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Old Japan basses - are they good?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Aras, Feb 10, 2016.

  1. Aras


    Jun 19, 2015
    Russia, Moscow
    Hi, friends!
    Can you tell me, are they good and is there any point to by one of them (not counting the price) comparing to nowtimers? There are few basses which are interesting - Greco 81 P-bass from alder, and 3 Aria Pro 2 PB400, PB450 and Pricise Bass 78 fully maple (body too). They all are in good technical shape, costs about 200-250$
    What can you tell about old Japan basses?
  2. Doctor J

    Doctor J

    Dec 23, 2005
    Just like with any other bass, some are good, some are not. Being made in Japan doesn't necessarily mean it contains ninja magic. For example, my first bass, a MIJ Aria Pro II made in 1988, had a plywood body. It still sounded nice, but it was plywood. Do some research on the models. It's no different from today with instruments made anywhere in the world, the lower end models will be cheaply made, the higher end models will be better made. Generally, a high end MIJ bass from the late 70's onwards will most likely be a very, very nice bass. It's the general consensus that, at the time, the high end Japanese instruments were better made than their US peers and, clearly, the arrival of high end imports spurred the American manufacturers to up their game. It does come down to the manufacturer and model, though.
    MobileHolmes, AlexanderB and Aras like this.
  3. Aras


    Jun 19, 2015
    Russia, Moscow
    Those ones are made from alder, maple, and basswood if i remember correct. No plywood. As i heard, general point of old guitars is wood. Well dry, and tested by years
  4. WhoSeyes


    Aug 18, 2008
    I have a japaneese Maya bass made of mahogany (body and neck) with rosewood fretboard.

    It's solid and good sounding. A little bit on the heavy side, though.
  5. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    IMHO, having started playing in the early '80s when a lot of this stuff was still about...

    Good to very good : Tokai, AriaPro, Kawai, Ibanez
    OK to good : Westone, Vox, Yamaha
    Avoid : Columbus, Satellite, Kay, Hondo

    This is purely my opinion based on my rather hazy recollection of actually playing individual instruments, so may not accord with others' opinions. There are plenty of other brands from that time but I have no direct experience of them, and it was not uncommon for the same instrument from the same factory to appear under a variety of brandings.
    Aras likes this.
  6. Aras


    Jun 19, 2015
    Russia, Moscow
    And what about this opinion about wood, which should be better in those basses?
  7. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Most Hondos were Korean anyway. They did have some Tokai-built MIJ models in the 80s though.
  8. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I can't really say as I was playing these things in the early 80's so I don't know how they might have aged.
    My current main fretless is a 1982-ish Eko BX-7, made In Italy from wood that was potentially 40 years old at the time (so 70 now) and I think it has aged really well - everything is stable and straight and incredibly resonant. If the wood was good then it will have only improved.
  9. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    If an instrument has been strung up to pitch for 40 years or more and still plays well
    then it is more likely to continue to do so for a long time.

    However, there is no way of knowing for sure how an instrument has been maintained.
    A good repairman can re-bend an old warped neck back into shape but there is no guarantee
    that it will hold long term.

    More modern building techniques involving stiffening rods in addition to truss rods and
    multilaminate construction and also graphite necked basses are far more likely to last
    a long time and be consistent.
  10. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Old Japan? I prefer New Japan.

    mpdd likes this.
  11. warnan


    Mar 1, 2004
    I have a 1981 tokai jb80, really sounds good and plays good. I had vanzandt, fender custom shop 60s pickups on it and finally back to stock pickups. stock pickups sounds vintage to my ears.
    I also have 1980 greco super real jb800 and pb800, they feels the same as fenders but sounds so so. I upgrade the pickups and sold the greco jazz bass.
    I don't think the 1980 greco or tokai higher model will be that cheap, usually they cost much more.
    I highly recommand you to try lawsuit era Levinson Blade bass(made by Momose), very high quality and plays fast.
  12. Maxdusty


    Mar 9, 2012
    Michigan USA
    There are great MIJ basses and there are cheap ones not worth picking up. I've had a MIJ Ibanez SR800 from the 90s- excellent bass - I've traded that one unfortunately and really regret it now.
    Another brand you definitely have to keep an eye out for is Riverhead. Superb basses made until 1995 I believe- they were expensive when they were produced, so pretty high-end stuff. There's a thread here about them. The brand itself is no longer around (since a factory fire) but the parent company, Headway/Deviser now makes Bacchus. Riverhead basses were known for their headless basses and their Spector-style basses. I have the latter and the thing is amazing picked it up for $60!!!
  13. Aras


    Jun 19, 2015
    Russia, Moscow
    Never ever heard about Levinson :-( Here in Russia we have two cults of bass guitars - Fender or nothing, and second hand old Japan bass or nothing if you cant buy a Fender. Not all of us have same point of view, but... So that is why i desided to ask you, what is so special in old Japan basses
  14. cdef


    Jul 18, 2003
    For what I consider viable build quality and playability, I'd say the Japanese manufacturers got it together in the last years of the 1970's, when (for a while) they went for straight copies instead of "sort-of". That's when the domestic hardware, especially tuners, finally came up to snuff, and more attention was paid to the woods used. Soon enough they were ready to build Fenders that were equal to or better than the American product. It wasn't long, either, before a new generation of originals appeared. The Aria Pro II line, designed by H. Nobuyaki and built by Matsumoku, really changed the perception of what could be expected of Japanese basses. And Hoshino's Ibanez was on a roll in the early '80s with models like the Musician and the Studio. Those are sought-after basses today, for good reason.

    Many people dig the earlier, '60s designs out of Japan. This trend seems to have had more of an impact in the guitar world, with stylists like Cooder and Lindley using them to cool effect. "Goldfoil" Teisco pickups now fetch high coin, but I'm not aware of any bass pickups from the same era that are thought particularly desirable.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2016
    Count Bassie and Aras like this.
  15. Eilif

    Eilif Holding it down in K-Town.

    Oct 1, 2001
    What is "so special" is that for many years (late 70's through 90's mostly) the price of labor in japan was notably lower than the USA and yet they often maintained very high standards of craftsmanship. This period of time also covers several eras in which various USA brands (Fender, Gibson, etc) were known to have spotty QC and production quality. The result is that often you can get a higher quality MIJ instrument at significantly less cost than similar USA made instrument. There are also many MIJ clone instruments with the same headstock

    Note that before the mid 70's Japanese instruments were often beginner instruments of uneven quality. Some great, most not. So just because it is made in Japan doesn't make it amazing.

    These days the price of labor in Japan is such that there isn't much savings in price for current production instruments, but -especially in boutique level instruments- you can often get a very good value for your money. Bacchus is a good example of this. Also, older MIJ instruments, especially those from Fender Japan have gone up quite a bit in recent years to the point that many are no longer a bargain.

    I've owned a couple vintage MIJ instruments and I agree with folks that say approach a MIJ instrument on it's own merits the same way you'd approach any instrument. The only difference is that I'd be more inclined to take a used minor-brand MIJ instrument off the rack at a music store than I would be for instruments from other countries.
    Count Bassie, AlexanderB and Aras like this.
  16. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Lost Wages, Nevada
    It depends on what you consider "old" - as opposed to "really old". Some of the first ones were pretty bad, and might best be considered as a novelty or a wall hanger. But, some of them were decent enough for what they were - an inexpensive/starter instrument. Japanese instruments got a lot better real quick though; I have some Epiphone hollow-bodies (made by Matsumoko) from around 1970; they're pretty darn nice, too. Anything later than that? I'd say that, unless they've just been abused, they would be worth the money - provided you've done your homework, and know what you're buying (and, in some cases, don't mind plywood. ;)) Just be prepared to deal with "old bass" problems, like a neck that might have to be shimmed; sticky tuners, scratchy pots/input jack, etc...:)
    Aras likes this.
  17. I'm a huge fan of Fender Japan and Tokais, but I've never seen a MIJ P- or J-clone before about 1981 (Squier JV started in 1982) that appealed to me. They looked kind of odd to me, esp. the tuners, the pickups and/or headstocks that were made of two pieces of wood. Maybe I've missed some good instruments?


    Aras likes this.
  18. Aras


    Jun 19, 2015
    Russia, Moscow
    I'm talking about bassed from 78-81 years. Well, it is not a problem to fresh the neck and frets, to change some hardware. I'm not running for vintage veiw for it self. My main thoughts is around the wood of body (looking for maple or alder) and that it's dry, bright and alive after such many years.
  19. Aras


    Jun 19, 2015
    Russia, Moscow
    thumb. thumb (1). thumb (3). thumb (2).
    This bass is what i look for right now. Matsumoku 1978
  20. Aras likes this.

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