1981 Tokai ES-150
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In 1981 Tokai introduced a new ES line of semi hollow body models built to be as close to the original ES-335’s as they were able to. To accomplish this, Tokai closely studied original ES-335’s made from 1959 to 1964, characterizing their research as ‘exhaustive’. The result of this work was the introduction of two new models, the ES-100 and ES-150, each of which came in two versions.
This guitar is a 1981 ES-150, the top model at introduction.
For the body Tokai followed the earliest models with three ply laminate top, body and sides. The top and back using maple in all three plies, and the sides maple and mahogany. The center block follows the originals using a solid maple block sandwiched between pieces of kerfed spruce which attach to the top and bottom, running the full length of the guitar. The bridge and tail piece mount directly into the maple block to deliver sustain like a solid body. The pickguard is a five-ply long style, the same as would be found on a 1959 ES-335.
Following the originals, the neck is one piece mahogany, but with an Ebony fretboard and mother of pearl dots located in the exact same locations as the originals. Per Tokai, the neck profile ‘remains absolutely faithful to the production cut on guitars made in ’59 and ‘60’.
The ES-150 was treated as one of the top models Tokai released and finished the guitar in Cashew Lacquer, the LS-200 being the only other model to receive this finish in 1981. Cashew Lacquer is made from cashew shells and is very close to traditional urushi lacquer. Putting an ES-150 side by side to an ES-100 which is finished in Nitrocellulose Lacquer, one can see the Cashew Lacquer is something very special as it gives off a beautiful amber glow. Cashew Lacquer is difficult to apply, so it is rarely used and was reserved only for top models. It can still be found today on some very high-end Japanese made acoustic guitars. The maple used on the body is also much more heavily figured than on the ES-100.
Overall the condition of this guitar is very good but has clearly been played a lot of the years and a number of parts have been changed. The guitar was refretted so the original nibs are no longer on the binding. A correct reproduction pickguard was installed as well as new knobs. An aged Gotoh bridge was installed, as well as a new set of lightly aged Kluson Supreme tuners. Tail piece is the original Tokai aluminum stop tail. The original pickups and electronics were changed, so a new set of Wolfetone Legends with aged covers and new harness made with CTS pots, paper in oil caps and switchcraft jack and switch. Wiring is 50’s style using vintage style braid. The Wolfetone Legends sound fantastic through a good amp delivering the tones I expect from a high quality 335.
The guitar has been completely gone through with frets polished, ebony board cleaned and oiled, relief (truss rod), action, intonation and tail piece adjusted, nut relief checked, nut grooves cleaned and the entire guitar cleaned and polished. There is some buckle rash on the back, dents and nicks on the guitar as one would must expect on a forty year old guitar that was clearly played a lot. Strap pin on the back has been mounted in more than one spot. The guitar plays and sounds fantastic with no buzzing or dead spots anywhere on the neck. This guitar comes with a correct for this model, original non-badged Tokai hard case as seen in the pictures.
These guitars were made to be true to an original ’59 335 and built to the highest standards by Tokai. At forty years old it is one of the closest experiences you will find to an original ’59 335. The Tokai ES-150 are especially rare, with the ES models disappearing completely from the Tokai catalogs between 1985 and 1986.
The ES-335 is easily my favorite style of guitar and I have tracked down and documented many of the top Japanese models produced. The best of these will satisfy both the collector and professional musician as the materials and craftsmanship are top notch and many have real vintage vibe that forty years of honest play wear can deliver. The early ES-150 easily stands out as one of my favorite 335 models across Japanese brands and a model I will always have one of for myself.
Offered at USD $3,250
This guitar is located in the US.
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