Identifying a Tokai Made Greco

How can you tell if your vintage Greco SA was made by Tokai? Most vintage Greco’s were contracted out for manufacture by Fujigen. However, in the late 1980’s and early 90’s Greco had some of their guitars made by Tokai.

I recently acquired a Greco SA model that had no serial number but was clearly built to a high level specification as it had fret edge binding and a flamed top and back. The headstock had an open O in the logo, so it was likely from the Mint Collection. I knew that toward the end of the Mint Collection era Greco had some guitars made that had no serial number on them. To complicate things there was no catalog showing a model like this from that time. It was clearly a copy of an ES-335 but not one that could be found in any of the available catalogs.

When I received it, I could immediately tell it was a high quality build. Fret edge binding, wavy patterned fretboard that was either a very finely grained piece of rosewood or possibly ebony and wildly flamed top and back with incredible depth. The fretboard was quite unusual, the only other guitar I had seen with something similar was on a 1981 Tokai ES-150J.

I pulled the pickups and saw that the center block was maple sandwiched between spruce top and bottom, just as the original ES-335’s were made. I also noticed that the center block had a cutout in the bridge pickup pocket on the side facing the controls.

The earliest Gibson ES-335’s had no cutouts in the center block, they were completely solid and only had a hole for the pickup wire to pass through. In the early 60’s the block began to have a cutout in the bridge cavity which would make final assembly much easier and save some labor cost when installing the wiring harness.

All the Fujgen made Super Real and Mint Collection Greco’s I have seen do not have this cutout; just a hole drilled for the pickup wire. However, my 1981 ES-150 and ES-100 Tokai’s do have a cutout!

Comparing this Greco’s pickup cavities to those on my 1981 Tokai ES-150, I could see the routing and construction of both the neck and bridge cavities were virtually identical. This Greco was made by Tokai!

Without a serial number I pulled some of the pots to look for codes which could be used to figure out what year it was made in. I found 09 K and 12 K codes. 09 would indicate September 1990 and 12 would be February 1991 since the open O Mint Collection Greco logo was used from early 82 to the early 90’s. Taking the later pot production date of February 1991, this guitar was very likely made by Tokai in 1991.

It was generally known that Tokai made Les Paul copies for Greco, but I’ve never found a reference to any ES-335 style Tokai made Greco’s. This may be the first example found and it lets us know that Tokai was making guitars for Greco in 1991.


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