The Fujigen name is well known in the circles I travel in. Established in 1960, the company is famous for the instruments it makes for companies such as Ibanez and Fender, and their quality has been held up as a benchmark for decades. Fujigen is now making guitars under the name FGN Guitars, and while they bare some obvious inspirations, the company is not setting out to merely make exact replicas of any particular instrument.

The FGN Guitars J-Standard JST-5M/3S is undeniably Stratocaster-like in its inspiration, at least from a distance, but there are a few distinctive deviations from the form which help to give the guitar its own identity. The body is basswood (rather than the more traditional alder), and this wood is known for its even frequency response and slightly more compressed dynamic range – both factors that make it play especially well with effect pedals.

The one-piece maple neck is bolted to the body in the traditional manner, and it features a U-shape neck that isn’t quite as thick as you might think. The fretboard radius is relatively flat compared to my Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster Reissue – the specs don’t say what it is but it feels around about 9.5″ to 12″ to my fingers – and there are 22 frets. Interestingly, the frets are slightly curved (Fujigen’s Circular Fret System), to ensure an equal distance between each fret for each string rather than the slightly inelegant set of mismatches created by standard straight frets. It’s very subtle and doesn’t impact on playability at all. ┬áThe back of the neck features a matte finish for good shreddability.

Tuners are Gotoh SGM-05s and the bridge is a Fujigen-original S-88, a vintage-style unit with six screws and a traditional screw-in bar. The finishing of the bridge saddles is a little rough but during extensive play testing it didn’t seem to impact on playability or string durability. All parts are manufactured in Japan.

The pickups are a trio of Fujigen’s own 64VS single coils. Controls include a master volume and a pair of tone controls, along with a five-way pickup selector switch. The guitar comes in a durable gig bag, and the strings as installed at the factory are D’Addario EXL110 (.010-.046).

Other model options in this range include the JST-5R/3S (rosewood fretboard, three single coils) and the JST-5R/SSH (rosewood fretboard, single/single/humbucker pickup configuration). Move up to the Neo Classic range and you’ll get a 2-point fulcrum tremolo, alder body and compound radius fretboard.

The JST-5M/3S’s neck is its real selling point for me. Although the fret ends are a little bit sharp, the neck itself is a breeze to play. It strikes the right balance between traditional Stratocaster zing (courtesy of its maple fretboard and bolt-on construction) and more modern super-shred axe, thanks to its flatter fretboard radius, larger frets and slender profile. I found myself zipping around the neck in a natural, unfettered way, and it helped me to pull off a few Richie Kotzen licks that hadn’t quite satisfied me on my gloss-backed guitar necks.

The pickups have a warm, smokey vibe, especially with moderate overdrive. The basswood body smooths out the rough ends of the tone, making this a very recording-friendly guitar, while the natural compression effect will also make it sit quite nicely in a stage mix. The bridge unit has just enough bite to deliver a decent sting but not so much that it’ll tear your head off, while the neck unit is all about the hard picking: really lay in with the plectrum and the pickup seems to come to life. The middle unit is also very impressive, combing some of the clarity of the bridge with the smoothness of the neck unit. I don’t really know why more players don’t favour the middle pickup, and the JST-5M/3S certainly makes a case for this much-overlooked pickup selection. The in-between settings sound jangly (neck + middle) and spanky (bridge + middle) as you would hope. In all settings the guitar is quite expressive in sound, and addictive in playability. The intonation from string to string is good – better than a regular guitar thanks to CFS – but as this is still an even-tempered fret spacing, it’s not a 100% perfect solution to the mismatches you get from string to string.

I spent quite a while exploring the JST-5M/3S in drop D tuning as well, I might add, and its 25.5″ scale length and the particular growl of the bridge pickup makes it great for this tuning, whether you play rock, grunge or blues.

The JST-5M/3S is not a Stratocaster copy, although you could be forgiven for thinking so if you gave it a quick glance. It uses an established form as a basis but it also tries something new, offering modern playability and vintage tone in a well-constructed, great-sounding and incredibly playable form.

Thanks to Music Connection for loaning the guitar for this review.