March 15, 2004
The Vintage Fender Stratocaster Market in Japan
by Key Iwai and Tom Watson
It's no revelation that the Fender Stratocaster has conquered the world. Although an "American icon", the Strat's popularity has spread to practically every corner of the globe, due not so much from its association with Americana, but as the result of having been the instrument of choice for musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton - musicians whose music has universal appeal.
Strat Collector News takes a look at the current vintage Stratocaster market outside of the United States, beginning with the Japanese perspective from vintage-Strat expert Key Iwai. In addition to his opinion about the vintage Stratocaster market in Japan, Mr. Iwai was asked how he would advise a customer who wanted to invest $50,000 US in vintage Strats.
The Vintage Stratocaster in Japan
by KEY IWAI
The Fender Stratocaster is a famous instrument and almost everyone in Japan who plays the guitar wants to get a fine vintage Strat. No doubt the influence of Eric Clapton, Steveie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen and many more has much to do with it. These players have been and will continue to be very popular here.
There are a lot of vintage shops and vintage Strats in Japan. If you want to buy a vintage Strat, you go to the store and play them yourself - try several different guitars and choose from among a wide variety of available instruments, including vintage Custom Colors. The Japanese vintage Stratocaster market is growing bigger and stronger.
There are not so many "pure" collectors here. Buyers in Japan cherish these instruments to play them. They love vintage tones and the playability of many vintage Strats. In the case of my shop, 90 percent of my customers play the instruments and check the sound and playability themselves before buying. Only 10 percent of my customers are "pure" collectors who decide to buy a rare Custom Color or mint vintage Strat irrespective of the instrument's particular tone or playability. And, characteristically of Japanese customers, most of are very knowledgeable about vintage Stratocasters because they compare and investigate the available instruments at the numerous vintage shops before buying; and typically they are also very familiar with the many fine books about vintage Strats published in Japan. They buy carefully - after having done their homework.
Almost everyone likes the slab board rosewood necks (1959 to 1962) and the "spaghetti logo" Strats prior to the 1964 logo decal change. The 1964 to 1967 "transition logo" Strats are not very strong in the Japanese market, and consequently their price tends to be lower here than in the United States. I think it's because these Strats were not played as much by famous musicians as the earlier models.
Interest picks up in late sixties Strats, mostly due to Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore fans seeking original white or black color models, especially those that have a maple-cap neck.
Early 70s Strats (those with staggered pole pickups up to 1974 when they became flush) are strong in the market due to the influence of Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen. Especially popular are lightweight, alder-body Strats in original Olympic White and black.
The current Japanese market prices for premium vintage instruments are very high - the same as in the United States. However, the prices in Japan tend to be 20 to 30 percent higher than in the US because importing them entails the extra costs of shipping and import tax.
Because of the high prices, some people give up on buying a 100 percent original vintage Strat and buy a new Custom Shop model or a refinished vintage Strat (which costs significantly less than one that's totally original). Custom Shop Master Built-vintage recreations go for more than $6,000 US dollars in Japan. These guitars look great, but the tone is different from that of a true vintage instrument. In my shop, I recommend that my customers buy a good refinished vintage Strat instead.
If a customer had $50,000 to invest in a vintage Stratocaster, I would recommend that it be spent on a clean, 100 percent original 1954.
The vintage Stratocaster market is very strong in Japan, and will probably grow even stronger in the future.
[Images: Top: Key Iwai and 1963 original Hot Shell Pink Stratocaster; bottom: rare 1961 original "sparkle" Stratocaster. Images courtesy of Key Iwai and copyright 2004, HI Guitars, Inc.]
About Key Iwai
Twenty years ago I bought a 1961 Olympic White Stratocaster. It was my first original vintage Strat. Its tone and playability were incredible and I loved it!
After playing that guitar, which to this day is my best partner, I started to collect original pre-CBS Custom Color Strats. I then bought and sold more than 300 vintage Strats, and over time gained a lot of knowledge about and experience with vintage Stratocasters, especially the Custom Colors. At that time, I was a sales engineer for a big aluminum company.
At the end of January, 2002, I quit my job and started a full-time guitar business. In December of 2002, I opened my shop, named "Strato-Crazy", in Tokyo, Japan. I deal only in vintage Stratocasters and original vintage Strat parts. I now have more than 150 vintage Strats (from 1954 to 1974) and a lot of Strat parts in my shop. My specialty is original Custom Color Strats. I'm always trying to find those rare good ones.
I have now sold a lot of my personal pre-CBS Custom Color collection, but I'm still keeping that 1961 Olympic White I bought twenty years ago and a 1963 original Shell Pink Strat. These two will never be for sale. While I also have a 1952 Telecaster, a 1958 Gold Top Les Paul, and a 1960 Les Paul "Burst" (and many more fine vintage guitars), to me the Stratocasters are the best. I love vintage Strats and really am "Strato-Crazy"!
Contact: Key Iwai
Company: H.I. Guitars, Inc., "Strato-Crazy"
Address: 3-8-6-B1, Kanda-Kajicho, Chiyoda, Tokyo, 101-0045, Japan
Telephone and Fax: +81 3 3257 7117
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