Tokai 54 Amp
Grow misty eyed as vintage revisitors Tokai call up the sounds of 1954.
Much more of this and Tokai will be permanently established as the Doctor Who of rock'n'roll. They've already timewarped guitars back to the late Fifties/early Sixties; now they're at it with amplifiers.
As explained (rather dynamically I thought) on page 55, their fine detail replicas of classic American six strings and basses brought them acclaim plus legal action.
But guitars aren't the only parts of the instrument industry with tradition. It doesn't take much nonce to work out that amplifiers must have been around for as long as electric guitars. Can't really picture early electric strummers belting away in complete silence and shouting at the audience "I'm playing a G major now... good isn't it?"
This then is a copy of the Fen... sorry... a certain American '54 Champ. That raises an intriguing point. Though words such as Fender, Strat and Tele are now trussed up and trademarked, where does that leave phrases such as Twin Reverb, Super Champ and so forth?
In fact the Tokai amp is only an exterior copy. Amplifier technology has moved on such that an exact reproduction of '54 circuitry would be impossible (the components may no longer exist), undesirable (demands over tone, reliability, weight, noise are much greater these days) and uneconomic.
So rather than a set of valves inside, we have the ever present transistor slogging away to raise 30W through an 8in Japanese speaker. And there are the modern day bonuses of bass mid and treble EQ, line out and headphone sockets.
But let us first peer at the surface. It's a squat little bugger, barely 13½in wide and just crossing the tape at 12in high. Unless you like a shin full of treble, lean the Tokai backwards or stand it on a chair.
The covering is a tweed of brown and buff stripes and it's perfectly matched all over - no sudden changes of angle. Either I was very lucky with this review sample or Tokai are taking a great deal of cosmetic care, and I'm prepared to believe the latter.
The speaker cloth is a sombre medium brown with a fleck of silver, a colour scheme echoed by the less attractive name plate that is fixed overhead. There are two control panels. The first you can see, set down into the top surface of the amp, the second you can't since it's tucked round the back. Both are in a high gloss chrome.
The top one goes for the pointer type knobs of the '54 era, while the rear panel '83 addition favours a more modern compact sort. It's this top panel that holds the pre and master volume controls — tug on the master volume and there's a mean power boost. Down flat the Tokai stays clean, though the input is sensitive and loud guitars will start to overdrive it.
Lo, what is this? A reverb spring, no less, and in its own tweed covered box at the bottom of the cab. It's well protected, sounds okay but clangs a lot when moved around, so it could be assisted by extra padding. Liked the leather carrying handle, though, which flattened neatly against the top of the Cab or lifted by two or three inches for a comfortable heft. Hate those combos where you have to ram your hand under the plastic strap like a glove with two fingers.
Small combos tend to be low on bass, natch, and the Tokai won't shake the floorboards to sawdust. It's also on the mellow side, though that can be rectified by keeping the treble control past two o'clock on the dial.
Which leaves us with the middle, and that is the Tokai Champ's strong point because it's the type of hollow squawkiness that exactly complements the out of phase positions of a Strat. I had this combo around at the same time as the Tokai ST-50 six string and they were made for each other. It pulled out all the honky curtness of the Tokai's pickups and had the top end to slice out lead lines without making them over shrill. It was less successful with the Tokai Flying V which was on test alongside.
Alternatively, the additional gain introduced by tugging up the volume control and switching in the power boost, sets the Tokai a-wailing. Its persona changes from clean reproduction to burring (transistor flavoured) distortion, yet staying true to that middley quality.
You'd have to be after a quite specific sound to fall in love with the Tokai, but if that's the honky hotel where you want to tay, then lust is not so hard to achieve.
R.R.P £161 inc VAT
Enquiries: Blue Suede Music. (Contact Details).