This has the greatest sentimental value of all my guitars. I bought it new, as a teenager, from a shop called Musical Exchanges, in Birmingham, England, in August 1984. It cost £195, with a secondhand Selmer hard case.
The Tokai Goldstar Sound was a highly accurate vintage Strat replica. For those who are interested in the historical side of things, there's a more thorough look at the Goldstar Sound, its attributes, and its commercial ups and downs during the '80s, in my TST-50 article. The subject of this piece, however, is a TST-60, originally finished in Lake Placid Blue with a matching headstock and a white 3-ply scratchplate (see second photo), and representing a 1964 Fender Stratocaster. The year replicated was evident from appointments such as the pearloid fingerboard dot markers with 'narrow' spacing at the twelfth fret, the small, pre-1966 headstock, plus more obsessive details like the light grey fibre pickup construction, and even a period-accurate 'L' series serial number.
Despite the importance it's come to have in my life, I wasn’t immediately thrilled by this guitar. Undeniably, it did look very attractive brand new in its original metallic blue finish (the main reason I chose it). But new Strats tend to sound pretty thin and clinical, and compared with a Squier Telecaster ('52 reissue) I’d been using since ’83, this one was initially a bit polite and nondescript. In fact, I used to lend the Tokai Goldstar to the other guitarist in the band I was in at the time, and he used it in preference to his single pickup Westone Paduak. However, in Feb ’85 after that band had split, I used the Tokai on a studio demo with a Melos tape echo unit adding slapback delay, and the character of the guitar finally struck me.
From that point forward, this Tokai became my main guitar, and I used it live and in the studio with three mid 'eighties bands, one of which was a real favourite. However, in 1986, desperate to buy a Yamaha DX7 synth, I sold practically every excess piece of gear I could get my hands on – including this Tokai. Luckily, I sold the TST-60 to someone I knew. So a couple of years later after I’d realised what an idiot I’d been, I sold the DX7, bought a Rickenbacker 330, and was able to arrange a trade which would also get me back my Tokai Strat.
By this time the original finish was looking pretty disturbed. The blue paintwork had been extremely thin from the start, and the wood beneath it was winning the battle for attention. Also, the originally matching blue headstock now looked like it had a different finish from the body, and towards the end of the ‘80s was very noticeably a different shade. Rightly or wrongly, I decided to strip the original blue and refinish the guitar in white cellulose. I’d already refinished a few guitars and had reached the point where I could make a decent job of it, so I went ahead.
In the subsequent two decades or so, the guitar has been very well used, and frankly it now looks more knackered than it was before I refinished it. But these days, I feel that rather than just looking like something's gone wrong, it has the aura of a real 1964 Fender.
Of course, the guitar sounds very different today from the way it did in August ’84. Part of that is down to the general ageing process which has developed the tone of the wood no end. Incidentally, the tone changed quite markedly between ’84 and ’88 - so if you were thinking that a new Strat will inevitably take two decades or so to mature, that isn't necessarily the case.
The way the guitar looked when it was first bought back in summer 1984, in its typically 1964 Lake Placid blue finish with matching headstock. This isn't actually it, by the way, but this Strat is identical.
The other key factor in the change in tone is down to the pickups, which rather than the original Tokai staggered ’64-style VIs, are now Fender Texas Specials, which I fitted in the mid ’90s. The Tokai pickups (which I still have) are good. They sound quite ‘hi-fi’ in comparison to the Texas Specials, which is fine, but the Texas Specials suit this guitar better I feel. The tone is bigger, bolder, and more compatible with overdriven setups. Whereas all three Tokai pickups are the same, each of the Texas Specials is specific to its position. The bridge unit has more coil windings than the neck and middle, and this produces a fatter sound, as well as compensating in output for the weaker string vibration near the bridge. The neck and middle pickups are less powerful than the bridge, but similar to each other. However, the middle pickup is reverse wound. This means that when you wedge the 3-way selector switch in-between stops for the two-pickup sounds, you get humbucking operation. It still sounds exactly like a Strat, but without the background buzz.
Upload MP3 and download MP3 using free MP3 hosting from Tindeck.
By clicking the audio stream above, you can hear the '84 Tokai TST-60 in action. The main, distorted non-lead part is, played using the bridge position Texas Special through a Boss OD-2 Turbo Overdrive (turbo mode). The solo (arriving about 1 min 40 seconds into the track) uses the neck position Texas Special, tone backed off, again through the OD-2, but this time in normal mode. Although the style is very different, I was going for an SRV-type sound on the solo.
In terms of the sounds you can get from this guitar, the range is vast. The vibrato unit, with its Final Prospec branded bridge saddles, is set in the classic floating position with three springs fitted, and there's some fight in the action. Even acoustically the guitar has a full tone, and that's a great sign - especially in a solid-bodied instrument. Using the neck pickup and the vibrato, you're immediately in the 1960s with a beautiful body to the tone and loads of personality. If you add a bit of overdrive, the cutting top end of the neck position Texas Special still bites its way through to provide definition on top of the raunch. Switch to the bridge position and back off the volume to 9, and you get one of the most versatile vintage rock/blues sounds imaginable. It's not quite as thick-sounding as Stevie Ray Vaughan's Number One Strat, but it's very substantial indeed, and a long way more rich and rounded than the clanking, weedy tone of a late '70s Strat. All sorts of other sound options exist of course, including the two-pickup, 'out-of-phase' combinations. Everything sounds full and well matured, but the definition and edge is always there when required.
The original Tokai selector switch, incidentally, was both a 3-way and a 5-way. That is, there were three main stops, but if you more carefully moved the switch from one main stop to the next, there was a subtle notch which would hold the switch ‘in-between’. The scratchplate is a replacement - a four-ply celluloid tortoise job from the Fender Custom Shop. It was the missing piece of the jigsaw.
I’ve played and indeed owned many Strats over the years, with the vast majority of them having been made by Fender. I've always felt it takes a hell of a copy/replica to take precedence over the real thing in gigging, recording and leisure situations, but that's exactly what this TST-60 has done. It's still very regularly used, and these days it's competing with a large array of instruments for attention - including original 1960s Fenders and Gibsons. I wouldn’t like to say that this Tokai is my best Strat in technical terms – that would probably be my completely perfect Fender US ’57 reissue. However, this '84 Tokai Goldstar TST-60 is now such a big part of my life, and when I play it, it never fails to conjure up all the nostalgia of those mid 1980s gigs and studio sessions. Aside from a couple of years when it lay virtually dormant in a Handsworth Wood home studio, this Strat has been with me since my teens, and I’m now in my 40s. It’s impossible to own a guitar for that long, to have used it at so many gigs and on so many recordings, and not place a personal premium on its value. In actual fact it's the Strat I paid the least money for (well, of the Strats I've bought new, anyway), but it’s unquestionably become my most important.
More Guitar Reviews and Retrospectives