I love Japan. I mean truly, dig up a spoon of that soil and I’ll eat it. The place is just so much fun. Judging by Shibuya crossing on a Saturday night I’m not the only fat white guy that does either! But on this trip I had a mission: hunt down awesome guitars.
That search took me to Ochanomizu. It’s a station one stop down from freaky-sleazy-businessman-centrel Akihabara and had a stretch a few hundred metres long of door-to-door guitar stores. If you’re a six stringer it’s a great day out. Just leave the wives and girlfriends back at the hotel. This is for the die hards only.
So what kind of stuff do you find? Mostly new stuff. For some reason the Japanese think lowly of themselves. The ground floor is usually Japanese and cheap guitars. Heaps of quirky Fernandez type things. My favourite was a lime green, see through plastic guitar. An imitation of a BC Rich Mockingbird. Yours for around 60000-80000 Yen, or about 600 – 800 Aussie dollars. Sadly plastic (or acrylic) is heavier than wood. Oh yeah and there’s actually a guitar called the ESP Throbber. I guess mity penis had already been taken.
There’s also heaps of the cheaper ESP brands. Grass Roots and Edwards. I think the Grass Roots looked great. They’re all well under $500 and are made in China or the Philippines or somewhere. The Edwards stuff looks mad. They’re ASSEMBLED in Japan but I understand all the hard work’s done in China. You’ll get a lot of change from $1000 with an Edwards and they look as good as the ESPs.
When you go upstairs things get better. Some of these stores have 4-6 floors of guitars. Usually a Fender floor, a Gibson floor, a heavy metal floor and a vintage ‘money’s no object floor’. The heavy metal floor is worth a look because they have all these custom models for those ‘seriously I know this is Japan but is that a guy or a chick?’ type musos. All covered in orange hair and wearing their mother’s clothes. Some of their gaudy signature guitars costing up to $6000. Especially a brand called ‘Killer’ which seems to be made by ESP.
Fenders do well here. There’s heaps of Japanese made Fenders for very reasonable coin. I reckon the Japanese Fenders are the best. And unlike other manufacturers, you can unbolt the neck and stick your new guitar in your suitcase to get it home! No oversized baggage to care about!
The Gibsons not so much. But if know what you want, it might be worth your while. They’re the same Les Pauls you’d find any old where. Maybe a few hundred bucks cheaper than Australia. Nothing I haven’t seen anywhere else (well below $10,000 anyway). But there are bargains here. I saw a 2012 Firebird for $1000. Oh yeah and most stores will do tax free if you’re foreign.
A few shops not only let you order an ESP from the custom shop, one actually had sample necks and planks of wood to choose from on the floor. I don’t care who you are, that is awesome! I loved ESP before I got there but this just toughened that up a notch! Their guitars are plain flawless for a major manufacturer.
What really sucked though was I was after vintage 1970’s Japanese guitars. The Ibanez Iceman, the lawsuit Les Pauls, the Grecos that were better than real Strats. Sadly none were to be found. I guess they’re not cool right now or frankly there’s no money in them. I was gutted. Even the $1000 Rickenbacker Dakota guitar I found (edit – it’s hard enough to find a Ricky in Australia, but for that kind of money I almost bought it on general principal) didn’t soothe the disappointment.
Anyways Ochanomizu is a great day out. And I mean a day. There’s heaps of record stores around too like Disc Union and other cool stuff. So if you’re a guitar gear tragic, get into it!