While some may question the ethics behind copying classic guitar models, the fact is that there definitely is a market for such instruments. This is underlined by the licensed copies and sub-brands many well-known companies produce. There’s Fender’s Squier, Gibson’s Epiphone, PRS Guitar’s SE range and Music Man’s Sterling by Music Man, to name just a few.
Some companies have even made a name for themselves as makers of copy guitars, such as Greco, Nash Guitars, Rock ’n’ Roll Relics and Maybach. Probably the best known name in this field is Tokai, who make both affordable copies, as well as handcrafted high-quality replicas.
The Chinese Tokai LSS-47C could be seen as a ”best of” version of Gibson’s 1950s Les Paul Special. We find the general outline of a 1955-57 single-cut model, a yellow finish very reminiscent of the 1958-60 double-cut, combined with the pre-compensated bridge used on the follow up instrument, the SG Special.
The set neck has been made from hard rock maple, while the bound fingerboard is carbonised (dyed) jatoba. Jatoba is a South-American tree that is also called Brazilian Cherry, even though it actually belongs to the bean family of plants. Recently, Jatoba has seen wider use as a replacement for rosewood on many affordable and mid-priced guitars and basses.
The slab body has been crafted from mahogany.
While the machine heads are decent Kluson copies, the bridge is a lightweight lightning bar wrapover model, pre-compensated for modern string sets with a plain g-string.
The P-90 singlecoil pickups sit inside black soapbar covers. This is a modern set with reverse-wound/reverse-polarity pickups, which makes the middle setting hum-free.
My only small criticism would concern the slightly oversized and not super tidy pickup routs on the LSS-47C.
The passive controls comprise the classic Gibson set of a three-way toggle plus volume and tone controls for each pickup.
The Tokai LS-98S is a high-quality replica of a 1956 Les Paul Standard, called the LP Goldtop these days. The woods and components chosen for the LS-98S are top grade and the attention to detail is stunning.
We find a one-piece mahogany neck, glued into the mahogany body with a long tenon. The guitar’s carved top is maple, while the bound fretboard is made from rosewood.
In contrast to post-1957 LP Standards, which usually come with the neck and body back dyed with red filler, most Goldtops sport a ”natural” look (i.e. brown pore filler).
The machine heads, the stopbar tailpiece and the tuneomatic bridge all come from Gotoh’s professional grade range.
The P-90s on the LS-98S are alnico-powered Tokai P-90 Mark II units. True to vintage specs the guitar uses identical pickups in both positions.
The LS-98S come in its own high-quality case.
Our review sample of the Tokai LSS-47C is really light in weight and very comfortable to play.
The neck profile is a relatively thin D, or what Gibson fans would describe as a 60s profile. Combined with the 12-inch fretboard radius, the well-dressed frets and the excellent set-up, this makes the LSS-47C a really bend-friendly instrument.
Despite having a rather affordable pedigree, the pickups on this Tokai sound surprisingly good, offering the typical combination of grit, power and roundness so loved by P-90 fans. There is also a nice balance in output levels between the neck pickup and the bridge unit.
In terms of its weight, the Tokai LS-98S lies in the heavier side of medium. The weight isn’t really an issue per se, but you sure notice it whenever you have this Tokai strapped on.
The workmanship is simply flawless and leaves nothing to be desired. The neck profile is much closer to a late-59 LP neck than the clubby profile of a genuine 1956 Goldtop, meaning we’re dealing with a very comfortable, rounded C of medium depth.
As on many Gibson originals from the early to mid-Fifties, the Tokai LS-98S’ neck P-90 sounds a fair deal louder than its bridge pickup. This is due to the way the identical units are suspended inside the body – which means the neck pickup can’t be screwed quite far enough into the body – as well as the neck unit’s placement closer to the strings’ mid-point. You simply have to adjust the neck pickup’s volume control to 8.5 to even out the signal levels.
The thick maple top makes a P-90-equipped Les Paul-style guitar sound brighter than you’d probably expect, especially with the bridge pickup selected. This guitar can really take you from warm Jazz to spiky Country, and on to Blues and Rock sounds, without the slightest problem.
The LSS-47C and LS-98S give you a very good idea why Tokai is the top name in copy guitars:
The LSS-47C is a very reasonably priced version of a classic LP Special. It may not be ”vintage correct” in many of its details, but it plays and sounds very well, and gives you a lot of that classic flavour.
The LS-98S is a professional grade recreation of a 1956 LP Goldtop. Made with typical Japanese attention to detail, this is a stunning guitar at an extremely fair price.
Tokai Guitars LSS-47C + LS-98S
Tokai LSS-47 – 505 €
Tokai LS-98S – 1,276 € (case included)
LSS-47C – Pros:
+ value for money
– pickup routs a little untidy
LS-98S – Pros:
+ value for money