Tokai Hummingbirds

It's no secret how much I LOVE old Japanese guitars, especially old Teiscos, Guyatones, Kawais, Arias, Firstmans etc etc. Well, I do love a good Tokai Hummingbird too. These are obviously heavily influenced by Mosrite so they were a natural for me to fall in love with.

There were a couple of different models made by Tokai back in '68 and both are amazing shapes. They've influenced my guitar design and building over the years as well as made me ........ slightly obsessive about trying to get them. 

The 100S was released in '68 and was a bizarre, Mosrite inspired piece of beauty. It's a small body and short scale so it feels, and looks small, especially compared to the 200. It's a pretty basic little guitar with the common Jag/JM style vibrato, the typical bridge also used by Teisco/Kawai/Aria throughout the late 60's and early 70's. The pick ups are single coil and pretty cool so they have heaps of treble and sparkle. 

 

It's a thin ply body so it's pretty light and feels a little like a toy but boy does it grown with a bit of fuzz on it. These play surprising well for the build and the necks on these are a little thicker than the higher quality relatives but still very playable and feel great. They use a zero fret, like Mosrite and have a slightly angles headstock with no trees.

 

This one is missing the headstock badge, as most are, which was a large TG (Tokai Gakki) in gold on a black back plate.

The tuners and hardware is all decent quality as even entry to mid level Japanese stuff used to be back then. The "toggle" switches were never a good idea and Aria used them as well. You only have to brush past one and suddenly your pickups are off. Of course, at the end of the day, it's that shape that gets you in ............

 

The 200S was released the same year and, to me, is one of the best shapes ever made by any manufacturer. The comic book exaggerated Mosrite with evil horns makes this thing SO cool. These were offered in two different versions and this one has the built in fuzz which sounds like a Shen-ei FY2 to me ?

 

These are a BIG body but still quite thin so they're not too heavy but feel more ......... substantial than the 100. They're the same scale length but the neck is set out further from the centre point so they feel longer. The vibrato, based on the great Mosrite unit is set further back too giving more string tension, which adds to the beefier feel.

 

The controls at the top (ala Jazzmaster) control the fuzz in this version and are basically the same as a JM on the non fuzz version. The body is ply again but these feel ........ better than the little brother ?

The neck is slim and really nice to play and has the zero fret also. The German carve on these isn't as organic as a real Mosrite but those horns were never going to make it flow like one. They are long and sharp and are reminiscent of Burns guitars. This one is also missing the TG name plate on the headstock. 

The pick ups in this one are more powerful and sound great with or without the fuzz on. They're a big fat single coil like a P-90 or Mosrite pick up and they take lots of gain really well. The inbuilt fuzz is spluttery and trebly but suits this style of guitar perfectly. These feel a lot like the Arai (right spelling) Diamond/Univox Hi Flyer in terms of quality and anyone's who played one of those will know, they're nice guitars. 

This 200S shape was the basis for the Swami Scimitar I made for Speedo ages ago as his signature model. I was stoked when he asked for this shape as it's always been a favourite. It was fleshed out a little with a "proper" German carve and body binding, and, well, lots more but the shape was traced off this very guitar.

 

But that's another story .........................

A few years ago Tokai re-issued the Hummingbird in, almost, all it's original glory. These were made in Korea and are very nice guitars. They play and sound, probably better than the originals, but just don't have that Tokai ....... feel ? 

 

I haven't played this one much at all as I really only bought it at the time because it was a Tokai Hummingbird re-issue. The neck is very nice and the whole guitar is typical of mid 2000's Korean manufacturing (very nice) but it feels more like a modern guitar in the shape of a Hummingbird, which is exactly what it is.

 

They obviously nailed the shape and used "period looking" parts and pick ups, rather than generic humbuckers and stop tailpieces like so many re-issues do, and it still looks SO cool, and those horns .............

Jun 06 2014 Written By: Tim Brennan