but there's a bunch of banjo videos too)


Deaf Lester Crawdad - Posted - 12/03/2013:  19:15:17


quote:





Originally posted by 5drive

 



I once owned a Vega VIP,with C.F Martin on back of headstock. This would have been around 76' or 77'. Cant remember if it was USA or not?





I believe that every one of those I ever saw was made in the US from old Vega parts that Martin had inherited when they bought out Vega.    Only real difference I could see at the time was that the ones built after Martin took over had Martin guitar-style finishes.   Same color, same texture, Etc.



Looked very much like the banjo version of a D-18!



~Pete


mikehalloran - Posted - 12/05/2013:  20:40:25


quote:





Originally posted by 5drive



I once owned a Vega VIP,with C.F Martin on back of headstock. This would have been around 76' or 77'. Cant remember if it was USA or not?



 





Those were USA


mikehalloran - Posted - 12/05/2013:  21:01:56


One more time: CF Martin sold Vega to Galaxy Trading in 1979. There are no 1978 Galaxy Vegas. There are no 1980 Martin Vegas. 



 


Outside of the 8 - 10 banjos made by Martin for the 1979 NAMM with Galaxy supplied metal parts, I don't know that there are any other 1979 Martin Vega banjos.


 


Vega or Martin made the wooden parts on all of the Martin Vega banjos. Anyone familiar with Vea banjos and Martin guitars can tell in an instant who made what. 


 


Most of the metal parts were made by Waverly on the Martin Vegas but as Martin ran out, they used parts from other suppliers - Waverly went out of business around 1968. I have been told that Cox made some Tubaphone rings. A lot of ths leftover metal went to Galaxy but they had the banjos made in Japan, then Korea and used very little of it. Greg Deering didn't know this when he bought the name - that story's been told many times. 

desert rose - Posted - 12/05/2013:  22:08:06


Mike



 



Thanks for your input here on this topic. These instruments are outside of my focus of details. I hope Michael contacts you off list to get specifics for his project.



 



Scott


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