The electric bass guitar – and especially a sunburst 1970 Fender Jazz Bass – was my first musical love. My father Jaroslav was the drummer of a professional show band in Germany, and as a child I was lucky to make the occasional trip to rehearsals, recording studios and some afternoon gigs with him. I loved the music, the instruments and the microphones, but most of all I loved to look at the bass player’s (Pavel) Fender Jazz with its huge chrome covers.
I took the roundabout way to becoming a bassist myself, first playing the violin, then the guitar, then the double bass and the piano. In 1985 I bought my first bass guitar – a Japanese Jazz Bass-copy, and I never looked back. That bass is still my go-to instrument.
Over time Tokai Japan instruments have become legendary in their own right. Tokai managed to offer the type of vintage-inspired instruments that guitarists and bassists in the 1970s were craving for, but couldn’t find from US manufacturers. To this day Tokai stands for top quality at a musician-friendly price.
You could call the fretless Tokai TJB-55 FL (1.238,– €) Tokai’s unofficial Jaco Pastorius ”signature model” judging by its looks.
The fretted Tokai TJB-55 (999,– €) we received for this review is finished in a gorgeous metallic finish, called ocean turquoise metallic, which sits somewhere between green and silver.
The basic ingredients in both TJB-55 versions are high quality, traditional choices. True to their 1960s designation, both instruments feature alder bodies paired with maple necks.
The ribcage chamfer is very deep and soft.
In contrast to vintage basses both necks here sport a thin satin finish. This is a welcome nod to most modern bass players, who prefer matte finishes to the glossy necks from way back, which are often described as a bit sticky.
The machine heads on the TJB-55s are Gotohs which manage to retain a vintage look, while being smaller and lighter than original Klusons, Fenders or Schallers on vintage basses.
The regular Tokai TJB-55 sports 20 medium-sized frets in its beautiful rosewood fingerboard. The fretwork is top notch.
The fretless TJB-55 FL features fret lines made from maple; a welcome addition, especially for the occasional fretless player.
On forums – where else – you repeatedly find claims that rosewood might be too soft a wood for a fretless bass and roundwound bass strings. I own a well-loved and much-played 1976 Fender Precision Fretless, which – despite some light grooves in the ‘board – still plays fine.
Gotoh’s well-made version of an early-Seventies Fender bridge fits the bill on both the TJB-55 and the TJB-55 FL.
The legendary status of Jazz Basses is founded on two things – their great ergonomic properties, and their juicy yet transparent single-coil pickups.
Both Tokais come with a pair of the company’s own, excellent JB-Vintage Mark III pickups that promise vintage-style tones. The bridge pickup is reverse wound/reverse polarity to the neck unit, so the combination of both pickups is humbucking.
The quality of the electronic parts and the neatness of the wiring is a sight for sore eyes. Tokai even goes as far as equipping the pickups with period-correct (early-Sixties) wires with waxed cloth insulation.
A high-quality gig bag comes supplied with both models. Inside the side pocket of the TJB-55 FL’s bag you will find a three-ply white pickguard, should you prefer that look.
I don’t know how Tokai does it, but it has managed – once again – to imbue both basses with heaps of that proverbial “vintage mojo”, even though we’re looking at brand-new instruments here. The combination of top notch parts, along with the company’s proven track record, seems to make for a fantastic mix in both TJB-55s.
These two Tokais offer the best of all the great features of an early-Sixties Jazz Bass. The workmanship on both TJB-55s is second to none, the playability is very comfortable, and the sounds deliver big time. If you’re looking for some top-drawer “Jazz action”, you should definitely try one of these basses out.