Hi all. It’s been a few years since I was last on here.
I was in Tokyo recently and thought I’d check out some guitar shops and see what they had in terms of basses. I could not believe what I found when I headed down to Ochanomizu, and what is colloquially known as Guitar Street.
The place reminded me of my trip to Manny’s Music in NYC as a teenager when I picked up my first bass, except there was an even greater selection. It reminded me of the awe I felt when I first went to Denmark Street, the Bass Centre or The Gallery, except it was a Godzilla-scale version.
Tokyo is known for being an expensive city but, when it comes to bass guitars, it is extremely good value for money, not just for the Japanese-made instruments but also those imported from the USA. In many of the shops, you will get a tax-free discount if you show your passport. 1000 yen is about £8.
The service is pretty good, although very few staff members speak English. You can get by just pointing and smiling though - the staff won’t laugh at you. Most of the staff are also guitar techs, so unlike here you will be dealing with people who understand how the instrument works and who aren’t just killing time until their next rehearsal/gig after the shop closes.
The shops are open pretty late (8pm) most days and you will probably need about 4-6 hours to explore just the bass shops/departments. If you want to look at guitars too, you would need about 3 full days.
I tried many basses I’ve only ever seen on the internet, including Sadowsky and Bernard Edwards-style BC Rich, but also noticed that between all the shops they had every kind of high end bass amp available. I didn’t bother looking at effects pedals but I did notice that there weren’t many vintage bass effects available, with an emphasis on the latest and greatest. (There may have been more vintage effects available in the guitar shops).
There are Made In Japan models of Fender, Musicman, G&L etc., as well as Japanese brands which are worth trying. I even saw and tried a Pignose bass, which I haven’t been able to find in the UK. One shop also had a good selection of EUBs and double basses. There is also an ESP Custom Shop, where they will build an instrument for you.
I did not make it to one of the jam sessions I managed to find online during my trip but there was a different funk jam taking place in Tokyo on each successive night of my short trip. A decent summary of what’s available is at this link: http://www.yangmillsquartet.com/jam-info/ .
I did manage to pick up a MIJ 70s Fender Jazz Bass, with pick-up cover, bullet truss rod, blocks and binding on a rosewood neck etc., all for around £350.
If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, go to Ochanomizu and spend the day there. Incidentally, if you are into anime/manga/games, then check out nearby Akihabara - but give yourself a full, separate day for that.