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Are you looking to buy a Fender Japan guitar? Click here

The Fender Japan Story

The Fender Stratocaster is arguably the most popular electric guitar design ever. Almost certainly it is the most copied. The copies had always been considerably cheaper than the 'real thing', but by the early 1980's they were also often of a high standard. Bad news for Fender who, under CBS ownership, had let standards slip. Fender's reputation and market share were waning. 

In 1981, a new management team largely recruited from Yamaha's American operation, decided on a two pronged attack. They would address quality control via a programme of reinvestment and staff training in the US, and at the same time hit the copyists in their home market by producing Fender guitars in Japan.

Following negotiations with two Japanese distribution companies, Kanda Shokai and Yamano Music, Fender Japan was established in March 1982. Fender held 38 percent of the stock, occupied three of the six board seats and, of course, owned the all important product licenses. Fuji Gen-Gakki, best known for building  Ibanez brand guitars, were chosen  to build Fender Japan instruments.

Back in the USA, in an effort to rediscover what had made Fender's reputation, the company went to vintage dealers and took measurements from pre-CBS production instruments. They even spent $5600 on buying a '57 Precision bass, '60 Jazz bass and a '61 Strat. Both the US factory at Fullerton and Fender Japan set about producing vintage reissues- in fact the Japanese were the first to succeed and the superb quality of their instruments resulted in the famous quote by Dan Smith, Director of Marketing, Electric Guitars at the time :"Everybody came up to inspect them and the guys almost cried, because the Japanese  product was so good - it was what we had been having a hell of a time trying to do."

Originally the idea had been for Fender Japan to produce guitars for their home market. However, when Fender's European distributors called for budget Fenders to compete with the flood of oriental imports effecting their sales, a range of lower price guitars was launched under the Squier brand. Squier guitars are outside the scope of this site- suffice it to say that they are a good buy for the price, with early Japanese made instruments being of particularly good quality.

In 1984 CBS decided to get out of the musical instrument business and sold Fender to an investment group led by Bill Schultz, the incumbent President of Fender Musical Instruments. The Fullerton factory was not part of the deal and US production ceased in February 1985. Towards the end of that year a new factory was established at nearby Corona, but for a while the 'new' Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC)  pretty much relied upon Japanese production. In fact it has been estimated that as many as 80% of the guitars sold in the US between late 1984 and mid-86 were sourced from Fender Japan.

Although Fender Japan still exists, their guitars (aside from a very few special models which do not conflict with the existing US/Mexican range) are no longer officially exported to the US or Europe  Those markets are catered for by FMIC's US and Mexican factories. However, because of their justly deserved reputation for quality, the many Japanese instruments floating around on the secondhand market, particularly the Stratocasters, are becoming sought after. The point of this site (if it could be said to have one)  is simply to look at the range of different Stratocasters produced in Japan for export and, perhaps, answer some of the questions that may arise when confronted by a Strat bearing a  'Made in Japan' or 'Crafted in Japan' label.'


Are you looking to buy a used Fender Japan guitar? Confused by what you see on Ebay and elsewhere?
 Read my 'buying tips' before commiting yourself. 

..and after doing that go to for the best selection of used non-export Fender Japan 
instruments you will find this side of Tokyo