Whack Job: 1968 Kawai The Concert

January 30, 2014

Keeping up with pop culture in the ’60s—especially anything having to do with the music scene—was a task nearly as hard as trying to keep current with today’s cell phone technology. It must have driven guitar manufacturers nuts trying to deliver what the kids wanted, craft a unique-looking product, and do battle with all the other guitar makers who flooded the market in the era of Beatlemania, Brit rock, and the garage band explosion. Suddenly, almost every youngster across the globe was starting a band, and those players needed guitars. The race to seduce the youth market was on. Some companies—like Kawai—took the competition to extremely bizarre levels. Take, for example, Kawai’s “The Concert.” I nicknamed mine, “Off With Their Heads”—which I find far more in keeping with how the guitar looks. One has to wonder who Kawai expected would buy this aggressive, battle-axe-shaped nightmare!

Only made from 1968 to 1970, The Concert has to be one of the ugliest guitars out there. But the real weird stuff is what you don’t see. It’s actually made with great attention to certain aesthetic details that one would expect on more expensive guitars. I’ll get more into that later.

Like a lot of people who collect whack jobs for their looks, I don’t especially care if the guitar plays well or sounds good. But The Concert manages to do both. The feel of the multi-laminated, 23-fret (including a zero fret) neck is chunky, but not unpleasant. Clean tones are very surf-y, and the distortion sounds are quite musical. (The bridge sound is reminiscent of an overdriven Ricky 330.) The surface-mounted tremolo works okay for slight bends. One warning: Don’t play this sitting down. The axe will slice into your leg!

I have never seen another of these for sale. My friend and fellow collector Ron Upton gave me this one 15 years ago, but it was badly water damaged. Miraculously, guitar builder Paul Connet brought it back to life. My guess is that an auction price would be between $1,200 to $1,500.

It’s the ugliness along with the sound and those details I mentioned earlier. The body has a high-gloss, piano-like finish with a beautifully made, but subtle, German-style carved top. The cream binding features a delicate, triple parallel-lined black inlay that’s almost like herringbone. It uses an asymmetrical three-piece pickguard material that I have never seen before. And even though the guitar’s body is solid, it has an f-hole that is recessed into the wood by about a quarter inch. There’s a lot to see on this guitar and, believe it or not, Kawai offered a dozen or so other axe-shaped models—some with even more exaggerated lines like the Liverpool. For the faint of heart, Kawai also offered some more conservative takes on Rickys and Hofners. But why go traditional? Playing axe-shaped guitars hasn’t hurt Gene Simmons’ career!

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