Vol.8 Mr. Hidesato Shiino: Visionary Founder of H.S. Anderson [14.Feb.2019]
What does fine Japanese silk have to do with electric guitars?
In July of 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Tokyo Bay, seeking to establish trading between Japan and the West, and for good reason. For more than a thousand years Japanese goods were created by skilled craftsmen, artful execution and premier materials. The long tradition of inventing, creating and manufacturing are not mere metaphors for Mr. Hidesato Shiino, rather they are precisely his heritage.
S.Shobey Silk Store
The port of Yokohama, home for the Shiino family, was opened to trading in 1859. Silk garments sold by S. Shobey Silk, picture here, became a primary export. Imagine the incredible change thrust instantly upon merchants of this period. One could remain squarely in their singular traditional products and do very well. But, Shiino Shobey had innovation in mind. Travelling to fashion expos in major European cities, within a decade of the port opening, inspiring an artful fusion of East & West never before seen or so executed. While we like to believe that craftsmanship and tradition can be passed through generations by way of exhaustive study and guidance, certainly there is another ingredient at play.
Perhaps through DNA, an innovation gene interplays with traditional craftwork giving the world, in this case, beautiful instruments of expression. Be it fine silk fashion or a musical instrument, the spirit within comes directly from the legacy of this Yokohama family.
If you have listened to music at any time over the last 50-years, chances are you have heard an invention, innovation or instrument produced by Mr. Hidesato Shiino.
Like his ancestors before him, a young Mr. Shiino embarked on a tour visiting with top luthiers around the world to further his craft. His journey became the foundation for his career blending the art and science of instrument construction. When asked, he will tell you that with every endeavor, he is striving to create an instrument of expression for human connection. When in the hands of the artist, a soulful communication between performer and listener is made possible. Mr. Shiino has a particular healthy obsession with materials. He studies the organic properties of woods. How they should be prepared and combined. How they are to be crafted for optimal sonic qualities for the musician. As an expert in the field of instrument manufacturing, Mr. Shiino has been a tireless innovator and committed steward Japanese quality. Listing companies he has started or played key consulting roles covers most of modern Japanese musical instrument manufacturing: Yamaha, Greco, Ibanez, Roland, H.S. Anderson, ESP, Vestax, D’Angelico (Japan).
Mr. Shiino started his first guitar company, H.S. Anderson in 1973, in partnership with Mr. Toshio Moridaira, founder of Morris Guitars. The “H.S.” standing for “Hidesato Shiino”. The origin of “Anderson” is a bit more dicey. Some have speculated that it was a translation of the phrase “under the sun”, but when I had occasion to ask Mr. Shiino, the story was revealed...
As a youngster Mr. Shiino enjoyed watching motorcycle races broadcast from the U.K. There was a particular rider, last name Anderson, who he admired for his fearless riding and irreverent attitude. Plus, he freely admits that he just liked the sound of the name! Starting an electric guitar company in the early 1970’s with intentions to break the mold, sheds further light on the choice. H.S. Anderson guitars debuted in 1974. The first catalog features 12 models. On the cover, pictured below, three strikingly original models. The HS-ARS featured a carved headstock with tuners mounted at the body. (Author’s note: We are actively looking for this guitar, if you know its whereabouts, please contact us here.) The HS-A2 guitar and its brother the HS-BB1 bass are substantial instruments with unique fit and finish. The HS-A2 would become this writer’s introduction to these fine instruments.
H.S Anderson HS-ARS HS-A2
In this photo from YMM Player, History of Electric Guitar, shows early days at H.S. Anderson’s factory in Nagano, including a stack of Mad Cat bodies (inset, middle).
H.S Anderson's factory in Nagano
The first years at H.S. Anderson were busy with refining designs and process. Mr. Shiino began to fuse the lutherie practices he had learned during his travels with the time-honored craftsmanship of Japanese manufacturing. Components were exclusively sourced from burgeoning Japanese electronic manufactures, and both native and imported woods were brought together in unique, stunning combinations. Meanwhile, the guitar culture in Tokyo was quite vibrant in the mid-1970s with opportunities for young brands to make waves. Seen below from H.S. Anderson’s first year, 7 different models can be seen in a table-top display.
H.S Anderson Guitars with S.Shobey Silk
From left to right: HS-A1 (flat, in case), HS-A3 with V-style headstock, HS-BB1 Bass, HS-ARS, HS-A6 semi-hollow, HS-1 Mad Cat, HS-2 Strider (courtesy of the mirror). Between the HS-A1 and HS-A3 is a stack of original brochures. I have often wondered if that is S. Shobey silk providing the atmosphere.
Seattleite Finds H.S. Anderson
I discovered H.S. Anderson guitars from my home in Seattle in the early 2000’s. Years prior as a kid, I saved my paper route money to buy my first electric guitar at age 13 in 1979. It was a black, Hohner Les Paul Custom copy, the HG-430. Clearly a student model, this guitar occupied a lot of firsts for me, from my first band, first gig, and not to be forgotten, my first on-stage electric shock. As a teenager I upgraded the pickups (DiMarzio Super Distortion & PAF), changed knobs, plastic accessories, and polished that guitar weekly. After all of that, I could never let it go and so it remains with me today. Many years later and out of curiosity for its origins, I discovered that Hohner MIJ guitars were made by Morris Guitars in Japan. I wondered what else had they produced at this time and landed on a Hohner catalog from the late 1970’s.
Pictured at right is that HG-430 LP model, but unknown to me at the time, the gateway HS-A2 that would begin my journey in discovery of H.S. Anderson. Here called the HG-470 by Hohner (left, 2nd from top). The HS-A2 was one of several original H.S. Anderson models supplied to Hohner in the 1970’s. By chance or fate I stumbled across a Hohner HG-470 (aka an HS-A2) in an online sale and made the purchase. An interesting side-note emerged on arrival. This guitar was the very guitar from Hohner’s 1970’s brochure, verified by matching distinctive wood grain and pickguard patterns. It has arrived in such pristine condition that it appeared to have been used in the photo shoot, and then packed away virtually un-played and in new condition for the next 40 years.
H.S Anderson HG-470 Catalog
H.S Anderson HG-470
Though written descriptions about the feel of a guitar inevitability fall short and lean on predictable tropes, I can summarize by saying this, this guitar felt very different. What springs to mind immediately is the quality of the woods. A carved Japanese sen body, organic-shaped laminated maple neck and smooth ebony fingerboard. The lines, curves and feel of this guitar are special. They were created by hand. In looking at this model, remember that this pre-dates the CNC (computer numerical control) routers that replaced human hands in the 1980s onward. When you feel the neck in your palm, or the body contour against your own, you are feeling the hand of the craftsmen, one of two luthiers under the direction of Mr. Shiino, responsible for all original H.S. Anderson guitars. Those gentleman, Mr. M. Shinoda and Mr. Imafuku often signed and dated neck pockets and pickup cavities.
The HS-A2, albeit Hohner-badged, opened a door for me to H.S. Anderson. I had discovered a unique period in what the West calls “MIJ Guitars”. This guitar was of very high-quality, original design, uniquely hand-made of fascinating materials, from an era when craftsmen and visionaries in Japan brought a new perspective to the electric guitar. That legacy continues today through worldwide brands such as ESP, Ibanez, and others. I thought if the HS-A2 was this good, I’d have to find some other H.S. Anderson models.
Joan Jett holding her red-burst HS-A2 on the Runaways Palladium cover.
The Mad Cat
One of the first H.S. Anderson original designs, released as the HS-1, is the Mad Cat. One could argue that the Mad Cat is perhaps the best known MIJ guitar from this era. The prototype was designed and built in 1973 with a construction featuring a maple and sen (ash) body, and maple neck. The body having a center walnut strip and pickguards of faux tortoise shell completed its unmistakable look. Not merely a sum of its components, Mr. Shiino designed the Mad Cat with a different sound and feel in mind. From the carefully selected woods to the unusual pickup placement closer to the bridge, the Mad Cat offered a unique timbre. Neck carves were carefully measured and hand-crafted. Top woods featured bird’s eye or flamed maples, positioned and finished with richness and drama. For its logo, Mr. Shiino enlisted the help of well-known Japanese designer Mr. Atsuro Yamada who provided both the “H.S. Anderson” logo, and the Mad Cat character illustration.
Mad cat log designed by Atsuro Yamada
Like the HS-A2, the Mad Cat found its way in the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) deal with Hohner, who released it as the HG-490 (see Hohner catalog above). A particular HG-490, for sale in a music store in Minneapolis, was purchased by a young Prince Rogers Nelson and the Mad Cat became his main axe throughout his career.
Prince with H.S Anderson
Close your eyes and imagine a Prince riff, and you’re likely hearing his Mad Cat. Watch Purple Rain, his appearance at the Super Bowl, countless concerts, or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony, and you’re seeing his Mad Cat. For an artist with nearly unlimited options, it speaks volumes that as a guitar player Prince stuck to his Mad Cat from the beginning.
H.S. Anderson Serial Numbers
Original H.S. Anderson guitars have serial numbers stamped on the back of the headstock beginning in 1975. Prior to 1975, there were no serial numbers. During 1975, several different formats appeared, becoming stabilized by 1976. Let’s look at some examples: Prior to 1975, no serial number (HS-A2), but just look at that wood:
H.S Anderson Headstock
During 1975, a date stamp of “197507” meaning July 1975, but no serial number (HS-3a):
H.S Anderson Serial Number
During 1976 and beyond, a date stamp read right-to-left of “046791” meaning April 1976, and a serial number of “229” (HS-A2):
H.S Anderson Serial Number
Select H.S. Anderson Models
H.S Anderson HS-A1 Natural
H.S Anderson HS-A1 Red Burst
H.S Anderson HS-A2 Natural
H.S Anderson HS-A2 Red Burst
H.S Anderson HS-A3
H.S Anderson HS-A4
H.S Anderson HS-A5
H.S Anderson HS-BB1 Bass
H.S Anderson HS-PB70 Fretless
H.S Anderson HS-ST70 Strider
H.S Anderson Crazy Muff
Early H.S. Anderson print ad featuring (left to right) HG-045 Guitar Amp, HG-095 Guitar Amp, HS-ARS Guitar, HS-A1 Guitar
In closing and on a personal note, I will be travelling from the US to Japan in the coming weeks. A visit with Mr. Shiino, always generous of time and spirit, will be a highlight. In my luggage will be a fine blue S. Shobey silk tie made in 2013, more than 150 years after his great grandfather open his store in Yokohama. Tradition meets innovation, from silk to electric guitars, in the hands of Mr. Shiino.
Phil Coady with H.S Anderson
Phil Coady, pictured here with the first H.S. Anderson Mad Cat prototype, wishes to thank Mr. Shiino for his friendship and trust. It is with sincere gratitude that I hope this writing may convey my admiration for your dedication, innovations and achievements.
You have given the world a unique gift; countless hours of joy and musical expression. You are a daily inspiration to me.