81 Westone Rainbow I · a little piece of guitar history

Once upon a time in high school, I had long hair. I didn’t have a lot of ambition, no real goals to speak of or dreams worth sharing; I was a pretty average, simple kinda kid. All I really wanted was to be a guitar-wielding demi-god in a band. Nothing major. Jimmy Page, Kurt Cobain, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Nick Cave, Ed Kuepper… I wanted to be that. Or pretty much anyone from Radiohead, REM, Guns’n’Roses, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure, Toad The Wet Sprocket… you get the idea. My tastes were a mess varied in a very pre-cultured way. So for a kid with no real ambition, I had a lot of ambition. Problem was: I didn’t know a single thing about playing guitar. I just hung out with musicians and thought “that’s what I want”. I recall a Sunday afternoon way back in early 1990-something listening to Richard Kingsmill (Triple J) play Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy in its entirety – and that was a life changing moment. I couldn’t rest until I learned No Quarter and Over The Hills & Far Away. So I had to find a guitar.

I’ll jump forward a few years here, during which I befriended people based on their guitar collection rather than the quality of their soul. In fact , if any of their relatives owned a guitar, that was adequate. One such friend had an older brother (Hi Susan! Hi Andrew!) who owned a lovely guitar, but had moved onto bass. Or drums. Or glockenspiel… I really don’t recall details, other than that he had this beautiful guitar in the corner that looked just like a 1959 Gibson ES-335. I had to have it. I knew nothing about it (and little more than that about playing it) but I was completely smitten. If my memory serves, he wasn’t all that interested in anything with 6 strings at this stage and had picked up the French Horn. He sold that guitar to me for about $100 and thus was born my passion for guitar.

“Being a musician is akin to a fool’s game. It involves utter faith in yourself; and it’s a game of exploring, documenting and ultimately exposing every personal weakness & vulnerability, every mistake and heartache – and trying to look wonderful while doing it.”

I’ll jump forward a few more years here. For years I played in a band that saw little success in any definable financial sense (other than beer and travel expenses) and certainly no lasting commercial identity. This guitar lived its life largely in an open C6 tuning, used purely to play Led Zeppelin‘s Bron-Yr-Aur to open our set each night. That’s it – that was the extent to which I used this beautiful instrument, and I can only redeem that by saying I think I did the song proud. At least I hope I did! I take my hat off to people like Jack Carty, Simon & Melinda from The Falls, Heather Fay, Ryan Van Sickle – being a musician is akin to a fool’s game. It involves utter faith in yourself; and it’s a game of exploring, documenting and ultimately exposing every personal weakness & vulnerability, every mistake and heartache – and trying to look wonderful while doing it. The road to success is long, painful and lonely. I couldn’t walk it with the band I was in, and only now years later do I find the heart and desire to even think about trying it again. And it’s all thanks to this guitar:)

Matsumoku '81 Westone Rainbow I · Canadian Ash

The actual ’81 ‘Rainbow I’ seen in the Westone catalog. Varnished Canadian Ash top. Serial: 104842

So: the guitar Andrew sold me is a little piece of history. Matsumoku Industries made exceptionally fine ‘affordable’ guitars in Japan before their parent company, “Singer” (famous for sewing machines), encountered hardship. The name Westone is famous among guitar enthusiasts for the very finest craftsmanship at a price musicians could afford. To this day, their earlier instruments are highly prized and eagerly sought after by those that know their quality. They are a very passionate bunch – and their forum members have been very helpful in my recent efforts to learn more about this lovely instrument .

The Rainbow has quite a complex genealogy. There are three Rainbows (Rainbow I, II & III) and the first has three ‘versions’, each with unique identifying characteristics. I discovered not only was mine one of the first (being the earliest of forebears, the Rainbow I) – but that it was identifiable as the “version 1” due to the shape of the F-holes, the brass nut and… wait. Here I was, pawing over the original 1981 Westone catalog (pictured below). The beautiful grain of that Canadian Ash top. More importantly, the very unique grain. It was eerily familiar. I examined it with excruciating care; each minute detail and nuance – and I began to get excited. Utterly disbelieving, but excited. The catalog instrument was the one sitting in the case beside me; there was no doubt in my mind. The actual very same instrument they photographed for the catalog. And after a few ‘expert’ eyes from the Westone Guitars forums had wandered over both images, there was little to no doubt remaining. It had to be that instrument used to photograph the catalog! How it came to be in a bedroom in Sydney, Australia is anyone’s guess. I have been in touch with Andrew and he recalls buying it from Turramurra music – beyond that, there’s no trail.

1981 Westone Catalog

1981 Westone Catalog

I had left it stored it in Sydney for over 8 years, and it had travelled wonderfully considering the inherent risks. Having discovered the historical value of my guitar, I decided to use a professional to help me restore it properly. Apart from the missing scratch plate (which I recall removing in about 2002 – I still maintain it looks better without!) it was in exceptionally good condition, with all original parts. The wiring is still solid, the pots and jack still great. The neck is without doubt the most beautiful I have ever played; the action quite simply made for me. A huge thanks to Rob at Guitar World in Rockingham – you did a wonderful job! That dicky switch hasn’t missed a tick since I left the shop mate; fingers crossed!

Rob, Guitar World Rockingham

Rob, Guitar World Rockingham

Two questions I have been asked repeatedly: what is this guitar worth, and is it for sale? Well, it’s value is really an unknown. They were never “top end” guitars, and the price of the day back in 1981 was about £197 (source: 1981 catalog). I bought it for about AUD$150 in 1994 (Andrew – I know you paid about that for  it, but surely Turramurra had their pricing all wrong – unless it was second hand?). I’ve been offered AUD$1,000 for it, and I’m not even slightly interested. It could be worth $500, it could be worth $2000 – it all depends what someone is willing to pay. So, question the second: is it for sale? Absolutely not. I own an electric/acoustic Maton EM325 (c1998) and a c’95 Gibson Les Paul Standard. They are both exceptionally fine instruments, and arguably I am not worthy of either of them. What I do know is: this Westone Rainbow I is the match of either of them, with some to spare. It is a breath-taking instrument to play, and I wouldn’t part with it for any money.

Now I’m off to learn Bron-Yr-Aur again, and hopefully do this fine instrument a good turn. Enjoy the photographs; please leave comments/questions. But first, here’s some answers from the FAQ files:

  • I don’t know any more about Matsumoku than you can find here on wikipedia.
  • The best resource for information about Westone Guitars is westoneguitars.net – maintained by Barry Eames.
  • The value of your Westone is what you are willing to part with it for. I can’t advise you any further!

Enjoy the photos! The Catalog 1981 Westone Rainbow I (version 1). Name: “Spades”

Links:

http://www.westoneguitars.net/

Guitar World (Rockingham) – Facebook page

Jack Carty · The Falls · Heather Fay · Ryan Van Sickle