Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vintage Power: Tokai Love Rock Lawsuit Guitar

Do you love to play rock music? If so, you need to track down an old Tokai Love Rock!

First, a brief history for ya’all. In the 1970s and early 1980s there were a number of Japanese guitar makers that built replicas of Fender, Gibson and (to a lesser extent) Rickenbacker guitars and basses. They were generally very good guitars, and priced very reasonably. Aria, Yamaha, Greco and Tokai cranked these out like pitchers of beer at a crowded Karaoke bar, and guitar players around the world rejoiced. The only problem was that Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker got their panties in a knot, and sued the crap out of them for copying their distinctive designs.

One of the more popular designs to copy was the Gibson Les Paul. Today I will be discussing a fine example: a 1980 Tokai Love Rock. This is analogous to a Les Paul Standard model.

I found this one during a business trip to Japan, and scooped it up pretty cheaply. Generally, Japanese guitar players want old American guitars, and they consider old Japanese guitars to be junk.

Figuring out when this guitar was built was pretty easy. The serial number is 0103XXX, which is printed in ink under the clear coat on the back of the headstock. The online Tokai registry indicated that this means the guitar was built in 1980.

The body is mahogany, with a bound thick maple top. It is a solid body, not chambered, so it has the more classic Les Paul tone that you cannot find on the newer Gibson products.

It has a set Mahogany neck with a bound rosewood fretboard and a 44mm wide nut. The neck is nicely rounded, and has more of a 50’s style Les Paul feel to me The neck is straight and there is plenty of life left in the original medium frets. My tech set it up with 0.010 Slinkies with a medium action and it plays like a dream.

It has the original Tokai PAF humbucking pickups with plenty of output. It has a super-thick sound and it sustains seemingly forever. One odd thing is that the pots are seated in a printed circuit board, instead of being connected via a wiring harness. This would make service a little more difficult.

It had Grover tuners on it when I got it. I found a set of NOS Gotoh Klusen-type tuners when I was in Japan (on yet another trip), and had them professionally installed by my luthier. There were no extra holes drilled for the Grovers, so it was no hassle at all to put it back to original. The rest of the hardware appears to be original and is in good working order.

One rare thing about this guitar is that it came with the original Tokai hard case, which is in good condition. It is very uncommon to get a hard case with a guitar in Japan. Generally, they prefer gig bags, because they take up less space, and make it easier to use public transportation. Score!

So, what are the downsides to buying one of these instead of a Les Paul of the same era? There is no downside. The early 1980s were not the high point for Gibson quality, and this Love Rock is built better than any 1980s Gibson I have ever seen. Also this guitar weighs a little less than 10 pounds, while Les Pauls of the era come in at around 11 to 12 pounds.

Another thing you are not going to miss out on is the value of the guitar. These lawsuit-era Love Rocks go for very good money, between $900 to $2500, depending on condition, and model. Ones with highly figured tops go for the biggest cash.

Keep your eyes peeled on Craigslist and at your local pawn shops, and you might be able to make a good buy on one of these.


  1. Does anyone have any info for me on my 1980 aria pro ii les paul? It has a circuit board instead of wiring harness. I can post oics later if need be.

    1. Hey Camper! If it has a circuit board, I heartily recommend tearing it out and wiring it like a regular Les Paul. Stew-mac sell a kit with pots and caps that is a vast improvement that will really improve your output with the stock pickups. Just my opinion, of course, and make sure you save the original parts in case these ever become really collectible.

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