This is my second article in a series of Japanese guitar factory tours. The first was my visit to the Fujigen factories, but for this article I wanted to write about Tokai Gakki in Hamamatsu. I initially contacted Tokai when I was researching for a book about vintage Japanese guitars. The people at Tokai were really friendly, and the company president, Shohei Adachi, was one of the nicest guys I met in Japan. His grandfather started the business back in 1947, making reed instruments. Tokai is truly a family-owned business and Shohei is the third generation to operate Tokai Gakki.
Tokai started making electric guitars in the late 1960s, but the company is probably better known for their excellent copy-era guitars and several original designs, including the innovative Talbo above. Tokai’s late 1970 guitars are very sought after, especially the “Love Rock”, “Breezy Sound”, and “Springy Sound” guitars.
Tokai Gakki is still making excellent guitars, but unfortunately they’re not sold in America! I used to own an old Love Rock guitar, and was always impressed with the high quality. Today, Tokai Gakki guitars that are made in the Japanese factory still retain that high quality, and the company makes guitars for all tastes and budgets.
Here is the artist showroom at Tokai. You can see a good example of the current electric guitar line-up, and I was surprised by the wild variation in finish choices. Tokai makes some cool guitars! If you know my personal tastes, can you pick which guitar I liked the best?
Yeah! Here’s yours truly tuning up a vintage 1967 Tokai Hummingbird! Visiting these factories in Japan was like a dream when I think about it. It was such an amazing experience, and being surrounded by so many guitars all the time just about sent me into a guitar-induced coma! I spent almost two weeks in Japan and I could’ve easily spent two months!Anyway, Tokai guitars have been made with pride for many years. Attention to detail is tremendous and there’s a lot of “hand” work by the employees there. It was common to see people with many years of experience still working at Tokai, and the company valued that combined guitar-building knowledge.
Fret-work is still done by hand, and I was always impressed with the labor involved in making the guitars. This guy was rounding the fret edges to get that nice “rolled” feel. The finish work was also being done in-house, and all the guitars had excellent finishes. In fact, the painting section was really cool to see since Tokai had several custom finishes there. Tokai’s creativity was always really evident.
Tokai Gakki has also invested in sound and wood research. They’ve developed a very interesting build technique called the SEB Structure. It’s an amazing construction technique that allows for better wood vibration throughout the body of their guitars. I had the chance to examine the guitar bodies built with this SEB technology, and it was refreshing to see the company investing in new ideas.
There’s the company president, Shohei Adachi, showing me how they’ve experimented and perfected the SEB process. They’ve also examined the properties of the various tone-woods and how it all relates to their SEB technique.
Tokai had a great stock of old work at the factory, and since the company is smaller, their success is not predicated on large production numbers. I always see this as a good thing, because more care is taken with the entire build process. Every finished guitar I saw was truly flawless. And the wood for these guitars was properly dried and cured. Improper drying is a big problem with the larger guitar companies in the USA, and Chinese imports. When you buy a new guitar, and you can smell the finish like it’s still fresh paint…well, it’s not the best sign of quality craftsmanship. All of you living outside of the states are lucky to still have Tokai guitars!
This master luthier still makes acoustic guitars in the “old way”, using some of the same tools and forms that Tokai owned since way back in the day. He also does some amazing inlay work, and there were several custom guitars there in his shop. Again, there was lots of great old wood there, and I would love to own one of these Tokai acoustic guitars one day. And I don’t even really like acoustic guitars!!! But it did pain me not to leave this acoustic shop without a guitar!
Tokai Gakki has an English website and a few pictures of the factory. There are also distributors in the UK and Germany. All of these websites have additional information and all the current guitars that are made by Tokai Gakki. Of course, I always have a special love for the vintage stuff, so I have to leave you with a few pictures of old Tokai Hummingbirds. Also, check out the video demo of a vintage Hummingbird being played by Mike Dugan! Before I left Tokai, I really tried my best to convince Shohei Adachi to reissue the old Hummingbird guitars. I was even able to meet the original designer of the Hummingbirds! If you’re interested in seeing the Hummingbirds built again, be sure to contact Tokai and let them know. And if you’re a fan of Tokai guitars, also let them know! Share the love, or share the “Love Rock!!”