Music in Anime: The K-On Girls’ Awesome Instruments

If K-On doesn’t make you smile, you’re dead inside. I love all the adorable moe girls and their band, Ho-kago Tea Time. But their songs are fairly simple, so there’s not much I could write about them besides “OMG so cute” and “Mio rocks!”. So I decided to write about their instruments instead! They are all based on real world gear played by music legends, and reflect each of their owner’s personalities in interesting ways. You could even say they are minor characters in their own right!

There will be spoilers. though K-On isn’t an anime you can spoil anyways. Also, since picking your favorite is Serious Business, I’ll say: Azusa is the cutest, Ritsu is the funniest, Mio is the best musician, Mugi is the sweetest, and Yui is the dumbest (and also my favorite).

Yui Hirasawa – “Geeta” Heritage Gibson Les Paul Cherry Sunburst

Yui didn’t even know how to play an instrument before joining the Light Music Club, but soon became the lead guitarist of the band! She fell in love with her Gibson Les Paul, “Geeta”, when out shopping with the girls, but needed Mugi’s help with haggling down from the pricey 250,000 yen (over $2000 USD!). Little did she know that her Les Paul is an iconic guitar played by music legends. Created in 1952 by the eponymous jazz guitarist, it was one of the first solid body electric guitars, meaning it didn’t need sound holes for amplification. Originally a flop, the Les Paul is now world-renowned for its rich tone and signature heaviness. You can find Les Paul players in everything from country to metal, but some of the most famous are Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Slash (Guns n’ Roses), and God himself, Eric Clapton.

Mio Akiyama – “Elizabass” Fender Jazz Bass

The dark-haired Mio is shy and writes terrible lyrics, but she can play bass like nothing else! So it’s only natural that she would play a Fender Jazz Bass, whose warm midtones make her melodic licks stand out. Created by Leo Fender in 1960, the Jazz Bass was based on the Jazzmaster guitars. It’s asymmetrical design was meant to cater to jazz musicians, who normally play upright bass. Tons of virtuoso players have wielded one, including Geddy Lee (Rush) and Jaco Pastorius. These aren’t quite as expensive as Yui’s Les Paul, but they’ll still set you back at least $700 – and since Mio plays a left handed model, it must have been even harder for her to get her hands on one! Although the Precision Bass is the more popular Fender model, Mio’s choice of the rich, buttery Jazz Bass reflects her unconventional and creative personality.

Ritsu Tainaka – Rick Marotta signature Yamaha Hipgig drum kit with Zildjian cymbals

The self-proclaimed class president and class clown, Ritsu’s wild and energetic personality makes her right at home on the drums. But her kit is compact, with a small bass drum and some punchy Zildjian cymbals that she can really wail on in the choruses. A full kit is at least $600. But I think what’s more interesting about Ritsu is her influences. She tells Mio that her favorite drummer is Keith Moon from The Who. He was mostly known for two things: his unhinged lightning-fast fills, and for drunkenly destroying hotel rooms. Well, we should all be glad she’s not that crazy!

Tsumugi “Mugi” Kotobuki – Korg Triton Extreme 76 Keyboard (and RK-100S Keytar)

K-On is so popular that Korg even released a limited edition keytar in 2015 based on the one Mugi plays in the first ending sequence. Isn’t she great?

The adorable ojou Mugi is a classically trained pianist, but she can still rock out! Her keyboard was first introduced in 1999 and quickly became a go-to at festivals for its incredible library of sampled instruments. Mugi also plays a Korg RK-100 keytar in the first end credits and a Hammond organ in the second, which gives the band a nice retro sound. Each of these instruments is well over $1,000, but considering Mugi seems to have like eight vacation houses and a seemingly endless supply of fancy tea sets it probably didn’t set her back much.

Azusa Nakano – “Muttan” Fender Mustang

The last addition to the band, Azusa is a serious-minded girl with a great taste in guitars. Her Fender Mustang’s a bit shorter than most electric guitars, but it has a thin, twangy sound that works great against Yui’s heavier riffs. This Fender model was obscure until the 1990’s, when it became a favorite of alternative rock musicians like Liz Phair and the late great Kurt Cobain. In the same way, Azusa tends to not stand out in the show too much, until the finale when the band’s song to her made everyone cry. Aww!

BONUS: Sawako “Sawa-chan-sensei” Yamanaka – Epiphone Flying V and Gibson SG

Sawa-chan started off as the mild-mannered music teacher, but that all went straight out the window when we learned of her mysterious past as the singer and guitarist of a death metal band! She shreds on her Flying V while filling in for Yui in Season 1 and during her own concert in Season 2. But I’m more curious about her vintage 1960 Gibson SG that the girls find in the closet in Season 2! In the show, it’s one of the first models ever made and the girls pawn it for 500,000 yen (almost $5,000 USD!) My uncle used to have one of these, and the cherry mahogany has one of the sweetest tones on any guitar I’ve ever heard. It’s a great axe for blues and country, although Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath proves you can use it for metal too. I would have kept the guitar, but considering Sawako is living on a teacher’s salary I don’t blame her for keeping the money!

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