Tokai’s guitars have long been known for their quality eastern-built replicas of popular models designed by US companies. During certain dark eras the word on the street was that their instruments were better than the (at the time) lacklustre efforts by some of those companies. The company doesn’t just made replicas – their original designs such as the Talbo are startlingly unique and incredibly funky, and I came thiiiiis close to buying a Talbo a few years ago – but when it comes to funky Japanese-made versions of popular US guitars, the Tokai name is probably the first that comes to mind for most players.
The Love Rock makes absolutely no secret of its inspiration. From the outline and electronics to the cheeky script Love Rock logo (which looks like a certain name whose initials are L and P from a distance), if you didn’t have your wits about you you’d be forgiven for getting confused about whether you’re holding a US original or the Tokai.
The two-piece mahogany body is capped with a carved maple top featuring an alluringly three-dimensional flame. The one-piece mahogany neck hosts a bound rosewood fretboard with the expected trapezoid inlays. You can see a little bit of filler in the generous routes around the inlays of the test guitar, which is a bit of a bummer. There’s also a bit of a dark spot between the binding and neck up near the fretboard end, so the Love Rock misses out on getting full marks for finishing. But cosmetics aside, the structural aspects of the construction are hard to fault. The pickguard (which is included in the case rather than installed on the guitar) is well cut, and the tuning keys are a nifty aged white. The pickup selector switch cap is also aged to a more orange hue, while the pickup surrounds are more of a creme colour. This is very much in keeping with how such parts would age on a real vintage instrument, although the Love Rock doesn’t attempt to replicate any kind of actual scratches, dings and scrapes.
Special mention must go to the cool paisley-embossed hard case. It looks good enough to sleep in.
I plugged the Love Rock into my Marshall DSL50. The guitar’s sound was very much as you might expect, given its construction and looks, and this sound is at its best when you use just enough overdrive to accentuate its natural tone and dynamism. The neck pickup has a great rounded voice with a nice natural note envelope. It doesn’t sustain for days like certain famous versions of the guitar it’s based on – you can’t leave a note hanging in the air while you go grab a bite – but the note volume rises to a peak after picking, hangs about at more or less the same volume for a few seconds, then starts to taper off smoothly. With some light overdrive you can get some gorgeously expressive sounds out of this pickup. Crank up the gain and it becomes a saturated soloing machine, although the neck doesn’t encourage fast playing so much as expressive blues or hard rock techniques.
The bridge pickup is lacking a little bass, which allows the midrange and high end to really poke through, but robs the guitar of a little oomph if you tend to hang out around the lower reaches of the neck. There’s a slight compressed feeling to the the guitar when played with a more gentle action: pick softly and the note is still pretty loud, just not as full-sounding. This works especially well with the aforementioned overdriven sound, and it helps super-clean tones to not get lost in the mix. This pickup sounds raunchy and chunky through higher gain settings, and the relatively low output means you can hang on to a lot of your pick attack and string detail.
A few finishing problems aside, the Love Rock is a very well-built instrument, although it’ll be a bit too heavy for some, and while it’s not exactly lacking in sustain you’ll need to move some serious air through your speakers to encourage it to hang onto notes for Tufnel-approved lengths of time. Nevertheless, it’s a great-sounding axe that looks, feels and sounds the part.