Japan Made Les Pauls - which brands are best?

Mc Tanza

Probably the top of the line models which cost as much as a Gibson historic... althou I am not aware of a CURRENT Tokai model that uses real macrofilia mahogany.... and for all we know, Gibson uses real honduran mahogany on all the historic models (probably grown in Fiji, but still the same plant!) African "mahogany" is not real mahogany, it is similar, but that's a different plant.
The cost issue was true until the last Gibson price hike. Now the high end Tokais, Momoses and Navigators are considerably cheaper than the equivalent Gibson Historic series. The LS340, LS420 and LS540 models use real Honduras mahogany. The LS420 and LS540 also use Brazilian rosewood for the fingerboards. Then there is also the SG196, which also uses Honduras for the body and neck. There are other more limited production lines, like the HLS series, in which the high end models also use Honduras.

Yeah, African mahogany has a different quality and feel. Nothing wrong with it per se, it can sound really good. The regular production Gibsons and Tokais are made with it as far as I know.


Not Japanese, but my Korean Samick made Epiphone DC plays and sustains better than any $1k Gibson I've played. Bought it as my second guitar back in '01 and it's still in the family.



Supporting Member
Had an Edwards that was excellent. If not for a good friend drooling over it all the time, I'd still have it. I'm a sc guy anyway so I could bear the loss. I never expected that kind of quality from a Japanese copy LP.


I've been thinking about one of these also. Unfortunately they are hard to come by in the US unless you are willing to risk buying unplayed with almost no recourse to return if it doesn't meet your expectations. I think I heard GC will not take them in used due to agreements with Gibson. That takes away the main place to try before buying.

That being said, a PRS single cut is visually similar to a Les Paul. Plus you can try one at nearly any shop. I A/Bed my modded SE Tremonti with SD Whole Lotta Humbuckers against my friends 2014 Gibson LP Standard. Not much difference in tone or feel, other than his was much heavier.

Try a PRS SE Bernie Marsden. Great guitar and with a pickup change to PAF style, will hold its own against any single cut style guitar.


Everybody's mentioning Edwards and for good reason, their materials are on point and quality is insane (have you seen how snug those neck tenons are?) for what is an insane bargain. You're literally getting a guitar that rivals anything you'd get from Gibson for under 3 grand. If you want to step things up, Navigator (also by ESP, but arguably higher grade) makes phenomenal guitars you can generally get for around the price of a late-model Gibson LP std., but hand-made from higher quality materials than anything Gibson has made since they stopped using BRW. And (as someone stated earlier) some Tokai LS series guitars have BRW and the kind of quality materials/construction (one piece Honduran mahogany, factory Tom Holmes PAFs) you would expect from literally the highest grade reissues ever made by Gibson, but for half the price or less in some instances (I'm referring to the cost of Gibson 59 reissues with BRW, which I've seen go for up to 10k, in contrast to LS series guitars with BRW, which you can pick up for less than 4k).


Nice guitar blues. I have a late 80's Burny that is surely equal(I think) to the best of the current non custom shop Gibsons.

If I were you James(OP), I would go vintage MIJ. That is my specialty and I've played vintage, CS, boutique, etc. and they are the best bang for a serious quality instrument for let's say one fourth or more of the price. If you're interested this has about as much info as is probably known on the subject. I clicked it on the Burny page but the whole site is great.

http://www.japanguitars.co.uk/burny info.html
I bought this 1983 Burny from Japanguitars.co.uk



Lactose Intolerant Guitar Slinger
I was in Japan back in 1983. As a matter of fact, my avatar is a picture of me in the barracks at MCAS Iwakuni playing my Burny Super Grade. Among other great instrument, I left there with 2 Burnys (the one pictured and a Black Beauty). While I was there I witnessed a people that really had pride in their workmanship no matter what their field of endeavor. For instance, cab drivers and truck drivers wore immaculate white gloves.

Burnys. Grecos, Tokais, Edwards, Orvilles are ones that I have played. All of them are real quality instruments. The level of craftsmanship was top notch.

I believe the Edwards are only made in Japan. Orvilles became Epiphone Japan which are great instruments. They then moved to Korea where the quality was still very good but, they changed the headstock shape.

This from http://www.guitargai.com/html_folder/gai_history.html will explain a lot:


Fender and Gibson, the two companies who more than any others fueled the rise of the electric guitar in American popular culture, had by the dawn of the 70's lost their way. The ascension in the 60's of the guitar as the tentpole instrument of popular music had attracted the notice of corporate beancounters who stepped in to claim a piece of the action but knew nothing about the soul of either the product or its buyers.

What followed was a steady slide into mediocrity in which the hallowed Fender and Gibson brand names were milked by their respective new corporate owners, CBS and Norlin, for all they were worth. Both the quality of the companies' products and their reputations suffered as a result. By the early 1980's, buyers had learned that there were other and better sources for their new instrument needs.

New, smarter and better-attuned management teams took control of Fender and Gibson by the mid-80's enabling both companies in the ensuing years to reverse the downward spiral. In each case, the turnaround was fueled by a return to the guitars that made the brands powerful in the first place, the classic electrics of the 50's and 60's.

But both Fender and Gibson, in their plodding mega-corporate days, had been slow on the uptake. When the first age of the 'Guitar God' in the mid-60's fueled buyers' interest in the guitars that Mike Bloomfield and Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page played, Fender and Gibson watched from the sidelines as their 'downscale' and 'unsuccessful' products of an earlier era, now changing hands only in the used marketplace, became the guitars that everyone wanted to own -- vintage Strats and Teles and Les Pauls.

This market phenomenon, while it sailed over the heads of the befuddled corporate overlords running Gibson and Fender, did not go unnoticed in Japan.

Whereas many of the first Japanese electric guitars to reach Western markets in the early-to-mid 60's were cheap, entry-level caricatures designed to capture a sliver of the burgeoning electric guitar market, in the process the production mechanisms of Japanese guitar makers were being refined and their market savvy was steadily growing. In Japan, where appreciation of American popular culture was then and is now widespread, the original Gibsons and Fenders were hard to find and prohibitively expensive. So by the end of the 60's, companies like Fuji Gen Gakki and Tokai Gakki began creating fairly faithful replicas of the vintage-style Les Pauls and Strats and Teles that the marketplace had come to crave.

While in the US Fender and Gibson thrashed around with 'updated' and 'contemporized' versions of their signature guitars that left most buyers cold, the Japanese guitar makers knew what they were going for and with steadily increasing frequency nailed it. Marketed under names like Ibanez and Greco and Burny and Fernandes, these 'copy' guitars by the late-'70s had attained an astonishing degree of fidelity to the original instruments they were copying. They looked right and played right and sounded right. So right that they were cutting deeply into the sale of Fender and Gibson's new products in Japan and throughout Asia.

When these 'copy' guitars began appearing in the United States, Gibson's parent Norlin moved to blunt the attack by suing the US distributor for Hoshino, the Japanese company marketing the Ibanez guitars made by Fuji Gen Gakki, for trademark infringement, the trademarked component in this case being the 'open book' headstock shape of Gibson's guitars. Thus was christened the 'lawsuit' designation applied broadly to an entire class of Japanese guitars which, in truth, were so close to the originals that they easily crossed the line into in-your-face infringement.


Why did two famous American companies decide to put their names on products made in Japan?

Beyond an expedient reaction to market pressures, the reasons were shrewdly tied into the make-up of 'the Japanese character' as a people and a nation.

Before the licensing deals were struck, Japanese replicas of classic Fender and Gibson guitars had proven themselves to be very well-made instruments. The dedication of Japanese workers and the excellence of Japanese products had by that time become apparent to the world, as Japan's dominance in automobile and electronics manufacture, for example, had made abundantly clear. It came as no surprise, then, that manufacturing standards in guitar-making would be similarly advanced.

Japan's culture is one in which duty, team contribution and the idea of work done correctly is a given. There is no 'Friday Phenomenon' in Japan's factories, where goods produced at the end of the work week are susceptible to careless assembly because the workers' minds are elsewhere. One does what one does to the absolute best of one's ability, always. It's a matter of personal honor.

Which brings us to the second reason why Fender and Gibson decided to put their names on Japanese-made guitars. While there are certainly aspects of American life that some Japanese find baffling or unsettling, by and large many are fascinated by the icons of American popular culture. Certain brand names, especially, are viewed with a type of reverence. Fender and Gibson guitars, so closely entwined with visions of America and American popular culture, are very much among those revered icons in Japan.

When Japanese luthiers set out to replicate the guitars that made Fender and Gibson great, only the most naive could think that their efforts would be anything less than impressive. Here we have an individual mindset and production mechanism geared toward work of unerring quality combined with an item to be made which excites reverence in the maker. If that isn't a recipe for successful manufacturing venture, a better one would be hard to imagine.


I've been looking for a Gibson Alternative...any suggestions on where to pick up an Edwards or Burny? Reverb? Ebay? The Tokai Love Rocks(new ones) go for pretty much nothing on Reverb. Just wondering-I think some guy from Russia is selling Burnys, and I'm in the US....so that's a no go for me. Any suggestions or experiences? I didn't think this was threadworthy so I'll just leave it here.

Gary Razz

I've got two Japanese Les Pauls A tokai 1983 LS 80 and a Burny Super Grade I have less than $1100.00 in both guitars. And I can find Gibsons that are as good for less than three grand a piece. They play sound and feel like real Les Pauls to me. Both a laquer finish. One weighs 8.5 lbs one is 8.8 The only thing I've done is change the pickups in the Greco. If you can live without it saying Gibson on the head stock there are a lot of awesome guitars that deliver the Lester tone for a fraction of the price of Gibsons


Supporting Member
The Orville by Gibsons are my favorites. Particularly the reissues, like the one I sold a few days ago: a R9



I had a Navigator LPC but I like my current gold top P90 Tokai (LS178GT) more. I also have a Tokai 335, both of which I bought unseen and would gladly do again.