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Six Decades of Dedication: The Story of Takamine Guitars | FEATURE

Published 3 months ago on December 8, 2023

By Jonathan Graham

Six Decades of Dedication: The Story of Takamine Guitars | FEATURE

Initially, a small family business based in Japan, but since then, becoming one of the leading manufacturers of acoustic guitars the world over—Takamine is an iconic brand with a rich history. Celebrating its 60th year in 2022, in this special Gi feature, we take a closer look at the past, present and future of one of the acoustic guitars' most iconic brands.

 

To truly tell the story of Takamine, we have to look even further back to the company's humble roots in the 1950s. During this time, the folk revival was in full swing in New York's Greenwich Village, where singer-songwriters like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Pete Seeger showcased their work to increasing audiences. Meanwhile, 7000 miles away, in the town of Sakashita, at the foot of Mount Takamine in central Japan, a quintet of luthiers in a small shop were building nylon-string acoustic guitars for the burgeoning folk scene in that country.

Overseen by a man named Ohzone, the shop, Ohzone Musical Instruments, was founded in the town of Sakashita. Ohzone had previously worked in a Nagoya-region instrument factory; however, when a typhoon decimated it, he moved to the hills to do his own thing.

From day one, the small instrument workshop proudly dedicated itself to the art of fine guitar craftsmanship—quickly earning a reputation of quality and value at a time that coincided with a massive surge in popularity that turned their fledgling company from a molehill into a mountain.

 

Of course, a mountain is a key word, as the fully-formed brand would take its name in 1962 from the aforementioned massif, and Takamine Gakki Ltd was officially born.

Takamine grew rapidly in the 1960s as the influence of Western popular music continued to create more demand for guitars in Japan. However, it would be in 1968 that things really took off for the company when they recruited Mass Hirade as head of production and design.

Although build quality had always been at the heart of the brand's priorities, Mass Hirade's talents took things to another level for Takamine as an exceptional luthier and visionary.

One of Hirade's first projects was to design concert-level classical guitars, as opposed to the company's previous folk-instrument offerings. But in a more daring move, Hirade set his sights on the international market—which was dominated by steel-string guitars—and by the early 1970s Takamine was offering flattops in the mould of American classics by its competitors.

Takamine hit the international market at the perfect time. The competition was huge, but perhaps somewhat stagnant in the U.S., and Takamine provided a superb product at a great price that truly did the job. With the help of artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and The Eagles (who played a Takamine 12-string electric-acoustic as part of their classic, "Hotel California") adopting the instruments as essential tools, Takamine set about developing a stronger, more individual identity that it continues with today.

Arguably, Takamine's most significant contribution to the acoustic guitar in this era was the Palathetic pickup. Debuting in Japan in 1978 on the PT-007S model and globally the following year, the Palathetic is comprised of six separate, fully shielded piezo transducers, one for each string. The piezos are outfitted under the bridge plate and make contact with the saddle via metal cylinders. The sonic result: improved clarity between the strings and resistance to feedback. A solution to a problem that gave Takamine an incredible edge, as artists and technicians alike found it difficult to recreate the sound of their acoustic guitars as they played through microphones in ever-expanding concert halls. Takamine's engineers hit such a high note with the original Palathetic that—more than 40 years later—its design is essentially intact.

Needless to say, many makers have borrowed from this hugely influential design. Preamps with sliding controls are now standard equipment on acoustic guitars of all brands and price points, and this basic design is also indebted to Takamine. In the late 1980s, the company arrived at a standard preamp size with a built-in battery compartment so that Takamine users could easily swap out their preamps as new ones became available.

Takamine is always evolving its preamps for different sets of users. They allow for either pristine tube sound with the CTP-3 CoolTube preamps; multi-pickup setups with the CTB4-DX preamps (which allow you to blend in magnetic soundhole pickups or soundboard transducers), or the straightforward and stealthy new TLD-2 Line Driver preamps. Most of the preamps incorporate elite standard chromatic tuners as well.

Technology prowess aside, Takamine, at its heart, has been proudly dedicated to the fine classic art of creating quality guitars. Its long career in innovation and the continuous development of its instruments has placed them among the world's elite of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitar manufacturers‚—with great designs of guitars and excellent quality; they remain the favourite of many guitarists worldwide.

In celebration of its historic 60th Anniversary, Takamine Guitars brings to the world "The 60", a very special limited-edition hand-crafted guitar that will be a coveted guitar for serious Takamine collectors, or anyone who appreciates a very rare, finely-crafted instrument. With a 60th anniversary being associated with the precious gemstone diamond, The 60th even features an authenticated genuine diamond embedded as an inlay on the headstock over the "i" in the Takamine logo.

The 60th has a body shape based on an early Takamine design that adapted a classical body to an x-braced concert steel string, with the addition of a distinctive cutaway. The top, back, and sides are made of solid highly-figured Hawaiian koa. It features a completely unique three-piece bracing made of ebony sandwiched with spruce, a design that lowers the mass of the bracing, which in turn allows the koa top to offer the perfect combination of rigidity and resonance. This special and unique bracing is hand-shaped and shaved by Takamine's master luthiers — Noriharu Sakurai and Toru Hirokawa — to reduce the weight by more than 20%, promoting significantly more top vibration sensitivity, resulting in rich vibrant tone that surpasses all expectations on a koa-topped guitar. This guitar also features hand-selected cuts of mahogany and ebony for its neck and fingerboard respectively. It doesn't stop there. THE 60TH is designed to be much more than a showpiece. We applied an ultra-thin high gloss finish that allows every note to vibrate and shine as bright as the guitar itself.

Takamine had to create a special method to create a secure setting for this genuine diamond inlay to allow for it to be set after the finish was applied. Each diamond is hand embedded by Noriharu Sakurai, using the utmost care for each piece. Additionally, Takamine's 60th-anniversary theme is also indicated in the guitar via a 31-piece laser-cut diamond-image position marker inlaid by hand at the 12th fret. THE 60TH also features hand-inlaid and painstakingly colour-matched abalone purfling along the top, back, sides, and headstock, complimenting its natural maple binding.

Takamine's The 60TH includes our new CTF-2N preamplifier with the warm, dynamic sound of Takamine's early FET preamp model, affectionately known as the "Brownie", which offers 2-band EQ as well as modern conveniences like easy battery access, a chromatic tuner, and a notch filter. This Limited Edition guitar is shipped in a very special hard case and also includes a commemorative Takamine 60th anniversary key fob.

Guitars with the level of detail found in Takamine's the 60TH can't be produced in large numbers. Each one takes time, and can only be made by master luthiers with decades of experience. For that reason, production of THE 60TH will be limited to only 60 individually-numbered guitars worldwide. For those musicians and collectors who are able to get one of their own, they will own a piece of Takamine history…and one of the world's most coveted acoustic-electric guitars ever created.

It will be interesting to see what further innovations Takamine can bring into the guitar world in the coming years. Some more classic reissues? Tributes to the '50s era "proto-Tak" nylon guitars? Or even something entirely brand new? Either way, this once small, humble workshop that grew to be a titan in the industry seems like it's listening to what guitar players and long-time fans want—and with that mindset, it will be inspiring the world's guitarists for many more decades to come.

 

 


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