Claescaster

Tag: Tokai Love Rock

Tokai Silver Star SS-36

Tokai Silver Star SS-36 Made in Japan 1979
Tokai Silver Star SS-36 Made in Japan 1979

When arrived to the office on Monday morning I noticed that Yuma, one of the eBay sellers that I follow from Japan, had added a new guitar, a 1979 Tokai Silver Star SS-36. I’ve always admired, well admired is not strong enough, I’ve always been totally gay for the 3-tone sunburst that Fender used in 1970’s. I even built the Claescaster because of this, since I couldn’t find a Telecaster with the right colour I decided to assemble one myself. For the past two years I’ve been looking at different Japanese big headed Stratocasters with the 3-tone 1970’s sunburst and black pickguard and was pretty convinced that a Greco SE-500 would be my next electric guitar or perhaps a late Seventies Fernandes Burny but they never seemed to have necks that were fat enough. I was in touch with a couple of the Japanese sellers and asked which brand had the fattest neck and got this reply, none. One seller explained that most Japanese guitars have fairly flat necks since the Japanese have small hands, which sounded a bit racist but whatever the reason is, most Japan made guitars had soft profiled necks up until now. I’ve played a couple of Crafted in Japan Fenders with great V-profile but that’s just in the last couple of years, none of the Japanese guitars that I’ve tried from 1970-80’s has had any baseball bat necks. This was a beautiful looking Tokai Silver Star with great grain showing through the 3-tone sunburst. I asked the seller about the neck and he replied that it wasn’t super fat, more of a soft U-profile, well that sounded close enough to me. The truth is that I’ve really missed the sound of the Fernandes RST-50 ’57 that I had for a short while. The Grey Bobbin pickups just sounded so amazingly good but I could never really come to terms with the small head or the fact that the guitar was black. Eric Clapton’s Blackie in all honour but they look pretty bland and boring to me, I like wood coloured or 3-tone sunburst guitars. My head started to think, well what could be better than Greco’s Maxon pickups, well the Ferndandes grey bobbin pickups, any day. Who was making Fernades in the late Seventies, well Tokai. Does that mean that this Tokai Silver Star will have some form of similar pickups? I tried to do some research but before I had even come to any conclusion I was the happy owner of a 1979 Tokai Silver Star SS-36. It was a Monday morning, I was a bit hungover, most of my guitar purchases has been made in that state, or perhaps when I’m drunk. I tend to be really concerned about money, I like to plan ahead, save for a rainy day, and then suddenly I sit there in front of the computer drunk or hungover without any filters whatsoever and just thinking GAS, GAS, GAS.

Tokai Silver Star SS-36 Made in Japan 1979
Tokai Silver Star SS-36 Made in Japan 1979

To be honest I didn’t know that much about Tokai, a part of me has always classed it like Ibanez, kind of bellow Greco in terms of quality. Then again, I can’t really say that I have felt a huge difference in quality between the Fender Japan made by FujiGen or the ones by Tokai, but everyone seems to prefer the Made in Japan to the later Tokai built Crafted in Japan. I have a 1991 Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul copy that is awesome but that doesn’t mean that an entry level Strat from 1979 would be equally good, but luckily it was. The Tokai Silver Strat SS-36 was the cheapest in the line of the late Seventies Fender copies that Tokai made but I think the main difference between the top and the bottom was if they had 3 or 4 screws bolt-on-necks, how many pieces of wood was used for the bodies and the quality of machine heads and hardware, and less about the pickups. Or perhaps these are the shittiest pickups Tokai produced and they still sound awesome.

Tokai (Tōkai Gakki)
Tōkai Gakki was founded in 1947 and is based in Hamamatsu, Japan. Tokai began production of acoustic guitars in 1965 and by 1968 was producing electric guitars for the American market. Tokai still exists as guitar manufacturer. Tokai made guitars for Fernandes, Mosrite and Fender Japan. Tokai badged guitars included the house brand Tokai as well as Cat’s Eyes, Conrad, Drifter, Hondo, Love Rock, Mosrite, Sigma and Silver Star. Possible badges include Artist Ltd., Gaban, Gallan, Gession and Robin. It’s suggested that Tokai made Hummingbird acoustics as well, but if these were related to those made by Humming Bird I haven’t quite sorted out yet. Taken from my previous post about Japanese guitar brands

Fender replicas were started in 1977 officially. These were great guitars too. Using good quality wooden material with great craft man ship. “Springy Sound” Stratocaster replicas and the “Breezy Sound” Telecaster replicas are superior to the original Fender. Tokai has own factory and has built guitars for many famous known brands such as Fernandes and Fender Japan. For that mean, Tokai is only one original electric guitar manufacturer in Japan. (Note: Fender Japan used many sub constructors such as Fujigen, Dyna, Tokai, and Terada. The JV and E serial were made by Fujigen. Tokai made has “Made in Japan” under serial number in cursive handwriting). Taken from Music-Trade Japan

Tokai Silver Star SS-36 Made in Japan 1979
The guitar has a really nice soft U-shaped 1-piece maple neck with a nut width of just 40.6 mm, which didn’t feel that different to me. The body is 4 pieces Sen (Japanese ash) with poly lacquer in the classic 1970’s Fender 3-tone sunburst, which I truly love. I’m not sure if the pickups are similar to the L-5000 Vintage Arched PP Grey Bobbin pickups that the Fernandes RST-50 ’57 had or just some other grey bottom pickups. I tried to find some more information about them but they are just refereed to as grey bottom Tokai PU at Music-Trade Japan. Tokai Was building Fernandes at this time so I assume they would have used similar pickups for both. Either way, I love the pickups in this Tokai and it sounds almost as good as the Fernades did. I added an extra spring to the tremolo block since I never use the wammy bar and prefer a more solid hardtail feel, just like a real late 1970’s Fender Stratocaster.


I will try to get a new video up soon where I play a bit louder so you can hear the pickups properly, I was worried about the neighbours, and ideally play a bit better.


Well here it is, I might not play any better, but at least it is a more of it. I changed the string to 010, always Ernie Ball Regular Slinky, raised the action and fitted a 4th spring to the tremolo. Not sure what difference it made sound vice but it made it felt better to me playing.

 

 

How to… refret a guitar

How to… refret a guitar
The shiny new Jescar FW47104 frets I put on my Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul Standard “Made in Japan” 1991

Here is a little update on my previous post on How to… refret a guitar. It turns out that maybe it wasn’t as easy as I first thought to level, crown and polish the frets on a guitar. I have had some small issues with both the Tokai that I refretted and my old Claescaster that I levelled the frets on. I didn’t pay enough attention to the height of the frets and I hardly used the fret rocker the first time around. This resulted in some buzzing when some frets were pressed down. I have now levelled, crowned and polished both guitars again and checked every single fret with the fret rocker to make sure they were all the same height. It would probably have helped if I had glued in the frets on the Tokai when I refretted it, which I didn’t in case I needed to take them out again for some reason. I think the frets not being glued in combination with the difference in the neck with and without the tension of the strings was enough to cause problems with on the Tokai. Now I when I levelled it again I pushed down the guitar to simulate the tension of the strings and that worked pretty well. The Claescaster was a lot easier, that was just a case of paying a bit more attention when I levelled the frets and actually use the fret rocker properly. When I first attempted to level, crown and polish frets it was evening so it got pretty dark and my main light source was the ceiling lamp above me. I have since learned that it’s a lot easier to get this done properly if you have light coming from the opposite side of you. This time I was working in front of the windows and had an even flow of natural light coming in which made it a lot easier to see if the frets were even and later during the polishing stage, if they were smooth enough. Both necks still feels a bit weird but I think that after a couple of hours of heavy playing, not playing heavy music just playing a lot, they will settle and even out a bit. Normally guitars feels weird even after just adjusting the bridge saddles, imagine after changing all the frets.

How to refret a guitar
I checked every single fret with the fret rocker and then marked any parts that was higher with a black marker. I levelled the frets and took extra care with the problem areas. I used a small Bahco file this time instead of the long fret leveller that I used last time. I checked with the fret rocker, levelled a bit more and then checked again until it was perfectly even.

How to refret a guitar
When everything was levelled I just had to crown the frets again and then polish them. I’ve realised that these little aluminium fret board protectors that I have used in the past doesn’t really work. If you have levelled and crowned the frets you have to run a sandpaper over the whole fretboard, feeling every single fret with your fingers to round them off, that’s the only way to get them smooth and nice. For that you really need to do it properly and tape the whole fretboard to protect it.

How to… refret a guitar

How to… refret a guitar
Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul Standard “Made in Japan” 1991

It’s done, it’s all over, I can retire and put my luthier’s tools on the shelf now. Everything I’ve been doing for the last year has been leading up to this moment, to refret my beloved Tokai Love Rock. I decided about a month ago to learn how to refret, crown, dress, polish and care for the frets of my guitars. A fairly wise decision I think since it turned out to not be as hard as everyone said and it has saved me ridiculous amounts of money since people charge 300-400€ for refretting guitars here. I did spend about 170€ on tools but hopefully they will last me a life time and if I refret a couple of more guitars it has soon paid for itself.

How to… refret a guitar
I decided to replace the humbucker rings as well since they were in such a bad state. When I got the Tokai I had to drill out the screws in order to replace them, so I could adjust the pickups, so the plastic rings was kind of super glued together and I have been meaning to replace them ever since. Now I did, with a fancy 3€ pair from China that I scratched with wire wool and then soaked over night in tea and later with coffee, to try to get them to look less new. The cat didn’t fully approve of my decision to spend 6 hours on Saturday refretting my Tokai when I could be rolling around on the floor with her instead. I tightened the pots too, I hate when the knobs feels wobbly, this is actually on my Westone Les Paul, I tightened the screws on quite a few guitars while I was at it. This is how bad the frets were before.

How to… refret a guitar
First step, removing the old frets. It went pretty easy, I was scared they would have been glued in so I would have to heat them with a soldering iron but the weren’t. I got a bit of chipping, I think it’s pretty hard to avoid on an old and well played rosewood fretboard. It wasn’t too bad and since the new frets will cover most of it I decided to just ignore it, sand the fretboard smooth like a babies bottom and the oil it up with lemon oil.

How to… refret a guitar
This was the part I was dreading the most, how to get the frets to fit without ruining the binding. You can get a fancy tool for doing this but I felt I didn’t want spend 85€ since I only have one guitar to refret with binding. I came up with the idea to take on fret at the time, match it to the old fret, cut it, then try to file down the under side so it wouldn’t cut in too much into the binding. I tried my best to file the edges and corners as well, since it would be hard to reach once the fret was in place. It took forever, it hurt my fingers and I hated it but it worked and I guess was worth the 85€ I saved on doing it by hand, fret by fret.

How to… refret a guitar
I made sure the neck was straight with my straight edge and then I marked the top of the frets with a black marker, just to see how much I was taking of when I later leveled the frets. Next step was to crown the frets, make sure everything was straight and even with a fret rocker, file the edges a bit more and then just polish the frets with sand paper and later wire wool.

How to… refret a guitar
How shiny, smooth and awesome is that? New Jescar FW47104 pre-radiused 12″ frets installed on a 1991 Japanese Tokai Love Rock LS-55. Just look at those freaking edges, I’m so proud I could burst. I doubt anyone could have done a better job, even if they would have charged me 400€.

How to… refret a guitar
I decided to go over my old Claescaster as well. This is the good part with having all the tools needed for taking care of your frets. It cost nothing to make sure that things are in a perfect state. I bought both Claescaster necks from the same guy in the UK, First Avenue Guitars. When I bought the first one it was pretty hard to find cheap necks with a vintage tint, especially with a logo fitted under the lacquer. I really like the profile of these too, it’s a normal C but it feels pretty fat and nice so I got a second one for the new Claescaster. The only problem, as with all cheap necks, is that the edges aren’t that smooth so I decided to level, crown, dress and polish them, with extra detail to the corners. Now it feels better than ever.

How to… refret a guitar
Looks pretty good. I decided to put a couple of drops of dry Teflon lubricate in the machine heads before I tightened all the screws and restrung the guitar. I read that these types of dry lubrication for bicycles are good because the attract less dust and crap than normal wet oils so for 4€ I thought it was worth a try. A quick adjustment of the Wilkinson brass saddles and then we are all set. Ready to play.

How to… refret a guitar

I finally did it, I refretted my first guitar, well I actually did it twice. First out was my old Morgan Telecaster neck, a leftover from my first Claescaster. I don’t use it so it felt like a perfect neck to practice on, especially since it doesn’t have any binding. It was actually less hard work than I expected it to be, well it took some time to get the old frets out but still, no major issues. I just had to get over that first fear that I would break something and eventually build up some confidence that I knew what I was doing.

How to refret a guitar
First I checked that the neck was straight with a straight edge and adjusted the trussrod until it was perfect. It was a lot easier to get the old frets out if you cut in a bit on each side with a sharp knife, it gave the pliers something to grip, but be careful so you don’t slip and scratch the fretboard, as I did. I used normal wood glue and then gently tapped the new Jescar FW43080 fretwire in place. When the fret edges were cut I taped the fretboard with masking tape and then filed down the edges, first straight and then angled the file 45°.

How to refret a guitar
I checked that all the frets were the same height with a fret rocker and since they were I didn’t bother to level the frets, maybe I should have. I crowned them with a Uo-Chikyu medium fret crowning file and then softened the edges with a Uo-Chikyu edge file. I went of the frets with 400 and 800 grit and then polished until I couldn’t feel my shoulder with wire wool.

How to refret a guitar
I’m pretty damn pleased and proud of my first refretted neck.

How to refret a guitar
I decided to change the frets on my EKO Ranger VI as well, even thought I had just crowned and polished them two days ago. I want to get as much practice as possible before I start with the Tokai and to get a feel for the difference between rosewood and maple fretboards. I made a deep cut on the side of the frets which made it really easy to get a grip and pull out the old frets. It was actually so easy that I forgot to be careful and just ripped them out and managed to chip the fretboard. Which in a way was good so I got the chance to glue the chip down, sand down and then polish the fretboard, now I know how to deal with that as well.

How to refret a guitar
Unfortunately I had bought some cheap non pre-radiused fretwire which meant that I had to try my best to get the correct radius by bending it which wasn’t that easy. I will never get that again, but at least now I know how annoying it is with fretwire that isn’t pre-radiused. I ended up with pretty rough edges, it felt like it was harder to cut than the Jescar, so I had to work a lot to file them smooth. Then I levelled the frets, crowned them, filed the corners and polished with 400, 800 grit and then wire wool.

How to refret a guitar
The final result, a refretted EKO Ranger VI. It used to have some dead spots around the 12th fret which disappeared straight away with the new frets.

How to… refret a guitar

Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul Standard "Made in Japan" 1991Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul Standard “Made in Japan” 1991

Today I did it, I decided to go all in and cross the final frontier when it comes to DIY guitar work and ordered everything needed for refretting my Tokai. It has really poor frets, well not only does the frets have big groves in it but it’s hardly any frets left. It’s such a nice guitar and she deserves to be brought back to her former 1991 glory. I have thought about this for a long time, well I’ve thought about refretting her since I bought her, but if I should pay someone 240-340€ to do it or if I should just learn how to do it myself. I have to say that my trust in the quality of any form of workmanship south of the Pyrenees is pretty low. I have seen too many people charge too much for things that I could have done better myself, hopefully I’m right this time to. I bought quite a lot of things from G.M.I. tools in Greece, a fret leveler, fret puller, hammer and then I got a neck support caul and a fret rocker from Guitars & Woods in Portugal. I always try to buy things from my Mediterranean neighbours if I can to help their economy out during the recession, even though I doubt that any of these eBay sellers pay tax.  I struggled a lot when it came to what type of crowning file I should get, I watched a lot of Youtube videos to see what people were using but everyone had a different opinion. In the end I went for two fancy Japan made Uo-Chikyu files from Japarts in Canada, mainly because they were made in Japan and I’m gay for Japanese guitar things, and they had a cute fish as their logo which made me happy. I read a lot of good things about Dunlop’s fret wire on European forums, they seem to be pretty standard here, and a lot of bad things about them on American forums so in the end I trusted the Yanks and bought Jescar fret wire instead from Philadelphia Luthier. All in all I spent 172.73€ for tools that hopefully will last me a lifetime, two sets of fret wire, one for my Tokai Les Paul and one for a Strat/Tele, I don’t think you can get Jescar here so I thought I might as well get an extra set. I also got a cheap set of fret wire to practice with, I was going to refret my old Morgan neck, the original neck to the first Claescaster, just to try to get used to pulling frets and hammering new ones in. If I would just refret one guitar I guess I could just have paid someone 300€ to do it for me, but the main thing for me is to be able to crown and polish the frets on all my guitars, before they get big groves in the frets so I can’t play them. I’ve also notice that I tend to not play some guitars just because they have a bit of fret wear, not because they are hard to play, just because I don’t want them to get worse. That’s a ridiculous excuse for not playing your favourite guitars. I prefer to learn how to do it myself so the cost of refretting a guitar is 12-14€ for the fret wire, and then of course a huge amount of my time but that’s not as precious as having to pay 300€ for someone else to do it for me. Wish me luck!

Here is a list of what I ordered:
Hiroshima Files Uo-Chikyu Medium Radius Fret Crowning File
Hiroshima Files Uo-Chikyu Fret End Dressing File
G.M.I. fret-fingerboard LEVELER 400mm(15.75”)
G.M.I. fret puller-luthier’s tool-MADE IN GERMANY     
G.M.I. fret hammer-luthier’s tool-MADE IN GERMANY
G.M.I. fretboard guards    
Bahco replacment files for G.M.I. fret bevel(3 different cuts)
Guitar Neck Support Caul
Stainless Steel Guitar Fret Rocker Laser Cut – Luthier
Set 2.5mm Wide Nickel Silver Fretwire
Jescar FW47104 Electric Medium/Jumbo Fretwire Pre-radiused 12″
Jescar FW43080 Electric Medium Fretwire Pre-radiused 9.5″

How to… solder electronics

How to change a potentiometer
When I found my Tokai Love Rock it had a broken shaft on one of the potentiometers so I’ve been planning to change that for the last month or two. This weekend I finally got around to do it. I changed the broken one for a Alpha 500k pot, not the most expensive replacement but I had heard quite good things about Alpha so I thought I would give it a try. I have no experience what so ever when it comes to soldering so I decided to play it safe and move one cable at the time from the old to the new pot. My main concern was of course that I would get confused and not manage to get all the bits back in the right place. Everything went fine, well maybe not the cleanest soldering but pretty good for being my first time. I should of course have scratched the new pot with a bit of sandpaper to get the solder to stick better, I didn’t think of that until after.

Tokai Love Rock electronicsI changed the pot one cable at the time to not mess anything up

Tokai Love Rock electronicsThe final result, my newly fitted Alpha 500 k pot. Perhaps not the cleanest soldering but OK for being my first time.

Tokai Love Rock electronicsTokai Love Rock with 4 brand knew knobs, straight from China via eBay.

How to do a 50’s vintage wiring mod for Telecaster
When I had to soldering iron out I thought I might as well sort some other stuff too. I’ve been reading about different ways of keeping the tone on a Telecaster when you turn the volume down and decided to go for the old 50’s vintage wiring on my Claescaster. It’s a really easy procedure since you just need to move one cable but when I opened the Claescaster up I realised that it wasn’t wired like the standard Telecaster, not according to Seymour Duncan’s excellent wiring diagrams, so I had to move the capacitor and another cable as well. The capacitor is the worlds biggest Orange drop but it does the trick, I might go for something smaller and a bit more suitable when I build the new Claescaster.

Telecaster 50's vintage wiringThe cables I swapped around on the Claescaster. It sounds great now and keeps the tone when you turn the volume down.

How to solder a endpin jack for acoustic guitars.
I found this nice old Shadow humbucker pickup for acoustic guitars when I was back in Sweden. I have a 12 string guitar from the 70’s that I bought cheap from an old Jazz musician and I had completely forgotten that it was equipped with a Shadow pickup. I brought the pickup back to Barcelona and have spent some time trying to figure out how to fit it in my Cort that I normally use for rehearsals. I bought a gold endpin jack and then I just needed to solder a mini jack cable to connect it. The question was, how the hell do I do that? I found and old RCA to mini jack cable that I decided to slaughter for this project but couldn’t find any info online how to connect it. I tried every single combination I could think of but just couldn’t get any sound out of it. Then it hit me, of course, a guitar cable has only on cable inside and then the shield around, so I have to make something similar to this. I twined the left and right together and then the same with the shield from both and it worked perfectly. It might not be the best cable in the world but it was what I got at home and it seems to work fine.

RCA to mini jackStandard RCA to mini jack.

Mini jack for acoustic guitarI connected the left and right and then twined the shield together

endpin jack to mini jackThe left and right soldered together to the shortest pin and then the shield to the longest.

Shadow humbucker pickupShadow humbucker pickup for acoustic guitars, newly fitted on my old Cort.

Tokai Love Rock

How to… refret a guitar
Tokai Love Rock LS-55 Les Paul Standard “Made in Japan” 1991

All guitar players dream of finding something amazing, and ideally cheap, in a pawn shop but few of us do. It takes stupid amounts of persistence and a even greater amount of luck. To be hounest, most of the time they are just full of crap and you have to go almost daily since bargains don’t tend to hang around for long. Then again, sometimes you can find something awesome that they have missed the value of because it wasn’t that easy to Google. Like a Tokai Love Rock Made in Japan from 1991 that didn’t have the Made in Japan marking on it. I found this guitar a couple of weeks ago in a pawn shop, or cash converter as they tend to be called here in Spain. It was in a really bad state, I mean I have never seen a dirtier guitar in my life, a thick layer or grease and grime on the fretboard and bridge. The previous owner must have sweat like a pig because all the screw were black of rust and impossible to get out. I actually had to drill them out to change the humbucker mounting screws so I could adjust the pickups. I got this image in my head of a rather hairy and sweaty gent that had been playing Sweet Home Alabama on this guitar for the past 20 years and really gigging the hell out of it. I soaked the bridge in normal washing liquid over night and then cleaned it with an old toothbrush, my favourite cleaning tool. I bought this guitar on a whim, I mean I loved the neck, I hardly dared to touch it because it was so dirty, but the body was pretty well worn and one of the pots was broken. On top of that I had no clue if it was made in Japan, Korea, China or it might not even be a real Tokai, I read somewhere about tons of fake Tokai’s, or Fakai’s flooding the market in Canada. If I didn’t find cleaning and making guitars look pretty the best past time in the world I would probably not have bought it, but I do, so I got it straight away. I cleaned it up and took it apart and started to look for the clues.

Tokai Love Rock Made in Japan
The night I found here, unclean and weary.

I remembered that I had read that the Japan made Tokai’s had 2 screws for the trussrod cover while the Korean and Chinese had 3. Mine has 2, check. Then I noticed that both the bridge and stopbar had Made in Japan stamped under, check. Then I read on My Les Paul that the Japanese guitars has square holes from the routing under the pickups and diagonal wiring, mine has both, check. I actually read here that Tokai are still using the same router that they have used since the 1970’s so all guitars made by them, Greco briefly and recently Burny, should have this routing if it’s made in Japan. I thought that was pretty cool. To be sure I did a bit more research on Tokai registry and even did a few posts myself on different forums to see what people said. They all agreed, it’s a Tokai Love Rock Made in Japan from 1991.

Tokai Love Rock Made in Japan
Now, all dolled up. I just need to change the broken pot, a set of new amber knobs are already on their way from China.

Tokai Love Rock electronics
A quick update, in mid-March 2013 the Tokai got the broken pot fixed. I also decided to change the frets, something you can read about here and here.

Are all Japanese guitars good?

I would say yes and no. Most of the early Japanese guitars I have tried have a rather “toy guitar” feel to them. My Playsound from the late 1960’s is fun to play but it’s a pretty horrible copy of a Telecaster. A lot of Japanese acoustic guitar manufactures jumped on the bandwagon and started to make electric guitars in the mid Sixties since that seemed to be what the kids wanted, here you can read more about Japanese guitar brands. Some of them managed to make pretty decent copies of American Fender’s and Gibson’s and others came up with pretty elaborate and creative designs of their own but in general they weren’t that good guitars. Most of the guitars made in the 1960’s didn’t have that great wood and the hardware was normally pretty weak but sometimes the pickups could be all right. Ry Cooder still prefers the Japanese gold foil pickups for his slide guitars and they have been quite popular in American surf music too, this could simply be because that was what people could afford back in the days. It’s important to remember that a lot of the Japanese guitars in the Sixties were mainly made as cheap entry level instruments for the West, not as elaborate copies of the real deal for professionals as they later became in the Seventies and eighties. Some early Fender and Gibson copies are horrible just because they didn’t have any real American instruments to copy, they had to rely on photos and come up with their own solutions to solve the problems that Leo Fender and the boys had already figured out back in the fifties.

Japanese guitars, MIJ, Made in Japan
The Japanese collection at the moment: Fender Telecaster TL52-75 1987, Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N 1977, Greco Spacey Sounds TL-500 1979, Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C 1980, Tokai Love Rock LS-55 1991, VOX Les Paul 1970′s, Hohner Telecaster 1970’s, Hohner Stratocaster 1970′s, Tokai Silver Star SS-36 1979, Jazz Bass 1978, Fender Squier 1993, Maya F335G 1970’s, K.Yairi TG-40 1977, Morris WL-40 1973, Morris WL-35 1970’s

The big change came around 1972-74, this is also when most Japanese guitar manufacturers started to put serial numbers on their instruments. Lack of serial numbers could be a good indicator of the quality, or rather the lack of quality, of an instrument but not always. There are amazing Matsumoku made Greco’s that were made in the early Seventies that lack serial numbers. I would say that most Japanese guitar makers, or at least the successful ones, started to get it right around 1972-74. Especially the Fender copies but also the Les Pauls started to really feel and sound like the real deal around this time. Most copies in the sixties were either Stratocasters / Telecasters or SG’s / 335’s, and unfortunately most of them were pretty cheaply made. In the early Seventies Stratocasters kept being popular but most makers started to try to make Les Paul’s now as well, most with bolt on neck, and some with pretty good result. Some makers kept on making low cost instruments for export and others started to make amazing quality instruments that wasn’t particularly cheap at the time. The model number is often a giveaway of the original price so my Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N would have cost ¥50 000 back in 1977 when it was made, that’s around $500. This is not true for all brands but a lot of them started in the mid-70’s to price the instruments after the model number, or rather the other way around, and this is probably the easiest way of determining the quality of a Japanese instrument. I’m not sure what an American made Gibson Les Paul Custom cost back in the mid-70’s but if one of Greco’s top of the line like the EG-1500 cost ¥150 000 that would have been a huge investment back then, around $1500. The second hand value today, at least for the famous brands like Greco, Tokai, Ibanez and Fernandes, is roughly what they cost new. A Greco EG-500 Les Paul copy tend go for 500-700€ on eBay, the same for Tokai and Fernandes, slightly less for unknown brands. A Les Paul tend to be worth a bit more than a Stratocaster, I guess because they made more Stratocasters so they are more common or maybe it’s just because Les Paul’s are more popular today. Rare models, don’t trust people who say that the guitar they are selling is rare on eBay, I mean really rare and high end models tend to cost like a real Fender or Gibson from that time.

So what is so good with Japanese guitars? I would say the wood and the craftsmanship. Americans got really sloppy and so did the European manufactures when the productions became too big in the Seventies. Cheap Japanese made guitars, at least after the mid-Seventies, are still really well made. They tend to have good solid wood, great weight and sustain and an amazing quality feel to them. This is of course not true for all of them but at least the Japanese guitars I have played have had a great feel to them. When they made budget instruments in Japan during the Seventies and the Eighties they didn’t cut cost on wood and workmanship, only on hardware and electronics and that’s fairly cheap and easy to upgrade yourself. The best guitars I have are all made in Japan around 1980, that seems to be the height of Japanese guitar manufacturing.

Japanese guitars Playsound (Teisco) 1960’s, CSL (Charles Summerfield Ltd) 1980’s, Greco Spacey Sounds TE-500N 1977

The Playsound guitar was labeled as Audition on the amp and Playsound on the guitar, a beginners set made by Teisco in the Sixties and sold by Woolworth in the UK. I found the whole kit very cheap in a charity shop in South Woodford, UK, the first guitar I bought to collect rather than play. CSL was made by Ibanez in the Fujigen factory and relabeled CSL (Charles Summerfield Ltd) for their UK import. I found it in a second hand shop in Spain in a terrible state so I bought it and cleaned it up and gave it as a present to cheer my girlfriend up after a hospital stay, so techincally not part of my guitar collection. Pretty classic Ibanez head from the 1980’s so clearly made after the 1977 lawsuit. Amazing neck, good feel in general but pretty weak pickups and cheap hardware. The Greco was imported straight from Japan last year, the first guitar I actually bought from outside EU. Amazing Fujigen built Thinline copy, strong original Maxon pickups but not too dark for being humbuckers and with a really fat neck, just as I like it.