Possibly the best known instruments in the Japanese Fender range were the ’57 and ’62 Stratocaster reissues. They were the culmination of Fender’s response to super-accurate Far Eastern copies of old American Fenders. The damage wreaked upon Fender sales by vintage Tele and Strat replicas from the likes of Tokai and Fernandes was profound, and the only way Fender could address it was by playing the copyists at their own game. Fender would set up production in Japan, and essentially copy themselves. It was recognised pretty much immediately (even internally at Fender) that the initial Japanese Fenders were far better value than their USA-made counterparts. Depending on which early ‘80s American Strat you were looking at, the Japanese newbies were normally either of similar quality, or even better – and they cost a heck of a lot less. Please see my article on 1980s Squier Strats for detailed info on the MIJ Strat range between 1982 and 1984. You can get full details on the MIJ '57 Reissues (including exact spec) in my Fender Japan '57 Strats article.
In the UK at least, the first Fender Japan reissues (from 1982, 1983 and 1984) were only available under the Squier brand. This was to avoid completely destroying sales of the American Fenders, which were still coming out of the Fullerton factory at the time. The only sales Fender wanted to destroy with their Japanese guitars, were those of Tokai, Fernandes, and other copyists. But in the mid ‘eighties after the Fullerton factory shut down, Japanese Fender-branded guitars began to flow into the UK shops. With the Fender-branded range, there was an immediate and significant increase in price over the Squiers. Quality was sky-high though, and with new American Fenders no longer to be found, the MIJs instantly became serious objects of desire.
For the record, these Fender MIJ '62 reissues were produced by FujiGen Gakki - the same manufacturer who produced the renowned JV series guitars which preceded them. They can be thought of as a slowly evolving continuation of the JV series export reissues, although they had 'E'-, rather than 'JV'-prefixed serial numbers, and Fender logos rather than Squier. Other than that, there was very little difference between the last Squier JV '62 Strat Reissues, and the first of these Fender MIJs.
As regards some of the more specific factors/features which defined a '62 Strat as a '62 Strat, please see my retrospective on the USA '62 Strat reissue. But basically, the Fender MIJ '62 Strat reissue will have...
- A 'slab'-type (thick) rosewood fretboard with truss rod adjustment at the body end of the neck, no truss access above the nut, and no 'skunk' stripe on the back of the neck.
- A honey-coloured finish on the maple areas of the neck (as opposed to pale, unstained wood).
- Three single coil pickups with staggered-height alnico (mid-greyish), unchamfered pole-pieces.
- A 3-ply white/black/white (or, from early 1992, green/black/green fake nitrate) scratchplate - held to the body with 11 screws.
- A vintage tremolo/vibrato bridge held to the body with six crosshead, dome-top screws, and featuring Fender-branded saddles.
- A pre-1964 style 'spaghetti' Fender logo on the headstock.
- Generous body contouring with plenty of arm and chest relief, and usually, relatively light weight.
- Individual routings in the body for each pickup - i.e. not a universal 'swimming pool' routing.
- Kluson-style vintage machine heads with nickel plating, oval pegs, and no branding.
- A blank or 'FENDER' branded neckplate, with both 'Made in Japan' and the serial number on the back of the neck just above its join with the body.
- A single nickel plated string guide on the headstock.
- Standard finishes on the UK market were: 3-Tone Sunburst, Black, Olympic White, Candy Apple Red (metallic), and Sonic Blue. Sonic blue was not initially available, and the first Fender 'E Series' catalogues only list the other four colours. Sonic blue was definitely, however, available by the late 1980s. I also saw the model in Salmon Pink in the late '80s, but the finish was never officially listed to my knowledge. It should be noted that even though the finishes are poly, they're very highly prone to yellowing, so the white Strats can end up looking blonde and the Sonic blues can end up looking Sea Foam or Surf green. They often yellow even more under the scratchplate than on the exposed areas of the body, but you may find evidence of the original colour in the neck pocket. Exotic 'Foto-flame' finishes were subsequently added to the range, premiering in the UK at the British Music Fair in mid 1993.
As time progressed, elements of the MIJ Strat reissues were changed – mostly with regard to the electrics. To begin with (pre-1985), the Squier-branded guitars had authentic-design pickups, with separate top and bottom plates and coils wound directly onto the (presumably lacquered) pole-pieces. The pickups were linked with old-style cloth-covered wire to the selector switch, which was of the open, vintage type.
However, the 1985 Fender-branded guitars were shipped with a set of modern-type single coils with moulded plastic bobbins - the same as the units on early '80s USA Strats, but with staggered pole-pieces so the pickups would still look vintage-authentic once the pickup covers were on. In '85, these new-style plastic pickups were linked with substantially thick plastic wiring to a good quality five-way switch, of the open variety.
Through the second half of the 1980s, the wiring spec was downgraded to a very thin plastic-coated wire, whilst the selector switch was downgraded to an enclosed plastic five-way YM-50 type, which looked cheap and did not typically perform reliably. The pots remained full-sized Japanese units of perfectly acceptable quality throughout. Even though the ‘evolved’ electrics setup on the MIJ '62 Reissue Strats was not technically accurate, it still gave a very similar tone to the authentic electrics, because wire is wire, a switch is a switch, and the pickups still had the crucial staggered alnico V magnets.
Click on the above stream to hear my 1992 candy apple red 'aged parts' '62 reissue in action. The guitar has a set of USA Fender '57 & '62 model pickups (the pre-1998 version, not the current one) in place of the original Japanese alnicos. I recorded the Strat through a Boss ME-8 processor using Compression, Overdrive, a touch of EQ and a small amount of Delay and Reverb. It's DI'd straight to a mixer via the ME-8's own speaker simulator.
In my experience, quality in general did become more erratic in the 1990s. For example, I found some ‘90s MIJ Strat reissues with poor attention to the body finishing, so that in the worst cases the edges of the contouring were sharply angled rather than rounded and smooth. Not all guitars or batches were the same, and if you had a good few to choose from you’d almost certainly be able to find a good one. Another issue concerned metallic finishes, and saw some candy apple red guitars shipped with noticeably patchy paintwork under the clear lacquer. Indeed, even going back to the early Japanese Squiers, there were cases of sloppy build. The typical example was jaw-droppingly good, but there were dodgy exceptions. The incidence of dodgy exceptions did seem to die away when the first fully Fender-branded MIJs appeared, and my sense is that quality consistency was at its peak in the mid ‘eighties.
Through the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, the MIJ ’62 Strat reissue came with white plastic parts, as did the American version. However, in 1992, the Japanese ’62 Strat was revised to include ‘aged parts’. Commercially, this, I believe, was a masterstroke. Real 1962 Strats featured nitrate scratchplates. The plates were intended to be white, but they got progressively more green as they were exposed to the elements, and some were noticeably greenish even when the guitars were new. The pickup covers, tone/volume knobs and switch cap were made of plastic which progressively yellowed over time, often becoming a light brown colour, which looked highly distinctive against the green scratchplates.
Even in the ‘80s, the greenish scratchplates had been available in real nitrate as accessories (at around £25 as I recall), so the ‘aged parts’ thing wasn’t a new idea in 1992. It was just a case of Fender looking at the market and evaluating whether or not guitarists wanted a ’62 Strat reissue with a classier white plastic parts set, or a dirtier ‘aged’ set. It was decided that vintage really should mean vintage, and the off-the-peg ‘aged parts’ ’62 Strat was born. Once the ‘aged parts’ model was introduced, white parts were confined to the ’57 model (the original of which did have white parts), and it was no longer possible to get an MIJ ’62 Strat brand new with white parts. Incidentally, the green scratchplate on the ‘aged parts’ MIJs was coloured plastic, not real nitrate.
Possibly the best thing about these MIJ Strat reissues was that you could customise them without any great concern about devastating the resale value. With the ‘90s ones, I’d normally remove the entire electrical setup and replace all the components. My favourite option was to put in a USA vintage-type switch, and either a set of Fender USA Vintage Strat pickups, or a set of Seymour Duncan Alnico IIs. These replacement pickup sets would come with enough cloth-coated wire to rewire the whole guitar, thus eliminating the nasty thin plastic-coated stuff. A really well finished MIJ ’62 Strat reissue with fully authentic electrics and ‘aged parts’ was an instrument to behold. Below you can see how the finished job would look. The photo shows a 1992 MIJ '62 reissue scratchplate with replacement Fender USA Vintage Strat pickups, a complete rewire to vintage spec, and a replacement USA five way switch of the authentic open variety. The pots are the original Fenders with 'Made in Japan' markings. The early MIJ Strats (pre-'85) were pretty much the same as this from new, except of course they had white, as opposed to 'aged' plastic parts. This is also very similar to the way an original vintage Fender Strat would look under the scratchplate.
MIJ to CIJ article.
|And just to complete the full set of standard finishes... Sonic blue.|
Posted by: Bob Leggitt