New arrivals stoke the old flames
An interesting addition to the Fender range for 2018 has arrived in the shape of a sort of mini sub-section of guitars made in Japan. Yep, you heard that right. Fender has re-introduced some of its best-known models – and some obscure variations – from their Japanese factory.
As we know, ‘country of origin’ plays a hugely significant part in a guitar’s desirability. It’s the reason a US-made guitar and a Korean-made guitar, both with the same spec, will come with completely different price tags. There are reasons for this; it could be the availability of raw materials or manufacturing talent. Or it could simply be a matter of kudos, the same way a hand-wired amplifier costs more than a PCB version.
Regardless, Japan has always been held in high esteem by guitarists. Where once Japanese goods – be that technology, guitar or cars – were written off as rubbish, there is now great value placed on items produced there. Brands like Ibanez and Roland went a long way to cementing that reputation through years of innovation and levels of quality and craftsmanship which caused American and British brands to up their game.
Fender has actually produced guitars in Japan since 1983. Or, at least, guitars were produced there under license. A number of different factories produced these guitars – often the same places that made brands like Tokai – until in 2015 Fender took over manufacturing there completely.
Which makes it a pleasant surprise to see these new guitars hit the shelves. Let’s take a look at Fender’s Made in Japan range and see what’s on offer.
Fender MIJ Traditional 60s Stratocaster
Let’s start with something familiar. Ease you in gently. Here we have the Fender MIJ Traditional 60s Stratocaster. Familiar shape, familiar materials, yet it just has something about it, don’t ya think? Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for gold hardware when it’s married to three-colour sunburst. It just elevates it and makes it look like something a bit classier than your usual axe.
What we’ve got here is an alder bodied Strat, with a soft maple neck and U-shaped Rosewood fingerboard. You’ll get a really zingy sound out of the vintage bridge pickup, while the period-correct tuning pegs add a touch of extra authenticity to the proceedings.
What you’re paying for here, however, is the craftsmanship. This is a guitar which will conceivably still hold a tune in the 2060’s, such is the build quality in evidence here. It’s the ideal Strat for people who live by the ‘buy it right, buy it once’ mantra. More power to you.
Fender MIJ Hybrid 60s Telecaster
The Fender MIJ Hybrid 60s Telecaster is a thing of beauty. Coming in that iconic surf green finish, it opts for a lightweight alder body with the standard maple/rosewood neck combination. Where this thing gets interesting is in the pickup combination. You may have noticed the word ‘hybrid’ in the name. That’s down to the way the construction is all-Japanese, yet the pickups are very much American.
In this case, that means a pair of American vintage single coils, which will give you that classic Tele tone in abundance. If that doesn’t appeal, there’s also an all-Japanese Fender MIJ Traditional 60s Telecaster in natty Olympic White which is worth checking out.
Fender MIJ Traditional 70s Mustang
With the ‘big two’ out of the way, it’s time to walk a slightly less worn path. The Fender MIJ Traditional 70s Mustang is next on the list, and it’s a welcome surprise to see the short-scale favourite back at the forefront.
Everyone knows it is a model made famous by the likes of Kurt Cobain, who favoured the Mustang on account of its light profile and unique tonal palette. A pair of traditional Mustang single coil pickups provide the backbone of the Mustang’s tone, while its basswood body and shorter neck make it among the most throw-aroundable guitars there is.
Coming in both California Blue and the classic Candy Apple Red finishes, this is a cool little guitar with that seal of quality you get from being made in Japan.
Fender MIJ Limited Edition Offset Telecaster
We’ll end this roundup with the strangest one of the lot. The Fender MIJ Limited Edition Offset Telecaster positively invites you to look at it and try and work out what’s going on. For starters, despite having Telecaster in the name, it bears more than a passing resemblance to a Jazzmaster, don’t you think? That’ll be down to the fact it’s modelled on a classic Japanese model, known as the Telemaster. One for the portmanteau fans out there.
Another key feature of this is the full-on mahogany body and neck; curious, to say the least, for a Tele/Jazz hybrid. As any Les Paul fan will tell you, mahogany will give you thick, hairy tone that sustains for yonks.
Looking past the body shape, and the tonewood; the Tele elements of this come from the string-thru-body routing with classic three-pole Tele bridge, along with a standard 21-fret, U-shaped Tele neck.
Each of the models listed above comes with a robust Fender gig bag, adding further to the appeal. But clearly, if you’re in the market for a Japanese guitar, you already know what their appeal is. Rigid, precision craftsmanship, married to some interesting visual and aesthetic flourishes, creating a mini range which has plenty of that old-school vibe going on.
Check out the full Fender MIJ range here.
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