Tag: Tokai

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″

500€ Guitars

Sometimes I wish I was stinking rich so I could buy all the guitars in the world. Then I realise that my life would probably not be that much better just because I had a million guitars. I wouldn’t have time to play them all and after a while I guess nothing really impress you. If you have a couple of Jimi Hendrix Strats in your collection then the Strats that you have that didn’t use to belong to Hendrix would probably feel pretty boring in comparison. I don’t have any really expensive guitars in my collection. Mainly because I’m not rich enough to buy a 1952 Telecaster, a 1964 L Series Strat or a 1958 Sunburst Les Paul, but also because it would be pretty pointless. When would you actually take out an instrument and play it if it was worth ten thousands of Euros? You would be so scared that something happened to it that you just kept it in a vault, like John Entwistle did. Guitars are meant to be played, and adored, but mainly played. I prefer to have guitars that I can use, bring to gigs and rehearse with, as well as hang on the wall and adore at home. Therefore I think guitars for around 500€ are ideal, at least for me. If you know what you are doing you can still get amazing Japanese guitars for 500€, especially on eBay. Expensive enough for having descent quality but cheap enough to replace if something happened to them so you really dare to use them.

John Entwistle shows his amazing guitar and bass collection

Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C A nice example of a guitar worth around 500, well maybe more like 600-700. Greco Les Paul Custom EG-600C, Made in Japan, FujiGen 1980

A small part of Slash's guitar collectionA small part of Slash’s guitar collection

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.