Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

Tokai ES60 – if you don’t have $5000 to spend on a Gibson 335.

Tokai ES60 – if you don’t have $5000 to spend on a Gibson 335.

May 2, 2012

So… first review!

Tokai is a well known Japanese company which, according to Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge) was founded in 1947. They’ve spent a lot of time in the shadow of Fender and Gibson, largely famous for taking copies of classic designs and rechristening them with retarded monikers – gems such as “Breezy Sound”, “Springy Sound” and “Hard Puncher”.

However, translation hilarity aside, the Japanese arm of Tokai Gakki has a great reputation for making some high quality shit. As with most other companies these days, they do have cheaper lines coming out of Korea and China – and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Semi-whatnow?

Okay, so the original Gibson ES-335 was a game changer – a mutant half-solid, half-hollow bundle of fat-bottomed sexiness. EVH said “Man, I can really rip on a 335. That’s what I preferred to play, but people said ‘Man, you’re rock ‘n’ roll! You can’t go onstage with that thing, you look like Roy Orbison!”

And then it was all just the airbrushed graphics, pink neon, and Aquanet of the 80s.

Fast-forward to today, and they’re once again experiencing a resurgence, with people like Dave Grohl taking them onstage (although his is based on a Trini Lopez, but same potato, different headstock). And you can have your very own 335 for the reasonable sum of…. probably way too much.

So what do you do if you don’t want to shell out the big bucks?

And if you don’t even know if you like semi-hollows? That’s the position I was in, and that’s where the ES60 comes in.

Specifications

  • Made in China (gasp, horror).
  • Like a real 335, the ES-60 features a carved out maple body with a solid maple centreblock (to stop feedback at high volumes/gain levels).
  • Rosewood fretboard.
  • Maple neck (Real 335s have mahogany necks).
  • Generic unknown pickups which have some sort of model designation, same for the hardware.

Fit and Finish

At first glance, I’m impressed already. The finish is tidy, doesn’t look overly “glooped” (covered in thick poly coat) like some cheaper guitars, which is something that I like – I subscribe to the semi-myth that the thinner the finish, the more resonant the guitar.

Inlay work is done neatly and without any visible filler. The seat for the nut is cut cleanly, fret ends are nicely rounded, and so on – if I really had to pick something to complain about, it would be that the inside edge of the 3-ply pickguard is a little “hairy” at the cut surface. But who cares about that.

Fretwork seems good, with no dead or raised spots that I can see.

Binding around the body and neck are done well – minor flaws visible in the f-hole binding, but that must be a biiiitch to do right, and you can’t really fault that on such a cheap guitar.

Factory action is medium, but comfortable to play.

One complaint is that I think the nut isn’t cut too well, and coupled with crappy factory strings, you end up spending quite a bit of time retuning after heavy bending. A new/better cut nut and some good strings are the first thing to do.

Sounds

Now, the juicy stuff – what’s it sound like? These clips are all done using classic amp models on the Line 6 HD500, with no post-EQ and just a touch of reverb added.

The first clip is on the Marshall Plexi model. The gain is wound up to around 7, with the EQ set fairly flat, with a bit of a boost in the treble and presence.

Bridge pickup: I hear the “boxy roar” of a semi-hollow that I would expect – success! Single notes sound thick and juicy. However, it could do with perhaps a little more output or character… but that’s what replacement pickups are for. Now compare it to the neck pickup. That basic character is still there, but rounder, warmer, and just more. It ain’t no vintage PAF, but it’ll do the trick – it has a hint of that “hollow” sound, which I like. Listen for yourself:

How well do these pickups clean up using just the volume controls? Pretty well, actually! Using the volume control and some picking dynamics, you can get a good semi-clean. First up is the bridge, then the neck.

How about some cleany clean clean? I used a Fender Blackface model to test its clean chops, with both picked and strummed notes. As previously, I felt that the neck pickup just sounded “more” – warm, deep, and quite nice really. The bridge pickup wasn’t that bad though.

Now, what happens if you juice the hell out of the gain? I’m a big fan of using unlikely guitars for eclectic applications, so I pushed it through the metal mania of a Mesa Dual Rec model with the gain around 7, and this is what happened:

Pretty good! A little bit too thick sounding, but held up well under high gain, with reasonable levels of noise. Palm mutes sound good too. Versatility test passed.

So… anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Slash fan. Slash played a 335 on the Velvet Revolver track “The Last Fight”, which had a beautiful, chimey slightly overdriven melody line. I gave that a quick go here, what do you think?

 

Last but not least, I figured that since it is kind of a jazzbox, I should at least attempt to play something jazzy. Alas, I can’t play jazz for shit, but I gave it a go, and if you watch too much TV like I do, you should be able to tell where I copped it from.

Conclusions

Pros:

  • Great fit and finish.
  • Decent stock pickups.
  • Definitely sounds the part, and can cover a wide range of tones.
  • Doesn’t cost $5000.
Cons:
  • Tuning issues due to factory setup.
  • Bridge pickup a little bland.
For the inaugural review on Six String Samurai, I’m proud to bestow 4 F*ck Yeahs upon the Tokai ES60. Thanks for reading – come back soon, and tell your friends!

Comments

  1. Rhett says:

    Good review. More please. :-)

  2. thesamurai says:

    Cheers Rhett!

  3. AYP says:

    Konichiwa,

    Great real world review. Just a couple of questions? Where to buy from and how much? Also, how does it compare to an Epiphone made from *probably* the same factory?

    I had a Tokai ES100 once and that was like sex on stage. Trus story bro.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Hey AYP! I bought mine off the “Globe Inc.” guy on TradeMe who imports them. They are usually about $650, but I think he has some new stock coming in, so he’s getting these out the door at $454! To be honest, I couldn’t tell you how it compares to an Epi Dot – but I definitely have no desire or need to check one out, pretty happy with this one! Also, the factory serial number/printing doesn’t look like any of the MIC Epis that I’ve seen, so I wonder if it might actually be a different factory?

      Oh, and if anyone ends up buying one of him, tell him that my wonderful review sent you there – maybe he’ll send me a few guitars to review? Hahaha.

  4. Nice review, keep up the great work !

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks Nik! :) Tell your friends, spread the word! :D

  5. Hamish (@hamo_d) says:

    Good stuff man, that looks like a nice bit of gear for a nice price.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks – how do you clever people make the profile picture happen? Since I’m seemingly the only guitarist in NZ who isn’t in IT as a day job, I can’t find the damn button. Hahah.

      1. Rhett says:

        I think you need a WordPress account? Then just upload it somewhere in the profile settings. I used to have a blog so it seems I still have a profile pic. It’s my work one though – if I knew it was going to show up I would have updated it! :-)

  6. Matt Kennedy says:

    Excellent review bro! I want one now! Great (and cheap) platform for mods.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Cheers! :)

  7. Jakob von Schlopps says:

    Love the site, ed, but fer chrissakes get rid of them floating ‘idiot’ buttons – that’s the sort of thing that would drive a fellow to playing 5 string bluegrass banjo or listening to Barry Manilow albums (shudder!). Good to also see you chose a background colour like the inside of an asshole ie (Capt?) Black so you’ve obviously ‘lerged’ from your mistakes?? LOL.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks! Who is Chris and what do I do for his sake? Hahaha. I try to keep out of the anal inspection business – but hey, nothing’s more rock n roll than (Capt?) Black!

  8. druz15 says:

    nice ‘Last Fight’ tone, pretty much perfect. Nice plexi tones too. Sounds like a great value guitar.
    Moar reviews!

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks dude! Got my Audix i5 finally (thanks to Matt!) so I’ll be recording the Carvin V3M vs Mesa Mini Rectifier shootout hopefully tonight!

      1. druz15 says:

        wicked

  9. zeeshan says:

    How do you compare this with an epiphone version of 335.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Hey Zeeshan – I would put this at least on par, if not better than the Epiphone Dot. The finish doesn’t seem quite as thick, and I think the stock pickups are a bit less muddy than on an Epiphone. And it’s quite a bit cheaper as well! At least it is over here in NZ. But a lot of people rate the Epiphone Dot with aftermarket pickups, so I guess it really depends on what options are available to you! :)

  10. Ian Wilson says:

    Hi all , the above is a very accurate review , i have owned an Epi dot,Gibson 335 and currently
    The Tokai Es60 (made in China)
    I plan to put SD Seth lover pickups into the Guitar which i think will really
    Turn this model into a great guitar , the playability and looks and finish are hard
    to fault
    A genuine Gibson guitar always has a certain mystique
    it is an Icon , but i think they are over rated and over priced
    the one i sold i dont miss !
    Enjoy Tokai owners
    Cheers Ian

    1. thesamurai says:

      Thanks for reading, Ian! Always nice to see a new reader on the website :) We’re going to start our own Six-String Samurai forum very soon, so check back and come have a yarn about gear with us.


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