Late last year I decided that I had all the modern guitars I needed. I'm not gigging much, just writing and recording. There were a couple of vintage guitars I was interested in. A Vox teardrop, especially the Mark IX, and the Fender Coronado. The Voxs turned out to be too expensive for me, especially the Mark IX, which was a 9-string beast meant to be similar to a 12-string. Those are very rare and priced out of my range. The Coronado I might be able to afford one day, but I'm not as interested as I was. The new reissues sell for about $700, but they're different from the originals in several important ways.
Then I remembered Kent Guitars. I thought it would be pretty cool to have a guitar with my last name on it. Turns out there is a whole crapload of them out there. Information is scattered around the internet in bits and pieces and nobody who was making them at the time is talking about it. So I have started gathering information on them, limiting myself to the 500,600,700, and 800 series models. The only ones I am interested in owning are the 700 and 800s. I have an 834 and 820 now. I may never get the chance to buy another.
There was no “Kent Guitar" Factory. The Kent brand was established in 1960 by Buegeleisen & Jacobson, a musical instrument distributor in New York City. The 500-series models had a metal “K” badge (like the one at left) attached to the headstock of the guitar. The use of a glued-on logo is a good sign that the guitar could appear under another brand name if the manufacturer so desired. The 600-series Kents had the name in metal script letters attached (glued) to the headstock. The headstocks were somewhat shaped like those on Fender guitars. Most of those were low-end solid-body instruments.
I'll add to the "badge collection" above as I come across more examples.
There is a line of guitars custom made in the U.S. by Casey and Gary Kent. It's unlikely any of those will be confused with the old Japanese electrics being discussed here.
Some of the first Kents to have been imported into the U.S. were made in Sweden by Hagstrom. (They may have actually been Czech-made and sold by Hagstrom.) The Hagstrom HI, HII, and HIII (those are the letter H with roman numerals representing the number of pickups the guitar had) were branded Kent for sale in the U.S. and as Futurama for the U.K. They had the Kent name on the headstock and sometimes the upper bout. They were similar to Fender Stratocasters. They also made some Strat-shaped basses. According to an article in Vintage Guitar Magazine, importation of Hagstrom-made Kents began in 1962. Another story is that Hagstrom sold Kent-branded guitars through distributors other than Buegeleisen & Jacobson in the U.S. without permission from J&B and were forced to withdraw them after a short time. By then Hagstrom had become better-known and could sell them under their own name, anyway.
Later, rebadged Guyatone guitars appeared, both in the U.S. and a few in the U.K., also as Futuramas. That was the beginning of several years of Guyatone-made Kents. I don't know who made the bass guitars. They look to be different. I haven't studied the basses, yet.
Lately some EBay sellers have been calling the Hagstrom solid-bodies of the time Hagstrom-Kent. They are not. If it says Hagstrom on the body, it's a Hagstrom. If it is one of the Hagstrom guitars that was sold as a Kent, it's a made-by-Hagstrom Kent. I wonder if the sellers think they can get more for a guitar by associating the Kent name with it. I don't see how.
But most Kents were made in Japan and later, Korea. The most-often mentioned factories are Kawai, Fujigen Gakki, Teisco, Matsumoku, and Guyatone.
Identifying the makers of these guitars is made more difficult by the use of 'shadow factories' all around Japan, which in reality were families working production-line style on just a couple of guitar parts in their homes.
1964 was a pivitol year for Japanese guitar makers, and for that matter, the music business worldwide. That was when four young Brits made their initial impact and music has not been the same since.
Japanese musical instrument makers saw an opportunity and tried to cash in by making electric guitars and amplifiers for a growing Rock 'n Roll market.
At first, the idea was to keep 'em cheap and sell to the beginners and students. Later, as Japanese manufacturers proliferated and competition became hot and heavy, some of them began to copy the Fenders and Gibsons of the time. As quality began to improve, some manufacturers again began issuing thier own designs.
One of the "beginners" who got a start with a Kent Polaris I was Bruce Springsteen, left. Alex Lifeson of Rush got started with a Kent acoustic. One of Gene Simmons' first guitars was also a Kent.
The BBC series "The Seven Ages of Rock", episode 2, showed Lou Reed with the Velvet Underground playing a Kent 532 Copa at Andy Warhol's hangout. (right)
Lee Ranaldo of
Sonic Youth used a Kent Polaris I solid body (with lots of duct tape on it) and
several Kent 800-series guitars - One, a white 820 and a sunburst 821 12-string
with 10 strings on it, shown at left. Since the B and high-E strings are normally tuned the same,
he left those off. He uses several alternate tunings with his guitars.
Kawai Musical Instruments Manfacturing Company was established in 1927 in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. They began by manufacturing pianos. In 1964 they began making guitars and in 1967 they acquired Teisco. Kawai is best known now for the manufacture of pianos.
Teisco produced guitars that were sold in the U.S. as Teisco del Rey as well as Silvertone, Beltone, Duke, Heit Deluxe, Jedson, Kimberly, Kingston, Lyle, Norma, Tulio and World Teisco. At various times Teisco guitars were made for and sold under the now well-known Ibanez name. They have developed somewhat of a cult following in the U.S. which has resulted in some unrealistic prices for some models.
Fujigen Gakki is a musical instrument maker located in Matsumoto, Japan. They began making violins and classical guitars in 1960 and electric guitars in 1962. Their real heyday of guitar production began in the 1970's when they began producing guitars for major American manufacturers like Fender and Gibson as well as some Japanese manufacturers. In fact, after CBS acquired Fender Electronic Instruments Company they decided to move to larger manufacturing facilities. Between the closing of the old factory and the opening of the new one, the only Fender guitars being made came from the Fujigen Gakki factory.
Matsumoku was a wood furniture maker that got a contract to make sewing machine cabinets for Singer in Japan. They later became manufacturer of high-quality Japanese guitars and may have made some Kents. The guitar market declined just about the time the sewing machine business collapsed and the factory closed down in 1987.
According to one source, in 1962 (possibly as early as 1959) Guyatone guitars began arriving in the U.S., some under the Kent brand. By 1962 there were two lines of Kent guitars: a Standard series and a "Pro-series". They were thought to have been made by Teisco and Guyatone, but it appears that each number series was made by a single manufacturer with the exception of some basses and some other less-commonly seen (at least today in the U.S.) guitars.
In the table linked below, several guitars in the 500-series are mentioned in their catalog as being "professional". While there may have been separate Professional and Standard groups as described above, those designations may have been simple marketing descriptions on the catalog pages and advertisements.
At any rate, Guyatone produced a lot of different guitars under many different names.
|Kent 510 Lido||1960's Guyatone LG-55W|
The Kent 510 Lido is almost identical to the Guyatone of the same period. There were several similar, but noticiably different, body shapes in the 500 series Kents. They all have the same size little stuck-on logos on the headstock.
The 700 and 800-series Kents were not made by Guyatone. It looks like they may have been made by Kawai/Teisco, as shown below.
I am putting together a table showing as many 500 through 800-series Kents as I can. There were plenty of Kents made before, after, and during (but outside) these series', but these are what I am looking at.
Click here to see the table
The primary means of identifying the model number of Kent guitars is via a label on the back of the headstock. Through the years many of those labels have fallen off or been peeled off. They do not add anything to the appearance of the guitar.
My interests are in the Kents with the script logo on the headstock, body, and pickups. The headstock is Gibson-ish with tuners on both sides. The pickup nearest the neck is tilted, regardless of how many pickups are on the guitar. One model, the 742 has four pickups with switches, volume and tone knobs for each. Overkill, to say the least, and I have read somewhere that they don't sound very good. However, I have seen some youtube video where a 742 sounds pretty good in live performance. A lot of the sound comes from a proper setup and the hands of a skilled player. Hopefully I'll be able to find out for myself someday. Regardless, the 742 is one funky-looking guitar.
The 700-series models were solid-body instruments while the 800-series models were hollow bodied. This is a small enough product range to make a nice little collection and the guitars are made well enough to be used. (Many of the early Japanese guitars were cheap and simply unplayable right out of the box. I know... I had one.) However interest in them seems to be rising and thus, prices are following along.
Some Ebay sellers have read the above statement and taken it to mean they should ask higher prices. Some have gotten really outrageous and yet some have actually sold some Kents at those outrageous prices, so there's gold in them thar guits... if you're lucky. If you're thinking of buying one, be patient and don't let yourself get carried away.
Some Ebay sellers will leave an ad up for months with an unrealistic reserve or Buy It Now price, figuring that eventually somebody will bite. Often somebody does.
I've been keeping track of completed sales since I started looking at Kents, maybe 18 months or so, and have come up with a few average sale prices. The way I figure an average is by first tossing out the highest and lowest sales and averaging the rest. If I am left with fewer than three sales I don't bother. That's too small a sampling to be worthwhile.
As you can see, I still see only enough sales to give averages on the most common auctions. Just about any sale will have a large effect on averages until there are a lot more samples to work with. I don't log sales on guitars that are incomplete or damaged. I'll be keeping this table updated.
The main thing to keep in mind regarding vintage guitars: A guitar is worth what somebody will pay for it. There aren't necessarily rational reasons behind the value of a particular model. Rarity is only part of the equation here. A rare crappy guitar is still a crappy guitar and if nobody wants it, it's just firewood. Condition counts for more.
Personally, I think the average price shown above for Polaris IIs is a little high. There are a TON of Polaris Is and IIs for sale. Wait for a good one and pay a reasonable price. For some reason, however, the 532 Copa model has been selling for $350-$450. I don't believe they are worth that much but I guess people want 'em.
500-Series Americana hollow-bodies, all models, are averaging about $217.00. They probably should go for $150-$175.
600-series guitars are less often seen than the 500s for some reason, but are very similar, including having the same model names. They might be worth a little more than equivalent 500s. Of course, they're a little newer.
700-Series, which are all solid-bodies are probably worth $250-$350, maybe a little more for the 4-pickup 742 model. I'm pretty sure that they were on the market at the same time as the 800s but not as many are being seen. Recently a 742 sold on Ebay for over $1000, which is absurd and a 740 recently sold for $999. Most of the 700s have been selling for $200-400.
800-series should go for $300-$450.
Bass guitars from all series' seem to be priced unreasonably high at the moment. They aren't selling at those prices, though.
Like with other things, you may be willing to pay more for one if you really really want it or if it is in exceptional condition or there is something unusual about it. Beware of getting caught up in a bidding war.
Some Craigslist and EBay sellers have been claiming the 500 and 600-series Kents are made by Teisco. I think we've shown that that's not the case. Some sellers also describe those early Kents as having "Ry Cooder" pickups. As most you know, Ry Cooder is an incredibly talented multi-stringed-instrument musician. David Lindley, another great talent, gave him a pickup from an old Teisco guitar. The photo at left is exactly like it. Cooder put the pickup into one of his Stratocasters and liked the sound so much that he got another one and put it into another Strat. These pickups are also described as "gold foil" pickups. There are variations in the pattern of cut-outs on the chrome covers of different pickups. I don't know if the others sound any different, but if I were looking for a "Ry Cooder Pickup", something like the one pictured here is what I would be looking for. The pickups have become worth more than the guitars they are on, consequently, as the guitars are bought up and trashed for their pickups, their prices are going to rise.
Few, if any, Kents have gold foil pickups.
While I'm on the subject of guitar myths... Many sellers of vintage Japanese guitars have been throwing around the term "lawsuit guitar", although not usually in reference to Kents. In 1977 the Norlin Company, which owned Gibson at the time, sued Elger Guitars, which was the U.S. distributing arm of Hoshino Gakki of Japan. The suit claimed that Hoshino-made Ibanez guitars too-closely copied the headstock design of Gibson. Just the headstock. By the time the suit was brought out, Hoshino had already changed to a headstock more closely resembling what was on Guild guitars of the time. So it was pretty easy for Elger Guitars/Hoshino to promise not to copy the Gibson headstock anymore.
Naturally, if a seller can get more money by calling what they have a "lawsuit guitar", they're going to do it. Unfortunately, some writers who should know better have taken to using the term for any old Japanese lookalikes, copys, knockoffs, etc, of (mostly) American guitars. Some sellers are using terms like "lawsuit era" or "pre-lawsuit" which don't mean anything at all.
As with all sales, know what you're looking for. Know what you're looking at. Do your homework beforehand.
There is an advertisement for sale on Ebay said to be from 1967 that shows a couple of 800-series and one 700-series guitars. That should give some idea of when they were made.
Recently while cruising around EBay I was able to find pretty strong evidence that the 700 and 800-series Kents were made by Kawai. Or maybe... the necks of the 700 and 800-series Kents and the Kawais were made by the same manufacturer. I don't know if Kawai kept the factory that made Teisco operating after it was acquired. It appears that Kawai had more experience building hollow-bodied guitars than Teisco. So I call the 700 and 800-series Kents Made by Kawai. You can call them Made by Teisco if you want. Of course, the possibility exists that they were both made by an entirely different company. Who knows? The 1960's were like a 'wild west' period of Japanese guitar making.
The more I look into this stuff, the more confusing it gets.
Anyway, both guitar headstocks have the same shape and the same little design in the center. They both have the zero fret and, although it doesn't show in these photos, they both have the same rectangular mother-of-pearl fret markers.
The only guitars that I have been able to find pictures of that have the little curly thingie on the headstocks have been Kents, Kawais and some kind of no-name guitar that looks like the factory took a red Kent 820 and sprayed black around the edges to create a "redburst" finish. The example above appears to has started as a regular sunburst finish with more red and black added. The neck, headstock, pickups, and body are identical to the Kent 820 except the name 'Kent' doesn't appear on the guitar anywhere. Note that the hardware on it is the same as on the 820 shown. That bridge and tailpiece configuration is a little unusual for Kent 820s. (the 820 there is mine)
|Kent 740||Kent 741||Kent 742||Kent 745 12-string|
The 700-series guitars had all controls and pickups mounted on a faux-tortise shell pickguard. That makes it very easy to do any required work on the electronics. By contrast, On the 800-series (except for the violin-shaped bodies) the tone and volume control pots and the jack socket are mounted to the body, a three-way pickup switch, and a lead/rhythm slide switch are mounted to the pickguard; and the pickups are mounted to individual little mounting plates made of the faux-tortise shell material.
Pickups are selected on the 700-series via individual on/off rocker switches that look like they came from an auto parts store. The 800-series guitars use a three-way selector switch, often called a "toggle switch", but that's not exactly right. The three-pickup 823 uses small slide switches on the pickguard, below the strings, to select pickups.
The violin bodied guitars had a control plate which held the pots and the jack socket and another plate for the switches.
|Kent 820||Kent 821 12-string||Kent 822 Bass||Kent 833 bass||Kent 834|
Most 700 and 800 models, except for bass and probably 12-strings, were equipped with a vibrato bar. After 45 years or so the bar has gone missing on many of them. Some model 820s were equipped with a genuine Bigsby vibrato. The advertisement at left features the Bigsby-equipped Model 820. The advertisement on the right is identical except that it showed the stock Kent vibrato tailpiece. According to the catalogue of the time, the Bigsby was only available on the sunburst model 820.
The same catalogue just mentioned describes, but doesn't display, a Kent 823. It's the same as the 820 but with three pickups. There are very few photos of them floating around.
The violin-shaped guitar in the advertisement is the model 834 like I have.
As a side note, many guitarists refer to the vibrato as "tremolo" or, worse yet, "whammy bar". (I sometimes do, too, when my mouth is moving unaccompanied by my brain) Vibrato refers to varying the pitch while tremolo is varying the volume. Leo Fender himself is largely responsible for the misuse of the words. He called the bar on his guitars the "tremolo" and even had the tremolo effect on his amplifiers labeled as "Vibrato".
The Kent 800-series hollow bodied guitars all had asymmetrical bodies and the pickup closest to the neck was tilted. There are several Kents that had symmetrical hollow bodies and no tilted pickups. The pickups are either humbuckers or wide single coils with covers. They resemble Gibson ES-style guitars. The necks and headstocks are very similar to the Kent 800s. I won't be covering those here.