A History of GRECO Guitars
What we refer to as the Japanese Vintage Guitar was produced between 1971 and 1982. Of course, many Japanese guitar manufacturers were producing guitars of their own design prior to this period. Many were influenced by the designs of Gibson, Fender, Mosrite, Burns, Vox etc. but these were not true replica guitars.
The first true replicas were the GRECO brand produced by Kanda Shokai Corporation. Kanda Shokai was established as a distributor and trading company for musical instruments in 1948. The GRECO brand was first introduced by Kanda Shokai in 1960. In the beginning, GRECO manufactured guitars of their own design. The design had many similarities to American guitars but they were largely original.
In 1966, the Beatles concert tour of Japan influenced GRECO designs. GRECO introduced a new solid body influenced by the Fender Telecaster shape and a Hofner type violin base guitar.
In 1969, the British rock band Led Zeppelin released two memorable albums(Led Zeppelin I and II). Their guitarist, Jimmy Page, made famous the Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar with a sunburst finish. Suddenly, the Japanese younger generation was clamoring for Gibson Les Paul Customs, SG’s, Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters and others.
In 1970, the average monthly starting salary of a college graduate was 43,000 Japanese yen (JYE). With the currency exchange rate being about 360 Japanese yen to 1 US dollar at the time; this starting salary was about $120.00 in US dollars. The price for a new Stratocaster was 239,000 JYE; over $660.00 US dollars. It was a determined generation that saved over five months salary to buy their dream guitar.
In 1971, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Grand Funk Railroad and other famous bands toured Japan. This further fueled the young generation to buy their dream guitar and play rock’n roll like their hero’s did and this did not escape GRECO’s attention.
Due to the high price of Gibson guitars in Japan, only a few jazz musicians had them and GRECO didn’t have one on hand. GRECO wanted to introduce a Les Paul Standard replica (their EG series) and scaled drawings from Gibson’s catalog and rock musicians’ photos. The original EG-360 series was quite different from the Les Paul due to such things as the neck scale being calculated from Gibson’s catalog and completely different body construction but it was still close enough to be the first chapter in the “lawsuit guitar” story.
As mentioned, Kanda Shokai was primarily involved in marketing and distribution and used two main subcontractors for the actual manufacturing. These were Matsumoku Gakki in the early years and Fujigen Gakki from 1974-75 to the present. This is why GRECO and IBANEZ are considered brother guitars in Japan
During the early ‘70’s, GRECO asked Shigeru Narumo (1947-2007); a very popular Japanese guitarist, to supervise GRECO guitar development. He advised GRECO to develop a better guitar than the Les Paul at a more affordable price and to scale the neck down to be more suitable for the smaller Japanese hand. GRECO made a guitar to Mr. Narumo’s specifications in just a few days and he was very surprised with the new custom EG. He had his band members play a Gibson, a Fender and this new EG custom blindfolded and they all agreed the EG was the best of the three.
Narumo played this new EG-360 Custom on stage alternating with a Gibson. The audience was surprised to see and hear a Japanese made guitar that was as good (if not better) than the original.
Narumo’s only complaint was with the finish color which GRECO had copied from a photo of Paul Kossoff