Vintage Japanese Electric Guitar

Kevin Casper
Close up of vintage Japanese guitar.

Guitar collectors have begun turning their attention to the vintage Japanese electric guitar market. At one time, some people thought that Japanese guitar companies only made cheap knock off guitars. Nowadays, many of those guitars that were once slighted are highly sought after. Some of the most desirable vintage Japanese guitar companies and models are listed below.

Popular Vintage Japanese Electric Guitar Models

When Japanese guitar manufacturers began cracking into the western guitar market in the 1960s, they were known for producing replica guitars of popular models by Fender and Gibson. Initially, these instruments were thought of as cheap imitations of the originals, and they weren't given much respect. As the years have gone by, many of these guitars are now more sought after than the originals because of their quality materials and exceptional workmanship.

  • Greco Guitars - Greco Guitars hit their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s when they produced replica guitars of Gibson, Fenders and some Rickenbacker and Gretch replicas. They made Les Paul models, SG models, Flying V models and Thunderbird models on the Gibson side. They also manufactured Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster and Jaguar models on the Fender side. Famous guitar players like Ace Frehley of KISS and Elliot Easton from the Cars chose Greco Guitars for both recording and touring.
  • Tokai Guitars - LIke Greco Guitars, Tokai Guitars were produced in large quantity in the 1960s and 1970s, and they also specialized in Gibson and Fender models like the Les Paul Reborn and the Tokai Silver Star, a Stratocaster replica. They also produced Gibson and Martin acoustic replicas as well as a metal body guitar named the Talbo. Famous bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan once played a Tokai replica Stratocaster.
  • Univox Guitars - Univox made their own notable contributions to the replica guitar market of the 1960s and 1970s. Models like the Mother, the Gimme, the Deluxe and the Custom were various Les Paul copies, and the Ripper was their Stratocaster copy. They also made a copy of the Gibson ES-335 called the HR-2 that was very popular at the time.
  • ESP Guitars - ESP Guitars started out in the mid-1970s as a Japanese company that produced replacement parts for guitars. They also made replica guitars of Fender Strats and Telecasters, as well as Gibson Explorers. In the 1980s, ESP introduced its own line of guitars, the 400 series, that was popular with guitarists like Vernon Reid of Living Colour and Ron Wood from the Rolling Stones.
  • Ibanez Guitars - Ibanez guitars started out making Spanish acoustic guitars in the 1920s, but their modern operation of building electric gutiars took off in the 1960s. Their copies of Fenders, Gibsons and Rickenbackers were in line with the other Japanese manufacturers of the time, but they also made their own original designs like the Iceman and the Roadster. Their relationship with Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake guitarist Steve Vai led to the creation of the Ibanez JEM and the seven-string JEM Universe in the 1980s.

Where to Buy

Finding vintage Japanese electric guitar models is always a bit of an adventure because you never know what you're going to find at any given time. You have to know what you are looking for, and make sure you check websites like Joe's Vintage Guitars, eBay, JapaneseVintageGuitars.com, Guitars Japan and JapanGuitars.co.uk often to see if the guitar you're searching for is looking for a new home.

Vintage Japanese Electric Guitar