The 10 Best Japanese Guitar Brands (2023)
Japanese guitars are quickly becoming the market’s most sought-after instruments because of their cutting-edge production and exceptional build quality. Today, the country of origin is considered a great indicator of quality. Apart from the USA, Japan is becoming a popular choice for guitarists.
Japan-made guitars are known for their amazing attention to detail, excellent build quality, and reasonable prices. There was even a time when Japan made superior Stratocasters, but Fender did something about that. Still, Japanese-made Stratocasters offer amazing value to this day.
Many famous guitarists endorse and only play Japanese guitar brands, which tells you something about the quality of their guitars.
In this article, I will talk about the best Japanese guitar brands, and figure out what makes people look for that “Made in Japan” badge on a guitar.
Whenever you talk with a guitarist about quality guitars, I’m sure that Ibanez will pop into that conversation easily. Ibanez makes very high-quality guitars, with amazing materials, and they manage to have an incredibly diverse range of guitars for everyone.
So whether you are a beginner guitarist, or you are looking to buy your first amazing quality, higher-priced guitar, you will find amazing value in Ibanez guitars.
Ibanez originally started producing guitars in Japan in the early 20th century under the name Hoshino Yaki. They first started to build Spanish-style guitars under the name Ibanez, in honor of the Spanish luthier Salvador Ibanez in the 1930s, and that’s also the reason behind their company name today.
Towards the late 70s and early 80s, Ibanez was the first instrument manufacturer to start exporting its products globally. In the late 1980s, with the introduction of their Jem and RG series, Ibanez gained global popularity.
Some of the most popular guitarists that play Ibanez guitars include Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani, George Benson, John Scofield, John Petrucci, and many more.
Yamaha, founded in 1887 in Japan, were producing pianos and organs up until 1940 and then introduced the world to their guitars. Today, Yahama is one of the most popular brands that produce musical instruments.
They managed to produce one of the best-sounding acoustic guitars, that are very well-priced and offer amazing value. When it comes to electric guitars, Yamaha has their own take on the Stratocaster, Telecaster, as well as hollow-body style of electric guitars. And one of their most famous electric guitars is the Revstar series, which sounds amazing and is gaining in popularity quite fast.
Some of the most notable guitar players that play Yamaha guitars are Carlos Sanatana, Bob Dylan, John Denver, Bob Marley, Paul Simon, James Taylor, and many more.
Takamine is one of the most famous acoustic guitar manufacturers in the world. They are also the pioneers of acoustic-electric guitars. Takamine was founded in 1959 in Japan, and to this day, all of their guitars are produced in their factories in Japan.
Their guitars are highly regarded as one of the best acoustic-electric guitars in the world and are amazing on stage. Beyond guitars, they also produce guitar pre-amps, pickups, and soundboard transducers.
A lot of very popular musicians play Takamine guitars, but some of the most notable ones are Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Wilson, Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Rick Astley, and many more.
4. ESP Guitars
Electronic Sound Products (ESP) was founded in 1975 in Japan, and began with manufacturing spare parts for other guitars but branched out to create its own lineup of guitars, which quickly caught the attention of rock and metal guitar players due to the design of their guitars.
From their budget-friendly LTD series to their signature series of guitars, ESP has a guitar to offer to every guitarist, no matter their budget. Today, ESP is manufacturing its guitars both in Tokyo and Los Angeles. They are famous for both electric guitars and bass guitars.
A lot of rock and metal guitar players play ESP guitars including Kirk Hammet, James Hetfield, George Lynch, Stephen Carpenter, and many more.
Fernandes is one of the most popular Japanese guitar brands. Founded in 1969, Fernandes guitars are mostly famous for their embedded sustainer systems that use electromagnetism to vibrate the strings. Besides making amazing Stratocaster guitars, Fernandes also owns Burney guitars, which are great Gibson replicas.
The Edge from U2 has used a Fernandes Retrorocket guitar to produce the immediately recognizable sustained notes from the song With or Without You.
Besides electric guitars, Fernandes also makes good-quality bass guitars. Unfortunately, Fernandes closed their USA division, and you can only get their guitars from Japan.
Some famous guitarists that play Fernandes are Robert Trujillo, Brad Gillis, Billie Joe Armstrong, The Edge, and many more.
Morris Guitars, a Japanese company started in 1967, makes guitars for musicians of all skill levels. You may find inexpensive acoustic guitars for beginners as well as expensive, handcrafted guitars for experts.
When Morris Guitar started manufacturing their acoustic guitars, they were focused on producing great quality replicas of Martin and Gibson dreadnought and jumbo model guitars, but due to a lawsuit, they’ve refocused to produce amazing fingerstyle acoustic guitars.
The most notable guitarists that play Morris acoustic guitars are Phil Keaggy, Jim Nichols, Brian Gore, and many more.
Tokai is a Japanese guitar company that takes makes the best-value guitars. Founded in Japan in 1947, Tokai started by manufacturing pianos and harmonicas, only to create their first guitars in 1966.
Even though Tokai doesn’t have a strong presence in the USA, they made amazing value Gibson and Fender replicas and were a part of the “lawsuit era”, therefore, they stopped manufacturing their “Les Paul Reborn” series, which nowadays can cost thousands of dollars.
Even though not very popular in the USA, some famous guitarists that have played Tokai guitars at some point in their career are Stevie Ray Vaughan, Billy Gibbons, Robert Fripp, and Johnny Whitehill.
8. Fender Japan
While everyone knows that Fender is an American guitar company, many don’t know that there is a separate entity in Japan that is licensed to manufacture Fender guitars. Fender Japan was created in 1982 and has its own reputation and history.
Fender Japan is responsible for creating some of the best Fenders guitars such as their Telecasters with humbuckers in the bridge position which are very sought after, as well as HM Strat.
The most notable famous guitar players that play made in japan Fender guitars are Yngwie Malmsteen, George Harrison, Justin Hayward, and many more.
9. FujiGen Gakki
FujiGen Gakki, which was established in 1960, is a dependable business partner for a wide range of guitar manufacturers, including Ibanez, Yamaha, Greco, Epiphone, Mann, Jason, Fernandes Guitars, and Antoria.
Producing OEM guitars, Fujigen Gakki demonstrated the company’s capacity for mass manufacturing. They also sell guitars under their own name FGN, which come at different prices, starting from budget-friendly to custom-made guitars.
Even though they also took part in the “lawsuit era”, their models still resemble Fender and Gibson guitars but are also different in some ways that make them stand out from the original.
Guyatone was founded in 1933 in Japan, which makes it one of the oldest companies on this list. They are mostly famous for creating electric Hawaiian guitars which became very popular at the time when surf music was on the rise.
Since then, Guyatone has started manufacturing its own electric guitars, amplifiers, and effect pedals. With a few bumps in the road, Guyatone has established itself as one of the most trusted Japanese guitar brands.
Some of the most notable guitarists that have played Guyatone guitars(including the Hawaiian electric guitars) are Jimi Hendrix and Hank Marvin.
When did Japan Start Manufacturing Guitars?
The first company that started manufacturing guitars was Hoshino Gakki in the 1930s, later known as Ibanez. In postwar Japan, labor was cheaper, so a lot of American companies decided to manufacture their guitars in Japan to reduce the cost of building guitars, as was true with a lot of different industries at the time.
Japanese manufacturers quickly mastered the craft and started making top-notch quality guitars and later down the line were the main competitors of American-crafted guitars, which became a problem that lead to the “lawsuit era” in the 1970s, where a lot of American companies had to deal with high-quality and better value Japanese replicas of famous American guitars.
Companies such as Gibson and Martin Guitars were mostly involved with the lawsuits as there were many replicas of their guitars, while companies like Fender, decided to branch out and partner with the Japanese to open their facilities there.
Guitars crafted in Japan during this period are still known as the “lawsuit guitars” and are one of the most sought-after guitars to this day.
Do Japanese Guitar Brands Make Quality Guitars?
Japanese-made guitars have amazing build quality and state-of-the-art manufacturing processes. Even though there are a lot of guitars made in Japan, the more expensive ones can directly compete with some of the best American guitars ever made.
Japan, although making a lot of great quality guitars, is also known for producing good value-driven guitars, which is something that was missing from the American market for quite a while.
All of these arguments, including a couple of others, make Japanese-made guitars to become one of the most in-demand instruments today.
Many different Japanese guitar brands are building amazing quality guitars, as well as great value guitars. The build quality of Japanese guitars easily matches the build quality of American-made guitars. So, no matter what your budget is, or at which stage of your guitar-playing career you are, you can definitely find a guitar that suits your needs.