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.
PLAYABILITY & SOUND
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.
WHY IT RULES
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
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!