The Current's Guitar Collection: Amber Bain of The Japanese House, 1976 Fender Mustang

Amber Bain of The Japanese House in studio
Amber Bain of The Japanese House performs in The Current's studio. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

The Japanese House visited The Current this week for an in-studio session hosted by Mark Wheat. That session airs Friday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m.; we'll also have a web feature for the session around that time.

Amber Bain is the guitarist and frontperson of The Japanese House, and she had a couple of guitars with her during the session. When recording was complete, Bain took some time to tell us about her favorite guitar.

What kind of guitar is this?

This is a Fender Mustang; it's a 1976. And I bought it because I went into this guitar shop that used to be quite near where I lived, and there was this girl in there that I was obsessed with. And I went in and played it, and she was like, "Oh yeah, it suits you — it sounds really cool!"

And then I went in again the next time to see if she was there, and she was, so I just bought it to impress her. I never spoke to her again (laughs), but I love this guitar.

Was this in London's Denmark Street?

No, this was in Shoreditch. I went round Denmark Street obviously a few times, but I liked this one the best. I just liked the color of it, this really weird color. It's quite gross — in a fun way. Kind of a mustard yellow.

What would you say about this guitar's sound?

It's actually not the best-sounding guitar in the world through certain amps — obviously, all guitars are like that. But through a Vox amp, it really does not work well! (laughs)

But I love the Fender Vibrolux amplifier with this guitar. It sounds lovely through that.

The Mustang is also so small, and I'm so small. It feels like a kind of toy guitar to play, which is nice.

Would you say this one is your workhorse for live shows?

I actually don't use it that much. I use it for one song. I have this song that I recorded, "Letter By the Water," and I didn't realize that my guitar was three-quarters of a step down on every single string. I didn't check my tuning before I recorded it. And then I realized I had to tune all the guitars, but then I tuned them a step down. It's so annoying! So when I play live, I use this guitar. It's exactly normal tuning, just all a step down, so I can't even use a capo, I just have to de-tune it. That's the song I use it for, "Letter By the Water."

I used to use it for everything.

For everything — does that include writing songs on it?

I do write songs on the guitar, yes. I sometimes play a nylon-string guitar to write on, but usually electric guitar. And then I use my laptop as well. But this is definitely my favorite guitar at home. It's lovely.

Your playing style is left-handed and upside down. Tell us about that.

Yes, when I first wanted to play, I was left-handed and I tried playing right-handed, and it just didn't work. And then I was like, "I don't want to play a left-handed guitar." My thinking was, what if I'm at someone's house and they have a guitar? Then I can't pick it up and play.

So I decided to just learn this way. And I could never have guitar lessons because they would get really angry at me, and be like, "You have to restring it and learn again." And I was just like, no.

And it hasn't held me back in any way, I think. But it looks quite funny having a guitar upside-down. But I'm so used to it now, when I see normal guitars the right way up, it just looks really strange to me! (laughs)

Did you have anyone you modeled your playing after, or did you fashion all your own chord shapes?

I kind of just worked them out. It's very good for my playing — I do a lot of fingerpicking, and for some reason, playing upside down is way easier for me, because with the bass note, I'm doing all the bass stuff with my forefinger, and then all the high stuff with my thumb, which is stronger, so I can do lots of interesting things, which makes it easy for me.


The Japanese House - official site

Fender Guitars

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4 Photos

  • Amber Bain's 1976 Fender Mustang
    Amber Bain's 1976 Fender Mustang. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Amber Bain's 1976 Fender Mustang
    Headstock of Amber Bain's 1976 Fender Mustang (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Amber Bain's 1976 Fender Mustang
    Amber Bain's 1976 Fender Mustang (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Amber Bain's 1976 Fender Mustang
    Amber Bain's 1976 Fender Mustang; Bain fronts The Japanese House. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

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