Fender MIJ '62 Stratocaster Reissues

Bob Leggitt | Tuesday, 8 November 2011 |

Ah, the MIJ (Made in Japan) Fender vintage replicas of the '80s and early '90s… Perhaps more than any other, these guitars came to define my heyday as a guitarist. I bought my first one – a ’62 bound-edge Custom Telecaster reissue – in 1985, and at one point in the early 1990s I literally could not get enough of them. I didn’t drink, smoke or drive (still don’t), and I’d save every spare penny I earned. When I had enough cash, I’d take a trip down to Denmark Street in London, by train, and buy a new offering from Fender Japan. Nothing particularly special about London per se – the shops down there just discounted much more heavily than the ones where I lived. Many of the models could be bought for less than £300, which was a phenomenally good deal for such high quality guitars. Listed RRPs were usually upward of around £450 at the time, so some London retailers really were slashing prices to the bone!

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.

Above: The 1980s version (in black) with white plastic parts. Quality in the ‘80s was consistently high in my experience.

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 occasionally saw the model in Salmon Pink/Fiesta Red up until the late '80s, but the finish was never officially listed to my knowledge. I've discussed this in more detail in the Fiesta Red '62 Reissues post. 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.     
If your MIJ Strat conforms to all of the above, and it's all original, it's a '62 reissue. Although, due to their maverick finishes, the 'foto-flames' could not be regarded as convincing replicas.

Back in early 1988, long before the 'Aged Parts' variant was introduced by Fender, Chandler Guitars in Kew, Richmond, were offering special, professionally modified (or 'Chandlerised', to use their term) MIJ '62 Strats with aged parts. Priced at £499, one example listed was a white '62 Fender Japan reissue, with an old style 'mint green' scratchplate and Seymour Duncan Alnico pickups. It was billed as: "The nearest you can get to a fine vintage piece and stay solvent".

So, the MIJ ‘62 Strats were typically light in weight (due in part to the generous countouring, but they normally used lightish wood anyway) and very springy and lively in their tone. This contrasted with a USA ’62 reissue I once owned, which was heavier and definitely less lively in use. Unlike the post '84 MIJ models, the American version featured an authentic nitro-cellulose finish. However, the US ’57 and ‘62 reissues had their twelfth fret dots incorrectly spaced for their years, whereas the Japanese ones were correct. Without question, more money and time was lavished on the American guitars, but this didn’t necessarily make them better to play, and in many instances the reverse was true.

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.

Above: The authentic-looking 1992 ‘aged parts’ version – a true stunner in candy apple red metallic. This is a really nice one with eminently smooth body contouring, but some dodgy examples had highly defined ‘edges’ where the curves met the flatwork. Even though these ‘90s versions cut more corners than the ‘80s output (particularly beneath the scratchplate – see main text), their visuals were undeniably ‘sexier’. Within a couple of years of the ‘aged parts’ model going on sale, the MIJ ’62 reissue’s RRP had shot up by 44%! It seems the market had responded positively.

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.

Left: A classic three-tone sunburst 1980s model, with white plastic parts. Three-tone sunburst was the only standard colour for real 1962 Stratocasters, and all solid coloured instruments were custom options, each dramatically fewer in number than sunbursts. 

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.

The era of the classic MIJ '62 (and '57) reissue Strats hit an unsavoury patch when in the mid '90s, Fender began faking highly figured wood using an image 'veneer' under the sunburst finish (known as the 'Foto Flame' variant). But it ended outright for me in November 1995, when Guitarist magazine (UK) revealed new incarnations of these vintage Stratocaster reissues, which were a deliberate and obvious downgrade in basic spec.

The '62 returned to white plastic parts, dropped the authentic alder body in favour of basswood, and also adopted cheap, ceramic pickups which did not impress the reviewer in the slightest. Fender themselves changed their billing from strict 'vintage reissue' to 'vintage reminiscent', acknowledging that in truth, the Japanese '57 and '62 were no longer fit to be sold as replicas. Competitive pricing was probably behind the downgrade. Even offering what would, ten years earlier, have been a Squier Strat, Fender could not get the RRP down below £486, and that told a story in itself. You can read more about those final FujiGen Gakki '60s Fender Strat models in my MIJ to CIJ article.

And just to complete the full set of standard finishes... Sonic blue. The 'maverick' finish Fiesta Red is depicted in the Fiesta Red '62 Reissue post.

It should be recognised that there were masses and masses (and more masses) of these guitars made in the decade from the mid '80s to the mid '90s, and they're not in any sort of short supply. And since their original retail prices were not huge, in general they should still be pretty affordable on the secondhand market. However, getting hold of a mid '80s model which has remained all original and in pristine condition would be another matter entirely. What's an MIJ '62 Strat reissue worth? Well, over the years they did vary in quality, and the 'Fender MIJ' designation should not be treated as any sort of guarantee - especially on the secondhand market. But their value as a breed to active guitarists through the 1980s and early 1990s was very significant indeed. They were Strats that sounded good, felt nice to play, and didn't break the bank. And perhaps best of all, you could gig them without fear. The essence of hitting a venue with an early '60s Strat, without any of the risk.

Love Strats? Don't forget that there are many highly informative Strat articles on this site - all of which can be accessed via the Making Music page. Full articles for the pics in the composite image above can be found on the following links (clockwise from top left): Fernandes RST50 'Revival', 1980s Tokai TST50 Goldstar, Original '92 Squier Silver Series Strat, and Original '87 Eric Clapton Strat. This is just a small selection from the wealth of available matter.

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