For Japanese vintage guitar enthusiast, Tokai is the most attractive brand without doubt. Some mention that the amazing quality of vintage Tokai in late ‘70s to early ‘80s can be better than original Norlin Gibson or CBS Fender. John Mayer the recent most iconic guitarist is also one of them.
Tokai was born in 1947 as a manufacturer of Pianica (Melodica) the keyboard harmonica, so it has longer history than their competitors such as Greco, Aria and so on.
They started the production of acoustic guitar in 1960s, then in 1971 they got to be authorized dealer of C.F. Martin for Japanese market. It was very lucky for them having a chance to grant technology support from C.F. Martin who even asked them OEM manufacturing of Martin guitars selling in Japan. Some enthusiast says that Tokai’s original acoustic guitar “Cat’s Eye” in this era has similar quality as C.F. Martin.
In 1977, Tokai started the production of electric guitars (they once tried in ’67, that is called “Humming Bird” series, but it is a sort of bizarre guitar). It was named as “ST Springy Sound” series that is a copy model of ‘50s Stratocaster. Then in ’78 they released large headstock ‘70s Stratocaster type “SS Silver Star” and legendary “LS” series the copy of Les Paul “Burst”, of which name is started as “Les Paul Model” and changed to “Les Paul Reborn”, “Reborn OLD” and “Love Rock”.
In this time, Greco and some others had great success in copy model guitar market and Tokai tried to dive into this market with much higher quality by utilizing their experience of OEM manufacturer of C.F. Martin the original American guitar.
Its high quality and detailed features were outstanding, which fascinate Japanese guitar kids a lot. Their catalog had a unique handwritten style page for detailed technical description, which made the kids read it anywhere night and day.
In ’83 they also succeeded releasing their original guitar “Talbo (Tokai Aluminum Body)” with its own unique design approach.
However, in ’84 they were finally sued by Fender (they have launched Fender Japan in ‘82) and had to stop the production of electric guitar that caused to apply the Corporate Reorganization Law that is a sort of bankruptcy.
But now it is said that this lost case was not the major reason of Tokai’s bankruptcy. They were not in good health in term of business due to too high production cost. Tokai was seeking the quality as top priority but had to sell its products in similar price range to competitors, that of course not bring enough profit.
If you have a chance to play vintage Tokai you can find it out instantly, I would say.