When we think of electronic musical instruments, Japan’s contributions are hard to ignore. In the mid-20th century, Japan emerged as a powerhouse in the development and production of innovative electronic musical instruments, forever changing the landscape of music technology. Not only was their tech innovative, their “copy” guitars were no longer cheap and nasty, but beautify made, sometimes surpassing the quality of the original.
One of the earliest breakthroughs came in 1935 with the creation of the first electronic musical instrument known as the “Hammond organ” by Laurens Hammond. However, it was in the 1970s that Japan truly began to shine. Companies such as Roland, Korg, and Yamaha rose to prominence, revolutionizing the world of electronic music with their pioneering inventions.
Also, these companies were producing great pedals for guitarists, not just synth based products. The Ibanez Tubescreamer overdrive guitar pedal is now considered a classic.
Korg, another prominent Japanese company, made its mark with the introduction of the Korg MS-20 synthesizer in 1978.
The MS-20 offered musicians and producers an affordable and versatile analogue synthesizer with innovative patching capabilities. Its raw and aggressive sound made it a favourite among artists seeking unique sonic possibilities. It was also a lot cheaper than a Moog.
Yamaha, a household name in the music industry, also played a significant role in the early innovations of electronic musical instruments. They introduced the Yamaha DX7 in 1983, a ground-breaking digital synthesizer featuring frequency modulation (FM) synthesis. The DX7’s realistic and dynamic sound revolutionized the industry and became one of the best-selling synthesizers of all time.
These Japanese companies not only pioneered innovative instruments but also developed technologies that set new standards in sound quality, reliability, and user-friendly interfaces. Their instruments were embraced by musicians, producers, and artists worldwide, shaping the sound of popular music across genres.
Defining Quality in Manufacturing
Japan’s dominance in electronic musical instruments was a result of meticulous engineering, attention to detail, and a commitment to pushing the boundaries of technology.
Their relentless pursuit of innovation and the fusion of traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge electronics allowed them to create instruments that were not only functional but also musical works of art.
The early innovations by Japanese companies paved the way for the digital revolution in music technology, laying the foundation for future advancements in synthesis, sampling, sequencing, and sound manipulation. Their legacy continues to resonate in today’s music production, with many musicians and producers still relying on the iconic sounds and features of these early Japanese instruments.
After various lawsuits with imitations of the great American guitars built by Fender and Gibson, we are now seeing production outsource to Japan from theses companies!
Here is a brief list of some of the best Japanese guitar products:
- Fender Japan: Fender has a longstanding partnership with Japanese manufacturers, producing high-quality guitars that are well-regarded for their craftsmanship and playability.
- Produced in the 1980s and 1990s, Orville by Gibson guitars were Gibson’s Japanese line, highly sought after for their craftsmanship and value.
- Ibanez are known for their versatility and exceptional build quality and are highly regarded among rock, metal, and jazz musicians.
- ESP and its subsidiary LTD are renowned for their high-quality electric guitars, particularly in the heavy metal and hard rock genres.
- Greco guitars have gained a strong reputation for their attention to detail and craftsmanship, especially in their replica models, especially their Les Paul.
- Tokai guitars are known for their exceptional value, offering an affordable alternative to American build instruments.
- Fernandes guitars are favoured by many guitarists for their unique designs, and innovative features like their Sustainer pickup system. Also, their vintage strat copies are excellent.
Japan’s role has gone from imitator to innovator in the last 50 years.
The likes of Roland (Boss for guitar pedals), Korg, and Yamaha set new standards and shaped the sound of music across genres.
Their contributions continue to inspire and influence musicians and producers worldwide, making Japan an essential part of the history and evolution of electronic music.