Review: Tokai Love Rock Guitars

Billed by Tokai as “Flawless Replicas” of the golden 50s era Gibson Les Pauls, these are regarded by some as being as good as, or even better than, the modern Gibson guitars, but at half the price.

Tokai has three ranges of Love Rock Guitars – The Japanese made Vintage series are the mainstay of the range, roughly analogous to the Gibson USA guitars, the Premium series (also Japanese) are the upgraded models with premium quality woods and hardware, while the Chinese made Traditional series are the less expensive models.

For this review I looked at three models: the LS150, an LS90 and an LS95S. The LS90 is the Vintage series two humbucker model with a three-piece mahogany body, urethane finish and high quality Japanese made hardware and electronics. The LS95S is the goldtop Vintage series model with P90 pickups, but otherwise it is identical in features and specifications to the LS90. The LS150 is a Premium model, so has a one-piece mahogany back, CTS pots, Sprague Orange Drop capacitors, Switchcraft switch and jack, an aluminium tailpiece, brass saddles and a nitrocellulose finish.

First impressions

The fit and finish of all three guitars is superb, with no flaws to be found anywhere. Bar a quick truss rod tweak on the LS90, the setup of all three was perfect out of the box – something sadly lacking in most instruments these days. The finishes (urethane on the Vintage series and nitrocellulose on the Premium) are perfect, flawlessly applied, not too thick and polished to a high gloss. The goldtop LS95S is too dark and for my tastes – more aged bronze than gold, otherwise the colours are all very attractive.

Interestingly, bar the wood, hardware and electronic differences between the Premium and Vintage series, everything else is equal, with no sign of cutting corners to save a few cents on the cheaper models. The LS90 even has the same pickups as the LS150. The higher quality woods and components of the LS150 do make a difference in weight though, weighing in at easily a half kilogram lighter than the Vintage models.

The only minor area I feel these guitars fall down is with the quality of the bags and cases, which while nice, don’t quite match the quality of the guitars themselves.

Playability

Playability is exactly as it should be on all three guitars, with the typical soft feel and easy bending, of a 24-3/4″ scale length and low action, and with no buzzing frets evident anywhere on the neck.

Sound

Unplugged, all three guitars are resonant and vibrant, but the LS150s wood and components once again give it a slight edge over the other two.

Plugged in, the humbucker models supply all the classic humbucker tones. The pickups are very dynamic, with an almost vocal vowel-like quality played hard, but smoothing out nicely when played gently. The neck pickup is fat but articulate while the bridge has all the bite you could ever need without being  harsh. The LS150 has a slightly woodier, airier quality, while the LS90 has a more focused voice.

Similarly, the P90 goldtop pickups are wonderful too, raunchy with the volume controls dimed and cleaning up nicely when backed off, always with the distinctive P90 woody midrange character.

Summing up

These are real player’s guitars – affordable, well made, eminently playable and full of classic tone.  Their only disadvantage is they will not hold their value as well or be as collectable as the US-made competition, so if collectability or resale value is a big factor for you, you will want to take that into account. With the same build quality as the LS150 and being great instruments already, the LS90 and LS95S are definitely better value for money. However, the LS150 does edge the LS90 out on quality, tone and weight, so if you don’t mind paying the difference in price for the extra tone.

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