MADE IN 1969 BY M.MATANO - ARIA AC30 - RAMIREZ STYLE CLASSICAL CONCERT GUITAR

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About This Listing

ARAI AC-30 1969

This guitar was made in sometime around 1968/69 by Masaru Matano for Shiro Arai’s company, before its guitar brand was changed to Aria.

Since the origination of his ARAI & CO. INC in 1956, Shiro Arai was cooperating with several classical guitar makers. During late 1960s and early 1970s Aria classical guitars were made either by Ryoji Matsuoka’s workshop (Ramirez style headstocks, 650mm scale) or Masaru Matano’s workshop (original Aria headstocks, 658mm scale).

AC30 was the mid-range model in Aria’s classical guitar lineup of that era, bettered by models AC40 and AC50. Yet this guitar easily beats many modern era “hand made in Spain” guitars sold in USA at very high prices.

Regardless of which workshop these guitars were made at (Matsuoka’s or Matano’s) they had Ramirez style bracing, double sides and/or double backs. Such special construction greatly reduces the effect of sound dumping caused by the body of the player. It all leads to great volume and extra richness of every individual note. In mid 1960s many of Jose Ramirez 1a guitars were made exactly the same way and sold at prices equal to today’s $10000.

When you experience this guitar, you will know that it can easily compete with many brand new $5000+ guitars currently sold in USA. It certainly deserves to be called “Grand Concert Guitar”.

It is very powerful instrument. It is certainly as powerful as old Ramirez 1A guitars. This Aria AC30 however has far better overall tonality, note clarity and separation. Its basses are very deep but clean, somewhat metallic. Its trebles are fat but sweet and very clear. Unlike in case of Ramirez 1A guitar, basses of this Aria don’t overpower its trebles. Finally, with its current action this Aria is simply far easier to play than 99% of old Ramirez 1A guitars.                

Despite its age this Aria AC30 guitar remains in overall very good condition, one can say: “excellent for its age”. Its only flaws are of cosmetic nature: few very minor dents, scratches and abrasions and some mild cloudiness of its finishes.

This guitar being priced 30 000 yen in 1970, was worth 75% of starting salary of Japanese college graduate.  

Just like all Aria guitars, this one was way underpriced. It sounds better than many much higher priced guitars made by leading Japanese luthiers of that era. It is simply an amazing instrument. It is one of those “hard to put down” guitars. I can’t imagine the player who wouldn’t be happy playing this gorgeous instrument. 

SPECIFICATIONS:

Original tuners were replaced by newer ones, yet of the same design.

Top: High Grade Solid Cedar

Back: Brazilian Rosewood “laminates”

“Laminated” is quite unfortunate term regarding Japanese made guitars. These "laminates" were made from 2 layers of solid wood glued together with natural resins. They were made so well that they performed as good as solid woods while being far less expensive in guitar production and far more resistant to cracking in regular use.

Double Sides: external plate Rosewood laminate, internal plate: solid Rosewood

Neck: Mahogany

Fingerboard: Ebony

With at the nut: 52 mm

Scale: 658 mm

Strings: Savarez 540J (E6-A-D-G) D’Addario EJ45 (B-E1)

Action is set to 3.7 mm under E6 and 3.20 mm under E1 with plenty of extra room on the saddle.

This guitar will be shipped in used (most likely original) hard case in still usable condition, although of minimal value.

The key to understand value of vintage Japanese guitars is to acknowledge galloping devaluation of Japanese yen in 1960s & 1970s. This devaluation was somewhat slower in 1980s. The best measure of this devaluation is Starting Yearly Salary of Japanese College Graduate (SYSJCG).

SYSJCG in 1965 was 19 600 yen, in 1969 – 34 600 yen, in 1970 39 200 yen, in 1972 – 62 300 yen, in 1975 79 200 yen, in 1977 86 200 and in 1980 - 100 000 yen.

During 1960s and most of 1970s model numbers of Japanese guitars were strictly interconnected with their prices in Japanese yen. In late 1970s and during following decades model numbers were no longer strictly associated with their prices. Many Japanese guitar makers introduced model names instead of model numbers. Others were still using model numbers with addition of letter abbreviations or other symbols.

The best and only logical approach while evaluating real value (real grade) of vintage Japanese guitar is to compare its price in Japanese yen with SYSJCG during the year guitar was made.

Any guitar priced 100 000 in 1970 (labelled usually as No10) would be priced 200 000 yen in 1975 (relabeled to No20 or 2000), 300 000 yen in 1977 (labelled as No3, No30 or 3000). Starting in 1977 Masaru Kohno introduced his new models No40 priced 400 000 yen and No50 priced 500 000 yen. By 1984 Kohno started using model names instead numbers and was raising their prices as he was pleased. Model 50 became model “Maestro”, model 40 became model “Special”, model 30 became model “Professional-J”. Naturally other Master luthiers were doing the same name/price changes.

Knowing all of that, you can bet on that Masaru Kohno No50 made in 1982 is practically the same grade instrument as Kohno No20 made in 1972, or Kohno no 30 made in 1976. Kohno No40 made in 1982 is exactly the same grade instruments as Kohno No15 made in 1972 or Kohno No20 made in 1975.

It is very important to mention that if modern era luthiers are using 40 years old woods to make a classical guitar, its price is at least $8000.

History of Aria Guitars

One day, a friend came to visit Shiro's apartment with a guitar. Shiro was expecting to hear Koga-type Japanese popular music, but instead his friend started to play a piece by Bach. From this moment, he had been inspired by the sound of this instrument forever.

The very next day, Shiro bought his first guitar, costing over two months salary and began to teach himself to play. Now playing day and night, his passion for the guitar brought him to a famous classical guitar master in Nagoya, and soon became one of his students.

Shiro started work for a trading company in 1947, aged 17. In 1953, Shiro and two of his colleagues resigned their positions and founded their own trading firm. After the fledgling company failed after just one year, Shiro found himself homeless with nothing but his guitar. In order to live and settle the outstanding debts from this first business he started to teach the guitar.

In 1954 unable to buy guitars, music and strings in Japan's music stores, Shiro started to import classical guitars, Augustine guitar strings, and musical scores for himself and his students. These were the first classical guitars imported into post-war Japan and included instruments from renowned makers Jose Ramirez and Hermann Hauser. Recognizing an increasing demand for guitars from friends and players throughout Japan, Shiro grasped the opportunity to start his own business. On August 2nd, 1956, ARAI & CO., INC was founded.

At this time, although demand for classical guitars and accessories were increasing, it was still comparatively low and business was supplemented with other products including woolen material.

The name, "ARIA", which means expressive melody, was first used in 1958 when Arai exported Japanese built classical guitars fitted with steel strings to South East Asia in 1963. Also the letters of his name "ARAI" were just switched around to "ARIA as he recalled.

Shiro embarked on a tour of the US with two of the best Japanese KOHNO guitars. At that time Japanese guitars had a poor reputation for developing body cracks and warped necks after being exposed to drier conditions abroad. It was Shiro's intention to prove how good Japanese guitars were by performing and showing to fellow guitarists, teachers and music shops. After two months these guitars also started to crack.

Even the best available Kohno guitars faced the same problem. Shiro took these cracked guitars back to Japan to show their makers just how vital it is to use properly seasoned tone woods. This trip gave Shiro the experience and knowledge to improve the quality of guitars and export Japanese guitars worldwide.

It was as early as the late 50's when Arai started to import Fender guitars and amplifiers from the US, although at that time the Japanese market was not quite ready for the electric guitar! With the advent of rock n' roll demand for electric guitars took-off. Arai released its first ARIA brand electric guitars in 1963. Exporting to the US followed with models including the 1532T and 1802T.

To counter the decline of the solid body electric guitar boom, Arai released the Aria Diamond series hollow body semi-acoustic guitars. Aria Diamond was named after the imitation diamond inlayed into the headstock. This series lead to the release of the 1202 and 1302 models in 1966 and caused nothing short of a sensation in Japan. From 1967 Aria added a variety of models including the solid body 1962T, R-320, and violin shaped 12-string and bass guitars, and a full acoustic guitar, the 1262.

In 1975, Aria Pro II was developed from Aria's custom shop making high-end models for professional users. In 1976, Aria Pro II released its first original model, the PE-1500.

PE (Prototype Line) is a classic Aria design, also known as the legendary masterpiece, it featured an arched top, and all maple carved body with Aria's original "heel-less neck and DiMarzio Super Distortion Humbucking Pickups. Primarily designed for tone and playability, the PE series has been modified to match today's trends while keeping its original features and timeless design.

In 1978, Aria Pro II released another long-selling model, the SB-1000. The SB-1000 was highly regarded throughout the world and came to represent everything that was good about Aria and Japanese guitar building. Featuring a Canadian Ash body with neck through body and, to enhance playability, a heel-less neck. For its original tone, SB featured the Aria original BB circuit. Its exotic see-through finish and the eye position marks make the SB amongst the most distinctive basses ever made.

Aria Pro II led the way with the 80's shift to Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Releasing many models such as XX, ZZ and U-1. Whilst not abandoning their routes also re-established the semi-acoustic guitar models, FA and TA. The 80s, also saw the introduction of the famous IGB (SB INTEGRA) bass series.

In the early 1990s, after the heavy metal rush, Aria Pro II released one of its favorite original models, the MA series to reinforce the PE and SB line-ups. MA series bodies are constructed with innovative crystal shaped carved top and back.

Continuing its remarkable progress, Aria released the very unique concept of the SWB (electric upright bass) series to the world in 1992. The SWB range offers compact modern design and features the Fishman custom bridge Piezo pickup and active tone circuit.

Aria has been at the forefront of guitar and Japanese guitar building excellence for 50 years, which means a wealth of experience and acquired expertise. The core value remains the same today, to constantly strive to achieve a higher level.

“Asturias Story”

Asturias guitars have always had a great international reputation for tone and built quality. Asturias guitars are still made at the same small workshop located in Kurume, Japan. This workshop employs about 10 highly skilled craftsmen, each of them capable making a guitar on his/her own. Since 1981 Asturias workshop is led by master luthier Wataru Tsuiji

This workshop in Kurume began making guitars in 1962, under the name Meiko Gakki co. and ownership of Masaru Matano. Masaru Matano was Japanese luthier legend, until today remembered in Japan as “the genius of sound”. He earned this title before 1962, after improving the sound of many old violins, including famous Stradivarius violins.

Meiko Gakki workshop was making classical guitars in rather limited numbers, with emphasis placed on quality. Initially these guitars were sold under the Meiko Gakki label and just signed by Matano. Sometime in 1968 the labels were changed to Masaru Matano “Costructor de Guitarras” (and Meiko Gakki was placed below Matano’s name). Sometime in 1974 “Meiko Gakki” disappeared from the labels. During years 1974-1975 Masaru Matano introduced yet another series of guitars with their own unique design labels that had just Masaru Matano name on them and were marked as made in Fukuoka, Japan. This means that Kurume workshop wasn’t the only one Matano owned at that time. Well that is not all. During the same years 1974-1975 Masaru Matano with another group of associates was making wonderful La Esperanza guitars marked as made by Ongaku Geijutsusha Co. While most of Masaru Matano - Meiko gakki guitars had Cedar tops and Matano’s unique design headstocks, La Esperanza guitars had mostly Spruce tops and Ramirez style headstocks. La Esperanza guitars had exactly the same style labels as those used on Matano – Meiko Gakki guitars. While great majority of Matano’s own label guitars were not signed by him or anybody else, La Esperanza guitars had labels signed by their actual makers. Esperanzas made by Matano himself have his signature their labels. It is quite likely that La Esperanza guitars were made at Matano’s Fukuoka workshop.  

It is not a secret that (just like most other luthiers in the world) Matano always had a team of highly skilled associates. One of them was Tatsuo Tanaka. In late 1960s, Tatsuo was the only Matano’s associate, who could put his name on Meiko Gakki label. Tatsuo Tanaka could have been Matano’s partner at that time, but this is not confirmed by any published records. Also, there are no written records revealing the names of other Matano’s associates. It is very possible that Hiroumi Yamaguchi and Eichi Kodaira were among these associates. Both these luthiers started their own workshops in early 1970s and prospered well on their own, but joined “New” Asturias team in 1980. In 1980 Matano’s Kurume workshop was taken over by Rokkomann Co (Japanese leading lumber importer) and “New” Asturias workshop came into life. The details of this transaction are totally unclear and Matano’s disappearance in 1981 never explained to the public. Since 1981 Asturias workshop is led by Wataru Tsuji, a younger luthier who started to work for Masaru Matano in 1977.

In 1981 “New” Asturias workshop started to use serial number system on their labels. The design of Asturias labels (unchanged until today) was created sometime in mid1970s and used on some Masaru Matano’s guitars, while other guitars still had “Masaru Matano - Meiko Gakki” labels. Some of these earlier Asturias labels were printed as “Asturias by Masaru Matano”. Very few of these early (before 1980) Asturias guitars were ever signed by Masaru Matano.

Hiromi Yamaguchi’s name for the first time appeared on guitar labels in early 1970s. Yamaguchi established his own brand: “Cervantes” Concierto Guitarras. His Cervantes guitars, not only looked like Masaru Matano -Meiko Gakki ones, but were made exactly the same way, and sounded as great as Matano’s creations. The only difference were headstock designs. After Yamaguchi joined “New” Asturias team in 1980, he (or just his workshop) was still making Cervantes guitars. Cervantes guitars were made until 1982. In the same year 1982 Hiroumi left Asturias team and started building guitars under his own name. Hiroumi retired sometime in early 1990s. Eichi Kodaira, since early 1970s was making 2 lines of guitars, one with his own name on the labels and second labelled as Ecole Guitarras. Ecole guitars had more ornamental extras and were considered as more luxurious brand. Within “New” Asturias team, Eichi Kodaira was responsible for making all AST models. Sometime in 1983-1984 Eichi and a group of his closest associates moved to another workshop located in Suwa (Nagano Prefecture) and started making Asturias Kodaira guitars, identical with AST models earlier made at Kurume workshop. Yet few years later, Eichi stopped making Asturias/Kodaira guitars and continued making AST models just as Kodaira guitars. His workshop operates until today with only 3 employees: Eichi’s son and 2 other Kodaira family members.

All guitars made by these Asturias associated luthiers are very high grade, well regarded by a lot of international players who consider them as the best mid-price range classical concert guitars. It is also very important to tell you, that guitars made by these makers have always been very moderately priced if compared to similar grade guitars made by Masaru Kohno or other Japanese Elite luthiers. During 1970s until 1980 Masaru Matano’s top model was Classe 1000 (priced 100 000 yen). This model was the only “all solid woods” one in Matano’s lineup. This guitar however could easily compete with Masaru Kohno #20 from the same year. Until 1982 top Cervantes, La Esperanza and Ecole models were also priced 100 000 yen.

Product Specs

Listed9 months ago
ConditionVery Good (Used)
Very Good items may show a few slight marks or scratches but are fully functional and in overall great shape.learn more
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  • Japan

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