Tokai’s 70s-era reproductions of classic American guitars are legendary in their own right – in fact they made the original guitar companies sweat quite a bit – so you know that when you buy a vintage-inspired Tokai today, it has quite a pedigree. These ST-Style guitars are part of Tokai’s new limited edition Surftone series, which are exclusive to Australia. They’re based on classic models but each with custom modifications to modernise the playability. They’re available in limited numbers.
The review model is Ocean Turquoise Metallic with a white pickguard (although a Sonic Blue version is also available). It has a maple neck with a rosewood fretboard and 21 frets, and the fretboard radius is a little flatter and more forgiving than if Tokai had gone with a vintage-radius fretboard. The headstock face is glossy but the back of the neck is satin, allowing your hand to glide effortlessly along the neck rather than getting caught up in a sticky gloss finish like a traditional 50s model. The frets are bigger than vintage too, giving this guitar a slick, playable feel but without veering into ‘shred-stick’ territory.
The pickups are a trio of true single coils with a reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup for hum-cancelling sounds in positions two and four. The controls are the traditional volume/tone/tone con guration and there’s a five-way pickup selector switch. The bridge is a vintage-style six-screw vibrato with bent steel saddles. And that’s pretty much it; classic styling with modern playability, beautiful finishes and no-way-could-it-be-that-good-for-the-price workmanship! Let’s plug it in and see how it sounds.
I’LL WAIT FOR THE OCEAN
The big standout here, immediately, is the neck pickup. It has a bit more of a smokey, bluesy vibe than the others, more akin to 60s tones than the 50s voicing suggested by the other two pickups. The bridge pickup leans quite far towards the ‘twang’ end of the spectrum and it really sings through a clean amp setting, where it has an almost pedal steel-like quality. The middle pickup has a slightly honky midrange quality by itself, which is nice for full- sounding melodies, but it calms down nicely when you combine it with either the bridge or neck pickup for ‘quacky’ in-between tones. The neck pickup sounds great when you pile on the overdrive but it quickly becomes apparent that these pickups are at their best when they’re pumping out clean or overdriven tones, rather than all-out distorto-mayhem ones.
If you’re in the market for this type of guitar, this is a great option - and a cool Oz exclusive. The colours are beautiful, the workmanship rocks, the playability is effortless and the tones are wonderful, especially if you’re into clean and overdriven sounds that are predominantly 50s-based but with a little bit of fatter 60s tone thrown in. If you want heavier tones you could change the pickups easy enough, but it’s a heck of a guitar as-is and a lot of people are going to find their voice in it.
For more info on Tokai guitars, visit www.musocity.com.au.
Hits and Misses
Great neck pickup tones
Nice tuning stability
Tones might be too twangy for some