Late 70's Tokai Silver Star Strat

While the Silver Star is generally looked on as being the "inferior" Tokai Strat from this period behind the amazing Goldstar and Springy Sound versions, I personally think there is VERY little between these models and the Silver Star series in terms of timbers and construction. 

Tokai are one of the oldest Japanese manufacturers and throughout the sixties made some the greatest bizarre guitars ever. The Hummingbirds has always been one of my all time favourites in terms of aesthetics. Tokai were also very progressive with models like the Talbo and made excellent Gibson replicas (Love Rocks, Reborns etc) and acoustics with Martin under the Sigma brand name. Some VERY big names in music have played and enjoyed Tokais over the years. 

 

Tokai started producing Fender replicas started around '75 and really were one of the first Japanese manufacturers to actually try their hand at vintage true replicas of Fenders years before Fender caught on to the idea. Tokai actually took real vintage Fenders apart and measured every last details and set up manufacturing to replicate these instruments precisely, something the Fender custom shop would do years later. Tokai did such a great job with these that by the early eighties Fender had entered into an agreement with the Fugigen factory to start making licensed versions of Fenders to try and slow the "made in Japan" copies that were spreading out around the world, spearheaded by Tokai.

 

Tokai would eventually make the licensed Fenders from 1997 with an agreement in place that they would change the headstocks of their own copies to a less fender look. These '97 to 2015 Fender Japan guitars are essentially the same quality and specs as the earlier Fugigen made versions.

While Tokai made pre CBS Strats as Springy Sounds (until '83) and later Goldstar (still available) this Silver Star is all post CBS with a (very) distinct 70's aesthetic. The large headstock, bullet trussrod, three bolt neck, all black plastic are all pure seventies Fender Strat. 

 

These "cheaper" models used the same timbers for the body and neck as their more expensive siblings, while top end models tended to have one (or two) piece bodies while these tended to have two or more piece bodies usually of Sen Ash. 

The equivalent production number for each in the series (ie: Silver Star SS-60, Goldstar ST-60 or Springy Sound ST-60) all used the same specs and hardware but some models were offered in much higher grade versions (not the Silver Star) which had nitro finishes and better timbers. The main differences in the lines were the electronics.

The Silver Star here uses a ceramic magnet pickups, which, (I know this is sacrilege) I actually am a fan of in some instances. Ceramic magnet pickups get a bad wrap as being a "cheap" alternative and yet can be very effective and great sounding, especially in high gain output pickups. Leo Fender famously was a big fan of ceramic magnets and used them extensively with G&L pickups. I'm a big fan of ceramic magnet mini humbuckers myself as they give an excellent frequency response with great output (something ceramic magnets are good for) while keeping everything where they should be.

 

Ceramic magnet pickups were first introduced mainly as a cost cutting exercise but I think they can work really well and, well, I think they work really well in these Strats. 

The hardware was also cheaper on these lower models but even "good quality" vintage Japanese hardware is great. Sure, it's not as period correct or well engineered as the "good" stuff, but it's still well designed and made guitar hardware, as you'd expect from a reputable Japanese manufacturer like Tokai.

This is an excellent playing and sounding Strat. Next to this Tokai made (1998) Fender Japan 70's re-issue Strat the similarities are obvious, in looks and playability and tone. I'm usually a rosewood fretboard guy (in general on long scale Fenders) but I actually prefer the sound and the way the Tokai plays over the "Fender" on these two. Tokai were famous for getting their vintage neck profiles "right" and this neck is a joy to play. The Fender Japan version is still very nice and this is probably my favourite Strat look, with all black plastic so both of these appeal to me, but, if I'm being honest (and I am) I would probably take the Tokai out of these two, and if ceramics aren't your thing, a nice set of aftermarket pickups would round out this "vintage" Strat perfectly. 

Jan 25 2018 Written By: Tim Brennan