Westone - US Design - Development History

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Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by tpresley on Sun Jan 31, 2010 12:44 am

OK, so you all asked for it . . . you know the old saying . . . "be careful what you ask for."

First, a couple of points: All of the guitars that you all like, I had a part in the design and manufacture. Those that you hate, or simply don't like, someone else did it. Smile

I don't really know what you all are interested in knowing, but I'll take a stab at it and if you'd like to provide some direction for me, it would be appreciated. I'll try to keep it about the Westone brand but there is a significant mix of product cross over between Alvarez, Electra, Westone AND a even a little known interface with Amerel - which became SLM Electronics - Crate/Audio Centron/Ampeg.

Here goes:

Around 1979, we were making the Electra brand in several factories in Japan. Masau Terada - maybe the best cosmetic designer I ever met was making our semi-thins, Kasuga (Hitoshi Aoyama - trading director) made most of the solid body "copies". A sales rep for SLM, Curt Trainer - one of my long term pals, said "we should make guitars with the effects built in", Gene Kornblum, owner of SLM said; "Tom, have at it!" As it happened, I had already made a miniture flanger (sounded really rank though), a rough analog delay using a bucket brigade chip and an Octive box and stuck them in a couple of old LP copies. They were simply bread boarded but as a skunk works it was pretty cool. I was able to get a magical 12 minutes of battery life when all were powered. That's where Amerel came in. John Karpowicz, another one of those; "Oh my God how does his brain fit in his head guys" - yep genius, owned this little electronics shop in St. Louis. Took the concept to John, and his guys - all smarter than I ever could be, found a way to re-design the "modules" and we started production of the "boxes". At that time, the first batches were actually potted. I couldn't afford the tooling for a plastic shell so we simply shot'm full of epoxy. To cut it the story short, that's where the Electra MPC was born. Then, something weird started happening. We started selling them faster than Kasuga could make them - plus, the Kasuga guitars were too heavy and had some problems with neck sets. That sent me on the road, looking for a new factory to make the MPCs and some other goof-ball designs that I had. Guess where they landed?

OK, so that was my first exposure to actually making guitars at Matsumoku. I messed around with Fuji, Chosun and Yamaha but after meeting Toshi Ohwa, I was sold on Matsumoku. In reality, the products that they were making were not all that much better than the others but Toshi and the rest of the production team actually wanted to make a more original and a better product. Ohwa-san was a nice player and actually had a feel of the "soul" of an instrument rather than just pounding out 10k guitars a month. Plus, he was an inventor too! They were making a bunch of Aria guitars for Shiro Arai - and had invested a little on the "Westone" brand in Europe. The Westone product in Europe was a collaboration between their London based distributor and Ohwa. The spec on the product was really nice. Craftsmanship was WAY above the norm for the typical production guitar at the time and the finishes were perfect. By in large, these were the Concords, Clipper and Thunder models. I was intrigued because there was a phase anomoly in the Thunders and a resonance node - (trapped 470hz) in the Concord. Naturally, as is my nature, I brought a dozen or so mixed models back to the US and started hacking on them. I though at first it was an electronic problem so I started messing with the pickup placement. No good. Then I mounted some Barcus Hot Dots in the body and neck and ran the sweep gen on a couple of them. Woops, neck and body phase issue. A quick thinning of the headstock and de-coupling the body from the neck and the phase cancel was gone. Not really, but it was moved so far away from B flat that it didn't matter. Gave Toshi a quick nod and he got it fixed quickly. You ever wonder why some of these guitars sound fantastic and others have a problem of sustain between "A" and "C". Yep, that's it. Some production actually got out with the phase out of alignment. Easy fix and the guys in Europe were able to take care of it. I actually saw one of the Thunders in concert and the guy had a C clamp on the headstock. That would certainly fix the phase.

Too geeky technical or wobble headed for you all?

As you may know, that's where the Westone and SLM relationship began. They wanted an American image, a player that was interested in helping them - they really didn't need it - and wanted someone to do some designs for them. For me? I was a freaking kid in a candy store! No, I take that back. I was a freaking kid in a candy factory! Willy Wonka here I come! I finally had a factory that had a true partnership, tooling and a budget.

We tooled up the Bendmaster I and II, Switchmaster Knobs, Bayonet Heels for the Cutaways - I was really pissed because Aria actually ended up with a couple of models with the heel - I had applied for a US Patent in '78 as a "Horizontal Dovetail" (never granted) and at that time I only had $1200 in my saving account so I couldn't fight it. The Unbalanced Coils were purely accidental. We had a set of Seymores and they were over cooking my test rig and I started pulling winds off of one of the coils on the kitchen table. Lana made a great pot roast and made me clear up my "mess". When I re-assembled the pickups, I used the wrong coils. One had about 200 turns less than the other. When we tested the pickups, we found out that the Histeresis was impacted. Not a whole lot of more noise than the original humbuckers but a much cleaner output. The by-product was that the tap actually worked better. So, I fattened up coil A some more and kept B about the same as the prototype and Westone ended up with the "Un-balanced Coil" pickups.

The Switchmasters were actually kind of an accident too. We were making a Spectrum for NAMM that was a really sweet Tama-Moku body with a bleached rosewood fingerboard and I wanted the knobs to be invisible. I turned a few wooden knobs in a cone design out of the body wood and drilled them out. I may have been a little blasted at the time - 3 or 4 Kirins - and ended up drilling ALL of them on the wrong end. OK, you all have been there. Stupid mistakes happen to musicians all of the time but for God sakes, why does it have to happen ONE day before NAMM. So, I stuck them on the proto and found out that you could pull up the tap with your little finger without slipping off! Matsumoku made the first ones out of zinc - added about 30 pounds to the guitar:) Too heavy - so the later ones were aluminium and later I had enough produciton to tool them in plastic. They never really caught on in the market place but I thought that they were absolutely fantastic!

I was broken hearted when Akira Takei - The father of Westone, told me that Japan Steel was selling the land that in Matsumoto. The factory was making a profit - not only on the guitars but the Japanese Shrines it was making. Turns out that the land was worth much more to them than several years of Matsumoto-Moku production. By that time, Akira, Toshi and several others were more than factory dudes. They were family. We took the designs, machines, tooling and PEOPLE and spread them out in factories throughout Japan and Korea. By this time, making guitars in Japan was getting very expensive. If I'd had the money at the time, I would have started production in our SLM Electronics factory in Yellville, Arkansas. I think that I still only had $1200.00 in my bank account so we went to Korea for some models, US SLM guitar shop for others using the parts that we shipped from the factory before it shut down.

There are many really wonderful stories about the gentlemen in the guitar business. Businessmen, Luthiers, Designers and Musicians alike, all with their individual perspectives and passion.

I was sincerely blessed to have a career that was a passion. I had one of those jobs that maybe only 20 or 30 people in the world had the chance to do and about 20 or 30 thousand "kids" would have given their soul to have a shot at doing.

Thanks for listening and allowing me to participate! You're not so glad to have asked for "more info" are you!

Sincerely,

Tom


Last edited by Admin on Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:22 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Made it very sticky!)

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by Warrn on Sun Jan 31, 2010 2:01 am

Not glad? That's just scraping the surface! You could write a thousand page book and I'd read it cover to cover. I'd still love to know who came up with the Rail basses, I loved my first one so much that I bought two more!

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by corsair on Sun Jan 31, 2010 3:01 am

Absolutely, Warrn; Tom - this is mind blowing stuff; I consider the Bendmaster Deluxe a great trem - I've had personalised fine tuners made for mine!! - and the Spectrum/Phoenix range are the ones that do it for me!! My 'special' guitar is an old X195 that a friend sent to me from Seattle: what a tonal palette it has - it cannot be mistaken for anything else and that's a good thing! Like all the lads in here, I'm a true believer as I've been playing a Matsumoku guitar for 30 years, both professionally and for fun.

I've gotta say "Thanks, mate - you are "the man", and we ALL owe a debt of gratitude to you. Anything else you care to share, I'm sure we're all ears!!

And, I reckon those Switchmaster knobs are brilliant, but to get replacements for a project is a soul destroying experience! David, over at Westone.info, had a batch made up which disappeared very quickly indeed - there are always people looking for them. I was quite surprised to learn that the Phoenix didn't have them but the Spectrums did....

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by silence86 on Sun Jan 31, 2010 9:01 am

You could write a thousand page book and I'd read it cover to cover.

That's right, i could read your posts the whole day. Of course I would also have some questions ...
for example i wonder if you know how to interpret the serial numbers on the matsumoku westones...we thought of the first digit standing for the year and the second and third digit standing for the month of production...however we are quite confused about the last 4 digits...

the other question would be about the "limited production" of the higher end panteras...do you still know how many were manufatured?

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Great post

Post by dhand60 on Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:47 am

I just joined this site because of you post, I have a lot of guitars but have always had a heart for electras and westones, Info like you are posting make collecting fun
I have a WESTONE STEVE LYNCH CORSAIR SIGNATURE , great guitar , dont know anything about it or what the enhancer does

thanks and keep posting

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by Barry on Sun Jan 31, 2010 1:24 pm

Hello again Tom, and thank you so much for taking the time to put all this down in writing!
You've got a dedicated fan base here and we're just aching for details about our beloved Mats guitars. So please do not think you are talking too much, or rambling, or that you're wasting anyone's time. We'll take all that you can give!

The word is 'out' that you're here, and I expect that this thread will grow some serious legs very quickly.
Thank you!

For those just picking up this thread
you'll find additional Mats information from Tom here: LINK



Last edited by Barry on Fri Mar 12, 2010 8:11 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by boutjp97 on Sun Jan 31, 2010 1:59 pm

Fascinating stuff. I don't want to turn this into a question answer thing making it work rather than enjoyment for you but... Embarassed ...how much of the Matsumoku legend do you attribute to the wood aging / drying method that the factory used? Who came up with the idea to age the wood instead of just banging out 10K guitars a month as you stated? I feel like the attention to this detail had a big impact on sound and quality as well as how well Matsumoku's have held up over the years, but I digress as I am in the company of the guy who was there and really knows the answer. If you get up the steam for a long informative post again (yes please) I will be waiting with baited breath as I am sure all of the board members are. And thank you for taking the time to post, I for one am grateful you still have a passion for these guitars and their history after all these years.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by Guest on Sun Jan 31, 2010 4:52 pm

Can you please clarify some things that have puzzled me for years?

I've seen a few web pages that say (Without any supporting evidence) that SLM basically acquired the rights to the Westone name in 1984, and contracted Matsumoku to produce the guitars. There are some things that seem to contradict that though, for instance the UK/European catalogues make no mention of SLM at all, everything is described as 'a Matsumoku product' What was the business relationship between SLM and Matsumoku?

Were certain guitars targetted at particular (regional) markets? (eg the UK/Europe seem to have had the Spectrum Series II guitars, the Corsairs seem to be for the US market)

Finally - lots of people have said that the quality of the Korean made Westones was little different to the Matsumoku guitars, but there are clearly some instances where this is not the case, particularly in relation to the later (88/89) Thunder II 6 string and bass, where the quality of the woods used is abysmal (Poorly seasoned, cracked bodiews, badly filled and painted before the filler was dry). Why the discrepancy? It almost looks like there were two different production lines going.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by norfolkngood on Sun Jan 31, 2010 6:08 pm

Thanks for sharing the history on here; compulsive reading cheers cheers cheers

Do you (or maybe anyone else on here) know what happened to the production records? I've read that there was a fire at the factory but wonder if that's a bit of an urban myth.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by AndyGoblin on Sun Jan 31, 2010 6:11 pm

I'm no great tech head but I found your post fascinating Tom, thanks for sharing it and like everyone else here I'd love to hear more

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Answers - Questions - Answers . . . etc . . .

Post by tpresley on Mon Feb 01, 2010 4:21 pm

First, let me say thanks to those of you who have thought kindly of the work that the SLM and Matsumoku teams did over the years.

Second, I'd like to answer a few questions that came up from the previous threads.

Rail Basses and Guitars - Remember that I advised you earlier that I'd take credit for all of the instuments that you liked? Well, I lied. Some of you indicate that the you really liked the Rail. In the interest of truth and disclosure, I have to say that the Rail was the inspiration of Ohwa-san.

Once the juices for invention started flowing at Matsumoku, Ohwa-san really came alive. During one of my visits, Ohwa started bringing out instruments of all sorts, of which one was the Rail Bass. I immediately liked the thing. There were some very interesting acoustical dynamics. The rails actually could be "tuned" and the resonance point of the pickup could be placed EXACTLY where you wanted. Those of you that played Roto-Sound know by now that the metal density of a string controls the elasticity and subsequent Compression and Rarefaction of the sound wave. So, we could move the pickup to best impact the resonance of the bass AND its relationship to the amp/speaker team. Toshi played around with neck set angle, centerline and scale and ended up with a really unique bass. The guitar was another story altogther. I messed around with it for months - filled the tubes with quickset foam, epoxy and a bunch of other RTV solutions and could never get rid of the resonance ring and harmonic feedback. I think that the rails became an instrument of their own. The bass frequencies, on the other hand, were low enough on the table that it was never an overbearing problem.

Serial Numbers - This is a mind blower and I'm sure that I have the formula somewhere. I'm a pack rat and there's a little known spot in my boxes of notes, drawings, balsa guitar body models, clay renderings and other junk, where the serial numbers formulas, production notes and mechanicals, live. Someday, I hope to find the "spot" but for now, it's elusive.

I do know that we made 96 of the 390 class Pantera models in various colors. There were only about 48 of the curly maple ones made world wide, and only a "few" with the Bendmaster. Most maples were made without trem and others with the Kahler. Yep, I'd like to have one of those too! Tim Harmon, a long term associate of mine has one. If I ever get more than $1,200.00 in my savings account I'm going to try to get it from him. After all, he has a bunch of my prototypes in his studio - several one of a kind, purely customs. If you're reading this Tim, I'd like to have it! And, by the way, Trevor has MY Pantera and refuses to give it back. It was the first production Pantera 390 in the Caspian Blue. I want it back too and my son has told him so but he just won't do it Smile

Harmonic Enhancer - Two types were made, active and passive. The actives were a combination of a compession, frequency comb and fixed parametric. They compressed the 400 to 2200k range and combed at the pot variable. So, you'd find your sweet spot, depending on the room dynamics, and you'd get some really sweet "alto" tones. Eventually we added a bass roll-off to the circuit to control some of the "wump thump". Passive models were really a notch filter that was designed to pass mid-range and filter low and high frequencies.

Wood Aging - Wow, this could get opinionated and really kind of stupid but the original question had to do with the impact of the wood age and the structural and audio quality of the Matsumoku instruments. As some of you know, I was primarily an Acoustic Guitar designer with Alvarez and K. Yairi prior to the Electra and Westone time. So, the concept of wood age and quality of the wood is really important in that venue. As far as structure, yes, the aging (drying) of the wood is key. The density of the wood is also important to the structure, weight distribution as well as audio properties. Dense woods have a higher resonant point than lighter woods. Wet woods don't really resonate. Making a guitar with wet product, leads to cracking and decomposition when it dries. Did Matsumoku have better wood? Not really. We did Kiln dry the Canadian Maples, Sugar Maples and Rosewoods till most of the inherent moisture was cooked out so it was our best method of insuring a clean build. The most important factor however was the factory location. Matsumoto is up in the Japanese Alps. Dry air, cool and crisp - just right for making guitars and storing lumber for open air drying. OK, so why can Yamaha make nice guitars in Taiwan, where it is 90% humid ALL the time when it's not 90%, it's raining? It's YAMAHA! They spent about a zillion dollars and air conditioned their 585,000 square foot factory and placed climate controls on their lumber! Korean instruments, have a problem unless there's a very strict climate control on the wood AND factory floor. I could almost tell you that Samick product made during wet summer months would blow up, reverse bow their necks and pull finderboards away at the 12th fret. They didn't sound very nice either. Aged wood? Good. Dry wood? Good. Wet wood? Bad. You know, you never hear about the really nice aged spruce that was sent to Bogar, Indonesia for manufacture in the Samick factory. The truth is that the aged, very nice, dry spruce ended up getting wet and moldy during the 100% humidity in the factory. Result, cracked wood and nasty finishes. Summary, the environment where the wood is stored and manufactured prior to finishing is as important as the quality of the paticular wood.

Westone Name? - Matsumoku owned the Westone name solely until SLM came along. We were given the name in the United States in exchange for our partnership. We really didn't want to invest the intellectual property in the brand unless we had a controlling interest in the name and design and distribution rights in the U.S. Akira Takei, the factory's trading director, set up Westone distributors throughout the rest of the world. Most, but not all, took advantage of the US designed and designated models. After Matsumoku closed, Akria acquired the name for all world markets with the exception of the U.S. where SLM retained the name and production rights. Akira, still handled world distribution but I think, eventually transferred the name to one of his distributors.

SLM never imported nor controlled production of the Thunder product. We really only distributed instruments that we, and in collaboration with Matsumoku, designed. While the Thunder, and other purely Matsumoku products, were fantastic instruments, I didn't feel it appropriate for SLM to take credit. Another mitigating factor was the SLM guitar shop. Those instruments designed of specified by us, were carefully checked and set up by the 11 luthiers in St. Louis. We could compare the spec to the production and reject product that was out of range. If we didn't have the original design metrics, it was impossible to control the quality.

Production Records - I've lost track of Akira in the last 10 years and he had access to many of the Matsumoku production docs. The last time I spoke with him, he was going to work for Toyota finding exotic wood for their high end Lexus class interiors! If anyone knows where he is, I'd really like to know too! The rumors about the records being destroyed in a factory fire is news to me. The last time I saw the factory, it was in fine shape and tooling, wood storage and office equipment was being moved out. I think that it's an "Urban Legend." On the other hand, when Samick burned down in Korea, it took about 1500 of my Alvarez Regent acoustic guitars with it! But that's another story in itself.

I've had a number of personal e-mail questions about the Bendmaster, Flip Flop finishes, types of wood and resonance points of wood relative to guitars in general, and will get to them as quickly as I can.

Some have asked why I stayed away from the guitar biz for so long. Simple answers; - burnout, the industry shifted from one of ingenuity and inventiveness, to "let's make it cheaper" and finally, legal issues/non-disclosure order/employment contract with SLM etc. So, in the meantime, I've worked as a Practice/Product Manager, Solutions Architect Engineer for Matrix Integration and assisted in the production of the 'till Dawn demo album for Lucid Hue. I still wind an occasional pickup, design a few acoutsics and electics for pals and enjoy sitting around, over a beer or two, discussing this magical guitar industry.

That's about all I can do for now, since I do have an actual job to attend to. I hope that this info provides some entertainment for you.

Cheers!

Tom

I'll be checking back every now and again to see how you all are doing and if there are other questions or comments.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by grogg on Mon Feb 01, 2010 5:18 pm

Fascinating stuff, really appreciate the time you have spent.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by Warrn on Mon Feb 01, 2010 6:40 pm

Thanks again for the additional info, Tom! I definitely do love my Rail basses, and have gotten many compliments when using them on stage. I've had a few guys tell me they'd never match up to a good solid body bass, but to me they have a thump like no other. Their slap bass tone is truly outstanding! I don't know how much of the Rail's sound comes from its pickup, but it is certainly the nicest sounding humbucker I have ever had the pleasure to use. Do you know how the rails were tuned, or what they were tuned to?

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by hendrik on Tue Feb 02, 2010 12:39 am

Thanks Tom for all the information.

I love my CONCORDS and SPECTRUMS.
As I found my 1st CONCORD I was stunned by the guitar.
After I laid my hands on my 1st SPECTRUM I got the virus. And it saved me from some problems and put my life into a different direction.

Now I have two Concords and 3 Spectrums (ST, SX, LX) and the Spectrum LX bass with the changeable necks.
Another brilliant design.

May I ask you about a few more things?
It seems to me that MATSUMOKU also produced a lot of guitars for IBANEZ.
Is that right?

Thanks and all the best

H.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by Guest on Wed Feb 03, 2010 12:46 pm

we made 96 of the 390 class Pantera models in various colors. There were only about 48 of the curly maple ones made world wide

Those guitars tend to fetch more than most other westones already (390CBs usually go for about £600 in the UK) - once word spreads about how few there are, I suspect prices will go through the roof.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by Warrn on Wed Feb 03, 2010 1:13 pm

So... don't spread it?

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Matsumoku "monument"

Post by Barry on Thu Feb 04, 2010 10:14 pm

There's a fascinating post over in the Matsumoku forum which some of you might find interesting: LINK

A new Japanese member who lives in Matsumoto (Nagano) has posted some pictures of a Matsumoku "tombstone" memorial (never heard of it before). Apparently he lives practically beside the site of the original Mats factory! He also has an amazing collection of Mats guitars, and some pictures of the FujiGen plant which he calls the "Second Matsumoku".

I thought it fit in with the spirit of this thread rather nicely.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by anaerobe on Thu Feb 11, 2010 1:19 pm

Wow - is all I can say, this is a great post. Thanks Tom. Good of you to post such an extensive list of detail in this vein, most of us have very little info about our guitars. My x70 is one of my favourites, I love the neck pup in this guitar.

Ian

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Pantera Deluxe x350MA

Post by prosonic on Thu Feb 11, 2010 2:36 pm

I'm new to the forum, but a long time musician. I have owned my westone for about 5 years. I love it and enjoy playing it as much (if not more) than my 84 Les Paul custom. The craftsmanship is absolutely beautiful and it plays like a dream. It is a Pantera Deluxe X350MA. No, I'm not interested in selling it, but yes I have some questions:
How many of them were made?

How valuable is it? I have the original, locking, hardshell case with key, the catalogue that it came out in, and it has a sticker on the cover for the control wiring that says: Adjusted at SLM Guitar Shop by:(technician's signature)

The only defects are a small indention through the finish on the back, topside of the neck above 3rd fret, and the finish has cracked slightly on the front around the outline of the recessed hole in back. Where can I have it repaired and still maintain it's value? I absolutely LOVE this guitar, and I would love to have it restored back to perfect condition, but the blemishes are only cosmetic, and I might be better off to leave them alone.

Please help if you can, thank you

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Reply to prosonic

Post by umpdv5000 on Fri Feb 12, 2010 4:52 am

prosonic wrote:I'm new to the forum, but a long time musician. I have owned my westone for about 5 years. I love it and enjoy playing it as much (if not more) than my 84 Les Paul custom. The craftsmanship is absolutely beautiful and it plays like a dream. It is a Pantera Deluxe X350MA. No, I'm not interested in selling it, but yes I have some questions:
How many of them were made?

How valuable is it? I have the original, locking, hardshell case with key, the catalogue that it came out in, and it has a sticker on the cover for the control wiring that says: Adjusted at SLM Guitar Shop by:(technician's signature)

The only defects are a small indention through the finish on the back, topside of the neck above 3rd fret, and the finish has cracked slightly on the front around the outline of the recessed hole in back. Where can I have it repaired and still maintain it's value? I absolutely LOVE this guitar, and I would love to have it restored back to perfect condition, but the blemishes are only cosmetic, and I might be better off to leave them alone.

Please help if you can, thank you

I am not an expert on Westone guitars, but I am a professional guitar repair / luthier. I can tell you that unless the damage to the finish you speak of is substantial, it wouldn't matter to a collector or a player. All finish problems are rectifiable and very often without being able to notice that it has been done, but in doing this you always run the risk of going overboard which can make the finish look un-original. Collectors like everything to be original (battle scars and all) and a true player would simply look through knocks and bangs into what the guitar had to offer as an instrument. I hope this helps.

Martin.

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Matsumoku Finishes

Post by Barry on Sat Feb 13, 2010 4:44 pm

Hello Tom, and again, many thanks for your participation and contributions thusfar! I hope you're still connected to this forum and interested in receiving more questions.

Many here have had the dubious "pleasure" of trying to strip or otherwise refinish a MATS guitar. This has been necessary in some cases because of severe abuse and was the only road to restoration.
Other folks just didn't like the colour!

Whatever the reasons, one thing is unanimous...the finish on these guitars is tough as nails and reduces grown men to tears trying to remove it!
I believe the prevailing information here is that these were a catalyzed polyester finish. I recently had a whole buncha fun refinishing a Vantage Avenger which was suffering from a previous botched attempt by the former owner. I ended up redoing the guitar in a similar colour which helped to hide the originally finished areas which despite my efforts just would not completely lift out. Others here have vowed "never again" after having attempted a refinish!

Can you comment on this please, along with any corollary information such as how it was applied, where the paint, colours, etc., originated? Much appreciated.

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by colt933 on Tue Feb 16, 2010 2:53 pm

This is FREAKIN' AWESOME!

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Questions Answers More Questions More Answers

Post by tpresley on Tue Mar 09, 2010 9:38 pm

Sorry for the long delay in getting back on forum. Somewhere along the line, I actually had to spend some time thinking about my job at Matrix.

I've enjoyed many of your comments and questions both here on the forum and those that have e-mailed or called me directly. It's great to see the enthusiasm for the Westone brand and the Matsumoku product in general.

Several of you have asked for some pricing guidelines on various Westones and I have to admit that I've not paid much attention to the value of the instruments over time. These things are like my kids. You know the comment; "Dad always like you better!" "I'm worth more than my brother!" I will say that I'm surprised at some of the prices of the instruments but will also say that compared to many of the guitars that I've recently played, the Westones are worth a bunch more!

Here is a summary and response to some of the questions that have come up over the last month or so:

"These finishes are thick. Poly, Catalytic, What the heck are they?"

The answer is - it depends on the series and the timeline. We made several models that had only seal coat stains, rubbed oil, Poly and Catalytics with very high solid content. I even messed with UV cured solids. I imagine that the basic quesiton surrounds the Poly and Catalytics.

Akira Takei had a relationship with an employee at one of the Toyota plants near Tokyo and on one of my first trips to Matsumoku, we hopped on the Shinkansen and headed there. We saw a bunch of the new flop finishes, pearls and some experimental finishes being produced by Gen-Gen. They were doing all kinds of electro static finishing and since Akira was a negotiating animal, we cut a deal and had them shoot some of our hardware in a jet black finish and we picked up a bunch of new colors including some of the flop metalics for Westone. And, as you have already guessed, several of these were Catalytic finishes and when they harden, they are almost indestructable! As it happened, the Gen-Gen paint turned out to be Imron. Those of you that are into the 2 part paints know that they have magical elasticity and are not impacted by environment. But . . . they are really tough to work with. Make a mistake and the buff out and sand down is a almost impossible. I've stripped a few and about threw out the bodies rather than cooking them down. Nothing short of industrial caustics will cut it once the finish is reacted.

"Doesn't the thick finish cause acoustic problems?"

There's an argument in the question. The answer; yes. Does it effect an electic guitar? Not much if any. I've taken literally hundreds of the Matsumoku guitars apart, built some with no finish, some with Imron, Lacquer and Oil finish and what I can tell you is that there are many other factors that contribute to the audio property of a solid body. During one exercise, we had a particular Spectrum which sounded like crap. I stripped it and did a limited sand down on the body. When I re-assembled it, it still sounded like crap. Changed pickups, crap. Changed electonics - crap. Changed out the neck - fantastic. Ok, now I'm pissed. Why would the hard maple, very solid neck with a rosewood fingerboard cause such a calamity? Pulled the fingerboard and found that the "U" channel had a crack in it almost all the way up the neck. The truss was simply messing with the sound. I've also re-fitted necks to re-finished instruments and been able to seriously impact the tone by simply placing wire window screen between the body and the neck. The wire screen embeds in both the neck and the body and changes the structural integrity of the joint. By the way, this is a very old but cool trick to make a Strat neck stable on a worn joint. Dan Armstrong turned me on to this early in my years. So does finish make a difference in the sound? Anyone out there ready for an argument? There's never going to be a winner in that one.

"Have you ever considered bringing back the Pantera or working with a factory to make a replica?"

There are likely legal issues around this since SLM owned the name and owned me at the time. Most of the concepts and intellectual properties that our team developed were Gene Kornblum's domain. When Gene sold SLM, he also sold the mechanical properties to Loud as well. The Westone brand is likely another matter as once abandoned as an SLM brand, it may have gone back to public domain. As far as the guitar itself, I'm not really convinced that it could be made in anything other than very limited production lots. The radius on the body is difficult and due to the curvature of the body, it takes a REALLY thick piece of wood to carve with the concave back. Also, the neck construction requires a compound cut. Some of you have noticed that the radius on the neck is oblique and has almost an egg shape. Combine this with the compound radius on the original fingerboards and it is a production work of art.

"I saw one of your seminars in Dayton, Ohio in the mid to late 80s and you showed some of your prototypes - some labeled Electra, some Westone, some Alvarez and another group with A.L. They were some of the most beautiful guitars I'd ever seen. What's the story?"

Gary, it's great to hear from you after 20 odd years. Your question poked a bunch of memory cells. I hauled around 16 or so one-offs and pre-production guitars to focus group the designs prior to putting them into any kind of build out. They were all using production hardware and tweaked necks. The brands were chosen randomly to determine if brand association had any psycho acoustic effect with the focus groups. The "A.L" brand was the "American Luthier" brand I was attempting to launch using some designs done by small, well established Luthiers in the U.S. These guys were entrepeneurs with incredible talent that was NEVER recognized because they didn't have any distribution or manufacturing channel. My idea was to give them just that. Give them a brand, let them get recognized by name and build some of the most beautiful instruments in the world at Matsumoku and Yairi. I held the idea close and didn't really pass it to SLM until I had market analysis completed. Frankly, I also wanted an outlet for our skunk works guitars in the SLM shop and a place to market some of my own stuff. Once presented to SLM ownership, the idea was given about 5 minutes of consideration and scrapped. I think in passing that we were putting most of our efforts in the Crate brand and upcoming Yellville plant, leaving no room for another market push. So, I kept a few of the instruments, worked some into the Westone and Alvarez operational brands under "Signature" and moved on.

Again, I'm sorry for the long posts but once I get started I CAN'T STOP! Thanks for listening!

Tom

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by corsair on Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:43 pm

Mate; we are not worthy!! Thank you!

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

Post by Barry on Wed Mar 10, 2010 8:48 am

Many thanks for the new info on the finishes, et al. Great stuff Tom!
As I've said before, you can't talk too much in this place!

I'm sure there are still lots of questions, large and small, to come from forum members but if I may:

  • Did you have any luck locating that box of archival "goodies" you alluded to some time ago...you know, the one with production and serial numbering information? You're probably aware that we're taking our best guess as to when models were made. It seems to be a relatively consistent pattern but only as it applies to the first number (year). If you can clarify the numbering system it would be greatly appreciated.


  • A related request includes any catalogues or other documentation that you might be able to (legally) copy and share with us. Again, what we have is spotty, and gathered and contributed as a labour of love. It would be fantastic if there was something more inclusive and descriptive. Component specifications of course would be the ultimate!


  • I'd also be interested in knowing to what extent, if any, you were involved in other Matsumoku "labels", particularly the Aria Pro II and Vantage lines. Regardless of headstock design and other "trim" details there is no mistaking that you're playing a Mats when you pick it up; at least the solid bodies. I've just obtained an Aria Pro II Urchin for example, and there's no mistaking the neck and playability. Close your eyes and it could easily be a Westone Spectrum or a Vantage Avenger. Can you comment on the technical overlap between the lines? It looks like Westone designs and innovations hugely influenced the other labels.


  • Finally, if possible, can you comment on the the thinking behind the Marketing strategy relative to that last question? I've always maintained that there were too many similar Mats guitars flooding the market with not nearly enough features to differentiate them, not even within the same label. The overall effect I think was to water down the attributes of a hugely innovative instrument maker. Outside of some small dedicated groups of followers, no one brand ever properly established itself as being a viable alternative to the big name players of the time. Brilliant instruments but lousy Marketing methinks.
Cheers!

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Re: Westone - US Design - Development History

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