The country in which a guitar is made is often seen as a strong indicator of its overall build quality. There are a lot of factors that contribute to it, including the type of labor, training, and skills of luthiers, quality control, regulations, resources and equipment, and the focus of production.
While there are several countries that manufacture guitars, there are a few that take the lead. China, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan are some of the best countries that have guitar brands that people can trust.
Japanese guitar brands are typically seen as a level above other eastern countries with some of the most iconic brands in the industry, including Ibanez and ESP. In addition, Japanese acoustic guitar brands like Takamine even rival the best American guitar brands.
In this guide, we’ll break down all of the best Japanese guitar brands. Some are very well known, while others aren’t (especially in the United States).
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
The 11 Best Japanese Guitar Brands
There are many Japanese guitar manufacturers that you can choose from, but it can be a bit overwhelming. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, the guitar brand you choose will have an impact on your craft.
Here is a list of the best Japanese guitar brands that are stealing the spotlight and providing guitar enthusiasts with the most state-of-the-art guitars in the market.
In short, here is my list of the 11 Best Japanese Guitar Brands:
- ESP Guitars
- Fender Japan
- FujiGen Gakki
- Burny Guitars (Fernandes Guitars)
- Greco Guitars
- Alvarez Yairi Series
Check out my guide on the Best Ibanez Electric Guitars
Founded in 1957, Ibanez is a Japanese brand owned by Hoshino Gakki. It is based in Nagoya, Japan, and offers electric, bass, and acoustic guitars. It was one of the first guitar brands that mass-produced the seven-string guitar and eight-string guitars.
Moreover, this company was a leader in import guitar sales in the United States and Europe. In addition to three types of guitars, this brand also provides a wide range of effects, accessories, amps, and other instruments.
The most popular are electric guitars, and they are high in demand.
When it comes to the leading guitar brands in this world, this Japanese brand always manages to make it to the top. It is a very popular brand among metal players. The three factors that distinguish this brand from others are performance, precision, and power.
The catalog of this brand is vast and comprises guitars of a variety of different shapes and sizes. Additionally, guitar lovers can find the perfect match for them no matter how much their budget is.
Many famous guitar virtuosos have made their names using Ibanez guitars. Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Jake Bowen, Tom Quayle, and Polyphia axeme, Tim Henson and Scott LePage from the modern age, have used these guitars.
Even though the start of this company was slow due to the designs being too eccentric and divisive, things began to take a turn in the 1970s. The company started designing guitars that were similar to the other popular brands of that time for which they even faced a lawsuit.
It paved the way for the company’s diverse range and unique designs, including Iceman and AR shapes. The 1980s marked the start of this company’s popularity and growth. It was the time when this guitar brand became associated and developed a signature guitar, featuring a flamboyant style, vibrant fluorescent pink.
It was developed with a pointed Strat-style body, a 24-fret super-thin neck, high-output DiMarzio pickups, a double-locking tremolo system. It also featured the very popular “monkey grip.”
Today, Ibanez’s range includes RG series, which include the classic shred machines. The S Series features the ergonomically designed elegant guitars. GIO Series offers guitars for beginners; the Signature Series includes guitars being used by famous artists. The Genesis Collection comprises many nostalgic ‘80s shredders. In addition to these, there are several other series and collections the brand is offering.
Producing top-class guitars for the past 45 years, this company was founded in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya. It is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, and California, the United States, and specializes in the production of electric guitars and basses.
The guitars produced in Japan are different from those manufactured in California. Each of these locations targets the local consumers, which is why it designs distinct guitars in both parts.
The company operates with several different names, including ESP Custom Shop, Grassroots, ESP Standard, Edwards Guitar and Basses, Navigator, and LTD Guitars and Bases.
It produces high-end custom guitars and also has a wide range of lower-end guitars that are produced in Korea, China, and Indonesia.
ESP Guitars gained momentum in the market soon after entering and acquired a firm footing in the world of guitar manufacturing. The main reason for its popularity was its wide range of designs.
Guitarists of any level of expertise could easily get a guitar that suited their needs, requirements, and budget. Guitar-geeks can get hands-on an instrument that aligns with not only their personality but also their craft.
The catalog is filled with impressive designs that have impressed some of the big names in the industry. George Lynch, Andrew W.K., and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett are the three professional musicians that use guitars by ESP.
Whether you are a beginner or a pro, this Japanese guitar manufacturer has a guitar for you. The LTD MH-103 Quilted Maple Electric Guitar is frequently chosen by beginners who want to improve their craft. It not only is a winner in aesthetics but provides a perfectly stable tone.
Other models by this brand that are taking the guitar world by storm include the LTD Michael Paget-330 V Electric Guitar that features impressive graphics, a gorgeous basswood body, active ESP humbuckers.
Its Signature Series includes guitars that are being used by top musicians, including James Hetfield, Alex Skolnick, and Alexi Laiho.
Check out my guide on the Best Takamine G Series Guitars
Takamine is a Japanese acoustic guitar brand that came into the picture in 1962. It has been manufacturing top quality guitars for the past 58 years, and it has been able to become a globally known brand in guitar manufacturing.
The company is based in Nakatsugawa, Japan, and is known for being the first one to introduce acoustic-electric models. This brand is the pioneer in this category and has revolutionized the design of the preamplifier-equalizer component.
In addition to this, Takamine has raised the standards of guitar manufacturing across the world with its steel-string acoustic guitars, which is something the company is well-reputed for.
When the company was set up, it had to work really hard to match the standard of the American manufacturers. However, with its acoustic-electric guitars, the company was able to make a name in the world of guitar manufacturing.
A lot of artists have used the Takamine guitars. Some of these artists include Jon Bon Jovi, Blake Shelton, Steven Wilson, Garth Brooks, Simon Neil, Jake Allen, Jason Charles Miller, Chris Hillman, and the list goes on.
Another name that is highlighted among the users of Takamine guitars is that of Toby Keith. He stated, “I can afford any guitar I want. Takamines are what I need; they have been with me from the start.” Ed Kowalczyk also admires these guitars and stated, “I’ve always been a fan of Takamine guitars, but never more so than during my first solo tour where my LTD 2009 served me so well.”
Some of the top series by this company include Takamine Pro Series, which features guitars that are created with absolute perfection. The company uses the finest woods and the most exceptional woodworking techniques to provide guitar pros a top-class model.
The G-series is another hit series in the category of available and affordable guitars. The guitars in these series are not designed for any specific genre. Instead, it has guitars for all types of musicians.
The guitar craftsmanship that is visible in the models by Takamine is an image of perfection and expertise.
Alvarez Yairi Series
The list of the best Japanese guitar brands would not be complete without the mention of Alvarez Guitars. And while Alvarez Guitars is technically and American guitar brand, the Alvarez Yairi Series guitars are some of the best Japanese made guitars out there and need to be mentioned on this list.
Alvarez was founded in 1965, and since then, it has been manufacturing top-quality guitars. The company was originally founded to provide affordable guitars for aspiring artists. By implementing the best practices, the company has reached its goals and continues to provide guitarists with phenomenal-quality instruments at an affordable price.
The brand manufacturers both pro-level guitars to beginners and hobbyists. One of the best series for the professionals is the Yairi series.
The factory of Alvarez Yairi Series is located in hills north of Nagoya, Japan. The company has been making guitars for more than eight decades and was led by the late Kazuo Yairi. He was the finest and most successful luthier during his time.
Producing luthier-made guitars, the instruments by this company are beautifully designed. The build quality of each of these guitars is beyond exceptional and a top reason why many guitar-geeks choose these models.
It can be said that the guitars produced by this company are, without a doubt, one of the finest guitars in the market. There, not many brands in Japan or in any other part of the world that can beat the quality of these guitars.
Read Also: Where are Alvarez Guitars Made?
Fender Japan is a Japanese brand that started as a joint venture between Kanda Shokai, Yamano Gakki, and Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. It was a collaboration that began in 1982, and its focus was to produce and sell Fender-branded instruments in the Japanese Market.
When Fender launched the Fender Music Corporation (Japan), the collaboration ended in 2015. The guitars manufactured and sold by this company are labeled as “Japan Exclusive Series.”
The brand is known for its Fender Mustang Kurt Cobain signature model, a signature model that took the industry by a storm. Most of the models that this company produces acquire global recognition and appreciation from the guitaring experts.
Fender Japan TL52-22, Fender Japan ST62FR, Fender Japan ST-STD, Fender Japan ST62/SC, and Fender Japan ST62 in CYL finish are some of the industry hits that were produced by Fender Japan.
The catalog of this Japanese guitar brand includes a wide range of electric guitars, acoustic guitars, Stratocasters, telecasters, guitar amplifiers, and basses.
It is a brand that lies under the umbrella of FMIC. Mostly, this brand is referred to as the brand for rock n roll, but it also manufactures guitars for country and western, jazz, rhythm and blues, and many others.
The company has a catalog that consists of guitars for beginners, hobbyists, and professionals. This guitar brand has grown to become the world’s most leading guitar manufacturer.
Founded in 1947, Tokai guitars manufacturer almost all its guitars in Japan, except for its traditional series and the acoustic guitars. The company’s catalog comprises electric guitars, acoustic guitars, autoharps, and basses.
The company was initially set up for the production of harmonica and pianos. The first melodica was developed in 1961 under the name “Pianica.” Four years after this, Tokai developed classical guitars.
In 1973, it expanded its branches to the manufacturing of banjos and harpsichords. Even though the very first electric guitar in 1968, the Hummingbird. It was in 1975 years after the production of banjos; the Tokai started manufacturing the electric guitars in 1975.
During the time from 1977 to 1978, the company stepped into the production of replica electric guitars and basses by Fender and Gibson. The series of replicas gained popularity among the guitarists as the “lawsuit guitars.”
The three guitars by Tokai that are currently ruling the guitar industry are Love Rock ASL48, ALS48 Premium, and Loverock ASL70.
The company, which was founded by Tadayouki Adachi, is a family-owned Japanese guitar brand. It is located in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture, and used to manufacture pianos, melodies, and guitar amplifiers when it started operating.
The model numbers of the guitars by this company include the original price in Japanese Yen. Besides Japan, some of the series guitars are manufactured in Korea and China.
The guitars by Tokai that are manufactured in Korea are low priced and lie in the affordable range. The distinctive factor of these Korean-manufactured guitars is the unique truss rod cover.
Unfortunately, this brand is not available in the United States, which is why not many artists are seen using these guitars. One artist that religiously uses Toki guitars is Billy Gibbons, and even Johnny Whitehill is seen playing a Tokai model.
For over seven decades, this brand has been serving as the hallmark of quality Japanese guitars.
Popularly known as FGN, FujiGen Gakki is a top Japanese brand that is making it to the top in the world of guitar manufacturing. It was founded 60 years ago in 1960 and started with manufacturing violins and classical guitars.
The name FujiGen Gakki translates to Fuji Stringed Musical Instruments and is one of those companies that carry out OEM manufacturing for notable guitar brands across the world. As of today, FGN is working to produce electric guitars, electric basses, and hollow bodies.
Starting with classical vintage guitars, the company soon stepped into electric guitar manufacturing. Just two years later, in 1962, it started creating high-quality electric guitars. For almost two decades, from 1960 to 1980, this brand was the largest producer of Japanese guitars.
The company’s high production capacity led many brands to outsource its manufacturing to FGN. In 1970, this company was chosen by Ibanez, a definite milestone for FGN. Other brands that chose FGN for manufacturing included Yamaha, Antoria, Epiphone, Jason, and Mann.
As FGN was more about mass-production, the quality was not up to the mark, as compared to other electric guitar brands. The vast production capacity did
At present, FGN is working to prioritize quality over quantity to make its name as a reliable guitar manufacturer.
In addition to this, FGN has developed a distribution network that spreads all across the world. It is on its way to becoming the top guitar brands in not only Japan but also around the world.
Founded in 1933, Guyatone has been serving the guitarists for more than 87 years. Mitsuo Matsuki is the man behind laying the foundations for one of the oldest guitar manufacturers in the country. The company was initially founded under the name “Matsuki Seisakujo.” Specializing in electric guitars, this brand also manufactures guitar amplifiers and effects pedals.
It is one of the first manufacturers in the world of guitar manufacturing that started producing guitars in 1933. Hawaiian guitars influenced the original guitars by this company. In the models that were produced, later on, Rickenbacker lap steels’ influence is clearly visible.
In the 1940s, the production of the company came to a halt when the founder of the company was drafted into the Japanese Army. It was in the year 1950 that the company shifted its focus to standard electric guitars, and this was when the EG and LG series guitars came into the picture. The 1960s marked the launch of several funky offset guitars.
The brand, known for its 87 years of service to the industry, also manufactures electric guitars for major guitar manufacturer Suzuki. Guyatone also produces badged guitars for Barclay, Broadway, Coronado, Crestwood, Futurama, Howard, Hi-Lo, Ibanez, and Ideal.
It also manufactures for other brands such as Imperial, Johnny Guitar, Kent, Kingston, Lafayette, Marco Polo (electrics only), Montclair, Omega, Orpheus, Prestige, Royalist, Saturn, Silhouette, Silvertone, Vernon, Winston, and Zenta.
Burny Guitars (Fernandes Guitars)
Talking about the top Japanese guitar brands, forgetting Burny Guitars (Fernandes Guitars) is not possible. No matter where you go, you will always find this brand on the list of top Japanese guitar brands and the features that its guitars come equipped with are a perfect justification of it.
The company was set up in 1969 in Osaka, Japan. You can find two brands of Fernandes guitars on the market, and these are Fernandes and Burny. The company started functioning with its focus primarily on flamenco guitars.
Slowly and gradually, it grew its catalog to include acoustic models, electric guitars, bass guitars, amplifiers. Not only this, but the company also started producing guitar accessories. Today, this brand is one of the most dominant guitar manufacturers in the Japanese market.
What makes the guitars by this brand stand out is the sustainer system. The company has built a reputation using its unique sustainer system. It utilizes electromagnetism to vibrate a string for an unlimited time frame. The sustainer system does that for as long as the guitar player continues to fret the note.
The guitars by this brand work phenomenally well for all types of musicians. Whether one is looking for a modern guitar or a vintage style instrument, Burny guitars offer it all!
Greco Guitars came into the picture of guitar manufacturing in 1948 under the name Kanda Shokai. Kanda Shokai is a musical instrument wholesaler and is a part of Fender Japan. The company is one of the first clone guitar companies.
Initially, the company was focusing on the production of replicas of popular American guitars. These replicas were affordable versions of the top-class American guitar brands. Due to this company’s elite manufacturing quality, there was a time when the replicas were more respected than the originals.
In 1960, the Greco name was adopted by the company for its solid-body models, while for the acoustic guitars, the name, Canda, was chosen.
The Greco models from the 1960’s were exported to the United States for the first time and were manufactured at the facilities of FujiGen and Matsumku.
In many ways, these Japanese made guitars were similar to the Ibanez guitars. The original designs by this brand at that time included Greco Semi-hollow “Shrike” guitars. The guitars in this series were a bit different and brought a unique vibe into the market.
In 1979, Super Real Series, featuring guitars that were high standard replicas of Gibson and Fender models, was launched. It was the first time the company directed its focus on producing its original guitar series. However, this series did not last long and was soon discounted. The real series was then followed by the launch of Mint Collection between 1982 and 1990s, offering the same quality instruments.
The mint collection comprises the finest sounding guitars. These models are rare, and the look of its Les Paul duplicates resembles that of classical guitars by Gibson. The distinguishing feature of these guitars is the open “O” located within the logo of the company.
The guitars by Greco are available at Reverb, Guitar Center, BuyCheaper, Japan Vintage Guitars, and Joe’s Vintage Guitars. These are the best places to get your hands on these guitars.
Ace Frehley, Elliot Easton, Peter Tork, and Brian May are some of the artists that have played the Greco Guitars. The company’s BM line is very popular as it is endorsed by signature models.
Over the past decades, the guitars by this company have a fan following consisting of both amateur guitarists as well as the professionals.
When talking about the best Japanese guitar brands, Yamaha might not be the first brand that comes to mind. However, the company not only dominates the Japanese market but has a fair share in the guitar industry across the globe. One thing to note, however, is that while Yamaha is technically a Japanese guitar brand, most of their guitars are actually now made in China. This allows them to create more affordable guitars aimed at beginner to intermediate level players.
It is a well-known brand that was founded in 1887 to manufacture pianos and organs. However, it was during the 1940s that this company stepped into guitar manufacturing. A facility, specifically for guitar manufacturing, was founded in Hamamatsu in the early forties.
For more than 50 decades, this company has been staying strong in the world of guitars. For two decades, from 1960 to 1980, Yamaha guitars were all manufactured in Japan.
The company caught the attention of several guitar enthusiasts with its nylon-string classical design. Initially, these guitars were only sold to domestic retailers. As the demand for acoustic guitars rose in the mid-sixties, it gave a chance to this company to turn into a giant in the Japanese guitar industry.
In 1966, the company started exporting its classical guitars. The series that was chosen as export was the G-Series acoustic models. These guitars were further refined a year later due to the joint efforts of the company, and Eduardo Ferrer, a Spanish guitar designer, and the GC-series were launched.
In addition to classical acoustic guitars, this company also spreads its roots into steel-string and electric guitars.
Even today, the quality of the guitars by Yamaha much as its reputation that it has built over the past five decades. Due to this, several notable artists use the guitars by this company.
Some of the top artists include Country Joe McDonald, Carlos Santana, John Denver, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Frank Gambale, and several others.
Japan is one of the most popular origins of guitar brands. All these brands listed above produce the most top-quality guitars that help them stand at an esteemed position in the world of guitar manufacturing. Each of these features unique qualities that make them stand out from the crowd.
When choosing a guitar, whether you are a beginner, professional, or hobbyist, considering Japanese brands is a smart option. You can find a guitar in every range and for every type of music. We have discussed the top eleven Japanese guitar brands in detail for you to help you make the right choice.