Review: Tokai AJB-55BB + Basslines SJB-3

AJB-55BB? Is this bass Tokai’s Big Brother -special edition? No!
The BB stands for ”big blocks”.

****

The Tokai AJB-55BB is a special edition run of the company’s Jazz Bass -inspired model with block inlays instead of the usual small dots. Finnish importer Musamaailma has equipped the test sample with a pair of Seymour Duncan Basslines SJB-3s, which promise a hotter-than-vintage output. As supplied, the whole package would set you back about 888 € here in Finland.

This Japanese bass is a streamlined beauty with a maple fingerboard and a tortie-type scratchplate (sometimes this model also comes with a three-ply black pickguard).

Even though the large block inlays invoke a Seventies-look, the Tokai’s deep body chamfers talke you back all the way to the Sixties-period Fender Jazz.

Tokai uses Gotoh-tuners with smaller diameter tuning posts on the AJB-55BB, compared to the usual Kluson- or Schaller-types on many other basses of this type.

Slimmer tuning posts, as well as smaller base plates, translate into less weight on the headstock – which is great for the instrument’s overall balance.

The whole of the neck – fingerboard and all – has been finished in a super-smooth clear satin finish. The fretwork as well as the workmanship on the inlays is exemplary. The AJB-55BB sports 20 medium-sized frets.

The test sample’s sturdy and tight neck joint is executed in traditional fashion, employing four wood screws and a steel neck plate.

The Tokai AJB-55BB leaves the factory with the company’s own, high-quality 60s-type MK2-pickups.

As already mentioned before, this bass has been customised by Musamaailma with two Basslines SJB-3 -pickups, which are also known as Quarter Pounds for Jazz Bass, as their polepieces have a diameter of a quarter of an inch. The polepieces are left inside the pickup covers on purpose, to avoid the unpleasant noises made by the strings hitting the polepieces.

For some reason the test bass’ neck pickup was contained in a (slightly wider) bridge pickup cover, which is why the holes in the cover don’t correlate exactly with the polepiece positions. But this is really only a small cosmetic glitch, which doesn’t affect the bass’ playability or amplified performance in any way.

The Tokai AJB-55BB’s passive controls follow tradition offering two volume controls (one per pickup) and a shared master tone control.

Japanese quality-parts and clean soldering – what more can one ask for?

The AJB’s bridge is Gotoh’s copy of a 70s Fender bass bridge – simple, yet toneful.

For some reason Tokai have chosen to place the bridge in the same position it was on Fender’s 1970s originals, meaning about 3 mm further from the neck as on 60s examples. With normal string gauges this placement often results in the bridge saddles sitting near the tip of the intonation screws. In extreme cases the intonation screw (especially on the g-string) may work itself loose, and fall off in the middle of a performance, leaving the bassist red-faced. The current set-up works OK, but I’d rather see a Sixties-style bridge placement on Tokai-basses in the future.

****

Many players feel that the Jazz Bass – as well as the basses it inspired – is the best of the classic designs. The reasons for this are its excellent balance, its narrow and tapered neck, as well as the versatility of its singlecoil pickups.

The Tokai AJB-55BB nails these features to a tee: It is a winner in the ergonomics stakes and sounds great.

I have to admit, I was a bit sceptical concerning hot pickups, but the Duncan Quarter Pounds are really doing it for me. These Basslines pickups offer plenty of dynamics and don’t take away anything from the bass’ inherent tonal character. The SJB-3s take the vintage Jazz Bass tone and remaster it for today’s bassist – the bass sounds louder, bigger and even better.

Tokai AJB-55BB – fingerstyle

Tokai AJB-55BB – slap

Tokai-AJB55BB – plectrum

****

Tokai AJB-55BB + Basslines SJB-3

Current price in Finland: 888 €

Finnish distributor: Musamaailma

Pros:

+ value-for-money

+ workmanship

+ playability

+ sound

Cons:

– bridge placement

– neck pickup’s cover (see text)
****

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