Lyle guitars are among the rarest brands of electric and acoustic guitars in the world. Produced during an indefinite timeline in the 1960s and 1970s in Japan, the history of the Lyle instrument brand remains somewhat of a mystery. Total distribution of Lyle instruments in the U.S. was very limited. The same company that produced many of them, Matsumoku, also produced the more popular Aria brand.
Japanese classical guitarist Shiro Arai founded the Arai Co. in the 1950s as an international importing company, which expanded to manufacturing in the 1960s adopting the "Aria" brand name. The explosion in popularity of the electric guitar in the 1960s led them to begin manufacturing and distributing several different brands, Lyle being one of them. Arai attended the NAMM trade show and saw many of the American guitar designs that had attained popularity in the U.S. This greatly influenced Arai to produce similar models.
Arai - Matsumoku Alliance
By 1970, regular distribution of Japanese-made guitars, including Lyle brand guitars, began in America. In the early 1970s, Arai joined with instrument manufacturing company Matsumoku to produce guitars. It is inconclusive if they continued producing Lyle guitars at this time, but they did launch the Aria Pro II line in 1975, which included set-neck copies of the Gibson Les Paul and SG, and Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars.
The L.D. Heater Music Company
The only known American distributor of Lyle guitars is the L.D. Heater Music Company. A small warehouse based in Beaverton, Oregon, L.D. Heater was owned by Norlin, the parent company of Gibson, and known more for their exclusive production rights to Alembic instruments. As protection from potential lawsuits, Lyle guitars were part of the contract that stated under which brand names Gibson-licensed guitars could be produced and distributed.
A common misconception of the Lyle brand, among others, was that Norlin sued Matsumoku for copying their designs and shut them down. The actual lawsuit was indeed filed by Norlin, only not against Matsumoku but Elger/Hoshino--the American division of Ibanez--over elements of the Les Paul and SG guitar designs that Norlin/Gibson had since claimed as a trademark. The case was eventually settled out of court. Japanese companies preemptively altered the designs of their guitars in such a way that they would not be "exact" copies of Gibson guitars. The true story of the demise of the Lyle brand is largely unknown to this day.
Lyle guitars have a legacy of mostly being rare guitar models that are hard to find and popular to collect. Most online reviews of Lyle products are positive, citing their long-term durability as a major asset.
Matt Dolloff is an online writer and media professional who began writing in 2007. He has contributed articles to GoNU.com and Gather. He specializes in sports and arts/entertainment writing and in research-driven history articles. Dolloff earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Northeastern University.