From the early 1950’s through the late 1970’s, Fender USA had little competition in the guitar arena, in the making and selling of their classic Stratocasters and Telecasters, among other popular models. As many people know, when the Fender was sold in January 1965 to CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.), things changed.
A serious amount of money was spent on advertising and sales went up drastically, which, from Fender’s perspective, was a good thing. But, with more sales came more production, and more production meant less attention to details and a slumping of quality-control. As Forest White (then manager of electric guitar and amplification production at Fender) put it plainly, “Profit became paramount.”
This work ethic clashed with what musicians wanted. They were getting more poorly-made instruments as the years went on and found they were still paying a high price for them. With the introduction of many other versions of the Strat and Tele, and other less-popular models, guitarists started looking for alternatives to Fender guitars. They wanted the quality and classic design of the old Fenders, but didn’t want to pay the rising collectible cost of the old 1950’s and 1960’s models.
At this time in Japan, the electric guitar was making its great debut, and Fender guitars were highly sought-after. Finding it very difficult to acquire a real USA-made Fender, and finding it extremely expensive, a team of businessmen, guitar enthusiasts and Japanese luthiers banded together and started the FujigenGakki guitar factory “lawsuit” division, where they had brought in a handful of choice original 1950’s and 1960’s Fenders and dismantled them. Pickups were unwound and studied electronically, wood core samples were taken and exact dimensions of the woods were recorded. Artists were paid to replicate the logo designs and hardware designs. And then, finally, the Japanese started to manufacture their own Fender replicas under the names of such companies as Greco, Fernandes, ESP, Joo Dee, Westminster, Heerby, El Maya, and even Yamaha) so that they could enjoy what America was enjoying, but under their own terms and at their own cost. And most importantly, these guitars were easily available from local music shops.
This went on for a number of years until it had become so popular that Fender was made aware of the situation and decided to really take a look at what was going on in Japan. After deliberately getting their hands on a few good copies, they were astonished (and probably really angry) about how accurate some of the copies were. Enraged at this deliberate copyright infringement, Fender threatened a lawsuit against many of these companies in the early 1980’s, forcing them to “cease and desist” production. Many ceased (like El Maya, Heerby, and Joo Dee), but many desisted and kept making these same guitars with minor changes to the logos and headstock designs. And there were others who just ceased, and then just picked up and started making them again under a different name.
All this interest in Fender’s classics and the Japanese’s successful efforts at re-introducing the famous Strat and Tele designs from the 1950’s and 1960’s gave Fender USA a bright idea… making reissues of their OWN classics! What a great idea! It’s a wonder nobody else thought… well, er, uh…
So, Fender (under the direction of Dan Smith at the Fullerton Plant) started to really get things going prior to 1982 so that they could release their “vintage” line of reissue guitars, which are still being made today. Since the Japanese were already so successful, they hired a Fender Japan team (largely made up of Greco’s designers and luthiers) to try to do what they did best, but by changing the logo to “Fender” and putting Fender USA pickups in them. After a trial period, the USA team decided to pay the Japanese team a visit and see how things were going. Upon completion of their trip, Dan lamented: “Everybody came up to inspect them and the guys almost cried, because the Japanese product was so good - it was what we had been having a hell of a time trying to do."
So, (in my personal opinion) due largely to the Japanese work ethic of leaving/accepting no room for error in their work and their exceptional attention to detail and focused attitude, these early Fender Japan guitars (JV for Japanese Vintage) started a successful legacy of real Fenders that continues today.
Fender Japan began in 1982 and their JV line of guitars was halted at the end of 1983. Starting in 1984, the “MIJ” (made in Japan) decade began and continued through 1994. From 1994 until today, Fender Japan guitars are stamped with the “CIJ” (crafted in Japan) logo. Fender “Squier” guitars were produced at the same time as the Fenders in Japan, but were made as cheaper versions of the Fenders, to meet the demand for cheaper guitars in Japan and abroad. Fender “Squier” still continues to this day.
Fender Japan currently makes more models of Fender guitars than Fender USA does, and most of them are regular production-line models. Fender Japan also has a Custom Shop and Order-Made division. Many of these models were and still are for Japan only, and not intended for export, and are difficult to purchase direct from Japan, except through private collectors such as myself.
Click HERE for assistance in dating your Fender Japan guitar or to check your guitar's serial number with my chart.