When we think of acoustic guitars, we often underappreciate how prevalent and innovative Japanese manufacturers have been throughout the history of the instrument and how large a role they play in the current day guitar market.
Japanese instruments have been relied upon by many professional musicians because their quality and attention to detail are second to none. Using a perfect balance of modern construction methods with traditional craftsmanship they consistently provide us with the world-class instruments we use daily to create our music.
With that in mind, If you’re in the market for a new guitar, today we’ve prepared a list of 10 popular Japanese Acoustic Guitar brands and will take a look at what makes the small island of Japan so exceptional when it comes to making guitars.
Top Japanese Acoustic Guitar Brands
- Alvarez Acoustic Guitars
- Yamaki Acoustic Guitars
When we see the Yamaha logo many things spring to mind, from pianos, drums, and even motorcycles.
No matter what Yamaha chooses to produce it’s always of high quality, and this is why their instruments have been so successful in the west.
Originally founded in 1887 as a pure piano/organ manufacturer. Over the next decade, Yamaha would consistently push further into the guitar space, starting with making just simple nylon-string acoustics for domestic sale.
But by the 1960s, largely due to the staggering popularity of British rock band The Beatles. Overall demand for the instrument was soaring and companies such as Gibson just couldn’t keep up. Yamaha seized this opportunity to begin exporting budget-friendly yet high-quality acoustic guitars to the west which were massively successful.
Nowadays Yamaha offers a broad range of instruments from beginner guitars to high-end models designed for the working professional. Although there’s no specific aesthetic or style associated with the brand, their ‘all-around’ functional and understated style is something musicians have come to rely upon.
We’ve included Yamaha in our list of the most under-rated acoustic guitar brands and strongly recommend their entry-level and student models for children and beginners alike. But don’t be fooled into thinking Yamaha is solely focused on the beginner market, the Yamaha Yamaha FGX5 Red Label Series is a worthy competitor to any acoustic guitar in the sub $2000 range.
Unlike companies who try to produce a diverse range of instruments, Takamine focuses almost exclusively on producing the highest quality acoustic guitars possible and nothing else.
The name Takamine comes from the fact their first ever workshop was opened at the foot of Mt. Takamine in Japan way back in 1959, fast forward over 60 years and they are still here as a premier acoustic guitar manufacturer.
They put a tremendous emphasis on pushing the envelope of the acoustic guitar, offering the highest quality woods and construction. More recently they have put a lot of work into making high-quality electronic/pickup systems as the demand for being able to play directly has increased over the last decade. These days their pickups are almost as popular as the guitars themselves!
While certainly less of a corporate entity when compared to giants like Yamaha or ESP, they are still extremely well known and respected. Having been used by hugely successful musicians such as Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Bon Jovi.
While Ibanez is most well known for producing electric guitars, and staying on the cutting edge of guitar technology by producing 8-string and multi-scale guitars. It is important to remember that Ibanez’s acoustic guitars, while often overshadowed are no joke.
Because their factories are well equipped and their production processes honed to perfection, they are every bit as capable of producing world-class acoustic guitars as anyone.
Ibanez itself is owned by the guitar manufacturing company Hoshino Gakki and was one of the first Japanese companies to really achieve success in the west and sit alongside companies such as Fender or Gibson.
So while Ibanez doesn’t necessarily specialize in acoustic guitars, you can trust in the fact Ibanez as a company is both respected and trusted by musicians. You’re in safe hands if you want to buy an acoustic from Ibanez!
Alvarez Acoustic Guitars
Originally forming in the 1960s after Gene Kornblum (St. Louis Music founder and inventor of the legendary Crate amplifier) met master luthier Kazuo Yairi who specialized in high-quality classical guitars.
While not necessarily the household name that Ibanez or Yamaha is, Alvarez has carved out a special place in many musicians’ hearts for the care and attention they put into their handmade guitars.
These instruments are trusted and used by some of the best musicians in the world including confessed guitar snob Joe Bonamassa and the legendary Devin Townsend.
They offer a decent range of instruments and despite some of the cheaper models being (understandably) outsourced to China, they are one of the very few companies around still producing handmade instruments with pride. Then on top of that, the instruments are rigorously checked and set up by professional guitar technicians once they arrive in the US.
For many of us when we think of Fernandes we will be reminded of players such as Steve Vai or U2’s The Edge. Creating infinite sustained guitar notes using the extremely popular and well-known Fernandes Sustainer system.
But despite the successes of Fernandes’s electric guitars and accessories, they started out making flamenco acoustic guitars exclusively for the first 4 years of the company’s existence.
They went on to become one of the biggest instrument manufacturers in Japan, moving heavily into the electric guitar space. Taking (perhaps a little too much) influence from popular western guitar models such as the Les Paul and Stratocaster which were reworked for their own instrument lineup.
Nowadays the company has moved away from flamenco and acoustic guitars to instead focus more on its accessories and signature models, even having closed down its American division of the company.
Much like Yamaha, Tokai also started out just producing pianos, later adding banjos and harpsichords to their lineup.
It wouldn’t be until the mid-1960s (you can probably guess why) that they moved into the acoustic guitar space where they would stay a prominent contributor for a very long time.
But it wasn’t just their own acoustics that put the company’s stamp on the music world, they struck up major deals with western guitar manufacturers including the legendary Martin to supply them guitar parts.
Over the years Tokai began to manufacture the popular ‘Cat’s Eyes’ series of acoustics which were designed to be more affordable alternatives to Martin Guitars.
Yamaki Acoustic Guitars
Sure, Yamaha, Takamine, and Alvarez are the three ‘heavy hitters’ in the Japanese acoustic guitar market. But an often underappreciated gem we must touch on is the extremely rare Yamaki acoustic guitars.
Why are they so rare?
Well, unfortunately, the company no longer exists. Originally formed in 1967 Yamaki produced many exceptional classic guitars that did look suspiciously similar to Yamaha.
However by 1980, the parent company, Daion went out of business and Yamaki was relegated to being a small supplier of components to other companies, much like how Tokai was to Martin.
For many who have had the good fortune of stumbling across a used Yamaki guitar, they have massively praised the brand. Claiming they are several rungs above what Yamaha was producing at the time in terms of quality and craftsmanship.
So if you are lucky enough to see one out in the wild, give it a try!
While a comparatively small company when paired against heavy hitters such as Ibanez, Morris is still around and readily available.
They offer a range of high-quality acoustics from budget guitars that cost a few hundred dollars to premium models designed to compete with the likes of Martin and Takamine.
The company was founded in 1967 and was able to garner a good reputation domestically for its consistency in quality and materials.
They also exported many instruments to the US before waning demand and costs meant they had to step out of the international market and return to purely domestic production.
But in 2001, Morris announced somewhat of a comeback, announcing a new line of models at the 2001 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim California.
- Fujigen Gakki
- Electric Sound Products (ESP)
While Japanese guitar brands Yahama, and Takamine are household names, unless you’re already an enthusiast who spends a lot of time looking into smaller brands, it’s easy to overlook some fantastic manufacturers from overseas.
Whether you’re looking for a reliable budget guitar from a reputable brand, or to be treated to some exquisite and niche handmade instruments of the highest quality, the 10 Japanese acoustic guitar brands listed above really cover everything.