By Frank Meyers, Author "History of Japanese Electric Guitars"
The history of Guyatone originally began as Matsuki Manufacturing back in 1933. The founder, Mitsuo Matsuki, was a true craftsman who was born around 1915 in the Yamanashi area. He is arguably the “father” of Japanese electric instruments, having made his first lap steel guitar and amplifier in the 1930s. His small shop initially specialized in furniture making and woodwork, and Mitsuo was always known as a sort of “handyman.” In fact, his nickname was “Guya-san,” roughly translated as “tool-man” or “handyman.” At Matsuki Manufacturing, he did everything from painting, building, and designing.
After WWII, Matsuki set up a new shop in the Furukawa-Bashi area of Tokyo. Here was when the “Guya” and “Guyatone” names were first applied to lap steel guitars and amplifiers. By 1951 the company name was changed to Tokyo Sound Laboratory and soon afterwards was producing a new line of electric guitars and amps.
The early electric guitars were large hollowbody instruments which combined electronics and pickups made by Matsuki, and wooden guitar bodies and necks supplied by an early instrument factory called Maruha Gakki. In the late 1950s, Tokyo Sound introduced several nice solidbody electrics in its catalog, such as the Valco inspired LG60 and the EG series. These were among the first Guyatone electric guitars to be exported around the world and sometimes featured a secondary brand name “Star,” which was an early brand name of the export company Hoshino Gakki (more commonly known by the brand name Ibanez).
In the summer of 1959 a newer factory was built in the Suginami-ku area of Tokyo. Business was increasing at an incredibly fast rate and the guitar boom of the 1960s was right around the corner. It was at this time that Guyatone guitars started to use a bolt-on neck design. Several new models appeared from 1960-1962, including the LG-70, LG-85T, and LG-100T. Mitsuo was also constantly developing new amp designs. Guyatone electric guitars were now being exported to America, Canada, and England. The Tokyo Sound Co. was growing steadily, and around 1962 the company opened yet another new factory, built in Gunma Prefecture.
Tokyo Sound ended its relationship with Hoshino Gakki around 1962, and then began selling direct to outside markets. In the United States, Tokyo Sound guitars and amps were being sold primarily with the Kent brand name, which was used by the New York-based trading company Buegeleisen & Jacobson. More commonly known as B&G, the company was importing large amounts of Japanese electric guitars. Initially, the first Kent guitars were a mix of Fujigen, Guyatone, and Teisco guitars. But from 1964 to 1966, the entire Kent line was made of Guyatone guitars.
After the B&G import deal ended, Guyatone guitars were primarily sold in Japan. Guitar design also became more extreme and creative with ultra-cool models such as the LG350T, known as the Sharp 5 guitar. But by 1968 guitar sales around the world were in serious decline and even though Tokyo Sound continued to design new guitars and amps, the company entered bankruptcy in the summer of 1969. Mitsuo salvaged his company and re-emerged in the 1970s with a mix of old designs and new ones, including the awesome “Marroly” guitars such as the LG880 and LG1000. It was also during this era that Guyatone began production of effects pedals and high-quality amplifiers. During the 80s and 90s, Tokyo Sound continued to design and sell a large line guitar effects, along with a selection of electric guitars, amps, speakers and components.