Ending The Confusion of Fender Japan's Vintage Strat Reissue Model/Year Designations

Bob Leggitt | Thursday, 11 March 2021 |
'62 and '57 Reissue Stratocasters
I'm sure you recognise them. But do you call these partners in crime the '60s and '50s Stratocaster reissues, or the '62 and '57 Stratocaster reissues? And which reference is correct?

As a writer who's always lived in England, I've regularly cited designations specific to the UK guitar market, and I know that such references can be inaccurate with regard to markets in other countries. Most often I've aimed to stress within posts when it's likely that my info could differ from that available elsewhere. But no set of semantics has proved more widely confusing than those used to describe Japanese-made vintage reissue Stratocaster models 027-1000 and 027-1002. (Model coding explained here}.

In other posts on this blog, I've referred to these models as the '62 reissue and the '57 reissue respectively. But if you live in the USA, you may instead know them as the '60s Stratocaster and '50s Stratocaster. In this post, I want to clear up the confusion once and for all, and explain why we're all using different language to talk about the same guitars...

'57 STRAT OR '50s STRAT?... '62 STRAT OR '60s STRAT?


The cause of the confusion was the multiplicity of sources for marketing semantics. Outside America, the body communicating semantics to dealers and the press would not necessarily be Fender. And across the lifetime of the above models - 1985 to 1995 - the UK dealers and press were getting their guidance from a distributor called Arbiter. Arbiter would use whatever language it felt would most likely shift the stock.

Let's take a sample year and break down how the different references panned out...

In 1993, Fender marketed model number 027-1000 in the USA as the '60s Stratocaster, whilst the UK distributor Arbiter was describing the same model as the '62 Stratocaster. Similarly, model number 027-1002 was going out to the US as the '50s Stratocaster, and to the UK as the '57 Stratocaster.

This only applied with the Japanese builds. The American Vintage Reissues of the day were unified as the '57 and '62 Stratocasters in both the USA and the UK.

Additionally, forward from 1995, when the MIJ export spec was markedly changed to give a less accurate feature set, the UK began referring to the new Japanese Strat “reissues” as '50s and '60s, rather than '57 and '62.

JAPAN'S OWN OPINION...


Okay, so can the instruments' country of origin help us sort out whether the USA had the right terms of reference for models 027-1000/2, or whether the UK did? What was Japan's own designation for these guitars?...

Japan had a different system of recognition on its domestic market, where there were multiple variants for both models. Firstly, Japan did not officially import USA Vintage Strat reissues. It instead made its own versions of the American Vintage Reissues, with nitro finishes and actual American '57/'62 pickups. These guitars topped the vintage Strat reissue range in Japan, but were not officially available in the US or the UK, because the US and UK sold the American version.

Sliding down the Japanese price range there were then two intermediate options per model (so four in all) - both with polyurethane finishes. The more expensive of the two had an alder body and Lace Sensor pickups. The less expensive had a basswood body and USA '57/'62 pickups.

At the bottom of the range you'd find Japanese domestic parallels to the versions exported to the US and UK, which had Japanese, one-piece-bobbin, staggered alnico pickups, and were known in Japan as either the ST57-53 (model 027-1002) or the ST62-53 (model 027-1000). Remember that these were the model codes circa 1993. Because the final two digits would denote the Japanese price, in thousands of Yen, different periods could have different model code suffixes.

Importantly, the “ST57” part of the code tells us that Fender Japan manufactured model 027-1002 as a '57 Strat reissue. But it could still be marketed as a '50s Stratocaster reissue, right? Not in Japan, because on the Japanese domestic market there was also a similarly spec'd range of four '54 Strat reissues, with model codes beginning “ST54”. If the ST57s had sold in Japan as '50s Stratocasters, they could be confused with the ST54s.

SO WHY THE VAGUE YEAR DESIGNATIONS IN AMERICA? WERE THESE GUITARS NOT ACCURATE ENOUGH TO REPRESENT A SPECIFIC YEAR?


The 027-1000/2 models were highly representative of the specific years 1957 and 1962. But it would in fact have been more accurate to call the '62 a '61, because like a real 1961 Strat the reissue had no patent numbers on the headstock, whereas a real 1962 Strat did. Andre Duchossoir explained in the 1985 print run of his book The Fender Stratocaster, why Fender eventually ran with the '62 designation...

“Fender wanted to keep open the option to change the “slab” fingerboard into a “curved” fingerboard should it prove unsatisfactory in the long run.”

1962 was the year that Fender changed its original thick “slab” rosewood fingerboard for the thinner, veneer-style “curved” board. So designating the early '60s reissue as a '62, covered both bases. That's why it didn't appear as a '61.

Duchossoir's reference, I should stress, related to the earliest American Vintage Reissues, and not the later Japanese models we're discussing in this post. However, without dismantling the guitars, the Japanese models 027-1000/2 were virtually indistinguishable from the American Vintage Reissues.

The only noticeable difference from a three metre distance would be the position of the twelfth fret fingerboard dots. And it was the Japanese guitars that had the correct positioning - not the USA versions. So in one way the MIJs were more entitled to specific year designations than the MIAs. On closer inspection, the USA reissues had their headstock logos (correctly) placed on top of the lacquer. The MIJs had them (incorrectly) sealed underneath it. So swings and roundabouts.

Broadly, the USA reissues had no greater entitlement to specific year designations than the Japanese versions.

The reason Fender USA ran with much more vague '50s and '60s titles, rather than the specific '57 and '62 as per Fender Japan's listings and codes, was 99.9999% certain. It was, we can confidently say, to better differentiate them from the American-made '57 and '62 Strat reissues and create a sense of greater authenticity in the home-manufactured instruments. Instruments that actually were more authentic, but no more entitled to specific year designations. How do we know this?

Well, if you look at the American listings of the time, you see that all of the Japanese reissue six-string models except for three, had specific year designations, just like they did in the UK. '62 Custom Telecaster, '69 Telecaster Thinline, '68 Stratocaster, '72 Stratocaster, and so on. Fender USA didn't make a version of these guitars, so there was no danger of customers confusing them with American builds. But the three Japanese guitars that were given vague decade designations in the US, happened to be the three that did have American Vintage counterparts. '57 Strat, '62 Strat, and '52 Tele.

Therefore, we can conclude that MIJ guitar models 027-1002 and 027-1000, known respectively in the US as the '50s and and 60s Stratocaster, were acknowledged pretty much worldwide as the Made in Japan '57 and '62 Stratocaster, and that Fender USA chose to wilfully de-authenticate those designations for home-soil marketing purposes.

Now we're all singing out of the same hymn book.
Bob Leggitt
Bob Leggitt is a print-published writer, multi-instrumentalist and twice Guitarist of the Year finalist, Google-certified digital marketer, image manipulation expert, virtual musical instrument builder, "Twitter detective", and author of successful blogs such as Planet Botch, Twirpz and Tape Tardis. | [Twitter] | [Contact info]