How well do you know your MIJ Fender Strats?

Posted by Simon Grubb on

How well do you know your MIJ Fender Strats?

The Fender Stratocaster is (arguably, but don’t argue!) the most iconic electric guitar of all time. There’s been countless variations on the model from Fender over the past seven decades, as well as countless imitations from all over the world. Fender Japan has offered a number of different Strat models over the years, mostly reissues of classic Strats of old. This serves as a handy reference for the evolution of the Stratocaster over the years, as well as being brilliant guitars in their own right. But… there’s so many different models; how can a player choose which one is right for them? It’s okay, I’m here to help.

Model numbers

First, it helps to understand how the Fender Japan model numbers work, so let’s have a look at this one.


The ST means it’s a Stratocaster model
The 57 pertains to the year this model is a reissue from, which is important. More on that below.
The -70 shows the original domestic Japanese retail price, in thousands of Yen. As such, the higher this number is, the better appointed the model will be.
The TX denotes anything special about the model; in this case, Texas Special pickups. Other pickup abbreviations include LS (Lace Sensor Golds) and US (Fender USA ST-Vintage single coils). In some 70s Reissue models or ‘Contemporary’ models, the last letter can be ‘R’ or ‘M’, for rosewood or maple fretboard, and some Custom Edition models have a ‘G’ for gold hardware etc.

Reissues: key differences between models

There’s five different years that Fender Japan have consistently offered reissues of: 1954, 1957, 1962, 1968 and 1972. They each have some quirks of their own; here’s the most important things to note on each.

They’ve all got 25.5” scale lengths and 7.25” radius fingerboards

’54 Reissue

e.g. ST54-85LS
1954 was the inaugural year for the Strat, and the ’54 reissue models out of Japan are often some of the highest priced and best playing models on offer. They’ve all got a soft-V profile neck, which can take a bit of getting used to. The most common ’54 models are the Eric Clapton styled offerings (not technically a signature model), sporting an alder body, Lace Sensor pickups and an active mid boost. These are fairly common in black, but they pop up in other finishes occasionally too. Aside from the Eric-models, the CIJ era VSP models offer nitro finishes, deluxe hardware etc and are some of the nicest Fender models ever made in Japan.
Neck profile: slim soft-V
Fingerboard: maple (one piece neck)
Headstock: small 50s style, spaghetti decal

’57 Reissue

e.g. ST57-70TX
The ’57 reissue is probably the most common vintage style Strat out of Japan. Every catalog from 1983-2010 offered several versions of the ’57, so keep an eye on the number after the dash (e.g. -70 above) to give an indication of the specs. Generally, anything above a -70 will mean you get an alder body instead of a basswood body and USA made pickups of some sort, and anything with a -110 or higher will have a nitro finish and be some kind of limited-run offering. The biggest thing to not on these is a chunky, round, D-shape neck. If you like a bit of ‘meat’ in the neck, a ’57 is the way to go.
Neck profile: D, round and chunky
Fingerboard: maple (one piece neck)
Headstock: small 50s style, spaghetti decal

’62 Reissue

e.g. ST62-770LS
The ’62 model, similar to the ’57, came in a whole stack of variations over the years. They’ve all got the same slim C shape neck with a rosewood board, a neck which is instantly familiar and comfortable for many modern players. The sixties was the era when surf rock took off and when the famous ‘custom colour’ finishes became popular, so if you’re after a Strat in those brilliant colours like surf green, sonic blue, fiesta red, shell pink or shoreline gold, you’re most likely to find it in a ’62 model.
Neck profile: modern C, slim and round
Fingerboard: rosewood
Headstock: small 50s style, spaghetti decal

’68 Reissue

e.g. ST68-85TX
This is the rarest of the lot. In most years, Fender only offered one ’68 model in the catalog, frequently only in white; they were never produced in anywhere near the kind of volume the other reissues enjoyed. The neck is similar in shape to a ’62, but has a very thin ‘radius laminate’ maple board, so there’s no ‘skunk stripe’. It also features a very cool big CBS-era headstock with the big, bold type. The ’68 was always a high end model, so they’re generally very good guitars. Again, it’s not a signature model, but there’s a definite not to Mr Hendrix on these.
Neck profile: modern C, slim and round
Fingerboard: maple (with radius laminate board)
Headstock: big 70s style, bold decal

’72 Reissue

e.g. ST72-70M
These were a ‘contemporary’ model in the beginning of Fender Japan; they had the same style of neck and headstock as the USA offerings at the time (early 80s). They came in both rosewood and maple board options, so keep an eye for the ‘M’ or ‘R’ in the model number. The necks are generally slim, which wasn’t always the case on 70s USA made Fenders where some were slim and others chunky. If you’ve always hankered for a 70s styled Strat, the early Fujigen era ’72 models have the same look, but unlike the USA models from the 70s, they’re consistently brilliantly made, making them a great option.
Neck profile: modern C, slim and round
Fingerboard: rosewood OR maple
Headstock: big 70s style, bold decal

There’s a bunch of other cool Strats out of Japan, like the Aerodyne models, Japan Standards, Boxer Series guitars, early Squiers and more, but we’ll leave those for another time.

If you’re on the hunt for a great Japanese Strat, we’ve always got a stack around! Check out the bunch we’ve got on sale, you can use the code STRATME at checkout for free shipping (valid til 18 Aug 2018).

Thanks for reading!

Simon Grubb is the brains behind Topshelf Instruments and a longtime Strat enthusiast.

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