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Tokai

Tokai FV 80 Flame Maple Top

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The Tokai "V"

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1982 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: vintagejapanguitars.com

Tokai's V-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 V shape available in 5 models of the "FV" series, similar to the format of the Xplorer and the STAR made by Tokai at the same time. The main differences between models were the number of humbuckers, the sophistication of the pickup wiring and controls, the bridge hardware, and the finish. Tokai asserts that the Vs take the tradition of Rock 'N' Roll guitar design to a higher level with an instrument that is a "cut above in value, feel and performance" with a "no-nonsense level of professionalism".

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1984 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: yokochou.com

The 1983-1984 catalogue then moves on to present two V-shaped series: (1) the TFV which is designed to be a replica of the Gibson Flying V, and (2) The FVD which was the "FV" earlier. The TFVs came in 3 models with TFV 80 being the top model that came with a flame maple top option, while the FVD had 5 offerings but the numbering had changed - with the highest model now being the 120. 

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1985 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: yokochou.com

The model name and numbers kept changing across catalogues, but the last mention of the V-shaped models was in the 1985-86 catalogue. It does not feature anywhere after t, 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 FV 80I 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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c. 1985 German Catalogue

Pic Credit: tokairegistry.com

The serial number on my guitar dates to 1982 production, when the company published a teaser announcing the soon-to-be-launched V shape. But the first catalogue to feature a series of guitars in this shape was in 1983. Interestingly, that catalogue does not have an "80" model, but my guitar's features match the top-of-the-line "60" model in that catalogue. This might imply that my guitar was an export model and hence the number was adjusted to match pricing in the export market (since the numbers of these models typically correlated with the price). Another reason I am sure it is a '82 production is that the headstock logo is what is known as the "fat script" or "export" logo and was used between 1982-84, based on this very interesting thread on TokaiRegistry.com (link).

Price

This is tricky! The one thing I know for certain is that my guitar is the top-of-the-line variant in the series because it comes with the flame maple top finish. But what did it cost? The second highest model (FV 55) in a US 1983 catalogue was priced at $475. Considering this, we might estimate that the top FV 60 model was priced at around $520. This was about the cost of the absolute top-end Tokai Strat ST-120 just a year before it. 

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. A prototype of the "V" was presented at the NAMM show in 1957, and the model made its way into the 1958 catalogue where it was priced at par with the Gold Top Les Paul. Notice the "Cadillac" tailpiece and Korina (Limba) wood natural finish of the first model. These details, along with some others, changed over the subsequent decade. 

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1958 Gibson Catalogue

Pic Credit: vintageguitarandbase.com

Initially, the modern guitars were a failure in terms of sales - the V only sold about 100 over the first few years of its introduction. Then, in the 60s some popular players like Albert King and Jimi Hendrix were seen with the Flying V. The model was reintroduced in the late ‘60s as seen in the 1966 catalogue.
Since then, a bunch of players have at some point experimented with the V or made it their main guitar, including Tom Petty, Brian May of Queen, James Hetfield of Metallica, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and many more.

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1966 Gibson Catalogue

Pic Credit: vintageguitarandbase.com

Over the subsequent decades, the Flying V firmly established itself as an iconic design in the Rock 'n' Roll scene. This led companies like Tokai in the 1980s to make replicas or designs inspired by it, including Ibanez, Charvel-Jackson, and ESP, among others. 

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1981 Ibanez Catalogue

Pic Credit: Ibanez.fandom.com

Wood

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The 1983 US pricelist suggests that the FVs were made of "Ash" but I think it was Sen because that was sort of like the Japanese version of Ash used on many Tokai guitars. The guitar is a light ___ kg or ___ lbs.

Bridge

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1984 Tokai Catalogue

Pic Credit: yokochou.com

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The 1983 US catalogue calls the top end FV 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 that will satisfy even the hardest-to-please guitar players is created.

Headstock

The FVD headstock is a departure from the original Gibson Flying V or the Tokai TFV replica of the Gibson. Instead, it is more aggressive a modern in its shape. 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". Worth noting is the abalone inlay Tokai logo which is quite unique.

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Neck & Fretboard

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To begin with, fretboard is made of rosewood, though a maple option was also available. The FV has a painted headstock to match the flame 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 neck which formed the mainstream of previous detachable necks the sound range has been expanded". The neck attaches to the body via a "4-bolt offset grip neck fastening system". The catalogue 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".

As far as the shape of the neck is concerned, the 1983 catalogue describes it as a "V and oval combination neck - fast action, easy string bending".

Finally, I was very surprised to find that the fretboard has a ___ 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 FVD 80 has a flame maple top. This was a special colour that came with an additional cost to the topmost model in the series. The 1983 catalogue lists the FV 55 as the highest spec "V" model but then adds that there is an FV 60 too which is a "55 model with a Flame Maple select top". The body has white "celluloid" binding that has aged into a lovely ivory colour. 

Pickups

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I have to say, the pickups are really incredible! As per the 1983 US pricelist the top end FV was equipped with 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 1984 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 __ 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 __ ohms and the bridge presents __ 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!

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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!

1983 Charvel-Jackson Catalogue

Pic Credit: yumpu.com

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)

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