Tokai

Springy Sound '64 Oldies ST-60 FOR

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Homage to the Vintage Strat

The Fender Stratocaster’s release in 1954 was amongst the most important of milestones in guitar design and development history. The contoured body, highly versatile three pick-up arrangement, and built-in tremolo/vibrato unit, among other notable features, set it apart from the competition and endured the test of time. 

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Fender 1954 catalogue

Pic Credit: guitar-compare.com

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Fender 1964 catalogue

Pic Credit: vintageguitarandbass.com

The Strat underwent a series of iterations over the initial decade of its production to improve its design and better meet consumer demands. Sales began to steadily pick up over the first decade. Then, at its peak, Fender was sold to CBS in 1965. The new management took measures to make the company’s production more efficient and economical, but the guitars leaving their factories were flagged by players as declining in quality. Strat fans started seeking out “Pre-CBS” models instead of the new ones. The building demand and limited supply of vintage guitars led Japanese guitar manufacturers to exploit an apparent opportunity in the market. They started to design and sell replicas of the 50s and early 60s models for a fraction of the real deal, even inspiring Fender itself to do the same later! Tokai was one such Japanese manufacturer... 

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The Springy Sound

In the late 1970s, Tokai launched the Springy Sound model that was based on the 1954 Strat. Tokai’s 1978 catalogue mentions this fact explicitly several times, even calling it, “the returned 54 Strat”. They were chasing the “springy sound” of the vintage Strat that was “sharp, crisp, yet warm”. The catalogue explains how the ‘54 Strat was the ideal guitar according to musicians and hence Tokai attempted to reincarnate it. A few years later they introduced the '64 Oldies model, which was an attempt to replicate all the most loved features of the early '60s Strat before CBS took over!  

Across all its models, not only did Tokai claim to reincarnate the iconic Strat, but they were audacious enough to suggest that they “improved it”. A rough translation from a catalogue tells us that Tokai “formed a project team consisting of about 10 people including musicians and veteran craftsmen; (and) as a result of thorough research and tireless efforts, we have completed a series in which the performance has been upgraded as well as completed restoration of the original.” They dismantled and reverse engineered actual vintage Strats in their efforts to achieve “thoroughness and transcendence”. And the results were clearly appreciated by players, even as famous as Stevie Ray Vaugn who has been pictured in a few places with a Tokai Strat. These guitars were becoming an actual threat to Fender’s own sales at the time. A communication from Tokai to Leo Fender in 1982 expressed the budding company's respect for the iconic design of the original Strat and explained that Tokai had no intentions of interfering with CBS's business in the US. I believe the two companies were exploring a partnership of some kind in the 1980s which did not materialize and might have cost Tokai some financial setbacks. Finally, however, Fender entered into an agreement with Tokai to manufacture Fender guitars at their Japanese factories in the late 1990s.  

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Stevie Ray Vaughan playing Tokai STs

Pic Credits: srvarchive.com (left); grammymuseum.org (right)

This article focuses on a guitar I recently acquired - the Tokai Springy Sound '64 Oldies ST-60 FOR. It is my fifth Tokai, after my ST-42 (link), ST-100 GSR (link), ST-100 N (link), and ST-100 OW (link). I love doing research on these vintage instruments, and so here is a synthesis of information from all the catalogues and websites I could access.

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

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Tokai 1983 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

The 1981 catalogue that introduces the '64 Oldies model says, "A new legend in the Tokai ST series... the '64 Oldie mode is a perfect replica model with a new rosewood fingerboard neck... the alder body, 3-ply pickguard, and 2-way string guide give it a wonderful 60's feel... expectations are only rising with a sensational guitar that opens up the world of new old models..."

Identifying the precise model of my guitar was a little tricky because it did not have a stamp saying "ST-60" like the guitars normally would. However, it does have an "X" stamp which I am told by experts relates to the 60 models while "Z" stamps were found on 50 models and "A" stamps on 80 models. Also the fact that the paint is poly (not nitro), the pickups are "E" stamped, and the neck is C-shaped, tell us this is an ST-60.

Dating

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While the ST-60 features in catalogues as early as 1978, mine was made in 1980. I know this because the serial number 0016203 on the neck plate dates it to a late 1980 production. However, it was introduced only in the 1981 catalogue as the '64 Oldies model, presumably because of the lag between production and marketing common at the time. 

Price

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

The ST-60 FO was priced at 60,000 Japanese Yen in 1981, which translates to about 78,800 Yen in 2022 after inflation (about USD $623). Today, an all-original, near-mint condition, ST-60 can sell for more than double that amount. 

Shape

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The 50s Fender catalogues advertised the Strat’s “contoured” shape fitting the players body snugly and providing comfort. In its 1978/79 catalogues Tokai lamented that “The ‘54 Strat's body shape was significantly bolder than it is today, with distinctive deep back cuts and armrest cuts; these large cuts fit the guitarist's body and keep a high degree of performance and styling”. Tokai made a great effort to replicate this precise shape, explaining that “it takes very long to sandpaper a corner... you can feel these features when you pick it up”. Further, Tokai catalogues explain that, “for the woodworking process of the ST series, we have introduced a previously unthinkable computer; The "3D router" machine, which can process every inch of the three-dimensional body, and the craftsman's high level of technology were added to complete a body that boasts outstanding accuracy.” Tokai seemed very confident about how accurately it had replicated the original Strat shape, asserting, “the body shape is a little different from the current Strat (1970s); the cuts on the body and armrests are very bold. If you compare it to an old copy from another company and find that the body shape is different, then it is not an old copy, and you have to be very careful.”

Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

Wood

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This ST-60 is made of two pieces of Sen Ash - an Asian tonewood renowned for its exceptional resonance. I can see its a two-piece construction from the apparent seam-joint of the exposed wood in the neck pocket and pickup cavity. Although th 1981 catalogue explains that the '64 Oldies model was made of Alder because that's what Fender started using in the '60s, I believe my guitar was made from Sen Ash because the distinct and pronounced grain patterns in the neck pocket and pickup cavity are clear indicators of Ash and not Alder. My guitar might have been a transitional model made just as the new model was hitting production, thus explaining the use of Ash instead of Alder. Inconsistencies like this are typical with transitional models. My guitar weighs about 3.24 kg (7.1 lb), light and similar to the vintage Strats it is paying homage to. The body code of "1-1" matches the neck stamp, but its curious that the body code was handwritten instead of stamped. I am not quite sure why it left the factory as such or even if it was imprinted later on. 

Bridge

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

With regard to the tremolo/vibrato, the catalogue says “what makes this unit superior is that it is based on the fact that the subtle sound of the '54 Strat was created by a pressed (built-in) bridge”. Tokai differentiated the quality of its bridge by explaining that it was made of a strong alloy that would allow players to exert full power with confidence. And, they even went on to say that their bridge’s quality was better than other companies attempting replicas and even modern Fender guitars themselves, lamenting that, “it's a shame that the current Fender Strat (1970s), as well as the old copies from other companies, are die-cast”. On the other hand, “The ST series was born as a highly completed model that has a quality that transcends the original, from heavy and high quality plated hardware to the tremolo arm, it is not just a replica”.  

The 1981 Tokai catalogue further explains that the Strat tremelo blew up the rock scene when Jimi Hendrix showed off 2 octave pitch bends and dive bombs at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and so it naturally became an indispensible part of the Springy Sound ST model design!

Headstock

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

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The '64 Oldies headstock is shaped like the '54 Original Vintage headstock - both are modelled after the actual ‘54 Strat, with the decal in the exact same spaghetti-style font that was found on the Fender. The decals say “Tokai Springy Sound”, and “This is the exact replica of the good old strat” and “Oldies but Goldies”. These decals were in the exact places that Fender had its decals saying “Fender Stratocaster” and “with synchronized tremolo” and “Original Contour Body”, respectively. The Tokai ST guitars and the vintage Strats are indistinguishable from a distance. One Tokai catalogue said, “The name is pasted on top of the painted clear coat, just like the old one. If you scratch it hard with your nails it will come off. If you use this often it will wear and tear” Both the headstock shape and the decal font were changed a few years later to avoid legal issues with Fender. With regard to the string tree, the '64 Oldie has the parallel two-way string design, instead of the round string tree design like the '54 replica. This change was made to stay true to the '60s Strat headstock that had a similar change.

Tuners

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

The ST-60 '64 Oldies Model has Kluson type ‘64 vintage-style tuners, with a gold plating reserved only for the ST-100 model. Tokai catalogues rather audaciously claim that Tokai’s Kluson-type tuners were even better than that of the original Kluson :) Further, the 1981 catalogue explains that the break angle created between the nut and tuner pegs is precisely the same as the vintage Strat, unlike any other replica made by any other company. 

Neck & Fretboard

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

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The neck shape on my ST-60 is the "U" shape or what is commonly known as a thick "C". The neck is a four-bolt type, just like the ‘64 Strat. The Tokai catalogue goes on to explain that, “The neck mounting area is perfectly machined so that the neck fits perfectly and the long sustain is perfect”. Further, “The elaborate finish of the neck joint greatly affects the sound; this completely overturned the fate of the detachable neck - it is a finish that can be said to be exactly the same as a set neck.” 

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Tokai 1981 catalogue shows the differences between the '54 (above) and '64 model (below)

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

 Notice that the skunk stripe at the back of the neck and the teardrop at the headstock do not feature on the '64 Oldies model. The 1981 catalogue explains that this is because the trussrod is inserted from the top of the neck (not bottom) after which the rosewood fingerboard was glued to the neck, thereby making the skunk stripe and teardrop redundant. The fingerboard was a thin inversely radiused rosewood laminate fretboard, similar to what was used by Fender from 1962 till the end of that decade. Easier-to-build "slab" rosewood fretboards that were flat and not inversely radiused were used before and after this period. The laminate process requires much more complex manufacturing and must have been quite expensive, but more desirable because it was thought to be a more stable construction over time. Tokai's 1981 catalogue explains the reason that the laminate fretboard is used is that "...it is superior in acoustic characteristics and strength compared to the flat fingerboard".

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

The '64 ST-60 FOR fretboard is rosewood laminate, and this gives it the "R" in its model number. The 1981 catalogue says “ The smooth fingering peculiar to the rosewood fingerboard creates a thrilling play.”  These rosewood fretboards are highly desirable and less commonly found in comparison to the maple boards. 

The frets are vintage style, thin and short. The catalogue says, “The fretting is perfect on all of them; the fret grooves where the frets are driven in are individually cut to fit the depth of the fret legs, so they are ready for your hard playing.” Finally, the fretboard radius is 7.25, just like '60s Strat. It takes some getting used to. 

Trussrod 

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

The truss rod on my ST-60 FOR '64 Oldies is the Allen key style, unlike the Philips style rod ends (or more precisely Japanese Industry Standard - JIS shape). The 1981 catalogue suggests that the '64 model should have it but mine doesn't. Another inconsistency between catalogue and production - not uncommon in my experience with vintage Tokais thus far :) and especially if this guitar was a transitional model made just as the new model was bring introduced (as I suspect). 

Colour

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Untill the 1980 Tokai catalogue, the ST-60 was only shown to be available in Olympic White, Golden Sunburst, Black and Yellow Sunburst colours. Then the 1981 catalogue tells us that a few new colours were introduced in the line-up and Flamingo Orange (FO) was one of them. It is essentially a replica of the famous Fiesta Red by Fender. The finish on the ST-60 FOR is poly, because only the ST 80 and above received nitro finishes. 

Pickups

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The ST-60 and above models have the Alnico V magnet pickups that were called “Type A” in Tokai catalogues. They have grey underplates with “E” stamps and produce just under 6k ohms resistance (which I understand is very similar to the original ‘54 Strat). The Type A pick-up was reserved for higher-end Spring Sound models Tokai catalogues explain that “Type A is a handmade exact alloy reproduction of a 1954 single coil unit; Type B is a production model of the same pick-up." Additionally, “The secret P.U. is the secret weapon for 100% old school sound... Paraffin-impregnated treatment minimizes noise! In any case, the ST series P.U. is outstanding in expressing a sharp and attuned sound.” The pickups have staggered-height pole pieces to address the varying output of the heavy string gauges in use at the time, just like the vintage Strat.

Tokai catalogues claimed, “the electrical reliability has been completely improved; the stable shielding effect and the wiring part with excellent maintenance are specifications that exceed the original.”

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

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Control Knobs & Switch

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

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As for tone and volume knobs, the vintage Fender Strat had two tone controls (middle and neck PU) and no tone control for the bridge pickup, because Fender believed it “does not require additional tone modification”. Same with the Tokai '64 Oldies models. The plasticware on my guitar must have been a stark white back in the day, but it now has a much more desirable yellowing that shows its age!

The original ‘54 Strat only had a 3-stage switch. But players accidentally discovered and started appreciating the midway positions. These were a bit of a fiddle to achieve though. The 5-stage switch was finally incorporated into Strats later in the 70s. Vintage Tokai Springy Sound STs have a 3-stage switch like the vintage Strat. But, they acknowledged the midway tones and made an accommodation for them. A 1979 Tokai catalogue says, “of course, it's extremely easy to get a '54 Strat halftone; half-positions can be set quickly and will not fall out during a performance (Newly developed, 3-stage, 5-position changeover switch)”. Further, it says, “An old Strat is nonsense if it doesn't produce a halftone! That's why Japanese copies have developed a 5-step switch” but this wasn’t period accurate. So, “the ST series uses a newly developed 3-stage 5-position switch, which does not feel as stiff as a 5-stage switch, and provides smooth switching and a perfect half-position.” The 1981 catalogue reiterates these assertions.

Pickguard

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Tokai 1981 Catalogue

Pic Credit: Sigmania (Tokaiforum.com)

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The three-ply pickguard on ‘64 Oldies is a departure from the single-ply '54 Vintage ST. Both models are true to the eras they pay homage to. Detailing was even to the level of screws being exact replicas because the Tokai team claimed that even this affected the sound!

Nut

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The nut, like the vintage Strat, is handmade of bone. A Tokai catalogue says “the nut on this piece is made from cow bone. Tokai's craftsmen pay the utmost attention to the machining of this part, so it goes without saying that the finish is superb! This is a very important part of the guitar, so a lot of time was spent on it.”

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)

  6. Reverb.com article on Tokai guitars (link)

  7. Tokairegistry.com (link)

  8. Hunter, D. (2020), Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster: The Story of the World's Most Iconic Guitars (link)