MIJ Guitars 1976-1986

sonic blue

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
2,148
Note: This began as an NGD thread, but has evolved into a wealth of information about Japanese guitars from the era during which quality improved significantly (late 70’s) and into the beginning of Fender’s overseas production. The thread title has been edited to encompass the wider discussion going forward.



I'm going to take a major risk here and flout the rules of this forum, but since this NGD is directly relevant to a recent thread, I hope you'll indulge me for a moment. :)

There was a great recent discussion in another thread about what kind of vintage Strat to buy on a "budget". To my surprise, the overwhelming consensus (even from the dyed-in-the-wool "vintage guys") was that the best option on this particular budget was to buy an early 80's MIJ Strat (whether it be Fender, Squier, Tokai, or Greco) over, say, a mid-to-late 70's USA Fender Strat, or a severely hacked-up 60's Strat.

The quality of 80's MIJ Fenders is not a surprise to me - I've long been a proponent of the awesome 1985/1986 Esquire Customs - but I had never ventured into the world of pre-Fender MIJ guitars, specifically those made by Tokai and Greco.

The discussion took an even more interesting turn when it was suggested that, like these Tokai and Greco instruments, a number of '54 Strats (those with a particularly pronounced and distinct grain pattern) were likely made from Sen Ash. This was enough to push me over the cliff. Being Strat-less, I had to try one of these for myself.

So, here's my new 1980 Greco SE-500 Spacey Sound. It has a beautiful two-piece Sen Ash body with a great two-tone Sunburst finish on top, deeper and more accurate contours than on any Fender reissue I've come across, and a nice meaty & comfy neck profile. Really, the only thing I could have asked for is a nitro finish, but the now 42-year-old poly finish has sunk into the grain nicely, feels worn-in, and is beautifully ambered.

Speaking of its age, isn't it wild that a '54 Strat was only 26 years old when this was built?

I have little-to-no experience with vintage Strats, so I have no idea if the sound is there, but it does sound like a nice Strat to my ears! See IG post below for a quick noodling video.

For $850 all-in, this is almost impossible to beat, and it has almost scratched the itch - I may need one with a rosewood board too. :)

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Video here:

 
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deytookerjaabs

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,479
Great guitars, I owned it's big brother w/Nitro finish and trust me...the difference is nearly moot. I guess "Nitro" by the 80's was a bit different and the poly finishes on many MIJ's in that ball park are very thin and well done regardless.
 

Super Reverb Swell

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
307
I can vouch for that reverb store as well - I got a Greco SE 600 for him a few years back, which was a 1981 model and looks nearly identical to the JV era Fenders Greco produced just a year later. Mine is a multi-piece sen body, but with a thin nitro-ish finish. Played amazingly out of the box, and has set the bar high for my next acquisition. I will say mine sounds considerably darker than other MIJ strats, specifically comparing it to Tokai of the same era.



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Jayyj

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
12,013
Great score, congratulations!

I've always been a bit tempted by these - I'm not a Strat guy but I feel like there must come a time I give one a go for a while and see if I can teach myself to get on with one. The Grecos look like a really good mix of old wood, classic spec but not breaking the bank either.
 

Badstrat

Member
Messages
1,732
That’s a very good example of the quality Greco was producing around the early 80s. I have a Dec 1981 maple board Super Sound and an April 1982 Rosewood board Super Sound. Both are alder bodies which wasn’t that common. Great guitars at reasonable prices.
 

Sampler

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
920
Very cool guitar and a great sounding one too…thanks for sharing that demo. For those interested @JDZ is an encyclopedia of knowledge on all things related to these manufacturers down to the greatest level of guitar geekery and minutiae. He’s also bought and sold a boatload of them, including some very high end, rare examples that truly rival their vintage inspiration. Along with the Strats, some of of the 335s they produced during this period are equally inspiring.
 
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WordMan

Wax Rhapsodic
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
10,819
Very cool guitar and a great sounding one too…thanks for sharing that demo. For those interested @JDZ is an encyclopedia of knowledge on all things related to these manufacturers down to the greatest level of guitar gerkery and minutiae. He’s also bought and sold a boatload of them, including some very high end, rare examples that truly rival their vintage inspiration. Along with the Strats, some of of the 335s they produced during this period are equally inspiring.
John @JDZ is a great guy.

And if you care about comic books…he’s a great guy. I’ll just leave it there.
 

Highnumbers

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,317
Well, in that case!

@JDZ if you don't mind my asking, what are some of the key differences between a Greco Spacey Sound and a Tokai Springy Sound from the same era?

I find the attention to detail on these guitars fabulous. Even the mid-level models seem to deliver specs that even high-level CS Fenders don't offer at 3x the price.
 

Highnumbers

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,317
The fact that these guitars can be had for cheaper than a brand new MIM Fender is completely insane to me. They **have** to go up in value. I’m issuing a Buy Now

Exactly right!

When a garden variety MIM Fender is $999 MSRP (and some even more) there is a whole lot to like on these older MIJ Fender clones.

Same with the Gibson copies, some of the older high-end Tokai Love Rocks and Greco LPs are unbelievable and still a fraction of the list price for a Gibson US Les Paul Standard.
 

JDZ

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
224
Well, in that case!

@JDZ if you don't mind my asking, what are some of the key differences between a Greco Spacey Sound and a Tokai Springy Sound from the same era?

I find the attention to detail on these guitars fabulous. Even the mid-level models seem to deliver specs that even high-level CS Fenders don't offer at 3x the price.

The model ranges were very big and things changed a fair bit for Greco from year to year, less so for Tokai and you need to broaden the brand discussion a little bit and also whether the focus is on really good Strats or really accurate copies of vintage originals.

1976, or really going into 1977, is when things changed pretty significantly. For Greco, that's when the quality of the guitars went up significantly to the point they actually created a line of custom shop models they called Project Series. These were special order above the typical catalog models. At that time as you go up the models the differences were the wood used, pickups and the finish. The Greco's from that time are really nice, but still weren't highly accurate copies of vintage original Strats.

Here's an all original '77 Greco SE 1200, top model in the Project Series. Body is two piece center seam Sen, neck one piece hard maple. Finish is lacquer and pickups are DiMarzio FS-1 on this model, although this is when Maxon started making some excellent single coils which were used on other models.

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Here's another model from '77, an SE 700 which they called 'Early Sixties', which doesn't make sense as it has a large headstock and four bolt neck. Pickups on these are Maxon Excel which are excellent, finish on these is lacquer. Great guitars, really comfortable and easy to play.

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Then Tokai arrived and changed everything.

What Tokai was the first to do really in 1978 was to make very accurate copies of vintage originals. They raised the bar in a big way, got their hands on vintage original guitars and copied them. As you went up the product line the models get more accurate with neck profiles that matched the years, parts that were interchangeable with Fender, pickups voiced based upon vintage originals, tuners, string trees, pickguards, etc. Again, they had a big product range, better models got Sen bodies and nitro.

So for Springy Sound the ST-80 is the the really desirable model, copy of a '54 Strat with really nice Soft V neck, Sen body and beautiful nitro finishes. Here's a '78 ST-80 case queen I have, which became more accurate as they progressed, but beautifully made

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In 1980 Greco launched the Super Real models, which Like Tokai were done as very accurate, year specific copies. A Greco SE 800 is their version of a '54 Strat and has a massive soft V neck and aluminum pickguard, also came in a '60 version. Greco still had the SE 700, which in the Super Real era became a copy of a 70's Strat with three bolt neck (with no issues) and competed with Tokai's Silver Star line. In 1982 Fujigen won the contract to make Fender Japan guitars, so that was the end of Fender based Greco models.

Here's a Super Real era 1981 Greco SE 800, lacquer finish with two piece alder body

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Fernandes launched their own really accurate copies in 1981 with their Revival Series models. The RST models were made as copies of '54, '59, '57 and '64 Strats. RST-80 models came in nitro and were the '54 and '59 copies, again with year specific neck profiles. Higher models got two piece center seam bodies, vs three piece bodies. Fernandes pickups have vintage braided cloth leads. Each of the brands kept upping the level of detail and accuracy they went to.

Here's an '81 Fernandes RST-80 '59 in candy apple red nitro with very fine checking over much of the body.

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There were also boutique brands as early as 1978 where you could get Strats with braz boards and exotic wood bodies.
And all kinds of special models.

So differences in models and brands basically the type and beauty of the wood, how many piece bodies, the pickups used and poly vs lacquer finishes. I can explain some of the differences in models that came in poly, lacquer and actual nitro if you like.
 
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JDZ

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
224
I'm going to take a major risk here and flout the rules of this forum, but since this NGD is directly relevant to a recent thread, I hope you'll indulge me for a moment. :)

There was a great recent discussion in another thread about what kind of vintage Strat to buy on a "budget". To my surprise, the overwhelming consensus (even from the dyed-in-the-wool "vintage guys") was that the best option on this particular budget was to buy an early 80's MIJ Strat (whether it be Fender, Squier, Tokai, or Greco) over, say, a mid-to-late 70's USA Fender Strat, or a severely hacked-up 60's Strat.

The quality of 80's MIJ Fenders is not a surprise to me - I've long been a proponent of the awesome 1985/1986 Esquire Customs - but I had never ventured into the world of pre-Fender MIJ guitars, specifically those made by Tokai and Greco.

The discussion took an even more interesting turn when it was suggested that, like these Tokai and Greco instruments, a number of '54 Strats (those with a particularly pronounced and distinct grain pattern) were likely made from Sen Ash. This was enough to push me over the cliff. Being Strat-less, I had to try one of these for myself.

So, here's my new 1980 Greco SE-500 Spacey Sound. It has a beautiful two-piece Sen Ash body with a great two-tone Sunburst finish on top, deeper and more accurate contours than on any Fender reissue I've come across, and a nice meaty & comfy neck profile. Really, the only thing I could have asked for is a nitro finish, but the now 42-year-old poly finish has sunk into the grain nicely, feels worn-in, and is beautifully ambered.

Speaking of its age, isn't it wild that a '54 Strat was only 26 years old when this was built?

I have little-to-no experience with vintage Strats, so I have no idea if the sound is there, but it does sound like a nice Strat to my ears! See IG post below for a quick noodling video.

For $850 all-in, this is almost impossible to beat, and it has almost scratched the itch - I may need one with a rosewood board too. :)

Congrats on your Greco!

Fujigen made Grecos are really well made across their product lines and the Super Real era especially so. This was all still pre-CNC. Yes, Sen is a fantastic wood!
 




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