Saturday, May 12, 2012

1981 Tokai Hard Puncher Bass Review


Those that know me are aware of my deep love for obscure Japanese basses, and today we are looking at yet another lawsuit-era bass: a 1981 Tokai Hard Puncher, a faithful and unabashed copy of a 1970s era Fender Precision Bass.

This bass seems to have been spared the indignity of ill-advised and unnecessary modifications over the years, which is a real blessing for me. Things are only original once, you know.

This one has a contoured P body with a lot more grain than I usually see in early Japanese basses, so it might actually be ash. A girl can always hope. It was sprayed with a stunning 3-tone sunburst with a bright red in it, and a 3-ply black/white black guard. The thumb rest looks to be original to the bass.

This Tokai’s 4-bolt neck is maple with a pretty rosewood fretboard that is still in excellent shape, front and back. The 20 medium frets are still in great shape, with very little visible wear. It has the typical 1 5/8” P width nut (plastic), but the neck is not overly chunky. I would call it a medium profile C shape. The truss rod adjusts at the heel, and it still turns easily.

The Hard Puncher headstock shape is an exact copy of one that would be found on a Precision Bass, and their logo even is styled to resemble Fender’s. Tokai always put campy small print on their headstock decals, and this one informs you that Tokai is “The Quality Musical Instruments of the World.” Word, my brothers.

The hardware is pretty middle of the road stuff. The machine heads are 3-screw open-gear pieces that kind of look like Fender tuners, the barrel knobs are kind of cheap looking with flaky chrome, and the bridge is a copy of a 5-screw Fender unit. If this one sticks around I will swap the barrel knobs out for nice ones and put a vintage Fender threaded saddle bridge on it. I love those things.

The pickup and electronics are original to the bass. There is not much to say about them except that they are exactly what you would expect – a split coil pickup with volume and tone pots.

This Hard Puncher is not terrible heavy, coming in a little under 8 ½ pounds according to my digital scale. It is pretty easy on the back, not to mention the eyes.

And it is very attractive. It is in very good overall condition, particularly when you consider it is 31 years old. The finish does not have very many blemishes and it still shiny – it has not been abused.

It is a good playing bass with no buzzing and a low action. The pickup has strong output (hotter than its contemporary Fenders, and there is no buzzing or static. I play P basses with the controls dimed, and this one really makes my SVT bark (in a good way). I like it a lot, so I might try to keep it around for a while.

By the way, this one still has the factory “40” sticker at the heel of the neck, which is an indication of what the original price was, which in this case would be 40,000 Yen. This would have been $181 in 1981 when this bass was built. Hopefully this helps illustrate why these basses were such a threat to Fender – the Hard Puncher was a lot of bass for the money at the time, and 1981 to 1984 Fenders bit the hairy root.

Tokai Hard Punchers are getting a little harder to find, but you can still find nice ones for under $500. If you want one, now is the time to buy as they are not going to get any cheaper.



  1. Just found one (finally) at a local second-hand shop here in Tokyo. Same head stock decal and the 40 sticker on the heel. Cream with a black pick guard, she'll be nice once I get the road goo off of her.

  2. Yeah....I live in hokkaido....I see these around everywhere....I need a p bass. Looks like you have convinced me!

  3. That bass is actually circa 1984 and is the PB40 model. The 3 screw tuners confirm that. The PB60 had 4 screw tuners and better woods etc, and was 60,000 yen.