These days we are use to a huge range of cheap, glossy Chinese instruments filling up the music stores in town. Often these sport well known names (Fender, Squire, Epiphone, Ibanez) and sometimes they carry the names of the cheaper brands (Samick, Vintage, Cort). There may be no difference between two instruments with different logos. This is especially true for mandolins where the only difference between Samick and the cheaper Fender models is the badge they carry. Brand names are all important. Every young guitarist wants an instrument that looks like the one his hero plays and it's even better if it carries the same name. Originally the big companies like Fender and Gibson were quite honest about this. They introduced budget brands such as Squire and Epiphone. Fender in particular blurred the line alot more by producing cheaper instruments under their original name in cheaper factories off shore such as Mexico, Japan, Korea and now China. While these instruments are more affordable and may be fine to play, it has cheapened the brand name. Even before "off-shoring" both Fender and Gibson have had quiality issues at various times but the brands survived. People wanted a Gibson or a Fender.
In New Zealand in the 1970s and early 1980s these American guitars weren't easy to obtain. Government import restrictions limited their avaliability and those that did make it weren't cheap. However in the 1970s the Japanese were starting to make copies that at least looked like the real thing. A number of factories churned out guitars that were sold under a variety of names. Two brands, Ibanez and Diplomat made it out here in reasonable quantities. Diplomat is a brand that appears unique to New Zealand. From all accounts these guitars were basically Arias from the Matsumoku factory. They were sold under a number of labels. Perhaps "Diplomant" was the name chosen by a local importer. The "nail on" label would make it easy to re-badge the guitar - and it's not too different from the label on my Stella record player - so perhaps there were produced locally. Some Stratocaster copies did have stick on labels - such as the one Stevie Ray Vaughn bought for his girl friend while in NZ. By the late 1970s the American companies started taking out law suites against the Japanese manafacturers who were forced to change their designs. Many of them, such as Ibanez, went on to design their own high quality guitars.
By the time I took up the guitar in 1976 Diplomats were considered low end instruments and mostly avaliable 2nd hand. In those days most music shops would take old instruments as a "trade in" if the customer was buying another (usually more expensive) instrument. One shop, Braeburns, dealt almost exclusively in cheaper 2nd hand instruments. Chances are anybody taking up the guitar in Wellington in the mid-seventies bought his or her first instrument there - or at least frequented the shop on a regular basis. The owner of the shop was Ray Hewlett. He originally had a shop in Nelson next to an apple storage warehouse - hence the name Braeburns. When he set a his shop in Wellington he would keep that name and would later even change his name as every one called him Ray Braeburn.
Two Diplomats and a NZ made Jansen combo - all from Braeburns.
I bought two Diplomats from Braeburns. The first was the bass on the left which was in pieces and which I put back together (with a new fret board) with the help of my dad. The second was the Telecaster Thinline. I always liked that guitar. While the bass was largely unplayable (due to a badly bowed neck and no truss rod) the Tele played well. Over the years it would have a number of pickup changes but the best combination would be a original chrome covered humbucker at the front and a Seymour Duncan on the bridge. Like all self respecting Diplomant owners I took the badge of the head stock and stuck a made up Fender label on. The guitar sounded great though the Jansen 25W combo - mostly because the amp had to be driven at full power to be heard above every one else.
Fender had first released the Thinline in 1969 and it is likely that this guitar was made sometime between then and 1978 when Matsumoku stopped producing copies. Interestingly Ibanez switched from copies to original designs the same year. In many respects ths guitar redembles an Ibanez more than an Aria. The neck is identical to an Ibanez neck. The neck on the Aria has a slimmer, more Fender like head stock and the truss rod was adjusted from the body end. As far as I'm aware, Fender Thinlines either had single coil or humbucking pickups - not both, and Aria and Ibanez guitars were the same. The Diplomat is unusual as it had the humbucker by the neck and the single coil in the bridge. It also had the traditional Fender blade switch while the other brands had a Gibson style switch.
I only ever took this guitar to one gig. This was mainly because I didn't get many gigs and but also because the Ibanez Blazer I also had then was a better guitar. In the end I only played the Ibanez as the police shut the gig down early.
I don't know why I sold the Diplomat but I'm sure I traded it and the Blazer for something else at Braeburns sometime in the mid 80s. By that stage I had a Tokai Stratocaster which was a much better guitar but I always have regretted selling the Diplomat - as I have also regretted selling a couple of other nice guitars and basses I have owned. The Blazer lacked personality and I don't miss it. Braeburn had by now moved his shop to the old Bowen St building. Both the shop and the building would go a few years later.
In 2011 I stopped by a 2nd hand shop in Ghuznee St that was just around the corner from where Braeburn's Cuba St shop was. It's an interesting shop. It's main business is printing but it also sells old stuff - and that day it had my old guitar for sale. From all accounts it had had a hard life. At some stage it had been converted into a bass and painted. It had also had a hole kicked in the front of it. The guy in the shop had done a good job of repairing it and he also had the pickups re-wound and some new switches installed for the humbucker. He probably had put the Fender sticker on the headstock but the bridge was the Fender bridge I had put on. He wanted nearly $600 for it. I think that it had orginally cost me about $120 thirty years earlier and a few more hundreds over the years for pickups, the bridge and maybe some tuners. I couldn't justify buying it again, but it is nice to know that my old Diplomat is still out there. I wonder what happened to those other guitars I'd wish I'd kept?
The Diplomat Tele in a 2nd hand shop in 2011.
Some other purchases from Braeburns.
A blue Hondo Strat, the Tele, two Diplomat basses and a mandolin.
The Morris acoustic was from Capitol Music.