The Fender MIJ Guitars - Circa 1990 (with prices)

Bob Leggitt | Thursday, 5 July 2012 |

For this piece I’ve assembled a historical snapshot of a classic and much loved range of guitars: namely, the Fender MIJ (Made in Japan) export range, which ran in production between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s. I’ve chosen the year 1990 for my snapshot – a time at which the range was packed full of different models and variations. Prices were attractive, quality was high, and the choice was extensive. I’ve documented the most popular and widely available guitars in the range below. Please note that this only includes Japanese Fenders – nothing from the US or from Korea. ALL of these Japanese instruments, including ‘50s and early ‘60s reissues, had poly finishes. Some of the guitars are covered in more detail in their own specific articles on this site.

Please follow the links provided for more information. Also, just a quick note to say that the formerly Japanese Fender HMI, HMII and HMIII Strats (the Heavy Metal models) had been reallocated Squier branding and production had been moved to Korea by 1990 – so those guitars don’t feature. The selling prices are original UK figures from 1990, based on lists from a variety of different outlets.


Standard Stratocaster

This was very similar to the 86-‘87 Squier Strat (the white guitar depicted in my Truth About ‘80s Squier Strats article), but with a promotion to full Fender status. In 1987, Fender’s new Korean-made Strats adopted the Squier branding. Production of the existing standard Squier, however, continued in Japan from 1988 to 1991, with Fender branding, to avoid an impossible battle for sales against the much cheaper Korean Squiers. Basic appointments post ’88 included a vintage-type vibrato, dual black plastic string trees on the headstock, Gotoh machine heads, silver 'Transition' type logo, an un-tinted, pale finish for the maple on the neck, and ceramic pickups with non-magnetic flush poles and a bar magnet stuck to the base. Unlike the Korean Strats, this Japanese instrument had always had a solid wood body, whether branded Squier or Fender. In 1988, this guitar was known in the UK as a Fender Special Series Strat, but by 1990 it was pretty universally denoted as the Fender Japan Standard Strat. The selling price would normally be between £240 and £270 with the big discounters, although the actual RRP wasn’t far beyond the upper reaches of that range.

Vintage ’57 Strat Reissue

The classic late 1950s Strat replica, with single-ply white scratchplate, staggered-pole alnico pickups, small ‘spaghetti logo’ headstock, and ‘one piece’, honey-coloured maple neck. You can see this guitar reviewed in my Fender MIJ ’57 Strat Reissue article. Standard MIJ ’57 Strat colours were 2-tone Sunburst, Black (unofficially sold as the Clapton ‘Blackie’ model), Olympic White, Candy Apple Red, and Sonic Blue. Selling price typically between £285 and £360 depending on the retailer.

Vintage ’62 Strat Reissue

The classic early 1960s Strat replica (reviewed in detail in my MIJ '62 Strat article), with three-ply white/black/white scratchplate, staggered-pole alnico pickups small ‘spaghetti logo’ headstock, and ‘slab’ rosewood fretboard. Standard colours were 3-tone Sunburst, Black, Olympic White, Candy Apple Red, and Sonic Blue. Selling price typically between £285 and £360 depending on the retailer.

Vintage ’68 Strat Reissue

A special Hendrix model with maple neck and separate maple fingerboard. Staggered-pole alnico pickups and large headstock. Available in Vintage White or 3-tone Sunburst. Right hand version selling at around £330. Left hand option selling at around £400. This was one of the very rare instances in which right-handed players had to pay more than left-handed players to get a guitar with the correct orientation! You can find a full review of this guitar in my Fender MIJ '68 'Hendrix' Strat article. In that article, you can see how different the pricing was in early 1988 for the same guitar.

Vintage ’72 Strat Reissue

A revival of the 1972 Fender Strat with ‘bullet’ design truss rod and 3-bolt tilt neck join. Staggered-pole alnico pickups and white plastic parts. Selling at around £300, which was pretty much the maximum discount, enforced due to the enduring unpopularity of ‘70s tilt-neck Strats.

Stratocaster XII

Essentially a mid ‘60s Strat, but incorporating the 12-string design feel of the Fender Electric XII from the same period. Not singularly based on any original vintage guitar, and therefore not a vintage reissue, but this was obviously primarily targeted at those with an interest in ‘60s guitars. Selling price normally around £450, and not the fastest of sellers in 1990 judging by the number of vendors who were reluctant to stock the model.


Standard Telecaster

Like the Standard Stratocaster, the MIJ Standard Tele of 1990 was essentially a mid ‘80s Japanese Squier, upgraded to full Fender branding so as to avoid becoming unsaleable in a market flooded with dirt-cheap Korean Squiers. This guitar was reviewed in the June 1989 edition of Guitarist Magazine, and referred to as the Fender Special Series Tele rather than Fender Japan Standard Tele, but it was the same guitar. By 1990 it was almost always referred to as the Fender Japan Standard Telecaster. It had a solid wood body, a single-ply white scratchplate, the then modern Gotoh machine heads and a six-saddle bridge. You can see a full review and spec rundown for this guitar in my Fender Japan Standard Telecaster article.

Vintage ’62 Custom Telecaster Reissue

An early 1960s type Telecaster with cream binding on the edges of the body, a rosewood ‘slab’ fingerboard on a honey-tinted maple neck, and a ‘spaghetti’ logo. This guitar (reviewed in my 1985 MIJ Custom Tele article) was only designated ‘Telecaster’ on the headstock, rather than the correct ‘Custom Telecaster’, which was a glaring inaccuracy. It also featured flush alnico poles on the bridge pickup as opposed to the vintage-accurate staggered arrangement, and the wiring followed the more popular post-1967 circuit rather than the correct but less popular 1962 circuit. Available in 3-tone Sunburst or Candy Apple Red. Selling prices typically between £295 and £375 depending on the retailer.

Vintage ’50s Telecaster Reissue

A 1954-style standard Telecaster with ‘one-piece’, honey-tinted maple neck, brass bridge saddles and single-ply white scratchplate. This guitar (reviewed in my MIJ '50s Tele article) was more accurate than the ’62 Custom Tele above, but still had the incorrect wiring circuit for the sake of popularity. The bridge pickup had flush poles, but in this case, that was correct for the designated year. Please note, though, that this was only advertised as a ’50s Telecaster Reissue, and never specifically a ’54. Available in Blonde, 2-tone Sunburst, or Candy Apple Red. Selling prices around £340 upon introduction in 1990, eventually settling around £295 with the heaviest discounters.

Vintage ’69 Telecaster Thinline Reissue

The original design of Thinline Telecaster, with standard, single coil pickups, hollowed mahogany body, and an 1968 / early 1969-type pale maple neck with separate maple fingerboard. I reviewed this instrument in my Fender MIJ Tele Thinline article. Selling in 1990 at around £400 to £425.

Vintage '72 Telecaster Thinline (Mk.II) Reissue

This version of the Thinline differed from the '69 option in that it sported two humbucking pickups as opposed to standard single coils. It was also distinct in that it carried the three-bolt tilt-neck system with 'bullet' truss rod. Standard Fender Teles from 1972 retained the four bolt neck and never adopted the 'bullet' arrangement, but the more upmarket versions (Custom, Thinline, Deluxe) followed the Strat into three-bolt territory. The selling price for the MIJ Thinline Mk.II would be in the same ballpark as the '69 Mk.1 - approximately £400 to £425.

Vintage Pink Paisley Telecaster Reissue

A replica of the short-lived pink paisley ‘wallpaper’ (stickum graphics)-coated Telecaster from the psychedelic/flower-power era. Aside from the unusual body finish and see-through scratchplate, standard late ’69 Tele appointments including a ‘one-piece’ maple neck. ‘One-piece’ maple was re-introduced by Fender in 1969 having been cut as an option around years earlier. That precludes this reissue from being designated a ’68. Selling between around £300 and £360 depending on the retailer.

Vintage Blue Flower Telecaster Reissue

A replica of the rare blue flower ‘wallpaper’ (stickum graphics)-coated Telecaster from the psychedelic/flower-power era. Aside from the unusual body finish and see-through scratchplate, standard late ’69 Tele appointments including a ‘one piece’ maple neck. Selling between around £300 and £360 depending on the retailer.

Vintage Rosewood Telecaster Reissue

An eyecatching natural wood Telecaster apeing the all-rosewood variant originally made by Fender for George Harrison in 1968, and in regular production from 1969 to 1972. 3-ply black/white/black scratchplate, and standard single coil pickups. A more expensive guitar due to the high cost of the solid rosewood body and neck, so typically selling between £500 and £525.

Blue Flower Stratocaster

A blue flower ‘wallpaper’ (stickum graphics)-coated Stratocaster with matching scratchplate. This instrument came in two separate year designations, although I never saw either of the years denoted in adverts. It was always just the ‘Blue Flower Strat’, and you had to then contact the vendor to check which one they had. Some sellers didn’t realise there were two versions and had to be told which features to check for. The ’69-type model had a ‘one-piece’, four bolt neck with a walnut blob above the nut. There was also, however, a ’72-type model which had a three bolt tilt-neck. This is easily distinguishable due to the metal ‘bullet’ protruding above the nut. Selling price between around £300 and £390 depending on the retailer. This guitar was not a strict reissue, since Strats were not originally shipped with the blue flower finish.

Pink Paisley Stratocaster

A paisley ‘wallpaper’ (stickum graphics)-coated Strat, with matching scratchplate. Like the Blue Flower Strat above, the Pink Paisley Strat came in both ’69 and ’72 year designations, but was only sold generically, without reference to the variant. See the Blue Flower Strat’s text (above) for a guide on how to tell the ’69 from the ’72. Unlike with the completely ‘fictional’ Blue Flower Strat, there was originally an American Fender Pink Paisley Strat, made as a one-off in the 1970s and featuring the three-bolt ‘bullet’ tilt neck. However, it appears that guitar was made much later than 1972, as it featured the black pickup covers, knobs and switch cap of the latter ‘70s. The 1984 edition of Andre Duchossoir's Fender Stratocaster book did cite the original Paisley Strat as a '72. But the year of the guitar was omitted from the next update of the book so it wasn't clear whether it really was a '72 or not. Anyway, regardless, the MIJ Paisley Strats had white plastic parts, and therefore did not correspond to the US original.

OTHER INSTRUMENTS - TYING UP THE ‘LOOSE ENDS’…

Many Fender Japan enthusiasts will note that the early 1960s Jazzmaster Reissue and early 1960s Jaguar Reissue are missing from this list, alongside one or two other often elusive MIJ models. The ‘50s Esquire Reissue also sits among these less in-demand pieces. Additionally, there was a reissue of a 1972-style Telecaster Custom, which was a completely different guitar from the '62 Custom Tele. It had a humbucker in the neck pickup position and a standard single coil at the bridge. It also featured the three-bolt 'bullet' neck, and had no binding around the guitar body.

Fundamentally, these guitars were available in the MIJ range from the mid 1980s, but not shipped to the UK in anything like the quantity, or with anything like the regularity, of most of the models listed above. At the point of the snapshot I’ve taken from 1990, none of the retailers I could find were listing these rather more select guitars. However, I did spot a Candy Apple Red MIJ Jaguar Reissue in Birmingham in early 1991, and quickly bought it. There's a full retrospective on that reissue in my MIJ '62 Jag article. From memory (because the listings are very hard to find in the hundreds of mags I’ve kept from the ‘80s and ‘90s), the Jaguar came in 3-tone Sunburst, White, Black, and Candy Apple Red (metallic). From what I recall, only the red one came with a white scratchplate. The rest had tortoise plates. Also, the red one was the only example to come with a matching headstock.

As far as I’m aware, the Jazzmaster came in the same colour/scratchplate combinations, with the Candy Apple Red one definitely bearing a white plate. The only red MIJ Jazzmaster I saw brand new, in person, was being used by a friend of a friend at a local Birmingham bar called Megas in 1986. I’m not 100% sure after over a quarter of a century, but I don’t think that one had a matching headstock like the Jaguar.

My Fender Japan Vintage Jaguar Reissue, as bought early in 1991. These were rarely if ever bought in serious bulk by UK retailers, so the kind of discounts applied to popular Strats and Teles would be unattainable. Therefore, you'd expect to pay between £400 and £460. In and around 1987, those prices were not much different from what you'd pay for an original '60s Fender Jag in England - another reason these guitars probably weren't considered greatly saleable on the UK market.

Incidentally, I only ever saw the ‘50s Esquire in blonde.

So that’s the general summary of Fender’s classic MIJ range, as widely sold in 1990. Please don't regard this list as exhaustive, or 100% accurate. The output from Fender Japan was complicated, and we're going back over 20 years, so anything purely from memory is subject to error. However, I've extensively cross referenced as much as possible, and my memory is generally very good, so you can regard the list as a fairly accurate picture of Fender Japan's primary UK availability in 1990, compiled by someone who was there at the time, browsing the guitars in the shops on at least a weekly basis, and buying them as often as possible.

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