Guitars made by Greco have attracted a devoted following of both professional and amateur guitar players for decades. Mostly known as one of the first clone guitar companies, Greco was a Japanese company that produced replicas of popular American guitars at a lower cost. These replicas became so high in quality that in some instances, they became more respected than the originals.
The Greco Guitar Story
The Greco guitar story starts in 1948 in Japan.
- 1948: Musical instrument wholesaler company Kanda Shokai forms in Japan.
- Late 1950s: Yuichiro Yokouchi, a dairy farmer in Japan, struggles to succeed and decides to sell his cattle and reinvests his money in launching a guitar company.
- May 1960: Yokouchi forms the Fujigen guitar company and rebuilds his cattle pen into a guitar factory. He and Yutaka Mimura begin manufacturing classical guitars for Japanese companies Kanda Shokai and Kamano Gakki. Fujigen's logo is Mt. Fuji surrounded by three guitars.
- July 1960: Fujigen's classical guitars win first prize in the Matsumoto Woodwork Festival held in Matsumoto City, Nagano.
- October 1962: Fujigen begins making its first electric guitars, and these include the guitars from Greco, which are distributed to Goya Guitar Company in New York City. However, when some of the guitars' headstocks break in transit, Goya cancels some of its orders. Fujigen sells its dead inventory to Kanda Shokai, and this begins the Kanda Shokai involvement with Greco.
- 1967: Kanda Shokai begins releasing in Japan its first duplicates of famous American guitars.
- 1968-1970: Goya distributes the Shrike model of the Greco guitar, which becomes famous for its boomerang-shaped pickups.
- 1970: The first duplicates of Gibson Les Paul guitars, the EG-360 models, are released.
- 1970-1972: Kustom Electronics buys the U.S. distribution rights for Greco's guitars.
- 1976-1982: The first Fender Stratocaster duplicates, the SE-800 models, are released.
- 1978: Greco's Ibanez and Destroyer duplicates are released.
- 1979: A new original line of Greco guitars, the Super Real Series, begins, though it is not produced for very long.
- 1980s: Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley plays Greco Les Paul duplicates when he tours Japan. Elliot Easton, guitarist for The Cars, also plays a Greco guitar.
- 1982: The Greco SE-800, and many other models, end when Kanda Shokai becomes a part of Fender Japan.
- 1982-1990: A new line, the Mint Collection Series, are released, although they're only made for a limited time. Their trademark look includes a new Greco logo that features an open "O," a feature that would end when the "O" was closed on later Greco models.
Some of the most valuable guitars to collect are Greco's Super Real models, the Mint Collection series with the open "O" logo, and the Gibson and Fender duplicates because these models are no longer made. The following descriptions and videos provide details about Greco's most popular guitars.
Mint Collection Series
The Mint Collection Series produced some of Greco's finest sounding guitars, and rarest. Its Les Paul duplicates look identical to Gibson's classic guitars, with the same warm humbucker sound and iconic sunburst. The telltale sign of a valuable Mint Collection guitar is the open "O" in the Greco logo at the top of the guitar.
Greco RS-90 Super Real
This slimline archtop is another example of Greco's incredible craftsmanship. It has a figured top, back and sides, mother-of-pearl and abalone fret inlays, and a real tortoise shell binding. The bone nut, rosewood fingerboard, and Grover tuners combine with the rest of this guitar's feature to create a stunning instrument inside and out.
Greco Stratocaster Duplicate
The Greco Strat duplicates captured the sound and look of the famous Fender original that it eventually earned Greco a lawsuit from the American guitar company. Its careful cut, just like a Fender's shape, and its slim body design demonstrated Greco's commitment to Fender's legendary products.
The Shrike is one of Greco's original models, and it certainly turned heads with its bizarre design: boomerang-shaped pickups that look like something from a sci-fi movie. Some of the arch-top, hollow bodies of the Shrike models were truly beautiful and when combined with the unique pickups, produced one of Japan's finest and most original contributions to guitars.
Not All Grecos Are Born Equal
While many of the high-end rare guitars from Greco have truly phenomenal designs, not every Greco ever made has possessed the same quality. As guitar collectors have noted in forums, occasionally--not very often, mind you--you will come across a Greco that is not high-quality. For this reason, even though Greco has an overall good reputation, it pays to ask the seller questions before buying.
Where to Buy
The following stores are some of the best places to locate quality Grecos--even the rarest models.
Reverb might win the prize for the best place to buy a Greco online, simply because of its large selection; as many as 200-300 guitars by Greco are sometimes available to peruse. Because of its large selection, you will find Grecos beginning around $400 all the way to several thousand for rare models. You will also likely find every major model and era of Greco guitar, ranging from good to excellent condition.
While this store does not have a huge selection of Grecos, Guitar Center is consistently stocked with at least a handful of Grecos at any given time. Sometimes you can find them as cheap as around $500, and from there they go up to multiple thousands if it is an ultra-rare guitar. You will also usually find a good range of models from every decade that Greco's guitars were made.
BuyCheapr is an aggregate site that compiles links to ebay and Amazon and places them all in one place. For this reason, it is a convenient way to browse ebay and Amazon quickly without having to scroll through those sites separately. The site's user experience can be a little frustrating, however, because it mixes other products--guitar accessories and other guitars--in with its Greco results, so you have to look carefully through each page to pick out the guitars by Greco.
Japan Vintage Guitars
There are some clear negatives about Japan Vintage Guitar. It has a very small inventory, and it does not publish the prices of its guitars. You must contact them if you're interested in a guitar to find out the price. (Or perhaps they want to haggle.) Regardless, if you're desperately looking for an ultra-rare Greco, it's worth stopping this site because it's dedicated solely to Japanese vintage guitars. It just might have the diamond in the rough that you want.
Joe's Vintage Guitars
Similar to Japan Vintage Guitars, Joe's site does not have a large selection. However, it does specialize in very rare models. It is more transparent about prices than Japan Vintage, and its biggest strength is it publishes detailed descriptions of the guitars so you come away well-informed about any product that interests you.
Make Sure It's Not a Forged Vintage Guitar
A crucial tip for any newcomer to vintage guitar shopping: always contact the owner of the site or the guitar and ask questions. In preparation for asking those questions, do your homework about what parts real vintage guitars should have.
Many vintage guitars are mixed bags. Some parts of the guitar are original, some are not. Some people even make forgeries of alleged vintage guitars. When you mine the forums where veteran guitar collectors chat around the watercooler, vintage guitar forgeries are always a hot topic because it is a common problem.
If you don't know where to start in researching authentic vintage guitars, read Gruhn's Guide To Vintage Guitars Updated and Revised Third Edition to educate yourself.
One of Japan's Finest Musical Legacies
The Greco guitar is another example that America, though a remarkable trendsetter in the twentieth century, doesn't have a monopoly on the stories that have shaped modern music. Japan has had its own legacy, and the Greco guitar has been one of its finest.