Crestline is often cited as one of the best Japanese-import guitar brands, though the company never produced or sold many during its short life in the 1970s.
Concrete information on the Crestline brand is scarce. The company was never large, and its guitars were never widely distributed. A blog called The Guitar Hunter featured a Crestline Stratocaster copy called the Goldfoil MIJ. It has the distinct headstock shape of a Fender Stratocaster, with an altered body shape and single goldfoil pickup. Because these guitars are rare finds today and not serially numbered, it is difficult if not impossible to accurately date a Crestline guitar. Guitar Hunter explains that Crestline guitars were likely a small, off-label imprint of a large Japanese guitar manufacturer, citing the wide range of instruments that Crestline produced. Small companies wouldn't have had the resources to produce multiple guitars, bass guitars, 12-strings, acoustic guitars and basses, mandolins and ukuleles. Crestline also produced copies of other companies' signature brands, not just Fender's. Crestline copied Gibson's guitars prolifically, and Crestline copies of the SG, the Flying V and the Les Paul are some of the most common existing Crestline instruments today.
Guitar players enjoy Crestline instruments for their quality construction, good tone and often low sticker price. Because the Crestline label is not well-known, the used market sometimes sees them as "junk" guitars that have little resale value. It is not uncommon for a Crestline owner to have bought his Crestline from a pawn shop or a garage sale for next to nothing. However, Japanese instruments of this era are notoriously well-made. Japanese guitar-makers imported American pickups that were used by Gibson, Fender and Ibanez, rebranded them and installed them in their guitars for a cheaper price. The wood used in the necks and bodies were often of higher quality than their American counterparts, so much so that Japanese guitar makers faced frequent litigation during this era for producing imitations that were superior to the original. Crestline guitars are often described as "heavy" or "solid," which is a sign to many guitar players of good wood and quality manufacture.
The Crestline guitar logo is distinctive. It's a gold oval emblem with the word "Crestline" printed in the middle. The headstock of a Crestline guitar is usually an exact replica of the distinctive Fender Stratocaster headstock or the Gibson Les Paul headstock, with only the Crestline logo to differentiate them. The bodies vary. Some, such as the Goldfoil MIJ, meant to be a Stratocaster copy, have bodies that are not exact replicas of their American counterparts. Others, such as the Gibson SG or Les Paul copies, have bodies that are exact duplicates of the American version. Crestline guitars have varying serial numbers as well. Early Crestline guitars do not have serial numbers, and the later models that do have them don't seem to be able to be tracked or identified by their numbering. If there were a system to distinguish one of these guitars from another, it was lost with the death of the Crestline company in the late 1970s.
The Crestline name imprint likely comes from the Japanese company attempting to market its instruments as "more American." One theory is that these guitars were manufactured by Hoshino, who had many subcompanies during this period, especially for its American exports, but this is only speculation because Crestline brochures are practically nonexistent and the company no longer exists.
The End of Crestline
No specific information about Crestline's demise is available, but the guitar industry in the 1970s was changed radically when American guitar giants such as Fender and Gibson brought lawsuits against Japanese companies that were imitating their products too effectively. The Japanese brands that were not sued out of existence closed their businesses to avoid litigation. Crestline very likely stopped producing guitars for this reason, especially since guitar players favored Crestline guitars as one of the better Japanese import brands.
Kenneth Crawford writes about culture, art, gaming and the Web, often considering the overlapping territory between them, and the spaces that separate them. He has spent time as a professional poker player, a waiter, a teacher, an entrepreneur and a medical student.