Image: Teisco_MJ-2L.jpg: Cortney Martin from Houston, TX, USA [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
- Let’s Talk Japanese Guitars
- REVIEWS: Guitars That Channel The Spirit of Japan Circa 1960
Let’s Talk Japanese Guitars
Japan has a history of making some of the most interesting guitars you are likely to find. In the same era that Japan was revving up its auto, electronics, and manufacturing industries, it was also cutting some crazy guitars. Especially from the start of the psychedelic 60s, Japanese guitar makers tried out all kinds of shapes, switches, pick up combinations and attachments, in search of the ultimate groovy design.
Why did Japan come up with such unique guitar designs?
People talk about the post-war economic miracle in Japan where the nation went from barely having enough food to becoming an economic powerhouse on the world stage. Similar to other parts of Asia today, Japanese manufacturing labor costs were much cheaper than other countries. Many Western countries sort to cut costs by manufacturing their products there. This included the instrument makers. Japan had a long tradition of instrument manufacturing, including companies such as Yamaha since 1887 and Kawai from 1927.
In the 1950s, guitars seemed to evolve as much in a decade as they had in the last hundred years. This decade saw the birth of the electric guitars that still dominate the market to this day. Including the Fender Broadcaster (later telecaster) in 1950, Gibson’s Les Paul in 1952 and Fender’s Stratocaster in 1954.
But there were a bunch of other makers trying out all sorts of crazy stuff including Rickenbacker, Magnatone, Airline. Some of these guitars have survived, and many have been forgotten.
Japan contributed a lot to these heady times from the 1950s to the 1980s with makers such as Teisco, Greco, Guyatone and Zen-on coming up with some pretty out-of-the-box designs.
The Ventures & Japan
Another influence on Japanese guitars that can’t be discounted is the instrumental guitar rock band the Ventures. The Ventures outsold the Beatles in Japan. The secret? No words = no cultural barrier. Also, they had pretty good tunes. And pretty sweet guitars. First they had Fenders, including the offset (eg kinda squashed looking) Jazzmaster.
The Ventures love a bit of Jazzmaster, Japan loves a bit of Ventures
Then they took the futuristic element up a notch and started playing Mosrite guitars.
All of this influenced the aesthetic of the Japanese electric guitar.
So, where can you get a guitar that channels the spirit of 1960 Japan today? Here’s our top picks.
Famous People That Have Played Japanese Guitars
There is a long list of people that have prominently used their Teiscos include Rye Cooder, Eddie Van Halen, Mark Knofler, Bob Dylan, Daniel Johns, Flea, James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins, Thurston Moore.
Kurt Kobain played Japanese Fender Mustangs.
People that have played Yamahas include Bob Marley, John Denver, John Lennon, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan.
Guitarists that have played Greco guitars include Ace Frehley, and the Monkees.
Billy Gibbons and Robert Fripp have played Tokai guitars.
Nice one, Japan.
Reissue guitars that channel the spirit of Japanese retro guitars circa 1960
Japanese vintage style guitar reviews
Yamaha released this guitar to coincide with the 50th anniversary of their motorbike manufacturing division. Appropriately enough, the design of the guitar is based on the design of the Cafe Racer style of motorbike, which were designed to be ridden short distances at high speeds.
- Sleek, minimal design
- Made by a company with over 100 years in the instrument making business
- A push/pull Dry switch for filtering out certain frequencies and tweaking sound
- Jumbo Frets
- High-End Price Tag may put some people off
One of the most iconic offset guitars out there, from one of the most famous guitar brands in the world, produced in a country known for consistency in workmanship.
- Classic offset look
- Switches galore! Great for people that love to get their tone-tinkering nerd on (try this Flash-Based Jaguar Switch page!)
- Famous fender tremolo arm
- Electronics complicated. Not for those that love simplicity!
Eastwood do reissues of various unusual classic guitars and has done several issues at different times of Japanese guitars. This one is a replica of a Mosrite made famous by the Ventures in Japan.
- Guitar holds its tuning well when using whammy bar
- Good tone
- P90 pick-ups may buzz
This one isn’t a Japanese re-issue, but it definitely exudes a lot of the eccentric charm of the strange Japanese guitars from the 50s and 60s.
- Mahogany wood body instead of Res-O-Glass in original
- Uses a zero-fret – allowing use of various string gauges
- Large body size makes for resonant sound
- Eastwood has made many tweaks to the original design, which may not please retro purists
- Vibrato arm awkwardly placed
All about the ikiataribattari song from midnight diner. Including translation to the song lyrics and background.
A new translation of Ashita sekai ga owaru to shite mo lyrics and an overview of the movie animation
Sanya Blues was released by Okabayashi Nobuyasu in 1968. It’s a song that talks about the run-down Sanya neighborhood in North Eastern Tokyo. The area
Kaze Wo Atsumete (風をあつめて）is the wonderful, whistful acoustic folk-rock song by Happy End. The lyrics were written by Takashi Matsumoto, with music by Haruomi Hosono