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.'