Tokai’s 70s-era reproductions of classic American guitars are legendary in their own right. In fact they made the original guitar companies sweat quite a bit. So you know that when you buy a vintage-inspired Tokai today it has quite a pedigree. These ST-Style guitars are part of Tokai’s new limited edition Surftone series. They’re based on classic models, but each with custom modifications to modernise the playability. They’re exclusive to Australia and they’re available in limited numbers.
The first thing you’ll notice about this guitar is that incredible colour. The review model is sea foam green with a minty green pickguard, although a cream-bodied version is also available. Each has a Maple neck with Maple fretboard and 21 frets. The fretboard radius is a little flatter and more forgiving than if Tokai had gone with a vintage-radius fretboard. The headstock face is glossy but the back of the neck is satin, allowing your hand to glide effortlessly along the neck rather than getting caught up in a sticky gloss finish like a traditional 50s model. The frets are bigger than vintage too.
The pickups are a trio of true single coils with a reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup for hum-cancelling sounds in positions two and four. The controls are the traditional volume/tone/tone configuration, and there’s a five-way pickup selector switch. The bridge is a vintage-style six-screw vibrato with bent steel saddles. That’s pretty much it, classic styling with modern playability, beautiful finishes and no-way-could-it-be-that-good-for-the-price workmanship. Let’s plug it in and see how it sounds.
IT AIN’T EASY BEING SURF GREEN
The big standout here, immediately, is the neck pickup. It has a bit more of a smokey, bluesy vibe than the others, more akin to a 60s ST-Style guitar than the 50s tones suggested by the other two pickups. The bridge pickup leans quite far towards the ‘twang’ end of the spectrum, and it really sings through a clean amp setting where it has an almost pedal steel-like quality. The middle pickup has a slightly honky midrange quality by itself, which is nice for fuller-sounding melodies, but it calms down nicely when you combine it with either the bridge or neck pickup for the in-between tones. The neck pickup sounds great when you pile on the overdrive, but it quickly becomes apparent that these pickups are at their best when they’re pumping out clean or overdriven tones, as opposed to all-out distorted mayhem ones. The workmanship is great for the price, with the sole exception being a rough spot on one of the tuner buttons. Still, for around $550 out the door that’s quite forgivable.
If you’re in the market for this type of guitar, this is a great option and a cool Australian exclusive. The colours are beautiful, the workmanship rocks, the playability is effortless and the tones are wonderful. If you’re into clean and overdriven sounds that are predominantly 50s-based but with a little bit of fatter 60s tone thrown in, this will suit you down the ground. If you want heavier tones, you could change the pickups easily enough, but it’s a heck of a guitar as is. A lot of people are going to find their voice in it.
Hits and Misses
Great neck pickup tones
Nice tuning stability
Single coils are inherently noisy
Rough spot on one tuner
Tones might be too twangy for some
5 Way Pickup Selector
3 Single Coil Pickups
Satin Backed Neck