Japanese guitar brands are more common than you might think.
It’s entirely possible you have a Japanese manufactured guitar sitting at home in your collection already.
And once upon a time, Japanese made Stratocasters far exceeded the quality of American Starts. Fender was relatively quick to put an end to that.
So, we know that Japan makes quality guitars. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Take a gander through the best Japanese guitar brands below.
Not everyone who has set their hands on an Ibanez guitar knows that they are a Japanese guitar brand.
The brand itself, in fact, is owned by Hoshino Gakki, a Japanese manufacturer of musical instruments. They also own Tama drums.
Ibanez was founded in 1957, and is headquartered in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan.
In addition to acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, Ibanez manufactures effects, accessories, and amps.
In fact, the Ibanez Tube Screamer, in its many incarnations, might be one of the most copied overdrive pedals, besides the Klon Centaur. The Tube Screamer is a staple with blues, rock, and metal players alike.
In general, Ibanez is known for their quality instruments that come at a surprisingly low price. Unless you’re buying a signature series guitar, you can expect to pay less than $1,300.
Their guitars tend to be shredder friendly, and typically have fast (thin) necks, high gain pickups, and double locking bridges to accommodate whammy bar gymnastics and keep the axe in tune. Split-coil functionality is often a given with an Ibanez guitar too.
Famous players like Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani, and Nita Strauss all favor Ibanez guitars, and they are exceptional, innovative players to say the least. You might recognize the names of players like Kiko Loureiro, Tom Quayle, Paul Stanley (KISS), and Andy Timmons as well.
Best Ibanez Guitars
Ibanez has a lot of models to choose from, and most if not all of them are good in their own way. If you want a quality Ibanez guitar, you will want to spend at least $500, but this is not to say their beginner-oriented guitars aren’t up to snuff for starters.
Although shredder friendly, Ibanez has guitars suited to just about every need imaginable. They have Tele and SG style guitars, and even hollow bodies, played by the likes of George Benson and Pat Metheny.
So, while it’s impossible to narrow down our “best-of” list, we’d like to highlight the following signature electric models:
Ibanez also has acoustic guitars, of course, and not surprisingly, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai have their own signature models (in addition to their signature electrics).
I have personal experience with the AEG model, and it is a solid, balanced guitar. That said, it’s basically an intermediate acoustic. If you want something more, you’ll probably want to look at the ARTWOOD and signature models.
Famous Ibanez Players
We’ve already identified the main ones – Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Paul Gilbert. These are the ones we’ll highlight here, but don’t take this to mean other players mentioned aren’t incredible. Some will blow your mind.
Joe Satriani is a musician, composer, songwriter, and guitar teacher. He spent most of his early career as a guitar instructor, and he taught notable players like Steve Vai, Larry LaLonde, Kirk Hammett, Andy Timmons, Charlie Hunter, and others.
Joe Satriani is a 15-time Grammy Award nominee who has sold over 10 million albums. He is the best-selling instrumental guitarist of all time.
Steve Vai is a guitarist, composer, singer, songwriter, and producer. He is a three-time Grammy Award winner and a 15-time nominee. Vai started his career as a transcriptionist for Frank Zappa. He also played in Zappa’s band from 1980 to 1983.
Vai would go onto record with the likes of David Lee Roth, Whitesnake, Spinal Tap, Ozzy Osbourn, and others. Vai’s playing is unique and virtuosic.
Paul Gilbert is a hard rock and heavy metal guitarist and is best known as the co-founder of Mr. Big. When he’s not working with Mr. Big, or his other band, Racer X, Gilbert can typically be found working on his solo career.
Gilbert has appeared on many best guitarist lists, and true to form, he is a fast, versatile player with lanky fingers that accommodate horrifying stretch licks.
Why We Think Ibanez Is Awesome
In summary, here’s what we love most about Ibanez:
- They made the legendary Tube Screamer pedal
- They make a variety of electric and acoustic guitar models, and they are excellent bang for buck
- They’re favored by famous shredders like Satriani, Vai, and Gilbert
- They’re an innovator of seven- and eight-string guitars
Takamine (pronounced “ta – ka – mee – nay”) is a well-known manufacturer of steel-string acoustic guitars. The company was founded in May 1962, and is headquartered in Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan. Its name, Takamine, came from Mount Takamine, located in Nakatsugawa.
Takamine was one of the first companies to introduce acoustic-electric style guitars, which came with a preamp-equalizer component. These days, acoustic-electric guitars are a standard, and most companies that make acoustic guitars also make acoustic-electrics.
Takamine acoustics are often bright and brash – perfect for cutting through the mix in a band, but not always suited to self-accompaniment and solo performance. Nevertheless, they do make highly usable, high quality instruments.
Doubtless you will have seen Takamine guitars in the hands of Toby Keith, Jon Bon Jovi, Blake Shelton, Steven Wilson, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Bruno Mars, Glenn Frey, and many, many other recognizable names.
In addition to acoustic guitars, Takamine also makes electronics (preamps, pickups, transducers), and accessories.
Best Takamine Guitars
Takamine has guitars suited to a variety of playing styles and playing levels. They’ve created signature models for the likes of John Jorgensen and Kenny Chesney. They have Pro Series and Thinline guitars, as well as limited runs.
The fast answer here is that we can’t single out any of them as being the best. There is something here for most acoustic players.
Whether it’s the Pro Series, Thermal Top, Thinline, Limited, or otherwise, there are some great models in every category.
The longer answer? Well, there isn’t one. But we’ll highlight a few models that interest us anyway:
- The Glenn Frey EF360GF
- The John Jorgensen JJ325SRC and JJ325SRC-12
- TSP158C and TSP158C-12
Famous Takamine Players
We’re having trouble singling out anyone here since there are so many legendary players using Takamine guitars.
That said, we’d like to put the spotlight on Steven Wilson, as his work is quite fascinating and may not be widely known.
Wilson is an English musician, singer, songwriter, and producer with a career spanning over three decades. He was the founder of Porcupine Tree, and has played in groups like Blackfield, Bass Communion, and No-Man as well. He is most known for his solo work these days.
Wilson is largely self-taught, but he has even worked with the likes of Elton John, Tears for Fears, Roxy Music, XTC, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Yes, Fish, and others.
Wilson has been nominated for a Grammy four times.
Why We Think Takamine Is Awesome
Takamine is awesome because:
- They make high-quality acoustic and acoustic-electric instruments
- They were among the first to embrace acoustic-electric technology
- Their guitars are used by a variety of well-known players in a variety of genres
The Yamaha Corporation is a multinational conglomerate offering a large range of products and services. The company was founded in 1887 in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan, by Torakusu Yamaha. The company is also headquartered in Hamamatsu.
Yamaha is a constituent of the Nikkei 225 stock index and is also one of the largest piano manufacturing companies in the world.
So, Yamaha doesn’t just make guitars – they make everything from pianos, keyboards, and drums to brass and woodwinds, strings, music production tools, and more.
Some consider Yamaha the most known or most popular Japanese guitar brand. Yamaha itself might be the most known brand because of the wide range of musical products they create, but you’re probably more likely to see Ibanez or Takamine guitars in the hands of well-known professionals than Yamaha instruments.
That said, Yamaha is still popular, and is well-regarded among a smaller contingent of players.
At times, Yamaha guitars could be seen in the hands of Carlos Santana, John Denver, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Liz Phair, Mick Jones, and others.
Yamaha has guitars that take after common Strat, Tele, and hollow body style electric guitars. And their Revstar series of guitars make us think of a SG and Les Paul style guitar fused together.
Best Yamaha Guitars
For reasons you’re probably starting to see, Yamaha tends to be more known for their acoustic instruments than their electric instruments.
Some of their best acoustics include:
In terms of electric guitars, they are probably most known for their Pacifica series axes (Strat style guitars), but they’re also quickly making a name for themselves with the Revstar series of guitars.
Famous Yamaha Players
Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan apparently loves jamming and writing on his Yamaha acoustic, and has even said there is no instrument like the acoustic guitar that unlocks his creativity.
Corgan is a musician, singer, songwriter, and professional wrestling promoter. Corgan was among the faces that came to represent alternative rock and grunge scene in the early- to mid-90s, including Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Layne Staley, and others. And, of course, he is the only permanent member of the Smashing Pumpkins.
There’s no denying that Corgan’s guitar style is well-suited to alternative rock.
Why We Think Yamaha Is Awesome
Yamaha is great because:
- They offer an insane number of products and services
- Their acoustic guitars are trusted by some of the most accomplished singer-songwriters and guitar players
- The tone of their Revstar guitars has caught our attention – these things sound good, and a younger generation of guitarists seems to be noticing
If you’re into metal, then the name ESP Guitars (aka The ESP Guitar Company) likely popped up on your radar.
ESP was founded in 1975 in Tokyo, Japan, by Hisatake Shibuya. The company is headquartered in North Hollywood, CA.
ESP is primarily focused on the production of electric guitars and basses. They manufacture instruments under various names, including LTD.
ESP stands for “Electric Sound Products,” and when the company was first founded, it provided custom replacement parts for guitars. In March 2015, ESP started distributing Takamine guitars in the US, which is why you also see the Takamine brand on their website.
ESP is a heavy music haven, and their wide range of guitar models include Les Paul, SG, Ibanez, “flying V,” Tele, Strat, Explorer style guitars, and more. They’ve got a bit of everything, and you might just be surprised upon browsing their selection.
ESP guitars are favored by the likes of James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Alexi Laiho, and George Lynch. That should give you a good idea of the types of players that would enjoy owning an ESP guitar.
Best ESP Guitars
The Eclipse (or EC) series of guitars is one of ESP’s most popular, and that’s hardly surprising. These Les Paul style guitars are beautiful, and exude a sense of power, heaviness, and loudness.
Besides that, the Horizon models are perfect for classic shredding, Vipers are like a heavier SG, and of course any of the signature models are worth looking at too.
Honestly, there’s just too much to choose from, but if you’re looking for the heavier version of any popular guitar style that’s on the market, ESP probably has a beautiful, colorful alternative.
Famous ESP Players
We’ve already highlighted a few, but here we’ll look at James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, and George Lynch.
James Hetfield is a musician and songwriter, and is best known as the co-founder, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and primary songwriter of Metallica. Metallica has won nine Grammy Awards. Hetfield was named one of the top 10 best metal guitarists in Joel McIver’s book The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists.
Kirk Hammett is a musician, and the lead guitarist (and contributing songwriter) of Metallica since 1983. Hammett was ranked 11 on the Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Hammett learned under the tutelage of Joe Satriani.
George Lynch is a guitarist and songwriter, and he is best known for his work with Dokken. After Dokken, he started his solo project, the Lynch Mob. He has gone onto collaborate with a variety of musicians. Lynch is one of the most recognized and influential metal guitarists of the 80s and has appeared on plenty of best guitar lists.
Why We Think ESP Is Awesome
Here is why ESP is great:
- They didn’t reinvent the wheel – they simply took a winning concept and made it their own
- They’re dedicated to a cause – heavy is their thing!
- Versatile and unique guitarists like George Lynch have embraced their colorful and beautiful axes
Fernandes Guitars is a manufacturer of guitars and accessories. The company was founded in 1969, in Osaka, Japan.
Fernandes got its start making flamenco guitars, but they eventually branched out and started making electric guitars, bass guitars, amplifiers, and accessories as well. They are one of the biggest guitar manufacturers in Japan. Fernandes also owns Burny, a brand that makes Gibson replicas.
One of the things Fernandes is most known for, at least in the US, is their Sustainer system, which uses electromagnetism to vibrate a string for an extended period. Using a Sustainer, you can make a note ring out without the use of a pick!
Fernandes guitars and basses have been seen in the hands of bassist Robert Trujillo (Metallica), Brad Gills, Billie Joe Armstrong, The Edge (U2), Steve Hackett, Kirk Hammett, Kurt Cobain, and others.
These days, Fernandes is more focused on serving their primary target audience in Japan than anything, and even closed their USA division. That said, there are still authorized US dealers.
Best Fernandes Guitars
It would seem flamenco guitars are a thing of a past for Fernandes, who makes a variety of electric guitars, basses, amps, accessories, parts, and of course their famous Sustainer.
Not one to reinvent the wheel, most Fernandes guitar models are based off Ibanez, ESP, Strat, and Les Paul style guitars. That said, their Ravelle series guitar is somewhat unique in its appearance, with half of the body resembling a Les Paul, and the other half resembling a pickguard with a sharp tip.
What are the best Fernandes guitars? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer here. If you’re looking for a Strat style guitar, you would probably lean towards the RT series. If you want a Les Paul style guitar, the APG series is where’s it at. And so on.
That said, their signature series guitars are certainly worth a look. Fernandes still makes the legendary Hide signature model. Hide was the lead guitarist of X Japan. Sadly, he took his own life in 1998.
Famous Fernandes Players
The most noteworthy Fernandes guitar players are overwhelmingly Japanese, with the late Hide being the prime example. X Japan’s music, by the way, is certainly worth digging into.
That said, on occasion, the likes of Billie Joe Armstrong, The Edge, and Steve Hackett have been seen using Fernandes guitars. If they’re good enough for these guys, they’re probably good enough for you too.
Why We Think Fernandes Is Awesome
Here is why Fernandes is worth checking out:
- They started out as a maker of flamenco guitars and eventually expanded their collection
- Their Sustainer system impressed a lot of players in the guitar community
- Their guitars are favored by discerning and skilled Japanese guitarists
Acoustic guitar manufacturer Morris Guitars was founded by Toshio Moridaira in 1967. They are headquartered in Nagano, Japan.
Founder Moridaira visited the Gibson factory in 1964, where he was nicknamed “Mori.” The name of the company was inspired by his nickname.
In its early years, Morris produced replicas of Martin and Gibson designed dreadnought and small jumbo model guitars.
Today, Morris focuses on the creation of premium acoustic guitars for fingerstyle players.
Some acoustic guitars are better suited to strumming. Others are made for fingerstyle. Morris guitars are made for fingerstyle.
Morris guitars are lovingly used by the likes of Tokio Uchida, Stephen Bennett, Phil Keaggy, Jim Nichols, Ivan Cardozo, and others.
Best Morris Guitars
Morris makes hand made premium guitars as well as luthier made premium guitars.
Morris’ website, however, doesn’t tell us much about the specs of their guitars, how they are priced, or otherwise. That said, we do see that they go for several hundred to several thousand dollars on the secondhand market.
There are about four guitar models spotlighted on their website, so we’ll assume they are proudest of these:
- SJ-171 Mini
- SC-131 Alto
- SC-171 Bevel
Famous Morris Players
Even though he doesn’t use Morris guitars exclusively, we’d like to dedicate this space to Phil Keaggy because he is an incredible player deserving of more attention.
Nine-fingered Keaggy (he lost one finger) is a vocalist and guitarist with more than 50 albums and has contributed to many other recordings in the mainstream and contemporary Christian music markets.
He is a seven-time recipient of the GMA Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year, and he was nominated twice for a Grammy Award.
Keaggy is considered one of the top three fingerstyle guitarists in the world.
Why We Think Morris Is Awesome
Morris is awesome because:
- Of how the company got its name from the founder’s nickname
- They’re focused on the fingerstyle acoustic guitar niche
- Their artists aren’t widely known, but are still discerning players
Popular Japanese Guitar Brands, Final Thoughts
If you go looking for them, you can find plenty of other small Japanese guitar makers and manufacturers. Most of these aren’t as well-known. And that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a niche or have quality instruments. But they probably aren’t household names.
The above six are probably among the most known, with the first four being recognizable to most guitar players.
We hope you enjoyed our list and learned lots about Japanese guitars!