Kawai evaluation. Spoiler alert: It’s pretty knackered.

So I found an hour the other day to start really examining my cheesy late 60s guitar purchase, the Kawai SS4L I bought last week.

The first impression that this could be a mighty fine guitar still holds, but I am now more intimidated by the amount of work needed to get it into playing shape.

Let’s summarize what I know so far.


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The mounting plate on the back is in horrible shape and there seems no saving it. I have already taken it off, probably permanently.

As noted previously, the tuners are missing. Or in fact it looks like bits such as the posts, keys, gears have been ripped off for use somewhere else. The nice front mounting plate remains though. So I will try to keep it. The sub-assembly on the back is knackered and bent and probably not useful once I buy new tuners for the guitar.

Like the tuner mounting plate on the front of the headstock

The tuner mounting plate on the front of the headstock is nice and distinctive. I hope I can buy tuners to fit through it

Further down the neck the string guides and truss-rod cover look OK. But who knows what the nut is like.

Sting guides, truss rod cover and nut

Sting guides, truss rod cover and nut

The frets are really really small and low profile. Maybe this is why it is used so much for slide? But I will want the option to play it normally. So let’s see down the road if that is possible. If not then a re-fret by a professional will be necessary.

Semi floating bridge

Semi floating bridge

The bridge is there and not attached. Unlike the Fender guitars I am more used to, this is semi-floating and will rely on string pressure to keep it down. I say semi-floating because i also have my Ibanez ES175 copy where he bridge is not attached in any way. The thumb wheels remind me of a Tunomatic.

I don’t understand the vibrato system at all. It looks cool from the outside, but when I take off the cover I don’t get how it moves. It doesn’t feel springy. Maybe with strings on?

Vibrato assembly from above

Vibrato assembly in context

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Vibrato assembly

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Inside the vibrato assembly: What is going on?

The neck plate is has a nice “Japan” stamp on it. I read on a forum that it might actually be a set neck and not bolt-on at all, but Teisco / Kawai just wanted to make it look like a Fenders, so they screwed on a plate. I haven’t taken it off to check.

Neck plate stamped "Japan" Merely cosmetic?

Neck plate stamped “Japan” Merely cosmetic?

Whole lotta switches

The front of the guitar is taken up with three metal scratch-plates. One in the centre of the guitar holds the four pickups. Another chrome plate on the upper bout has holes where two pairs of rocker switches used to be. The third on the lower bout holds the master tone and volume, plus four toggle switches. That is a lot of switches.

Upper bout. Missing the rocker switches.

Upper bout. Missing the rocker switches.

Lower bout. With tone, volume and four toggle switches.

Lower bout. With tone, volume and four toggle switches.

If the toggle switches are original, then this means there were 8 switches in total on the guitar. That’s pretty crazy. But it could mean that, if each pick up had a switch in both signal and ground, any combination of the four pickups in series and parallel would be possible. This is something like the way Brian May’s Red Special is set up.

Looking under the hood of the lower bout chrome plate then it seems like even though the rocker switches have been removed, the wiring seems pretty complete.

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There is also a lot of really thin paper-backed foil inside the electronics cavities. A theory emerges. I wonder if the guitar suffered from a lot of hum picked up by its single-coil pickups? Maybe someone thought that the wires running up from the output jack to the pickups to the rocker switches on the upper bout were part of the problem. There is also some really pathetic paper-backed foil lining the guitar pickup cavity, which might be trying to address the same problem. But if so, they clearly didn’t know what they were doing, as the shielding material seems inadequate and no attempt has been made to ground it. But anyway, I’m guessing the toggle switches were added later and replaced the original rocker switches. The wiring certainly seems amateurish.

There are no loose connections and it could be that if I am lucky, the electronics will work as they are.

In terms of values, it seems to be difficult to read the pots, but If I desolder them I can take a reading with a multimeter. The tone capacitor seems to be 0.05uF.

Pots. 500k?

Pots. 500k?

Tone cap. 0.05 uF ?

Tone cap. 0.05 uF ?


The pickup wiring all seems OK. But there was some crazy stuff going on underneath that middle scratch plate.

Firstly, a previous owner had taped — using basic clear sellotape type tape — a big black magnet to the underside of the bridge pickup. To boost its output? Is there any reason to think this would work?

Underside of pickups with extra magnet piggy-backed on bridge pickup

Underside of pickups with extra magnet piggy-backed on bridge pickup

I also found that most of the pickup height adjustment springs were missing and half that were left were in bad shape. One was even straightened out somehow.

Crazy messsed up pickup height springs.

Crazy messsed up pickup height springs.

So that was pretty much it, except to mention that someone has signed the inside of the volume and tone cavity, and put a date? 2000.

At least I know that someone who owned this guitar before really cared about it. At least enough to do mods to the electronics and try and boost pickup output. And maybe they also signed their name?

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