Fender '50s and '60s Strats - from MIJ to CIJ

Bob Leggitt | Saturday, 25 August 2012 |

I mentioned in my articles on the Fender MIJ ’57 Reissue and ’62 Reissue Strats, that in 1995, both models were replaced by a rather more generic duo of ‘vintage reminiscent’ products. In this piece I want to look in more detail at those replacement guitars, and their marking of the end of an era. As usual, my documentation of the facts combines personal experience from the era in question, with research from original printed matter published over the period under review – in England.

So, these late 1995 replacements for the old MIJ ’57 and ’62 Strats were still referred to as ‘reissues’, but Fender admitted they were no longer replicas, and the specific year designations were dropped. The ’57 Reissue was replaced with the ’50s Reissue, whilst the ’62 Reissue was replaced with the ’60s Reissue. These ‘50s and ‘60s Reissues were still made by FujiGen Gakki, who’d been the cornerstone of Fender Japan for over 13 years. But the newly revised Strats were to be FujiGen’s Fender swansong. With too low a spec, at too high a price, they flew in the face of the phenomenal value upon which FujiGen’s Squier and Fender products had originally built their reputation.


An ironic headline tops this late 1995 UK ad for FujiGen Gakki's last Fender '50s and '60s Stratocaster 'Reissues'. Soon to be replaced by CIJs, these MIJ guitars were so riddled with cost-cutting measures that they weren't even made like a Fender Japan reissue used to be made - let alone a '50s or '60s original! This ad bills very limited finish options, of just two per guitar.

SPEC DOWNGRADES

The most fundamental spec change was a replacement of the vintage-accurate alder body with a basswood version. The routings were still patterned correctly for a vintage Strat (no humbucker cavities or ‘swimming pools’), and the finishing was as good as, if not better than that on the previous ’57 and ’62 models. However, the colour options were reduced from five vintage and multiple foto-flame finishes per guitar, officially, down to a choice of just two standard finishes. The ‘50s Reissue (maple neck) now came in 2-tone sunburst or Candy Apple red, whilst the ‘60s Reissue (rosewood board) came in either 3-tone sunburst or Candy Apple red. Unofficially, it appears the revised guitars may also have been available in black or white – at least within the first batch.

Perhaps the saddest change was the loss of the good old MIJ alnico V staggered pickups, and the use of a completely alien set of Squier-type ceramics, which were about as un-vintage as you could get. Chromed, non-magnetic pole-pieces, the facepalm-inducing base-mounted bar magnets, and worst of all, a poor sound. Good Strat pickups are sweet, with a highly-detailed top end. These pickups had neither of those attributes. Off the rack, the revised ‘Reissues’ sounded nothing like a ‘50s or ’60s Strat – not even a brand new one.

The next concession to budget was the substitution of the correct nickel-plated Kluson-type tuners for chromed alternatives. No doubt cheaper, but for anyone in the market for a Strat reissue, annoyingly lacking in authenticity. Also noticeable was the abolition of pre-aged plastic parts for the ‘60s model, in favour of a standard white plastic scratchplate and covers/knobs set. The ‘50s Reissue now sported a round ’54 type string tree rather than the previous ’57 Reissue’s rectangular late ‘50s type. And the ‘50s Reissue’s neck fillet differed from that on its immediate predecessor – once again falling out of line with vintage-authenticity. There were plenty of differences to spot when you really started to examine the guitars in depth, and none of them could be considered improvements.

In fact (and this was the final damnation), apart from the headstock hardware and the Fender ‘spaghetti’ logos, these guitars were basically late ‘80s Squiers. Indeed, with the ’87 MIJ Squiers being made out of alder rather than basswood, it could be argued that the 1995 ‘Reissues’ weren’t even that! It was a sorry state of affairs for the once eminent and universally-lauded FujiGen Gakki-made Fender vintage Strat.

The initial recommended retail price for FujiGen’s ‘50s and ’60s Strat Reissues was £486. That was as supplied to reviewers around October 1995. But by November, Fender had already dropped that to £429, for the publication of the first official UK adverts. In the shops, prices were typically around £359, but even that was too high. With the Mexican Strats now gathering momentum in the budget to mid-priced market, some Fender dealers weren’t even listing these MIJ ‘50s/’60s Reissues.

In February 1996, as dealers were compiling their regular magazine ads incorporating the MIJ ‘50s/’60s Strats, they were already promising arrivals of new ‘custom’ colours, and the return of aged parts for the ‘60s Reissue, etc… The significance of this wasn’t apparent at the time, but a historic development was afoot. The new CIJ (Crafted In Japan) Reissues were soon to replace the MIJs. There's a notion that before the CIJs arrived, some dealers acquired batches of MIJ Strats with better spec than the ceramic pickup UK model, through unofficial channels. This would make sense given that promises of better spec were being made as early as Feb '96, and that, as far as I'm aware, it would still be a while before the CIJs really came on stream. But whether or not that was the case, the outcome was going to be the same. The Fender / FujiGen alliance was on its last legs.

CIJ PUTTING FENDER JAPAN BACK ON THE MAP

The Crafted in Japan Fenders were a new wave of high quality guitars, built at Japanese factories other than FujiGen Gakki, who, it seems, had the monopoly on the Made in Japan marque in the ‘90s. Apparently, the mid to late ‘90s CIJs were made by Tokai and Dyna Gakki, but I can’t confirm that in any period printed matter. It’s also stated online that CIJ Fenders were made in lower quantity for a short time in the early ‘90s, by Dyna Gakki, to meet production needs which FujiGen could not service. I didn’t see any CIJs in the early ‘90s, so again, I don’t provide that info from personal experience.

What I can state from experience, is it seemed to be the case that going into 1996, FujiGen Gakki were not providing Fender with a sufficiently competitive product. The ‘95-'96 UK market FujiGen '50s/'60s Strat reissues were beautifully made, but they were either overpriced, or under-spec’d, or both. The professional reviews were a far cry from the usual Fender Japan thumbs up ‘whitewashes’, and it’s little surprise that full scale production was transferred to alternative manufacturers around this time. The termination of FujiGen’s contract could have been coincidental to the diminishing sense of value in the new guitars, but I suspect it wasn’t. Indeed, as stocks of the CIJs started to arrive in 1996, there was a major price crash for the MIJ ‘50s and ‘60s Strat Reissues, and once again the Fender Japan vintage Strat Reissue began to regain its competitive edge in the market.

The first obvious sign that the CIJs had arrived, was the sight of colours never before seen on the Fender Japan Vintage Reissue displays. Shell pink, for example. Aged parts were, as promised, restored to the '60s model, and the old staggered pickups made a return on both '50s and '60s variants. By the end of 1996, it was once again possible to buy a 'proper' Fender Japan vintage '50s or '60s Strat Reissue, courtesy of the Crafted in Japan range, and the new displays certainly regenerated the interest which had waned in the light of the last MIJ Strats. Other than that, everything looked pretty standard for Fender Japan. No perceptible difference in quality as compared with the MIJs, but a definite return to the good old days as far as value for money, features, and eyecatching aesthetics were concerned.

The Crafted in Japan guitars continued doing what the MIJs had become famous for, but could seemingly no longer maintain. They can be thought of as a return to the kind of value FujiGen Gakki’s reissues had always provided until prices hit a sharp uphill slope between 1992 and 1995. The era of FujiGen Gakki’s famous Fender Japan reissues was at an end. Shame about the slightly ignominious last stand, but if it's true that you're as good as the best thing you've ever done, then the '80s and '90s MIJs' legendary status was still unquestionably assured.

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