Tokai

Tokai FSD 120 Super Edition BBR

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The Tokai STAR

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1982 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: vintagejapanguitars.com

Tokai's star-shaped guitar was first introduced through a teaser advertisement in its 1982 catalogue. Only a silhouette of the iconic shape was shown along with the tag "April Release",  presumably suggesting that it would be available in April 1983. The top of the catalogue explains, "A limited edition and limited production model full of super specs will continue to be produced in parallel with the regular model. These models, which are regularly produced by the Tokai Electric Guitar Project Team, are sold out immediately after their release, but due to the special circumstances of limited quantities, if there is a constant demand for purchases, they will be produced again as encore products... after receiving an order, it will be manufactured in 1 to 3 months. We would like to continue to produce super guitars that reflect the times, which should be called super editions. Please support us."

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1983 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: vintagejapanguitars.com

The 1983 catalogue then presents the star shape available in 5 models, similar to the format of the Xplorer and the Vs made by Tokai at the same time. The FS 40 had one pickup and a standard tremolo while the FS 45 had two pickups. The FS 50 had one pickup, deluxe tremelo and body binding, while the FS 55 had two pickups. Finally, the FS 60 was essentially the FS 55 but with a flame maple top. 

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1984 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: yokochou.com

The 1984 catalogue then moves on to rebrand the "FS" model to the "FSD" model. I don't know what the "D" stands for but I'm guessing its "double-coil" pickup just because they start every sentence with it :) Tell me if you think its otherwise in the comments. Also, the numbering changed - they still had the 45 and 50 as earlier, but the 55 was replaced by the 70 while the 60 was replaced by the 120 Super Edition.  

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1985 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: yokochou.com

The last mention of the star-shaped models was in the 1985 catalogue. It does not feature anywhere from the 1986 catalogue onwards, making it an approximately 3-year production run. Why so short? Maybe because the demand for these models did not sustain production? After all, the 1982 cataogue did say these were limited edition products and would only be produced as long as demand supported it. 

This article focuses on a guitar I recently acquired - the Tokai FSD 120 Super EditionI love doing research on these vintage instruments, and so here is a synthesis of information from all the catalogues and websites I could access...

Dating

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1984 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: yokochou.com

While the serial number on my guitar dates it to 1983 production, its specifications do not match that of any model in the 1983 catalogue. Instead, it matches the specs of the FSD 120 in the 1984 catalogue. I have noticed a similar time lag between production date and catalogue appearance in other Tokai models too. 

Price

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1983-84 Tokai Catalog

Pic Credit: vintaxe.com

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The 1984 catalogue positions the FSD 120 as the top model FSD. The “120” in the model name indicates that it was priced at 120,000 Yen or around USD $480 at the time. Pretty close to what the top-end Tokai strat cost a few years before it. Also, just for reference, 120,000 Yen in 1984 translates to about 149,962 Yen in 2022 (about USD $1000) after considering inflation.

Shape

To understand the origin of the star-shaped guitar, we must go all the way back to 1957-58 when Gibson introduced three futuristic looking guitars -  The Explorer, Flying V, and Moderne. The Star might be considered a mashup of the three. But it probably made its first appearance as an independent shape in the late '70s...

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The Gibson Flying V, Explorer, and Moderne from the late 1950s

It is hard to pin-point precisely who came up with the first star-shaped guitar design based solely on documentation like catalogues. However, legend has it that it was none other than Eddie Van Halen, who took his 1975 Ibanez Destroyer (copy of the Gibson Explorer) and cut off the bottom part of the body to make one of his famous frankenguitars - "the shark". He toured with his creation in 1978. This was the closest thing to a star-shaped body at the time. 

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EVH and "The Shark"

Pic Credit: Redferns, Getty Images

Soon after this in 1979, Jackson-Charvel started making star-shaped bodies. While I cannot find any 1979 or 1980 catalogues of the company, their 1981 one does feature the Star. Other companies started making star-shaped guitars too. For example, the ESP 1981 catalogue featured a star, the Kramer 1982 catalogue had a star, and so did Ibanez in 1985. 

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1981 Charvel Catalogue

Pic Credit: vintagejapanguitars.com

Wood

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The 1984 Tokai catalogue specifications sheet suggests that lower FSD models were made of Sen or Alder, but that the FSD 120 was made of Alder. The guitar is a light 3.25 kg or 7.15 lbs. The catalogue goes on to explain that, "Tokai's engineers and staff if guitarists have done extensive research to refine the styling of the STAR ad EXPLORER designs. The body conturs are sleek and flowing, thebacks sculpted to fit comofrtably next to your body, and the balance is excellent. Play them under the stage or stdioconitions, and you will appreciate their level of excellence".

Bridge

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1984 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: yokochou.com

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The 1983 catalogue calls the top end FSD model bridge system as "deluxe tremelo". You can see "deluxe" imprints on the 12:1 ratio tuners. The 1984 explains that the "Top models are standardly equipped wit the Super-Vibrato Unit containing a tuner lock mechanism. A thriling, emotional sound tat wll satisfy even the hardest-to-please guitar players is created.The 1984 specs sheet shows the FSD120 as the model with gold hardware, and the "Extra Tokai (ET)" tuning lock system. It explains that the "Revolutionary system that can be used without cutting strings: It can be used in exactly the same way as conventional vibrato units. Strings can be passed through the tremolo block and the string height and octave pitch can be adjusted for each of the 6 strings and 1 string." Essentially, the guitar is strung just like the Tokai strats of the time were.

Headstock

The FSD 120 headstock is relatively unique - I can't say it is identical to any of the other star-shaped guitars of the time. The decal sticker says "Tokai Super Edition" and "The Quality Musical Instruments of The World with 'The Extra Tokai'". The decal at the top of the headstock has an image of (what seems to be) a flying dragon and "Special Series".

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Neck & Fretboard

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To begin with, fretboard is made of rosewood and that is what the "R" in the colour code "BBR" stands for. The FSD 120 has a painted neck and headstock to match the body. The maple neck has a 25 1/2 inch scale, with 22 frets. 1984 catalogue explains, "By adding one fret to the 21-fret neckwhich formed the mainstream of previous detachable necks the sound range has ben expanded". The neck attaches to the body via a "4-bolt offset grip neck fastening system".  The cataogue elaborates, "The detachable neck revolution that Togai boasts to the world; Unlike the conventional plate system, the 10% deep Phillips nut L4 screw is independent and perfectly joined, boasting outstanding strength and long sustain. In addition, we have changed the shape of the heel part of the body and neck, which was impossible with the conventional plate method, and succeeded in a heelless cutaway even though it is a detachable neck system. The bold cut of the heel part and the shape of the flow make it possible to achieve outstanding playability at the right position".

Finally, I was very surprised to find that the fretboard has a 7.25 radius. I was expecting a 12-inch radius since this is supposed to be a shredder!

Trussrod 

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The truss rod is the Allen key style, unlike the Philips style rod ends used on some Tokai strats at the time. The rod is adjusted from the bottom of the fretboard, as expected. 

Colour

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My FSD 120 is in "BBR" - black with rosewood fretboard. The body has white binding that has aged into a lovely ivory colour. The neck and headstock match the body colour, and all the hardware is gold. Very classy! Just like the Gibson Custom Les Paul black beauty that I once owned. The FSD 120 was available in a few colours - VFR (violin finish), CSR cherry sunburst), GRR (green sunburst), and SWR (snow white) too. There was even a model with a flame maple top and abalone pearl binding!

Pickups

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I have to say, the pickups are really incredible! As per the 1984 specs sheet, only the highest-end FSD 120 had the P1-14BZ humbucker pickups with zebra bobbins - maybe that's why it was called "BZ"? This set of electronics came with the "dual sound system" activated by a push/pull system. As explained in the catalogue, "The dual sound system produces two different sounds with just one pickup. One is a coil-to-coil connection in series, which is the usual humbucking sound. Unlike the single-coil sound that can be obtained with a coil tap system, the advantage is that the humbucking effect is preserved, resulting in a clear, noise-free sound." My tests showed that the neck and bridge pickups present 9.7 ohms when using the single pick-up sound option. This is substantially hotter than my vintage Tokai strats. Though I must say, the single pickup option does sound surprisingly close to my strat pickups (albeit hotter). In the regular humbucking option, the neck presents 18.9 ohms and the bridge presents 19.5 ohms. Yup, seriously hot! The neck is warm and easily pushes my small tube amp into a warm overdrive, while the bridge is articulate and crunchy! 

Finally, the pick-up covers on my FSD 120 are very cool! One 1984 cataogue refers to the covers as "the Flying Dragon".

1983 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: vintagejapanguitars.com

1984 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: yokochou.com

The 1984 catalogue claims that these electronics also came with options for coil tapping, a 5-position toggle switch with phase-out half-tone options, and a booster switch to create an overdrive sound with the help of a battery. I could not find any of these settings on my guitar. They must have been available on customer request only?  

Finally, the 1983 catalog claimed that the "double shielded electrical control cavity keeps it quiet", and "hand-wound humbucking with 5 leads for custom wiring versatility".

Control Knobs & Switch

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A toggle switch with three positions allows you to choose betwen neck, bridge, and both pickups. There is one volume and one tone knob. The tone knob has a push/pull feature. When pulled up the "dual sound" function is activated and the pickups sound like single coils - their outputs are reduced to around half of what they are when in the pushed down position where the pickups work like typical humbuckers. 

Nut

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The nut looks and feels like the typical strat-style Tokai bone nut, except it is followed by a locking system and string tree that spans across all strings.

Case

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My Tokai came with this beautiful original gig bag that perfectly fits the unique shape of the guitar! It has held up remarkably well over the years!

Bibliography 

 

  1. Yokochou.com Tokai catalogues (link)

  2. Vintagejapanguitars.com.br Tokai catalogues (link)

  3. Vintaxe.com vintage Tokai catalogues (link)

  4. Guitar-compare.com Fender catalogues (link)

  5. Tokaiforum.com thread on vintage Tokais older than 1985 (link)