Fender and the Japanese guitar industry have had a complicated, often difficult but ultimately rewarding relationship. Fender were badly hit by high quality, cheap Japanese replicas of guitars that Fender seemed unable to build correctly, tried litigation but then embraced the Japanese industry in a way that saved Fender’s US
production – after all, for a while in the 80’s, all Fenders were made in Japan while the US factories relearned how to make a decent Tele or Strat.
One legacy of this is the continued production of Fender Japan. Though mostly meant for the Japanese market, some of these are sold overseas and today I have one of them here, the Fender Japan 1952 Telecaster reissue.
Now I love Japanese guitars, I have a couple of old Westones and Ibanezs and a 1981 Tokai Strat that is sublime. I love the quality of the build, the way that everything is built to handle well. Compare the Tokai with the equivalent Strat? The Tokai is better in every way.
So I was really looking forward to this, Japanese production? Love it! Butterscotch Tele? I love butterscotch Teles! Bring it on! It also comes with a UK price tag of around £800, this is perhaps half the price of the equivalent US guitar.
I opened the case and found…..well, you know how subtle the finish is on one of those really old Fenders is, the way the nitro sinks into the wood, how warm it all looks, that never mind how beat up that ancient Tele is, it is still the coolest looking thing on the planet? You know that? Well, this is not quite it.
Forget nitro finishes, there is a lot, I mean a lot of poly finishing to this guitar. It is very , very shiny and very, very yellow And in many ways that it good, the finish is very well applied and will last at least 400 million years. But for a guitar being sold as a 1952 reissue, this is not quite it, is it?
The timber is actually very attractive with a very pleasing grain pattern, but the vividness of the finish does not do it any favours.
The neck is fine, it has the pukka 7.25″ radius with a nicely comprimised profile, not too thick or too thin. Necks on early Fenders could vary hugely and 1952 Tele necks could be quite slim or real bat handles so a slimmer neck is not neccesarily inaccurate.. But the finish on the back of this guitar was very thickly applied and even with my quite dry hands, felt sticky and a little slow to play. Against this, fretwork was immaculate.
At the top end decent quality tuning pegs, and indeed tuning was rock solid throughout the day.
Bridge is a 3 saddle job – and like others I have played recently, intonation was not a problem.
Given the nature of a Telecaster, there has to be something seriously wrong at a factory to make a duff one and this felt very well put together. All joints were tight and everything felt soild. It was well balanced and felt reassuringly hefty against my ribs.
The electrics are quite interesting, these pickups tend only to be seen on Teles sold in Japan and are highly thought off and played through my Yerasov amp clean, the bridge pickup had sweetness and creamyness under the sharp attack.Note definition and seperation are spot on and there was a 3d depth to the tone. Together with the tight radius neck, the temptation to chicken pick is irrisistable and once you start on the country licks you really understand why the Telecaster still is supreme, so much punch and clarity. Dirty it up a bit and you have a full, rich tone, full of bark and bite – and just so much more interesting than a humbucker that just sounds flabby next to it.
You can play metal on it, but the clean and overdriven tones are so much more fun.
With both pickups you get a rich creamy tone, its brightness will really cut through for rhythm playing and for funk or soul playing, it really is hard to beat.
The neck pickup can be the weak spot on a Tele, but this pickup is very good, it does not have quite the juicy bell-like tone of a good strat but it is more forthright and focused and the slight loss of fatness makes it more versatile – for jazz it is a very clean, modern tone that just loves modulation effects, for blues it is wonderfully tactile sound that responds so well to pick attack, dig that pick in and the neck pickup really sits up. Too much overdrive and you lose much of the definition that makes the clean tones so outstanding, but keep it clean and it is very, very good.
If I was buying a Tele today then I would go for the Baja Tele – it is cheaper, I prefer the neck and the sounds are simply awesome, the switching also makes it more versatile. But this Japanese Tele is very fine indeed. I did not like the finish but the build was very good and it gives you all the classic Tele tone you want. It is much, much better than a Mexican standard Tele and stands up well to the US 1952 reissue – which is £500 more expensive. It will last 100 years of solid gigging and will still be the coolest guitar on the planet at the end of it all.