There Might Be Something To This Japanese Guitar Hobby After All

JC Penney

It would seem there has been a lot of silliness on eBay over these guitars. Let me make something perfectly clear. THIS IS NOT A $700 OR $800+ GUITAR! That is just pure silliness.

We’re now in the land of pure silliness, apparently. As the Japanese guitar market heats up, one of the most unlikely hotspots is a guitar purchased in bulk lots, sight unseen, by JC Penney thirty-two years ago.

skylark3

In the late Seventies, as the reputation of Matsumoku-made Electra and Aria Pro guitars spread, and it became clear that nobody had managed to secure an exclusive deal with the Japanese Mothership, other distributors and stores decided to get into the act. One of the would-be players was apparently Guitar Emporium, according to the Matsumoku fan site. When Guitar Emporium didn’t follow through on the order, the whole lot was apparently purchased sight unseen by a JC Penney buyer who thought it would be a good idea for the department store to be in on the high-end guitar biz.

The “Skylark” guitars, then, were like the Sears Tele-Games of music. (Brief bragging digression: I have an original “heavy sixer” burl-wood-front Tele-Games console, found under a stack of late-model black-plastic 2600s in a booth at the Traders World swap meet back in 1992. Yes, it works.) The $159 model — $400 in today’s money, basically what you’d pay for a Mexican Strat at Guitar Center — was essentially an Electra X280 Workingman, bolt-neck, twin humbuckers, no frills. The $259 one ($650) was a set-neck laminated-body model, similar to an Aria Pro TS-400 without the active electronics. These two guitars haven’t really taken off, price-wise, and you should be able to get either one for between $200 and $300 on eBay depending on condition.

The top model, the “2588”, was something else.

skylark2

It was a five-piece walnut/maple neck-through guitar with active electronics; a more elaborate version of the Aria Pro TS-600. The retail price of $339 ($850) was serious money back then, but it was actually cheaper than the much less elaborate Electra Phoenix X130 deluxe maple models, which were $349 at most SLM-affiliated stores. It was therefore a screaming deal for a guitar that could compete with literally anything for sale at the time from any manufacturer. But who would buy a guitar at JC Penney?

Somebody must have, because they are out there to be purchased now and they show up fairly often. The notion seems ridiculous today, but in 1981 there was no e-commerce to speak of and big music stores simply didn’t exist.

skylark1

Therefore, there must have been a fair number of kids (and adults) out there who didn’t have a Gibson or Fender dealer in their immediate vicinity or who could make their own assessments of the Skylarks without caring about the stupid name and logo. Some of the ones that come up on eBay now have a fair amount of play wear. There must have been a fair number of them playing gigs in small towns all through the Eighties and Nineties.

Last night a fairly battered 2588 pulled $610 on eBay. I was surprised it didn’t fetch more; good ones are getting $800 now. That’s about the inflation-corrected new price. In other words, they’re doing better than many 1981-era Gibsons and Fenders, and considerably better than most of the other Japanese guitars of the era, even the Matsumokus. The resale-value champs of the era are still the Elvin Bishop model semi-hollows, which now pull $1500 at auctions, but to be fair they sold for more back in the day, too.

It annoys me that I don’t have a 2588 of my own yet. Two years ago they were fetching $500 for good examples. Now they’re $800 or more. I should probably step up before they clear the four-figure mark. There’s something cheering about the hockey-stick price trajectory. It not only validates the Matsumoku legacy further, it also offers a little bit of ironic satisfaction for anybody who had to buy their electric guitar at JC Penney, doesn’t it?

2 Replies to “There Might Be Something To This Japanese Guitar Hobby After All”

  1. Avatarthe gentle giant

    That is a seriously beautiful guitar. Love the natural maple neck through the blue body.

    Reply
  2. AvatarWalt

    My parents bought me on in 1981. The 2588. I still have it. As I was young and stupid when I got it, it’s got wear to it. But it plays great. The only problem I see with it is that it’s not balanced too well. Wearing it with a strap, the neck drops pretty fast. But it’s a great guitar overall. I didn’t realize they’d gone up in value.

    Reply

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