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Buying Tips and Opinions

Are you completely nonplussed by the variety of Fender Japan guitars appearing for sale on Ebay and elsewhere?  Do the descriptions, specifications and prices confuse you? If so, here is my concise and incomplete (!) guide to what is what in the world of used Fender Japan Strats and Teles.

I suppose you could say that there are two basic ranges of Fender guitars floating about on the used market. The made for export models that were officially imported into the UK/Europe/US in large numbers between the mid 80's and late 90's, and the non-export, made for the Japanese market, guitars that have been privately imported in recent years. 

Most of the used Fender Japan guitars you see offered for sale will have been made for export and imported into the UK between the mid 80's and late 90's. Of these most will carry the 'Made in Japan' mark but some will bear 'Crafted in Japan' because the change from MIJ to CIJ was made before official imports ceased.

The vast, and I mean vast, majority of these will have a basswood bodies. By the way, some vendors have, oddly, started to describe basswood as Japanese alder. It isn't. Basswood and Japanese alder are two distinctly different types of wood as a quick search on Google will reveal. There is nothing wrong with basswood but it certainly isn't Japanese alder. 

Anyway, although most export Strats were basswood there are a very few exceptions: the Hank Marvin Signature and natural finish '68 Strats for instance. But, JV serials excluded,  I have never yet come across an imported 54/57 or 62 Strat with anything other than a basswood body. They might exist, I have just never come across one except in the dreams of hopeful Ebay vendors. I have also never come across one of these imported guitars with a body finished in anything other than poly. 

Again, with the exception of JV serial guitars, I have never come across an official import Strat or Tele with anything other than Japanese pickups. There seem to be two basic types. The 'vintage' style alnico magnet type which can be identified by have staggered poles, and the lower spec ceramic magnet type which do not have staggered poles.

I frequently see on Ebay what are, I am sure, ordinary import guitars with basswood bodies, Japanese pups and poly finishes, described as being either alder bodied, or US pickup loaded - or both! Giving the vendors the benefit of the doubt (if I really must), it is probable that they looked up the specification of current non-export models and thought their guitar must be same. 

Make no mistake, these import guitars are well made and excellent value IF you can't run to one of the non-export models and IF you can get it at a reasonable price. What's a reasonable price? That's a hard one and at the end of the day entirely dependent upon what you are happy paying. However, you MUST be absolutely sure of the guitar's specification. Quiz the vendor before bidding. It's a fact the the couple of vendors who, like myself, regularly handle Fender Japan guitars will be able to give you a straight and credible answer. The same cannot always be said of someone who just has the one guitar to offload and is ignorant, or less than truthful, about its specification..

For instance, I recently emailed a couple of guys selling obviously import Strats and asked how come they were supposed to be fitted with US Texas Specials. One replied that he wasn't actually sure the pups were Texas Specials but they sounded nice! The other replied that he had replaced the originals with Texas Specials. That's fair enough but modifications like that should really be mentioned in the auction description.

Here are a couple of tips for you. The US pickups fitted to Strats and Teles have cloth covered wire back to the pots. So, as far as Strats and Teles are concerned, plastic covered wire equals Japanese, cloth covered wire equals US. Also, Strat pick-guards loaded with Texas Specials have a red circular sticker on the underside. Those loaded with US Vintage pups do not.  

Frankly, although the export guitars are excellent and relatively plentiful, I would recommend you go for one of the higher spec non-export guitars every time. Why? Because one day a few years ago I directly compared my beloved (at the time) Hank Marvin Signature with a similar spec Strat loaded with US pickups. I'd always thought the HM's Jap pups sounded good but, frankly, the US pups completely outshone them in every respect. The US pups sounded fuller, clearer... they had the wow factor. This is just my personal opinion, but I reckon the although Fender Japan's build quality is second to none, Fender US wind a better Strat pickup. So in a non-export Fender Japan guitar you have the best of both worlds. 

Just another word about Japanese pickups.... I have to admit that I find their Telecaster and bass  pickups get closer to the US sound than their Strat pickups. In the case of the Telecaster perhaps that is because a slightly 'thinner' sounding pup delivers the Tele 'chickin' pickin' sound we expect.


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