It’s an open secret that Japan occupies a special place in many bass-gear lovers’ imaginations: Japanese instruments and music stores are legendary, and there’s both a huge domestic market and a robust scene for vintage American instruments. So, when I had a chance to join Bobby Vega in November 2017 for a string of bass-store visits and bass clinics in Tokyo and Nagoya—organized by JES International’s Jes Saito and including Phil Jones, his fiancée Rena Chea, and Jes’ right-hand man, Yoshi Furuta—I found a cheap ticket and met Bobby in Tokyo.
Bobby, Jes, Rena, Phil, Elton (E.E. Bradman), and
Yoshi at the Fushari Inari-Taisha shrine in Kyoto.All smiles at the Bass Collection.Bobby, the Shark Bass, and Bass Collection
manager Kenji Okazaki.Yoshi and Kenji get a closer look at the Shark Bass.
Our first stop on a Friday morning was the Bass Collection (e-basscollection.com) in Shibuya, where manager Kenji Okazaki showed us boutique offerings by everyone from Citron to Zon, as well as Japanese gems by Bacchus, Dutch beauties by Adamovic, and over-the-top German Ritters. Highlights included Spector #007, built and played by Vinny Fodera, and a wall of 13 Foderas from New York.
Next was Grandey Bass (grandeybass.tokyo), also in Shibuya. In addition to featuring Fender Jazz-style basses in an astounding variety of colors, Grandey was home to more high-end Sadowskys than I’d ever seen in one place. Takahiro Tatsuzaki and crew blew our minds with dozens of Ibanez basses in every conceivable model, and we noticed plenty of Japanese-made Moon and Freedom Custom Guitar Research axes, too. (Favorite discovery: an Argentina-built 25"-scale Magma Transpositor acoustic bass guitar.) At both stores, Bobby’s ’61 Fender Jazz, the Shark Bass, was an instant hit.
Bobby onstage at the IkeBeck Player's Club.
Bobby and a student in Nagoya.Colorful Jazz Basses at Grandey Bass.Rena, lost in bass at Bass Station.With Grandey Bass manager Takahiro Tatsuzaki.
With Bass Station manager Hiroshi Sekine and a
After lunch, we headed to Akihabara to visit Bass Station Revole (ikebe-gakki.com), where a team headed by manager Hiroshi Sekine curates a stash that includes cool Japanese Fenders, Yamahas, lots of lefty basses, a jaw-dropping Dingwall cache, and a room each for uprights and acoustic bass guitars (including some killer K. Yairi ABGs). I dug the huge selection of gorgeous Atelier Z basses, and it was great to see flyers for that night’s Phil Jones Bass clinic at the nearby Ike-Beck Player’s Club in Chiyoda City.
Clearly the word had spread, and after a brief preface by Jes, Phil introduced the PJB gear onstage and handed it off to Bobby, who wowed the young, attentive crowd with grooves and tone perfected over a lifetime of playing with Sly Stone, Tower Of Power, Etta James, Cold Blood, and a host of other Bay Area luminaries. Afterward, audience members lined up for autographs, pictures, and a chance to check out the Shark Bass up close.
On Saturday, we hit the Tokyo School of Music in Shibuya for PJB Bass Fiesta 2017, which showcased both Phil’s bass gear and his acclaimed Airpulse A200 stereo monitors. A reporter interviewed Bobby, Phil, and Japanese electric/upright doubler Tetsuya Ikeda (also in the house: fretless 6-string extremist Quagero “Bass Ninja” Imazawa and Takahisa Kondo, chief editor of Bass Magazine Japan.) A welcome by Jes led to an introduction by Phil, a blazing performance by Bobby, and a hang/photo session starring the Shark Bass.
Jes, Phil, and Bobby.Jes introduces Bobby at the Tokyo School of Music.Dinner time at the Kiyomizu-dera shrine in Kyoto.Guitar Barchie’s manager Toshiyuki Chiba.
Our next adventure was a bullet-train ride away, in Nagoya. Jes’ J’z Studio office complex was the perfect setting for the second PJB Bass Fiesta event, which included an impromptu performance with Japanese singer Momo. When it was over, Bobby hung out with enthusiastic students, sharing tips and techniques that transcended language barriers.
After three action-packed days in Tokyo and Nagoya, it was a thrill to spend Monday in Kyoto, which gave us powerful glimpses of old Japan. Tuesday was packed with PJB video and photo shoots in Nagoya, and we celebrated the success of the Bass Fiesta events with a fabulous dinner and warm goodbyes.
The following day, Bobby and I headed back to Tokyo and more bass stores in Shinjuku. Hyper Guitars (hyperguitars.com) was closed that night, but Kurosawa Bass Center (kurosawagakki.com) manager Kazuo Mitsugi was happy to show us his stock of Foderas, MTDs, Alembics, Zons, Fenders (and Fender-style instruments, including J.W. Black basses), as well as an outstanding Elrick collection. Finally, we headed to Guitar Barchie’s (barchies.jp), where manager Toshiyuki Chiba walked us through a high-end lineup that featured basses and effects from every continent and era, including a smokin’ Soundtrade 4-string we checked out for Dunlop’s Scott Shiraki. Chatting with Mr. Chiba and perusing the store���s serious cache of early-’60s Fenders—Bobby’s happy place—was a fitting end to a bass-centric (if brief) introduction to Japan.
Taking it all in at Kurosawa Bass Center.Elton, Phil, and Bobby flank Bass Magazine Japan
editor Takahisa Kondo.A wall of vintage Fenders.