Review: Tokai Classic Series

Tokai Classic TE – headstock

Tokai Guitars has built its reputation on very well-crafted and vintage-correct copies of classic models. The original Japanese Tokai instruments from the Seventies and Eighties gave most US manufacturers a good run for their money, and in some respects Tokai’s – ahem – ”versions” were even better than some of the originals from that era.

Tokai’s top-of-the-line instruments are still made in Japan. The company’s Chinese output, though, makes it possible to own a genuine Tokai guitar (or bass), even on a tighter budget.

The idea behind the brand-new Tokai Classic series is to offer very reasonably priced guitars and basses, which combine a classic look with a few modern tweaks for easier playability.

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Tokai Classic TE – full front

Tokai Classic TE – full back

Kitarablogi received these three Tokai Classics for review:

A Tokai Classic TE (current price in Finland: 249 €) in a 50s-style two-tone sunburst finish…

Tokai Classic ST – full front

Tokai Classic ST – full back

…a creamy white Tokai Classic ST (249 €)…

Tokai Classic JB – full front

Tokai Classic JB – full back

…as well as a Classic JB bass (299 €) in a fetching three-tone sunburst.

Tokai Classic ST – headstock

Tokai’s Classic series features bolt-on maple necks.

On the TE and ST models the face of the headstock sports a gloss finish.

Tokai Classic JB – headstock

The JB bass’ headstock front has received the same thin satin finish as the neck.

All Classic instruments offer easy access to the truss rod at the headstock, so you won’t have to take off the neck to make adjustments.

Tokai Classic TE – tuners

There’s a set of very decent Kluson-copies installed on the guitars.

Tokai Classic JB – tuners

The Classic JB comes with a set of Schaller-copies, which are less massive than vintage-style Klusons.

Tokai Classic guitars – fretboard

The Classic TE and ST come with a flatter-than-vintage fingerboard radius and chunkier frets, which makes the playing feel much more modern and bend-friendly.

Tokai Classic JB – fretboard

The same goes for the Tokai Classic bass.

Tokai Classic TE – back beauty 2

All Classic series bodies are made of basswood, a proven tonewood with a sound similar to alder.

Tokai Classic TE – neck plate

The black plastic cushion beneath the neck plate protects the finish.

Tokai Classic TE – bridge

There are different versions of the three-saddle Tele-style bridge in circulation:

The Classic TE goes for the late-Sixties variety sporting three saddles with pre-set grooves for the strings.

Tokai Classic TE – back ferrules

The TE came strung the regular way, though the body, with the strings’ ball-ends anchored in ferrules. This setup is favoured by most Tele players.

Tokai Classic TE – additional bridge holes

Tokai’s Classic TE nevertheless offers an additional interesting feature:

It’s possible to string this guitar through the back of the bridge, too. This was a rare feature on original Fender Telecasters in 1958/59 that noticeably alters the feel and sound of the guitar.

Tokai Classic ST – bridge

At first glance, the bridge on Tokai’s Classic ST looks like a dead-on copy of a vintage Strat vibrato.

Tokai Classic ST – vibrato block

The vibrato block, though, isn’t as chunky as on the original. It’s about the same size as the block on a Floyd Rose vibrato.

Vintage-anoraks will sniff disapprovingly at the sight of such a block, claiming that it’s bad for the tone of the guitar. Let me tell you that the review guitar’s acoustic ring and sustain were actually quite healthy. So much for preconceptions…

Tokai Classic JB – bridge

The Classic JB sports a nice copy of a 1970s Fender bass bridge.

Tokai Classic TE – pickups

Most self-appointed ”vintage-gurus” will tell you to steer clear at all times of ceramic Fender-style singlecoils.

Traditionally, a Fender-type singlecoil is constructed from six small, cylindrical magnets, which are tapped into vulcanised fibre plates. Around this magnet core a coil of thin copper wire is wound to complete the pickup. In traditional pickups the polepieces you see are actually the top ends of the alnico magnets.

Tokai Classic ST – pickups

Tokai’s Classic series uses ceramic pickups, which are made a little differently. The polepieces aren’t magnets, but rather soft steel rods, which are in physical contact to a ceramic bar magnet (or sometimes two magnets) stuck to the bottom of each pickup.

Tokai Classic JB – pickups 2

When ceramic pickups first appeared on budget guitars in the Nineties, their sound was admittedly often very spiky, brittle and sharp. This gave ceramic singlecoils a bad name, which wasn’t all that undeserved.

But that was then, and ceramic pickups have been improved drastically since. Despite this, there’s still quite a lot of prejudice against this type of guitar pickup.

In the case of these Tokai Classic instruments, I’d suggest you approach their pickups with an open heart and open ears – you might be in for a positive surprise!

Tokai Classic TE – control cavity

The Classic series features electronic parts of inexpensive, but very decent quality. All the switches and controls work fine, and without any hiccups.

As you can easily see from this picture, the workmanship is very clean in the Classic TE.

Tokai Classic JB – control cavity

The rout for the Classic JB’s component cavity wasn’t quite as clean on our review sample. Luckily, this has no bearing whatsoever on the functionality of this bass guitar.

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Tokai Classic TE – body beauty 1

Tokai’s Classic TE is a very nice, well-playing Tele-style electric guitar.

Quite often, you will find uninspiring, flat and generic neck profiles on instruments in this price bracket.

The Classic TE is quite an exception, as it sports a comfortable, well-rounded and chunky neck, that still manages to stay on the right side of ”fat”. The fretwork is really great on our review sample. Combined with the bigger frets and flatter fretboard radius, this results in a slinky and bend-friendly playing feel.

Tokai’s Classic TE is no slouch in the sound department, either:

The neck pickup is warm and round, but never sounds boring or one-dimensional. The middle position of the switch will give you a cool, funky rhythm tone. The bridge pickup on its own offers enough twang for Country playing, and enough whack for the Classic Rock crowd.

Tokai Classic TE – body beauty 2

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Tokai Classic ST – body beauty 1

I’d never have thought an electric guitar costing only 249 € could be as utterly inspiring as this Tokai Classic ST!

The neck feels great with its oval C-profile. The fretwork and setup make this a real player’s guitar. The vibrato works well in a vintage-style way, and the ST’s acoustic tone is woody and dynamic.

The ceramic pickups on the Tokai Classic ST are a bit hotter than the alnicos on my 50s-style Fender Stratocaster reissue. They also have a bit more sizzle and bite, but in a good way, making this more of a ”Jimi Hendrix” than a ”Buddy Holly” guitar.

Tokai Classic ST – body beauty 2

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Tokai Classic JB – body beauty 1

Tokai’s Classic JB truly offers a lot of bass in a very pocket-friendly package.

The Classic JB will give you all the features you’d look for in a Jazz Bass-type instrument:

There’s the slender, distinctly tapered neck profile, the comfortable balance, and the wide variety (for a passive bass) of different sounds.

Tokai Classic JB – body beauty 2

This last clip lets you listen to the video’s bass and guitar tracks in isolation. During the first half all guitar tracks are played on the Classic TE, in the second half the Classic ST takes over:

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Tokai Classic TE – beauty shot 1

Tokai Classic ST – beauty shot 1

Tokai Classic JB – beauty shot 1

Tokai’s Classic Series may well prove to set a new standard for vintage-style instruments in this price range. The three reviewed guitars were well-made, well-playing instruments, and their sound was inspiring.

While the Classic series is aimed mainly at beginners, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the instruments crept up on pub or club stages!

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Tokai Classic Series

Tokai Classic TE – 249 €

Tokai Classic ST – 249 €

Tokai Classic JB – 299 €

Finnish distributor: Musamaailma

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Pros:

+ value-for-money

+ playability

+ workmanship

+ sound

Tokai Classic ST – beauty shot 2

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