Most people think American guitar brands are the best because many famous guitarists come from the U.S. of A.
However, there are the Mexican mariachis, Spain’s classical and flamenco guitarists, Japan’s shamisen artists, and other phenomenal guitarists globally.
These musicians may lack the fame of their American and British counterparts, but they are outstanding guitarists, nonetheless.
For instance, the Japanese have been playing the Shamisen for many centuries, long before Yamaha introduced the modern guitar to the Japanese people in the 1940s.
Today, Japan makes some of the best guitars money can buy.
As an avid guitarist of 15 years, I share my take on the best Japanese guitar brands and their remarkable stories.
Join me in discovering the best guitar manufacturers from the Land of the Rising Sun.
10 Best Japanese Guitar Brands
- ESP Guitars
- Fender Japan
- Greco Guitars
- Alvarez Yairi Series
- FujiGen Gakki
Founded in 1887, Yamaha remains the best Japanese guitar brand and one of the world’s most popular.
This manufacturing company started with organs and pianos before branching out to guitars in 1940.
It would take the brand another 16 years for the rest of the world to appreciate their musical instruments.
The first few years saw the Yamaha Company producing some of the finest nylon-string acoustic guitars the music-loving world has ever seen.
However, the birth of Rock and Roll in the 1950s – especially Beatlemania taking the world by storm – prompted the brand to ramp up its guitar design capabilities by working with renowned guitar designers.
Yamaha gave us the SG, FG, BB, Pacifica, and Revstar Series guitars before embarking on an ambitious project in 2017 – the introduction of the TransAcoustic hybrid guitar.
Today, Yamaha guitars feature the Acoustic Resonance Enhancement technology the brand developed in 2007 to enhance the instrument’s dynamic responsiveness and sound transmission capabilities.
Many famous artists played Yamaha guitars during their heyday, including Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, John Denver, James Taylor, and John Lennon.
You might want to check Yamaha’s company website for the latest quality production offering.
Hoshino Gakki founded Ibanez (short for Salvador Ibanez Guitars) in 1957, becoming one of the most iconic guitar brands on the planet for their exceptional playability and craftsmanship.
The Nagoya-based company was also the world’s first guitar manufacturer to mass-produce 7-string and 8-string guitars.
Ibanez Guitars also designs and manufactures amplifiers, effects units, mandolins, ukuleles, banjos, and other guitar accessories.
While Gibson once filed a lawsuit against Ibanez for copying the former’s headstock design in 1977, the company relied on its creative team and extensive guitar designs to push forward.
Today, the company offers more than 130 acoustic guitar models, 165 bass guitars, and 300 electric guitars.
The Ibanez brand is well-revered for its solid and hollow-body electric guitars, while its signature series also make huge waves in the entertainment scene.
For example, the three-time Grammy Award Winner and guitar virtuoso, Steve Vai, has nine signature guitar models under the Ibanez brand.
Famous artists choose the Prestige models, while Gio guitars are suitable for budget-conscious guitarists.
The RG Series models are phenomenal with their thin necks, fixed bridges, floating tremolo systems, and 24 frets for exceptional playability.
However, heavy metal artists prefer the RGA, RGD, S, and DN Series models.
The company website is worth checking out if you want the latest models from this manufacturer of proven guitars and high quality instruments.
If Yamaha and Ibanez offer different guitar types, ESP Guitars Company focuses more on electric guitars and electric basses.
Founded in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya in Tokyo, ESP Guitars is well-known for being the favorite of famous heavy metal thrashers, including Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer.
Luna Sea’s Sugizo has a significant contribution to the company’s bass signature line, giving the company’s basses some of the most unusual yet iconic designs you can see on the heavy metal scene.
ESP Company has two locations, Tokyo and Los Angeles, churning out fascinating guitars for the local market.
While its products are high end, the ESP brand also manufactures guitars for budget-conscious folks – a feat it does through its production facilities in China, Indonesia, and Korea.
Beginner guitarists love the ESP LTD MH-103 because of its stable notes and champion aesthetics.
Advanced heavy metal enthusiasts prefer the ESP LTD Michael Paget with its active humbuckers, stunning basswood, and impressive graphics.
On the other hand, James Hetfield, Alex Skolnick, George Lynch, and other famous heavy metal artists prefer the Signature Series.
There is an ESP guitar for you, from the budget-friendly to the high end.
A visit to the company website will satisfy your cravings for acoustic guitars, electrics, basses, and other high quality instruments from this thriving brand.
Fender is an American brand founded by Leo Fender in 1946 and is one of the most iconic guitar brands on the planet.
The company saw a dramatic decline in its sales in the 1970s due to stiff competition from lower-priced yet equally high-performance Japanese manufactured guitars.
That is why the Fender brand collaborated with Yamano Gakki and Kanda Shokai in 1982 to design, produce, market, and sell musical instruments with the Fender logo.
The joint venture ended in 2015 with the launching of Fender Japan.
You might see two different inscriptions in your Fender Japan guitar – ‘made in Japan’ and ‘crafted in Japan.’
High quality Fender Japan guitars with ‘made in Japan’ inscription came from the FujiGen Gakki manufacturing company and were prominent from 1982 to 1996.
From 1996 onwards, you will see Fender Japan guitars with the ‘crafted in Japan’ inscription to describe the company’s manufacturing partners – Dyna Gakki and Tokai Gakki.
People call any product coming from the Fender Japan brand as Japan Exclusive; although, they retain the classic shape, tone, performance, and style of Fender’s revered instruments.
Fender Japan produced some of the world’s finest guitars, including the TL52-22, ST62FR, ST-STD, ST62/SC, and ST62.
Jazz musicians, R&B artists, folk and country guitarists, and rock and roll enthusiasts can always rely on a guitar with the Fender logo.
This Japanese guitar brand started as the Kanda Shokai Corporation in 1948 before rebranding as Greco in 1960.
Early Greco guitars had an uncanny semblance to Ibanez models because they share the same manufacturer in Matsumku and FujiGen.
In the1960s, the company offered an original design – the Shrike – that featured odd but revolutionary boomerang pickups.
A decade later, Gibson would use the same design in its Flying V model, underscoring the Greco guitar designers’ forward-thinking.
The company started producing Telecaster-like guitars in 1967, followed by Gibson-like models in the early ‘70s.
By 1979, Greco was already offering realistic Fender and Gibson replicas to guitarists who adore the brands but could not stomach the price tag, especially the Les Paul series.
In 1982, the company became a part of Fender Japan, continuing to this day.
This Japanese brand may be known as a copycat of big-name manufacturers, but it enjoyed a substantial following among enthusiasts and professional guitarists alike.
Queen’s Brian May once played a Greco, while Peter Tork and Ace Frehley are other famous users of the brand.
A quick glance at the brand website should give you an idea about this Japanese guitar manufacturing company’s latest offerings.
Unlike other guitar manufacturers, Tokai Gakki Company remains a family-run guitar manufacturer founded in 1947.
Founded by Tadayouki Adachi, Tokai is one of Japan’s leading manufacturers of electric and acoustic guitars, autoharps, basses, melodicas, guitar amps, and pianos.
Its earliest offerings were pianos and harmonicas, with the Pianica melodica entering the market in 1961.
In 1965, Tokai introduced its first classical guitar and the Hummingbird electric guitar three years later.
Unfortunately, its electric guitar failed to gain traction in the local market, prompting the company to ditch the idea and focus on banjos.
Seven years later, Tokai reinvented its electric guitars and has not looked back since then.
Between 1977 and 1978, Tokai produced replica guitars market, providing Japanese guitarists with more affordable versions of their favorite Gibson and Fender electric and acoustic guitar models.
The company now focuses solely on the production of acoustic and electric guitars, chromaharps, and basses.
Tokai’s most sought-after guitars include Love Rock ASL70, ALS48 Premium, and Love Rock ASL48.
The Japanese manufacturer also has manufacturing facilities in China and Korea, serving the growing local market with more affordable versions of Tokai’s offerings in Japan.
Although Tokai does not have a US presence, it still managed to earn the respect of a few big-name artists, such as Johnny Whitehill and Billy Gibbons.
Alvarez Yairi Series
Although Alvarez Guitars is a 1965-established American brand, its guitars are the creations of the master luthier, Kazuo Yairi.
St. Louis Music’s owner and founder, Gene Kornblum, collaborated with Yairi in designing and manufacturing steel-string guitars for importation into the US.
Yairi created concert classical guitars by hand at the time.
The duo formalized the partnership and included the Yairi Series into Alvarez Guitars’ other guitar series, including the Masterworks, Regent, and Artist.
It is worth mentioning the Yairi Series is different because of the master luthier’s meticulous attention to detail, carving the guitar body by hand, and giving each guitar undivided attention from start to finish.
Yairi carefully selects his tonewoods and employs a technique only the best luthiers know.
That is why many seasoned guitarists love Alvarez Yairi Series guitars because of their unparalleled craftsmanship no mass-produced guitar can ever replicate.
The exceptional build quality matches the elegance of violins and violas that look more stunning with age.
Joe Bonamassa, Ani DiFranco, Bob Weir, and Jerry Garcia prefer these guitars over big-name brands because each string instrument is the handiwork of a master.
If you do not mind paying more for a guitar, an Alvarez Yairi Series is worth having.
However, I must caution you about observing these high end guitars’ proper care and maintenance to preserve their beauty and exceptional tonal characteristics.
If you need an affordable guitar with impressive looks, you might want to consider Takamine’s Japanese guitars.
Takamine was the world’s first company to offer acoustic-electric guitar models in 1978, 16 years after its establishment.
Takamine produced the world’s first-ever hybrid guitar featuring a preamp-equalizer component.
The musical instrument gave guitarists versatility in playing the instrument like an electric guitar without losing its impressive acoustic characteristics.
Takamine is well-loved for its acoustic guitars, classical guitars, and acoustic-electric units.
The models performs as splendidly as the products of Fernandes Guitars and other leading Japanese brands.
However, Takamine was also successful in solid-body electric guitars, which it introduced in the 1980s.
There are the Gibson Explorer-style GX100 and the Stratocaster-like GX200 that guitarists of the ‘80s loved.
While it is safe to assume Takamine is nothing more than a copycat, it has several successful proprietary guitar designs.
For example, the GZ340 and GX200 featured DiMarzio pickups for outstanding tonal characteristics.
The EG523SC came with a TK-40 pickup, equalizer, and tuner for aspiring rock and roll artists.
Since 1987, the company has offered a yearly Limited Edition model with the latest preamp-pickup combination and stunning decorative inlays.
The Eagles, Kenny Loggins, Garth Brooks, Carly Simon, Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and Blake Shelton are some of the famous artists who use a Takamine guitar.
Fuji Stringed Musical Instruments, or FujiGen Gakki, is a Japanese guitar brand that manufactures the FGN and Heartfield Series.
Founded in 1960, FujiGen is the reliable partner of many guitar manufacturing companies, including Yamaha, Ibanez, Greco, Epiphone, Mann, Jason, Fernandes Guitars, and Antoria.
It served as an OEM guitar manufacturer, underscoring the company’s mass production capabilities.
The company produced classical vintage guitars for starters before venturing into electric guitars.
FujiGen’s initial offerings earned the respect of global brands, allowing the company to ink deals with international guitar brands to manufacture their models.
Unfortunately, the company’s focus on quantity instead of quality translated to less-than-stellar guitar craftsmanship.
Today, FujiGen aims to reclaim its lost glory by refocusing its efforts on achieving the highest possible quality in every aspect of guitar production.
You can expect this Japanese guitar brand’s offerings at par with the world’s best guitars.
There should be a unit for every guitar player and budget, making the brand worth considering.
Mitsuo Matsuki formed Guyatone in 1933 as Matsuki Seisakujo when a friend inquired if he could create an electric guitar for Hawaiian songs.
Later in the decade, Matsuki began producing Rickenbacker-style guitars with the Guya logo.
The Second World War halted operations, restarting in 1950 as the Matsuki Denki Onkyo Kenkyujo, specializing in electric sound products.
By 1951, the company started producing quality musical instruments with the Guyatone name, bannered by the LG and EG Series models (reminds me of Fernandes units).
The sixth decade of the 20th-century saw Guyatone launching several funky and high quality guitars, cementing its place in the growing Japanese market.
Today, Guyatone not only designs and manufactures its signature line.
Guyatone also produces high quality guitars and electric sound products for other brands, including Suzuki, Imperial, Kent, Marco Polo, Johnny Guitar, Fernandes, Omega, Zenta, Lafayette, Kingston, Saturn, Vernon, Silhouette, Royalist, Prestige, Winston, Orpheus, and Montclair.
What is the most popular guitar in Japan?
Yamaha remains the most popular guitar brand not only in Japan but globally.
Ibanez, Fernandes, and Takamine are not far behind.
Yamaha models have a brighter, woodier, and less plasticky tone than Ibanez without the obnoxious price tag.
Are Japanese made guitars good?
Japanese guitar manufacturing and craftsmanship are almost second to none.
You can rely on their quality guitar manufacturing and production processes to give you a high quality musical instrument that can surpass Les Paul, Fernandes Guitars, and other brands.
Even the most inexpensive vintage guitars have more robust construction than some Western brands.
Japanese brands have exceptional weight and sustain, thanks to the use of premium-quality solid wood.
There is also a superb quality feel to Japanese produced guitars that make you want to play more music.
The best Japanese guitar brands can go toe-to-toe with the world’s best for their craftsmanship, sound quality, and overall playability.
Many Japanese guitar brands are also more affordable than their Western counterparts.
You can buy Japanese guitar brands from your favorite music store, including Streetwater, Amazon, and other leading online commerce shops.
You might also want to check a website that offers Japanese guitar brands linking to Amazon.com or recent posts with links.
Some people prefer becoming an Amazon associate, linking to Amazon.com, and save enough money from qualifying purchases to buy the best model from Japanese guitar manufacturers.
You can also check music websites’ recent posts for high quality Japan made guitars.
Very nice article with some great background information. One correction: Steve Vai has never won an Academy Award, but he has won Grammy Awards.
I got my first Ibanez in 1978 and just before that I bought a Memphis double cut lp copy. I now have that Memphis and a Ibanez Iceman and a vantage double cut neck through. I’ve had arias and matsumuko guitars that are all as good if not better then American made guitars that cost an arm and a leg. Why spend more and get less when you can spend less and get more.