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The magic of Fender Japan: how MIJ customized finishes and unorthodox builds dug a rabbit gap for collectors

The magic of Fender Japan: how MIJ customized finishes and unorthodox builds dug a rabbit gap for collectors

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(Picture credit score: Gasoline Station Guitars)

After we consider Japanese Fender and Squier electric guitars from the 80s onwards, we frequently think about pristine-looking reissues obtainable from the official Fender Japan ranges of a given time interval. However Fenders made for the home Japanese market are a riot of customized finishes and options not seen in Europe and the US, whereas their construct high quality is usually distinctive. 

To get a way of what’s on supply for the guitarist prepared to seek out rarities from the previous 40 years of Japanese manufacturing, we caught up with Keith Anderson of Gasoline Station Guitars within the UK city of Taunton, who turned an informal passion of sourcing Japanese-market Fenders right into a flourishing enterprise a couple of years in the past. 

Right here, he explains what to look out for and anticipate when shopping for Japanese Fender and Squier devices. Be warned, although – he says it may possibly get addictive…

“This is an (E Serial) stars and stripes Telecaster from the early 80s,” says Keith. “It was order-built for Fender at FujiGen. It’s the only one I have ever seen”

“That is an (E Serial) stars and stripes Telecaster from the early 80s,” says Keith. “It was order-built for Fender at FujiGen. It’s the one one I’ve ever seen” (Picture credit score: Future)

What are the important thing phrases we should always concentrate on with Japanese Fenders?

“Nicely, you’ve received MIJ/CIJ factor, when the guitars have been made in FujiGen, which was the primary manufacturing facility that had the contract for Fender in Japan. Earlier than the serial quantity, it could have the phrases Made in Japan, abbreviated to MIJ. 

“After which when FujiGen moved on to different issues and the contract went between a manufacturing facility referred to as Dyna and Tokai, they rebranded the prefix of the serial quantity to CIJ [Crafted in Japan]. So that you do have a little bit of a MIJ versus CIJ debate occurring now about which have been the higher Fender Japan guitars. And the reality is that they’re all good.

I’ve had 1000’s by means of my fingers – FujiGen are most likely slightly bit extra sought-after now as a result of that manufacturing facility has nearly legendary standing

“When Fender moved from FujiGen to constructing guitars within the different factories, there was actually no drop in high quality. You do get folks making an attempt to instigate a debate… In my expertise – and I’ve had 1000’s by means of my fingers – FujiGen are most likely slightly bit extra sought-after now as a result of that manufacturing facility has nearly legendary standing with the early Fenders and the truth that they constructed some very nice outdated Grecos and stuff previous to constructing guitars for Fender.”

Fender Mustang with Bigsby

“A 2012 order-made Mustang with a manufacturing facility Bigsby. The one one we’ve seen. An actual oddity!” (Picture credit score: Future)

Japanese-built Gretsches and ESPs are seen as absolute top-quality marques. Does Fender Japan nonetheless undergo from being perceived as a rung down from USA-made equivalents?

“I believe it’s a notion that comes from when Fender initially moved over there within the early 80s and it was seen [partly] as a cost-cutting train. The manufacturing facility Fender initially received to construct their guitars was FujiGen. 

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“FujiGen had began in 1960 and had made a form of area of interest for themselves in copying different guitars like Gibsons and Fenders by means of manufacturers like Greco. Fender had been within the doldrums within the 70s and I believe they now realized that, truly, the guitars being in-built FujiGen have been improbable. 

Individuals are beginning to see Fender Japan as fairly an unique model in its personal proper. It’s not a budget various any extra

“I believe Tokai nearly received the unique contract with them in 1980, however that fell by means of, so Fender went to FujiGen. And so the unique thought of a cost-cutting vary of guitars is maybe what’s continued in folks’s minds once they consider Japanese Fenders. However these days if any boutique guitar firm was to maneuver manufacturing to Japan it wouldn’t be seen as a step down, only a step throughout.

1999 HH Jaguar Special Vintage Gold

“1999 HH Jaguar Particular Classic Gold: Fender Japan’s authentic HH collection Jaguars had pretty finishes, together with Gunmetal Purple and Blue, plus this scarce Classic Gold model” (Picture credit score: Future)

“I assume the one weak point, or what some folks see as a weak point of Fender Japan, is that their Achilles heel is their electronics. You’ll get lots of people saying the pickups and the wiring are a bit shitty… And, to be sincere, it may be on a number of the guitars. 

“So what folks usually do is purchase the guitar as a result of it’s only a fantastically well-made instrument, then put their very own boutique pickups in there, their very own wiring – and also you’ve received the perfect model of that guitar you might most likely ever have. 

“Lots of people try this with their Fender Japan guitars. And, , many of the Fender Japan guitars have been poly completed, which some folks don’t like as a lot as nitro lacquer. But it surely’s not one thing that’s ever actually bothered me.”

Fender MIJ Telecaster with Paisley finish Vintage White and Gold

“Certainly one of my favorites: mid-80s FujiGen-built Telecaster in Classic White/Gold end, a customized order. We have now solely ever had and seen two of those” (Picture credit score: Future)

How has the output of Fender Japan modified through the years?

“They’re doing very, very small manufacturing runs now. Alongside that small manufacturing run, they’ll do a good smaller manufacturing run. For instance, they just lately did a form of Jazzmaster reissue with a basswood physique and that was a restricted FSR run. Then, nearly to launch it, they made a very, actually restricted Jazzmaster run based mostly on the identical construct, nevertheless it was an alder physique with a walnut stain…

“They’re nonetheless form of making an attempt to cost their guitars proper, however I believe they’ve cottoned onto the truth that individuals are beginning to see Fender Japan as fairly an unique model in its personal proper. It’s not a budget various any extra.”

1999 HH Jaguar Special Vintage Gold

1999 HH Jaguar Particular Classic Gold (Picture credit score: Future)

What have been the standout finest Fender Japan guitars that you simply’ve seen through the years?

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“They made a tough approximation of an Albert Collins Telecaster, across the mid-2000s, and it was a fully improbable guitar. I don’t assume they have been allowed to name it the Albert Collins Telecaster… That was an excellent guitar. 

“Additionally they made a guitar based mostly fairly loosely on Keith Richards’ Micawber with the humbucker on the neck. It was like a ship anchor and FujiGen solely used actually heavy ash for it. However once more, a fully improbable guitar. 

“I’ve one among every in my very own assortment and I’d by no means half with them. I’m fairly a fan of the J Mascis purple sparkle Jazzmaster, too. That’s an awesome guitar, regardless that they made it from basswood. Lots of people look down on basswood, however I’ve received no drawback with it, personally. These stand out as a few of my favourites.”

2007 Fender Aerodyne Jazz Bass Dolphin Grey

“A 2007 Aerodyne Jazz Bass, Dolphin Gray – an exquisite collection solely obtainable from Fender Japan. It has a carved prime and slimline certain physique, order-made with block inlays on the neck” (Picture credit score: Future)

You should have seen some actual oddities and one-offs through the years…

“Not too long ago I had – which I by no means knew existed – a hollowbody Mustang in. Like a thinline Mustang… In all different methods it was simply a typical Mustang, nevertheless it simply had the f-hole in it. It was one thing you’d by no means anticipate: why would you make a hole Mustang like that? But it surely truly labored, it was fairly a pleasant guitar – that one shocked me. 

“I’ve additionally had a Mustang that was made simply in Japan, for a selected guitar retailer, which had a factory-fitted Bigsby on it as nicely. That one stands out: once more, why would you set a Bigsby on a Mustang? However they did and it labored and there are a couple of like that.” 

2012 Fender Japan Thinline Mustang

“Thinline Mustang from 2012: one other actual rarity. Fender Japan additionally made a thinline Jaguar, however the Mustang is way rarer” (Picture credit score: Future)

Do you come throughout a lot fascinating Squier and early Fender JV stuff? 

“The best way I run my enterprise, I’m fortunate in that I get to pick what I’ve – and I’m a bit extra skewed in the direction of the FujiGen period. So all the way in which from ’92 to in regards to the mid-90s… However I don’t get an enormous quantity of JV stuff in purely as a result of, on the time, a number of it was exported over right here anyway. So as a result of I purchase immediately from Japan I don’t get an enormous quantity of the JV or the Squier stuff in. It’s successfully extra obscure [over there] than the Fender Japan stuff I usually go for, , of which there’s completely 1000’s and 1000’s of fashions.

Folks make the error of downloading the Fender Japan catalogues and considering that’s the be all and finish all – when truly it’s simply the tip of the iceberg

“I believe folks make the error of downloading the Fender Japan catalogues and considering that’s the be all and finish all of Fender Japan – when truly it’s simply the tip of the iceberg. 

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“There’s a lot on the market that was made in very, very restricted numbers, like particular orders for Japanese guitar shops. That’s what I like about it: you may by no means truly resolve it, ? It simply goes on and on the additional you get down the rabbit gap.”

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Jamie Dickson

Jamie Dickson is Editor-in-Chief of Guitarist journal, Britain’s best-selling and longest-running month-to-month for guitar gamers. He began his profession on the Every day Telegraph in London, the place his first project was interviewing blue-eyed soul legend Robert Palmer, occurring to turn into a full-time writer on music, writing for benchmark references corresponding to 1001 Albums You Should Hear Earlier than You Die and Dorling Kindersley’s How To Play Guitar Step By Step. He joined Guitarist in 2011 and since then it has been his privilege to interview everybody from B.B. King to St. Vincent for Guitarist‘s readers, whereas sharing insights into scores of historic guitars, from Rory Gallagher’s ’61 Strat to the primary Martin D-28 ever made.

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