Founded in 1947, Tokai Gakki Company, Ltd., or Tokai Guitars, began as a small Japanese musical instrument manufacturer. But they started to gain notoriety in the 1970s and ‘80s with their production of high-quality Fender and Gibson replicas that captured the old school vibes of the original instruments at a fraction of the cost.
By the early 1980s in Japan and also the UK, Tokai’s Stratocaster replicas—known as Springy Sound, Goldstar Sound, and Silverstar Sound—were surpassing Fender’s American-made Strats in popularity. Stevie Ray Vaughan posed with a Tokai Springy Sound on the cover of his 1983 album Texas Flood, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top was spotted with his Tokai Strat on the road.
While the popularity of Tokai’s replicas remained strong in the Japanese market, the introduction of Fender’s Japanese-made models (made by FujiGen Gakki from 1982-1997) into America and Europe largely forced Tokai out of these markets by the late 1980s.
Collectors often lump these models together with other Japanese replicas as “lawsuit guitars.” However, Fender never actually sued Tokai. In fact, the two companies made a deal in 1997 – Tokai could continue to produce some of its replicas with subtle changes to their branding and headstock shapes if they would agree to supply Fender with guitars. From 1997 until 2015, Tokai produced Fender “Made In Japan” models, which are desirable instruments today.
At a time when Fender was struggling to find a viable direction for its own product line, Tokai and other Japanese manufacturers were already seeing the value in producing vintage reissues of these brands’ most popular guitars.
Tokai began planning a product line of Stratocaster replicas in the mid-’70s that would be built to the original vintage specifications. To this effect, the company’s engineers got hold of some genuine vintage Strats, took them apart, and took measurements and photographs – a technique that Fender and Gibson would later adopt for their own vintage reissues.
From 1977 to 1983, Tokai’s pre-CBS era Stratocaster replicas were called Springy Sound. In late 1983, the pre-CBS replicas changed their name from Springy Sound to Goldstar Sound. The quality of these guitars remained consistent through the branding change, and are today regarded as highly regarded Fender alternatives, imbued with Japanese craftsmanship, and with a character of their own.
The guitars that Tokai built between 1977 and 1983 can be broken down according to their model number, which was a reference to the guitar’s expected retail value. For example, an ST-42 would have cost 42,000 yen at the time. Tokai would add 5,000 yen to left-handed or custom painted guitars, and these changes would be reflected in the model number.
Based on the “55” sticker on the neck heel, we believe this guitar is a Tokai TST-55 from 1983 or 1984. Which is basically a TST-50 in the custom colour of Metallic Red, which is close to Fender’s Torino Red.
Neck: One piece Canadian Hard Maple neck & fingerboard
Pickups: Japan Vintage (Gotoh)
Machine heads: Japan Vintage (Gotoh Deluxe)
Bridge: Japan Vintage (Gotoh, Tremolo)
This one has a nice U-shaped neck with a 7.5” fingerboard radius – same as vintage Fender. It sports its original 5 way pickup switch, single ply pickguard and a very solid, high quality Gotoh bridge & trem assembly. The high E bridge saddle is a later replacement.
This guitar is what you’d expect in a first class vintage Strat replica. They remain in history as one of the very best value guitars of the 1980s, as well as one of the best selling at the time.
It is in good condition too. A few marks, dings and dents here and there but nothing unexpected for a 35 year old instrument. Lots of fret life left. It plays really well, with a familiar Strat type feel and that “Springy Sound” that goes with the territory.
Comes in its original tweed style hard case.
Here’s a link to a very interesting article on the impact Tokai had in the UK in the 1980s-