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A Stringkiller Guitar review -
The Ultimate Les Paul


Stringkiller Ultimate Les Paul guitar


Contents. September 2002. Why the ultimate Les Paul?

         Have a look.

         A little background on the Gibson Les Paul.
One of the most successful guitar designs of the twentieth century,
which is in top 5 most desirable guitarists for most pickers.

         No longer second hand or used but 'Vintage' guitars

         Then Tokai came along

         An idea is sown

         The deed is done

         Stringkiller's Tokai at home otherwise known as the morning after

         My initial impressions of the Tokai through some tube guitar amplifiers

         Where the catch? So everything is just wonderful about this guitar?


Mai 2009. Stringkiller update.

I added and have now been using Bareknuckle's The Peter Green Blues humbucker set since last summer and now this guitar is really the Ultimate Les Paul. Better than ever.
Also I find that setting both the volumes and tone to 7 on the mid pickup position gives you four different sounds as you increase or decrease any of the four pots
- check it out.

Played through The Koch Studiotone (all the sounds I need at very low volumes) and the Koch Twintone this guitar sounds lovely.
Also this guitar sounds great through The Vox Custom Classics The AC15 Custom Classic with all the controls at 12
(Ok maybe 2 o'clock for the Top boost volume) and for louder gigs the AC30 Custom Classic.
A note on these amps My 15 I got with the Alinico Blue but the 30 I got the top and in the speaker cabinet one of the GSH12-30 speakers had blown
(hence the nice rite price) I added in a Celestion Vintage 30 and this amp really wails now.

Billy Gibbons Tokai picture added as requested.

October 2002. Stringkiller update.

I have removed all pricing details concerning the instruments listed in this web site.

Thank you to Graham, Webmaster for correcting some information.

July 2006. Stringkiller update Changing Bridge pickup with Tokai UK
Tokai Europe
See Pickups paragraph below.

New amplifier information added!
Now using Kotch Twintone on stage and Dr Z Mini Z at home, recording and in rehearsals with either my Fender 65 Champ or Mesa Subway Boogie
Be sure to check out the fantastic Buddy Whittington on the Dr Z site under the mini Z and also on where one of the clips has him with a Les Paul.

Have a look. This is my son, Alec, digging' on the Ultimate Les Paul guitar.

Stringkiller Tokai

A little background on The Gibson Les Paul -
1958 Gibson Les Paul
one of the best guitar designs of the twentieth century.

Since PRS have been charging thousands of dollars /euros / pounds more for outrageously beautiful woods on their very fine guitars....

PRS Singlecut
Stringkiller PRS Standard 24PRS Custom 24 quilt

Fender have listened and learnt from Keith Richards and other guitarists that some people will actually pay more for pre aged and proper authentic replicas of their immortal Stratocasters and Telecasters.

Early sisties Fender Stratocaster

Gibson now ask some serious money for a beautiful pre aged Custom Shop 57 Gold top reissue and you get the best of both worlds, beautiful woods and what Gibson call Pre aged and Fender call Relics or Closet Classics or New old stock (NOS).
Here are Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes Les Paul Standards from the Gibson Custom shop.
This guy has tone, technique and such a wide repertoire and a lot of his sound is due to these Gibson Les Paul Standards

Warren Haynes Les Paul guitarWarren Haynes Les Paul guitarWarren Haynes Les Paul guitar

The picture below comes from E bay, and looks like a fantastic Gibson Les Paul Classic
and is about the closest I have seen to mine.

Gibson Classic Les Paul Standard

The Gibson Les Paul Standard is one of the classiest guitars to hit the planet.
In 1952 Gibson Guitars released the Les Paul signature with a Gold top finish, 22 fret neck, crown fret board markers, trapeze bridge, two P90 pickups and the words 'Les Paul model' on the headstock.
Notice the wrap around bridge and the P90 cream coloured pickups
Picture from the Gibson web site
By 1954 the trapeze bridge unit had been replaced by a wrap around tailpiece, most of these early Les Pauls I have played had intonation problems but the ones that did not sound unique and great. Also a lot of these early models have modified bridges and finishes which means they can be falsely presented as later models.

Picture from the Gibson web site
In 1954 Gibson launched the Gibson Les Paul Custom, but that's a different model and not dealt with here. But it heralded the introduction of the new Tune-o-matic bridge, which is still the standard bridge on all Gibson electrics.

In 1956 Gibson introduced the ABR1 bridge and tailpiece on both the P90 Les Paul and a new Gold Top sprouting twin PAF humbucking pickups. In 1958 they bought out a cherry sunburst finish and the 'burst' was born.
About 1,200 Gibson Les Paul Standards were produced in this cherry sunburst finish from 58 to 60. The Les Paul Standard model was dropped from the 1961 Gibson catalogue. It was reinstated in 1968.
30 years later and until today I imagine that this is still the Gibson Flagship guitar. Did the people, like Ted Mc Carthy, the President and Seth Lover, the pickup designer at Gibson ever imagine that the late 1950s models would become so sought after because of their feel, tone and sustain 50 years on?

 1958Gibson Les Paul

The P 90s sounded great, listen to Freddy Kings 50s instrumentals like Hideway and the Stumble played on an early Gibson Les Paul with P90 pickups and a wrap around bridge on Fender tweed tube amplifiers. The bark, the sustain, the inflections in each of Freddie's bends conveys so much emotion. The tone really gets your hairs standing up on end.
I have always like these pictures of Freddie King and Howling Wolf in the fifties showing these two very large imposing presences holding Gibson Les Pauls that look like ukuleles.
Hear these albums to get the taste and feel of the first Les Paul model sound.


Freddie KingHowling Wolf

Picture from the Gibson web site
The new Gibson Les Paul Standard came out at the end of 1956 with humbucking pickups model n PU-490 known as Patent applied for, PAFs. Using two coils wired in parallel and out of phase, these dual coil pickups 'bucked' the hum players get from single coil pickups like the P90. This hum is picked up from extraneous noise from transformers, lights and other electrical sources and hum. Still the only finish was the Gold Top.

Picture from the Gibson web site

These new PAF pickups designed by Seth Lover to reduce the hum of the single coil P90s, came out on the Les Paul Standard from late 56. Combined with the mass of the woods Gibson used to build the Les Paul, namely a mahogany body and a thin maple cap with a big chunky neck created a wonderful palette of sounds. Listing great songs recorded on this classic guitar would cover over half of the best records, tapes, CDs and DVDs. Little did the Gibson team know this guitar would still be so desirable 50 years on. Gibson have made 2002 the fiftieth anniversary of the Les Paul.

Picture from the Gibson web site

This distinctive ballsy mid range sound coupled with an incredible capacity to sustain have made the Les Paul Standard a true classic. The above picture is to show the beautiful work coming out of Gibson and to see a 'real' Les Paul before meeting the Ultimate.
Picture from the Keno's web site

From 1965 Gibson Les Paul Standards, espescially the Sunburst late fifties and 1960 model (which had just been dropped from the Gibson catalogue) started cropping up on both sides of the Atlantic. Keith Richards in the Rolling Stones (remember this Sunburst Les Paul with the Bigsby Vibrato?) to the first three John Mayall albums with Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor. Other UK influences included Jeff Beck, Paul Kossof, Clem Clepton, John Mooreshead, OK I'm cheating, he had a Les Paul Custom but that's another story, on this side of the Atlantic.


bluesbreakers album line line

John Mayall certainly had the knack as a great bandleader of picking the best musicians and particularly "lead" guitarists.
From Eric Clapton to Peter Green's versions of the same Freddie King songs mentioned above, Eric and Peter played on late 50s or early 60s Gibson Les Pauls Standards with PAF humbucking pickups through English valve (tube) amplifiers like the Marshall, Hi Watt, Orange, Sound City, Vox, Laney, Watkins, Selmer etc...

I still think the three Bluesbreakers albums pictured above with Eric Clapton reading the Beano on the cover and the next two John Mayall albums, A Hard Road with Peter Green and Crusade with Mick Taylor are the benchmarks for this kind of sound. In the USA, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Michael Bloomfield, Carlos Santana, Steve Miller were coming to the same conclusion as well. So this is The Holy Grail, the Gibson Les Paul Sunburst and this is the one that is so desirable and rather expensive, up to 100,000.

Michael Bloomflied playing a Gibson Les Paul
These fantastic players bought another dimension to guitar playing - inspiration, sustain, overdrive, phrasing that took the emotion and feel of the fantastic original blues classics and transported you to a further place in time and space. The guitar stayed the same, the pickups, either the P90 or the humbucker coupled with the voicing of the woods of the guitar and the smooth sustain give another dimension to what is referred to as a ballsy rock and roll tone. The guy who replaced them in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers was Mick Taylor also on a Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard. Jeff Beck demonstrates his very wicked twist on things with his Les Paul Standard on Truth and Beckola, twenty years later Gary Moore carried the torch forward with Still got the blues for you.


Picture from the Gary Moore's web site
This 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard was traded to Gary by Peter Green. The neck pickup was put back in the wrong way around by Peter and combines with his soul (and Gary's) this is a really good sounding Les Paul. It is also an example of a very worn and used Les Paul.
October 2002 - Graham Gary Moore's web master writes

Regarding the items below on your web site: Picture from the Gary Moore's web site This is NOT the Ex Peter Green Les Paul, and image was taken from the official web site with out permission of use. This 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard was traded to Gary by Peter Green. The neck pickup was put back in the wrong way around by Peter and combines with his soul (and Gary's) this is a really good sounding Les Paul. It is also an example of a very worn and used Les Paul. The Ex Peter Green Les Paul is a 1959 LP Standard, not a 1960 model and the neck pickup has had the magnet turned around inside the pick up, as well as the whole pickup turned around and installed the opposite way to a standard humbucking guitar.

I have asked for permission and a picture of the correct guitar. line

Gary took the sustain to the extremes with Parisienne Walkways. I remember the stop watches coming out on the sustained note in the song - that night Gary held it for over two minutes playing through a triple Fender (Twin RI) Marshall 2000 Anniversary (if memory serves me right) and a Soldano. The sound was as our American friends would say 'awesome' and incredibly loud but very very tone tasteful.

October 2002 - Graham Gary Moore's web master writes

Regarding the items below on your web site:
When was this? as it is not a live guitar rig Gary has used

My response
Dear Graham,
Thank you for your speedy response and clarifications which I'll correct on the web site. Do you have a picture of the Les Paul Gary traded with Peter Green that I can add to the web site with your permission?
The concert I'm referring to was in the early 90s at the Zenith in Paris. I was under the impression that Gary was using Fender Twin reverbs (or Dual Showman perhaps) for his clean signal and he had a Soldano head and a Marshall head on the stage. If you can correct me I will then correct my fawlty information.
Regards Bruce
My excuses for the unintentional mistakes ;-(


Duane 'Skydog' Allman


Across the seas Mike Bloomfield, Freddy King, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Duane Allman (pictured above with a 1959/60 Les Paul Standard) & Dicky Betts of the Allman brothers, Billy Gibbons, Carlos Santana, Steve Miller and many other artists were using up these 'old' guitars that Gibson actually stopped producing and making great records, and they never ceased to amaze concert goers with their tone, taste and emotion.

 1958Gibson Les Paul

Later on Pete Frampton, Al Di Meola, Robert Fripp, Steve Jones, Mark Knopfler, Bob Marley (Gibson Les Paul Junior), Mike Oldfield, Mick Ronson, Slash, Pete Townsend, Mick Box (Uriah Heap), Joe Walsh, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Joe Perry, Neil Schon, Danny Kirwan and George Harrison would end up making some memorable tracks with the Les Paul sound central to the vibre of the song.

No longer second hand or used but 'Vintage' guitars.

Fender Guitars 1952 calendar

Sorry about the picture but I could not find a Gibson calendar.
Second hand guitars moved out of Exchange and Mart and became Vintage Guitars
and a whole trend was started.

I have to plug my favorite magazine here. Visit and get Vintage Guitar Magasine.Cool articles, pictures and advertisements for some interesting guitars.

The Gibson Les Pauls of the 1950s and early 60s have become very sought after and dear. Gibson and Fender were asking themselves why players were paying very large sums of money for certain old models - like the 1959/60 Les Paul.

 1958Gibson Les Paul

By 1980 Gibson started produced the Les Paul Heritage series and then went on to produce Historic collections from 1992 to the Les Paul Standard reissues a year later, I think this was after guitar shops like Guitar Trader in New Jersey ordered a batch of reproduction Les Paul Standards.

In 1990 Gibson produced a great Les Paul - The Les Paul Classic. It had a slimmer neck, too slim for some and a496R ceramic magnet humbucker in the bridge and a 500T ceramic magnet humbucker as the neck pickup without the covers with real nice woods and finishes. I really enjoyed mine.

Swanky high end Les Pauls

Picture taken in 2002 in Universal Guitars, Paris

Now Gibson produce a varied line of Les Pauls, 20 models listed in the Guitarist Ultimate Guitar Buyers guide 2002. From the Les Paul Junior Light to Les Paul Smartwood Exotic. This doesn't include the Custom shop or Classic Vintage models in the Gibson Historic collection and doesn't mention prices. Check the Blue book for more details.

Today Gibson's Les Paul Standard has been remodelled by Gibson in 2002 into a very fine reproduction of the late 50s / early 60s Les Paul. Henry Juskiewicz Chairman and CEO of Gibson (since 1986) sums his product aptly "The Gibson Les Paul has set the standard for style, sound, innovation, functionality - every element by which an instrument is judged - for 50 years now."

 1958Gibson Les Paul

The most significant change on the 2002 Les Paul Standard is with the pickups. They are now Gibson Burst Buckers. I haven't heard these yet but more about them later.

These guitars are really very well made and accurate reproductions that are beautiful to look at and come out very well in the Guitar Magazine reviews, but the price does make one pause!

At what price is a guitar so expensive you would be hesitant to take it out to gigs and rehearsal studios? That you would cry at each ding or scratch? That it becomes the price of a car? How would you feel about dings and scratches? Every ding each of guitars I have had is devastating but it goes with the territory and you ride the tide. But on a $10,000 guitar I think I'd go out to the sea! But to each his own, some players prefer to buy a pre aged (ding, scratches, rust, neck wear etc...) new guitar rather than a new guitar. The manufacturers can charge more so everyone is happy.

This Peter Green shot is from the This un named web site

The above picture is of the brilliant Peter Green and his Les Paul Standard, which he traded to Gary Moore for a Gibson SG Special. This guitar is a very famous one and with all due respect to Gary, I can't understand why it wasn't called the Peter Green model, but I'm sure the marketing considerations got in the way.

I was quite interested in this model but I have yet to be enticed by a Gary Moore Les Paul Standard Signature model to even pick one up. All the five I have seen have had very unattractive finishes, funny how everything is in the eye and ear of the beholder, sickly yellow finishes and the lack of the white stripe binding, which should excentuate the look of the guitar does the opposite.
But isn't that what makes the world go around, that we all are different and have different tastes?

So to summarise, many of the 'sexy' vintage Les Paul Standards; like the new Les Pauls and pre aged Historic Les Pauls, the Custom Shop Les Pauls, the Signature Les Pauls (Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, etc...), the Semi hollow Les Pauls like the Elegant, are very appetising and out of reach of the Stringkiller budget.

 1958Gibson Les Paul

Also one of the reasons it was easy to sell my last Les Paul (Classic 1960 RI Reissue) was that it was a little on the heavy side. After a four-hour concert you feel that you had been holding and playing a great guitar but a heavy guitar. So this is one of the reasons for my affection for my Tom Anderson Hollow T Telecaster and my Parker Fly.
See these two quilt beauties.

Stringkiller's 1960 RI Les Paul Classic

So Les Pauls were out for the foreseeable future. But they never are.
Just look at this Gibson Custom Shop Tom Murphy 1960 Reissue.
Wow, but I wonder how much it costs?

Along came Tokai
Tokai Europe

Stringkiller Tokai

Tokai, established in 1947, is a manufacturer of Electric Guitars, Electric Basses and Acoustic Guitars in Japan. They have a good reputation for very high quality build and high standards for the reproduction guitars they make. I have already mentioned their early eighties Stratocasters. In 1999 or 2000 Tokai bought out a series of copies of the Gibson Les Paul which were of very high quality.

What a reproduction!

The link is to the photo only Ultimate Les Paul site!
The pictures are also coming up below.

The guitar model is the Tokai LS75Q Love Rocks and I think I can confirm the name is about the worst thing about this guitar!

But what's in a name when the reproduction is screaming out 'Gibson Les Paul Standard' to you? For those of you who might feel upset that I am calling this (foreign reproduction) guitar the ultimate. But for the price this Tokai is pretty close to delivering the real thing, but I only used the word 'Ultimate' to grab your attention ;-). So if you are a 'Gibbo' purist sorry to have hurt your feelings, but you'll get over it.

I had noticed these great Les Paul Standards in shop windows and in guitar publications only to see they were reproduction - it amazed me that their finishes looked so good and I figured that they would play pretty good. I found out that they have a range of models and prices, including certain economy models in mahogany with more economic sycamore tops.

The most expensive of the Tokai reproduction line, the LS75Q, has a real maple top on the mahogany body. I started looking at the details, the action, the neck, the body, the neck body join, the headstock the neck profile, the pickup installation and the overall impression was a very faithful reproduction. The attention to detail exceeded certain Les Pauls made by Gibson. I believe the 2002 Les Pauls Standards are now coming out with the 'correct' top binding in the horn of the guitar. A frequent 'error' of Gibson was having the binding cover the maple top joining the mahogany. From what I have seen and played these new top of the line Gibson, Gibson Custom Shop, Gibson reproductions are among the best instruments Gibson have ever produced. Also Gibson have now come out with Gothic and Voodoo models, these models at sold at lower prices. What a great idea.

An idea is sown

Stringkiller Tokai

I thought I better had not pick up one of these Tokais.

You can see above how my son Alec reacted when he saw this at home. It nearly got him back to 6 string guitars!

Then in a very 'rare' trip to the guitar stores with Dinky, my wife, I started mentioning these Tokai's looked pretty good reproductions. That the Tokai early 80 copies of the Fender 62 rosewood neck Stratocaster were considered good Stratocasters and used by guys like Nile Rodgers of Chic when he could choose to use the original Fender. That most people who had one of these were keeping it just the same they would keep a really good guitar. She suggested I give it a blast when we passed by Guitar Legends in Paris. Sorry I can't link to this excellent shop as they don't have a web site.

Stringkiller Tokai

Picking the Tokai Love Rock (doesn't the name just suck?) up was interesting.

First impressions - the feel and the vibe is just like a Gibson Les Paul, but considerably cheaper than the Gibson models I would want. That would something like the Gibson Les Paul Standard figuretop reissues either the 1958 or 1959 model, whose retail price is pretty steep.

My source here is The Special Tribute Gibson Les Paul - 116 page celebration by Guitarist magazine UK 2002. I'll come back to their conclusions later.

Epiphone Les Paul

The finish on the Tokai, unlike the cheaper and very good for the price Epiphone copies, here's one behind the music stand, stands up to close scrutiny. I am particularly partial to Quilt Maple as you can see from my Tom Anderson Telecaster and this top is so exceptional it is about as good as it gets.

Stringkiller Tom Anderson Hollow T
Click for more

In these initial pictures I have not cleaned the guitar just the neck.
How do you like the finish and the top?

Stringkiller Tokai

I'll do a full clean after it's first concert.
The shape of the neck is a lovely chunky 59 neck and the frets are smooth and set up very well.

Stringkiller Tokai

Stringkiller Tokai

These Tulip button tuners work fine.
The volume and tone controls are smooth and the correct 'tophat' model.
Even with thin 009/46 gauge strings these Tokais had a good sound and sustain.

Stringkiller Tokai

Further on down the road ..... I am in back Guitar Legends, Paris playing a nice Les Paul Standard reproduction with a choice of outstanding cherryburst, quilted maple, tiger stripe and wide chevron stripes that look better than the Gibsons costing 5 times more in the shop. At a price that makes an unattainable classic guitar that much more aquirable!.
NB The quilted maple finish Tokai I eventually bought was not in this shop, but they have some pretty nice ones there. A couple of minutes through a reissue Fender Deluxe convince me that this is a great guitar at a great price and I better get out without doing something rash like buying one.

Here's a close up of the Tokai's lead pickup, bridge and tailpiece.
I was worried the Gotoh II humbuckers would remind me of the Heritage Guitar Company Les Paul Type model I had. The luthery was OK but I did not like the pickups. These pickups had no resemblence to the sound of the one's in the Heritage at all.

Tokai Gotoh II Pickups

But the two models I liked weighed just like regular Gibson Les Pauls, so I just conclude that even though I was very pleasantly surprised by the build/materials/workmanship, the feel and sound these Tokai reproductions were still Les Pauls and heavy.

I also thought these Tokais would be a great Les Paul type guitar to be able to experiment with some of the reissue pickups like

         Classic 57s burstbuckers from Gibson,

         Antiquites from Seymour Duncan

         Tom Holmes Vintage guitar player shootout winners

         and other replacement humbucking pickups.

The only downside at that price, was that there was no case, nice guitar but not nice enough.

The deed is done

Stringkiller Tokai

A couple of months after I am back in Lead Guitars, Paris and I see an outrageous quilted maple top in a cherryburst top on a Tokai Les Paul.
Picking up the guitar I realise this is the lightest Les Paul I have picked up in a while, feels, sounds and looks pretty good.

Instant kinship, love, recognition and bonding.
That is why I call this guitar 'The Ultimate Les Paul' and it has been growing on me everytime I play it.
I buy it. My wife was not surprised!

Stringkiller's Tokai at home otherwise known as the morning after.

Stringkiller Tokai

She still looks OK. But I have to effect a few changes.
Starting with the strings.

The Tokai is shipped with 09/44 or 46 gauge strings.

The strings were pretty dead and too light for me so I took the opportunity to try out some

DR guitar strings

DR Pure Blues
11/56 gauge guitar strings, figuring I would have to set the action again and maybe even give the truss rod a tweak to keep that super low Les Paul action.

I put the DR strings on and was blown away. Even acoustically this guitar has the volume of a 335 and already that mid range growl that is just lurking, waiting for you to hit the strings a little harder or to plug it in. I did not have to change the action, and even this quite heavy gauge is a pleasure to play.

DR claim to pack more mass into the string and it sure sounds like it. If you like Warren Haynes or Derek Trucks, who have really opened up so well on so many different albums, you'll hear their sound getting maxed out by the DR strings. OK Derek plays Wahburn and Gibson SGs!

DR strings also claim that these strings are easier to bend and Stingkiller agrees on this point. One week later I have to confirm that these DR strings really make this guitar sound good but they are a little heavy as and as they are so easy to bend you have to watch out you don't overdo it (too much!) and end up with a sore wrist or worse.

BTW I am also using these DR strings on my Fender RI Telecaster 1951 and I invite you to check them out if you are serious about your tone.
Do you drive your Ferrari on retreads?
Fender RI Telecaster 1951

Here are my initial impressions of the Tokai through some different tube guitar amplifiers:

         Through a Mesa Boogie Mark IV

         Through a Laney VC30 with 2 10" speakers

         Through a Reissue Fender Bassman 1959

Mesa Boogie Mark IV
Through a Mesa Boogie Mark IV -

This Tokai gave everything a Les Paul has and then some more (due to me hahaha!). I would not use this Boogie as a reference amplifier as it can make just about any guitar or set of pickups sound good. What I did notice on the clean channel set at about 6, with the bright pulled out the guitar sound was the very clear, snappy and ready to get nasty with a little digging in on the picking. The resonance of the bass strings was nice and ballsy, clear not mushy. I think the DR strings contribute to getting a very nice feel and balanced sound.

It was easy to set the channel nice and clean with the guitar on 6/8 and have a nice clear sound, when you start digging in or turning up to 10 this just calls up the sustain and a slight overdrive if you want - I am thinking Ronnie Earl, pictured below, on the Colour of Love, if that's the one with a Les Paul on the jacket, of Peter Green on the first Fleetwood Mac album and the Chigago and Boston albums, of the twin guitar choruses of the Allman Brothers, Luther Allison or Jay Lacey track with the Les Paul on his great CD.

Ronnie Earl

So the pickups on the Tokai are clear and don't mush the sound, they have a great balance, and sound good. They don't sound like PAFs, they sound 'weaker' and I am not sure that is a disadvantage. I will get back on this once I have had some shootout comparisons with my various buddies with great Gibson Les Pauls. On the overdrive channels the Tokai sounded fantastic but bear in mind this amplifier brings out the best of any instrument and then some.

Laney AC 30 amplifier
Through a Laney VC30 with 2 10" speakers -

The Tokai reacted just like a Les Paul, with maybe a little less gain but maybe more clarity. I notice the pickups are set quite low. I like the fact they have the pickup covers on.
On my Gibson Les Paul Classic there weren't any covers and as the pickups were quite high (I will be experimenting with the height over the year) once in a while the top E string would get caught under the pickup. That was a hassle and could damage the pickup, by getting caught up in the coil and breaking one of the very thin wires wrapped around the coils.
Just the height of the pickups could explain the change in sound, but already my idea of changing the pickups straight away is on hold, as these pickups make the grade. So I'll keep them in for a few moths and then think about experimenting. One of the side effects of low priced Japanese Guitars is it is easy to put different pickups in and check them out. I would be more reluctant to do this with a real Gibson. Just unsolder rather than cut the pickup wires.

I have never heard of any one taking the Tokai Stratocaster pickups out of their Fender 80 copies.

Reissue Fender Bassman 1959
Through a Reissue Fender Bassman 1959

Again I am only on first impressions, but the Tokai sounds clearer than a real Gibson Les Paul, though this might just be due to the rather low pickup height. Also there is isn't just one Les Paul Standard sound, you have the honk of the P90s on the early models, the smooth sustain or snarl of the Patent Applied For humbucking pickups on the Sunburst Les Pauls and then many varieties of pickups in the reissues like the Classic or the new Gibson Burst Buckers. But in all good electric guitars you are already getting a resonance and feel of that individual guitars potential and in a good Les Paul it is a pretty strong and recognisable feeling.
Bear in mind these are just first impressions but they get more and more favourable through the Bassman. First, this is a reference amplifier for me. That means you get to hear the guitar and there's not a lot of knobs and processors getting between what is coming out of the speakers and the guitar you're playing. After all, Jim Marshall based his product on the way the Fender Bassman is built! Also it makes a good guitar sound even better.

I had just read Wolf Marshall's Vintage Guitar magazine article on Buddy Guy, one of my all-time favourite guitar players.
BTW Wolf has written so many good articles on guitar music, I saw a workshop of his in South Carolina. I strongly suggest you visit this guys site and while I'm at it the Riff Interactive web sites to get your chops up. I'm working on some Hendrix and Brian Setzer stuff and it's a fun way to learn and practise.

Wolf mentions that Buddy uses a Reissue Fender Bassman 1959 and puts every chicken head control on 12 except the Bass, which is set at zero. Try it! This is a great setting for Fenders and also for the Tokai. As a start to really hearing what the guitar can deliver.
Straight away you notice that the tone and volume knobs taper very smoothly, something that was sadly lacking on many present and past Gibsons. I like the clarity of the pickups, the sustain and the neck of this Tokai is exceptional. It is really fun playing it through an amplifier like this. I can see why Buddy Guy was always a little frustrated, if he had to turn down in the studio, only to hear Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix doing it on record a few years later.
Now I am using a Kotch Twintone

Now I am using a Kotch Twintone
on stage
I like this amplifier for it's tone on both the clean and the overdrive channels.
The clean channel stays clean at high volumes.
The Ultimate sounds fantastic through this amp, think a pre 1965 Fender Twin at 5 plu, all that tone, the bass, middles and treble even sounding, but with or without the volume you need to have on the Twin.
By that I mean why get this amp if you can have a great sound from a Fender Twin? Because with Twintone you can have that same sound at lower volumes and it is slightly lighter and easier to carry around! Plus you have the other channel and the boost.
The Fender Deluxe, another great amp, described by some as a little Twin is OK but gets that great break sound up at higher volume settings which can be very desirable but with the Twintone you stay clean at those volumes.
The Twintone also has a neat footpedal with two switches - one is the channel selector and the other is a boost switch on whichever channel you're on.
Neat, simple and very cool for tone heaven.
So you can get your sound and set the Twintone to have it at a lower volume, and at any time call back the higher volume.
and Dr Z Mini Z


When you go to the DR Z amps site check out the soundbites under the Mini Z.
This is my favorite amp right now as it is tiny and just screams - plug it in then turn it up and control the volume and tone from guitar.
I got this from Ron at Proguitar Germany in record time.
I believe it was the last one in Europe as they have stopped making it.
After three weeks no sound came out of the amplifier, after a quick trip to Fredo of VHM, the Parisian tube amplifier surgeon, he diagnosed a dead output transformer.
He also noted the very high quality of construction and parts in the amplifier.
Within 30 minutes of emailing Ron I am informed that I am being sent a new transformer direct from the US, where Sales at DR Z confirmed it by email. Now that's service.

Stringkiller Tokai

So I'll keep these humbuckers on for a few months and see how they perform. This Tokai, like good Les Pauls as that fantastic midrange sound and amazing sustain at all volumes. I have to stress that this reproduction comes very very close to the original and with the price differentiation it makes for a fantastic deal. Bear in mind that the woods of the body and neck and they way they are put together is a bigger contributory factor to sustain than the pickups - it's coming from the guitar.

Stringkiller Tokai

If you are in the UK go check out the price and you might very pleasantly suprised.

Stringkiller Tokai

A note about the set up and action of the guitar. I already mentioned the strings. I am amazed at the number of guitarists that have nice guitars and crappy old strings on them! If you own a Gibson Les Paul I suggest you try the DR Strings True blues or Pure Blues with a slightly thicker gauge than normal.

DR guitar strings

Just remember with DR Strings to crimp the string a little before you cut it. This is rather unseemly but a small price to pay to really let this guitar roll out the ballsy Les Paul tone.

Where the catch? So everything is just wonderful about this guitar?

The Ultimate Les Paul

No, although it is very very good value, check the price out in your country, when put up against a real Gibson Les Paul, it is a very good replica but it is not the real thing.

I have a few little quibbles.

The Ultimate Les Paul

The nut is the right height and angle and set very well. There is a very slight buzzing on the open E string, and after analysis I trace this to the nut. The nut will be the first thing I will have to change on this particular guitar, but is very minor. This little niggle would only be a problem in the studio. Also the action is so low with no buzzing or chking of the notes when bending that I might just raise it a little to get rid of this very minor buzz which is only on the open E string.

The Ultimate Les Paul

The case - It costs extra.At least you get one with Gibson!

The Ultimate Les Paul

The pickups are Gotoh II humbuckers - while giving a more than honourable first impression on different amplifiers they are not PAFs. However as I am moving away from the Gary Moore overdrive sound toward a cleaner yet sustained sound these pickups do the job for the moment. October update - The neck pickup is perfect, note also it is very low. The bridge pickup can start squealing at extremely high volumes, easy to deal with by rolling the pickups tone down a little. The whole sound is there - those glorious Les Paul mids, the sustain, the puch and most of all a great clarity and note seperation. For the moment these pickups stay on.

The Ultimate Les Paul

The neck inlays - If you look carefully, you see that the inlay cut out is a little too large and filler has been used to touch up the gap between the inlay and the neck. I tried to highlight the picture (see around the neck) but it doesn't really show. I took some other pictures and it is the kind of detail you see in direct sunlight. Ill try and get some other shots. I have Tokai is not the only manufacturer who does this. They all do. On this particular guitar it's probably the worse manufacturing defect. I don't think it affects any major tone change.

So I have a Les Paul replica which is exact except for the lettering on the headstock and the truss rod cover with a rather dishy quilted maple top that would cost me more than 4 to 5 times if I were to get a Gibson reproduction with as nice a top, neck, feel and sound.

Someone reading this article might get the feeling that I am slagging Gibson here - not at all - the design and brilliance of the Les Paul is to their entire credit (with Les of course) - they have had their good years and bad years and right now are making the best Gibsons ever and are quite rightfully charging for their product. I think they need to consider supply and demand - if there are pickers out there who are buying these top end quality guitars at these prices then everything is OK for both the producer and end user.

It is also to Gibson's credit, and once again to Les Paul himself, that the Epiphone line means that learners and players on tight budets can can an excellent instrument at a very low price. The Big, Bad and the Chubby himself is using one of their Flying Vs with P90 pickups and sounding great with it.

Tokai, as you can see in the pictures, provide a very realistic reproduction with a high quality workmanship and with an outrageous quilted maple front at 4 to 5 times the price Gibson is charging for their masterpieces. I guess this all comes down to value for money or bang for the buck, as our American friends would say.

Stringkiller Tokai

The accuracy of the Tokai replica complete with the sound, the feel, the vibe, the sustain, the tones of the original at this price makes this a very attractive package and a very honourable hats off to the original.

I would also like to mention the conclusions that were drawn on the Gibson Les Paul Standard figuretop 1958 reissues. My source here is The Special Tribute Gibson Les Paul - 116 page celebration by Guitarist magazine UK 2002.

It is easier to compare prices between France and The United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. I think that most interested guitarists in Europe follow the US market and can use the price differentials to get the best deal. However with the recent large price rises of both Gibson and Fender on both continents, and the appetite players have for these 'old' guitars will these differences in prices decrease or increase? The Internet is also helping buyers compare similar products on different continents. I also harbor a completely unfounded suspicsion that the major US manufacturers keep the best for their home market and then for Japan and then Europe. Wow another bummer for Africa! I guess I would like to hear your opinion on this. Please note that I have tried to take all direct prices out of this web site.

They also review a Gibson 1956 Gold Top with two P90 pickups and they give that a good write up. However on the Gibson Les Paul Standard figuretop 1958 reissue they say:

We liked - the top, wonderful tone and overall feel of the guitar.
We disliked the neck shape, a couple of finishing defects and of course the price.

Stringkiller Tokai

Specifications TOKAI LS75Q LOVE ROCK (thanks to UK Guitarist March 2001)

Origin: Japan
Body: Mahogany and Maple - the cheaper models have sycamore fronts (I think most people can't see the difference.)
Neck: Mahogany, glued in
Nut width: Plastic, 43.5 mm - This 0.5 mm more than the specs on a new Les Paul Standard
Fingerboard: Bound rosewood with MOP (Mother of Pearl) trapezoid markers, 406 mm 16" radius
Frets: 22 jumbo
Hardware: Tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece
String Spacing at bridge: 51.5 mm
Electrics: Two Gotoh Vintage MkII humbuckers
Weight: (Kg/Lb) 4.39:7
Left handed: Special order only POA , Price on arrival
Options: Start up Love Rock Price not available
Japanese made LS65 Price not available(remember this is from a March 2001 Guitarist magazine) for the LS75S or LS75Q . Sorry this isn't clear I just copied it from the magazine!
Finishes: Violin finish as reviewed in the March 2001 issue, cherry sunburst, see through dark red, indigo blue.

Here's a close up sorry about the sunlight on this very classy quality finish.

Stringkiller Tokai

Stringkiller Tokai

Some back shots, the flash wasn't meant to go off on the first one!

Stringkiller TokaiStringkiller TokaiStringkiller Tokai

Compared to a new Gibson Les Paul the Tokai is a very faithful reproduction with the right feel, action, neck, sound and an incredible quilt maple top for a fraction of the real thing reissue.Sorry about the oxymoron!

I have heard that Tokai have agreed to stop (I don't know whether it is manufacture or distribution) this particular model by the end of 2002 at Gibson request. They have agreed to change the shape of the headstock and the cutaway horn.

My conclusion if you have the money get yourself the real thing - a Gibson Les Paul Standard, if you want to renew your affection for Les Paul's, get one of the Tokai's cheaper and that will probably make you want to have the real thing even more!

Stringkiller Tokai

Get it while you can. This Tokai is a good deal and let's you into the magic of the real thing! I don't know what the price is of these in the USA, or even if they are sold there. I did see that the cutaway has been changed on the Tokai web site ;-(

I sugest a search on Books on the Gibson Les Paul.

1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard

The author: Bruce Stingkiller is the singer and guitarist for the Paris, France based Dr Pickup band.
He also plays Acoustic Brit Rock with Stirling Austin in Stirling Bruce.
He also plays with Jacky Nashville's band Aventure. That link is to a concert in a chateau on 25 September 1998.
Here is the Ultimate's first rehearsal in September 2002 with Aventure.
My little Les Paul Gallery.
Here's Silent Eddie's Les Paul in action

Silent Eddie's Les Paul Standard

Here's Patrick with his 1957 Historic Les Paul in action

Patrick Les Paul Standard

Here's the real thing with a 1952 wrap around bridge tail unit with my friend Greg

Greg's guitarss

Greg's guitars

Greg's guitars

Another fantastic Tokai Les Paul Love Rock!
While I'm updating this article I may as well give you the link to my other Tokai Les Paul Love Rock - another fantastic guitar a little lighter than the Ultimate, which means she's really light.
I used this on some gigs in the States in 2005 which you can see and hear through a Mesa Boogie Blue Angel (a fantastic amplifier) in these videos.
Choose Google for the fastest connection


Click above to see the rest of the Imagine Les Paul from the
Gibson guitar web site.
I left some links out in the beginning, as I wanted the site to flow. I don't have the time to get the kinks for you but just use Multiple search engines like and and you'll get satisfactory results in your quest for information about these wonderful guitars and the players who have performed miracles with them .

Tokai Europe
Players mentioned

  • Freddy King
  • Howlin' Wolf
  • Muddy Waters
  • Keith Richards
  • Jeff Beck
  • Peter Green
  • Paul Kossof
  • Guitar Slim
  • Bobby Radcliff
  • Clem Clempson
  • Miller Anderson
  • John Mooreshead
  • The Allman brothers
  • Ronnie Earl - he's the one
  • Pete Frampton
  • Al Di Meola
  • Robert Fripp
  • Steve Jones
  • Mark Knopfler
  • Bob Marley (Gibson Les Paul Junior)
  • Mike Oldfield
  • Mick Ronson
  • Slash
  • Pete Townsend
  • Mick Box (Uriah Heap)
  • Joe Walsh
  • Neil Young
  • Frank Zappa
  • Joe Perry
  • Neil Schon
  • Danny Kirwan
  • George Harrison
  • Nile Rogers
  • Carlos Santana
  • Miller Anderson
Gear mentioned
July 2006 update
Bridge pickup has become a more microphonic and needs changing.
Even with all the above mentioned remplacement pickups I staying with the Tokai Paf II model I believe, which I am waiting on from Tokai UK.
Tokai Europe
Yes this is a 'plug' for a fine instrument and great backup service.

Amplifiers for these fine guitars would include

  • Dumble
  • Hi Watt
  • Orange
  • Sound City
  • Vox
  • Laney
  • Watkins
  • Selmer
  • Mesa Boogie
  • Koch
  • Carr
  • Victoria
  • DR Z
  • Top Hat
  • Groove Tubes
  • Fender
  • Juke
  • Matchless
  • Alessandro
  • Bad Cat
  • Cornford
  • Chigago Blues Bow
  • Louis Electric
  • Demeter

and so many custom shop reissues and hand wired amplifiers coming out there are too many to list here.
I have added in a few like Carr and Cornford that I'm looking forward to trying out next time in the US or UK.

Hear this fantastic guitar through a Koch Twintone amplifier

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This picture says it all

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