What Tokai Guitars does Shane (intheblues) Play?
One of the main questions I see come up time and time again is which Tokai guitars I own and play currently. I currently have two Japanese made Tokai guitars in my collection and I no longer have any of the Chinese made Tokais.
Am I Sponsored by Tokai Guitars?
No. I have never received even a single email from them. I must be one of the largest public advocates of their instruments in the World now because I really love their guitars.
What is my ES-335 Tokai?
My Tokai ES-335 guitar is actually a 145L. The “L” stands for left handed. If you play guitar right handed just search for “Tokai 145” and leave off the L.
I purchased the Tokai Guitar as a used instrument but it was never played. My Tokai 145L was part of a large collection of guitars from a left-handed guitar collector who sadly passed away. I managed to score two of his guitars from the same shop. This Tokai 145L and the Gibson Custom Shop VOS 56 Gold Top.
At the time of buying this Tokai 145L, I had a chance to compare it directly with a Gibson ES-335 (2007/2008 model). I actually owned the Gibson ES-335 from this year and the difference was literally night and day in terms of tone.
What was better about the tone of the Tokai?
Everything was better and I am not a Gibson hater by any stretch of the imagination. I recently purchased a Gibson Flying V 2019 model and it’s one of the best humbucker guitars I have ever owned.
I went through about 20 amplifiers trying to get my Gibson to sound good. The Gibson always felt like it had wet towels over the pickups muffling the tone. Tones were dark and uninspiring sounding. It was apparent that the muffled tone got much worse as you added more gain to the signal path.
A friend of mine recently picked up a 2008 Gibson ES-335 and his had exactly the same issues with muddy tones. The pickups Gibson used in that year was terrible.
To my ear, the Tokai 145L has PAF-style humbucker pickups installed. As a result of testing both guitars, I came to realize that PAF pickups are a lot clearer than modern humbucker pickups. The pickups that Gibson was using in their ES-335 guitars in 2007 sounded horrible in comparison. Hearing them side by side was laughable.
The Tokai 145L Neck Profile
In terms of how the guitar feels in the hand, if you like 50’s style Gibson necks, you’ll love this. The fat neck feels great and is the perfect fit for my somewhat larger hands. The neck isn’t a baseball bat fat neck, but it has some 50’s chunk.
The Tokai 145L Weight
One of the best things about this guitar is it is very light. There’s no real way to make a semi-hollow body guitar too heavy thankfully as a lot of the internals are routed out. This guitar would be one of the lightest guitars in my collection no doubt about it. In terms of if it was any heavier than my old Gibson ES-335? I would say it was about the same.
What is my Love Rock / Les Paul Tokai?
My Tokai Les Paul style guitar is a “Tokai Love Rock LS110“. From all reports, the LS-110 is based in a 1959 Les Paul. It has a nice fat neck and two humbucker pickups. The pickups in this guitar are no PAF pickups. They do sound a bit more modern (muffled) to my ear.
I love the Bridge pickup on this guitar it really sings. The neck pickup could use a hair more top-end to my ear but otherwise, it’s a good pickup for getting that “Brothers in Arms” kind of sound.
The Tokai LS110 Neck Profile
The Tokai Love Rock LS110 has a nice fat 50’s neck as well. The Love Rock felt indistinguishable to my Gibson VOS custom shop guitar. My Tokai cost me less than half the price of the Gibson as well. if I was doing a blind test between the Tokai and the Gibson without plugging them in I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
The Tokai LS110 Weight
This is guitar is seriously heavy. If I had to do it all over again I would have probably opted to try another Tokai to see if it was any lighter. This was the only left-handed guitar the shop had and I fell in love with it so I just ‘put up with the weight’. I don’t really like heavy guitars anymore. There was a time where it didn’t bother me as much but out of the Love Rock and the 145, I generally play the 145L more in a live situation because it’s so much lighter.
Downsides to owning Tokai Guitars
The only real downside to owning Tokai guitars is resale value. It’s hard to get back any large chunk of your money if you decide to sell them. The resale on a Gibson is much better than a Tokai because hardly anyone is talking about Tokai. My suggestion is if you find one you love, hold onto it.
Have I owned any of the Chinese made Tokai Guitars?
A few years ago (on the same day) I purchased two of the Chinese made Tokai guitars.
- Tokai SG-58CH (SG style)
- Tokai ALS-55 (Les Paul Style)
Both of these guitars were good and I had a chance to use them live a number of times. I also featured the Love Rock (Les Paul) on an original album I was working on. Another reason I sold the SG was it was very neck heavy. I had the same issues with an Epiphone SG which is why now, I don’t own a single SG.
Another huge difference between the Japanese Tokai guitars and Chinese made guitars is the neck profile shape. The Japanese ones are based upon classic Gibson 50s necks while the cheaper ones are not. Not everyone likes a fat neck on a guitar, but it just feels nicer in the hand.
Lastly, the Hardware on the Chinese guitars is just not as good. I had to replace the Tunomatic bridge on the Tokai Love Rock because it had a buzz I couldn’t get rid of. The Bridge spring wire was audibly faulty and trying to replace it under warranty was a nightmare so I just ordered a Tonepros off eBay. The Tonepros bridge was a huge upgrade and made the guitar sustain better and the buzz was gone as well.
I made a video about this issue you can watch it here.
Both guitars came with a killer hard case as well and they have both stood the test of time being knocked around in my car and at gigs. The Japanese made Tokai guitars come with hard cases while the Chinese made ones came with gig bags. The gig bags did the job, but the hard cases are on another level. They have a really nice Tolex on them with a really cool floral design. There’s probably a more technical term for the style but it looks good and the cases are built tough.
Will I be making any modifications to these Tokai Guitars?
One modification I want to do is to change the neck pickup on the Tokai Love Rock. It’s a bit too dark for me and reminds me a lot of my old 2008 Gibson ES-335 (not in a good way). While it is a nicer sounding pickup than my old Gibson, I would really love a little bit more snap on the top end. For this reason, I will most likely be putting a Burstbucker or PAF pickup in the neck. After testing a number of Les Paul style guitars over the years, it’s hard to find one with a good amount of snap on the neck pickup.