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Three cherry sunburst Love Rocks from 1984/85

Date:July, 2005
Manufacturer:Tokai Gakki
Author:Hans-Jürgen

Tokai Love Rocks

  • 1014419: Love Rock LS 120 from 1981 with Gibson P-94 single coils, two-piece tobacco sunburst flamed / quilted maple top, one-piece mahogany body, thin '60 neck with fret binding
  • 4020848: Love Rock LS 60 from 1984 with Gibson Shaw PAFs, two-piece cherry sunburst flamed maple top (veneer), two-piece mahogany body, thick neck
  • 4016175: Love Rock LS 60? from 1984 with Tom Holmes PAFs, two-piece cherry sunburst plain top (probably solid), two-piece mahogany body, thick neck
  • 5027319: Love Rock LS 60? from 1985 with Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates in the bridge and '59 in the neck position, two-piece cherry sunburst flamed maple top (veneer), two-piece mahogany body, thick neck
  • The question marks behind the model numbers of my friends' guitars (on the right side of the photo) mean that he doesn't remember them when he bought the guitars in the 80ies, and the oval stickers with the model number have all been long gone. But from the specifications it's quite sure that these were not higher priced models.

    I bought my LS 60 new in a guitar shop in Hamburg 1985 and the LS 120 a few weeks later used from the first owner who told me that it would be this model. This can be proved by the remaining shadow of the decay on the headstock showing that number (see my homepage for a picture) and also by its specifications. But he lied to me about the pickups that he had swapped, saying that they were original PAFs from a '63 Gibson SG. Now I know he simply swapped pickups with his Gibson Heritage from ~1983 that stood in the same room back then. The original versions in the LS 120 probably were Seymour Duncan '59s or DiMarzios which he wanted to have in the Heritage, and its original Gibson Shaw PAFs (1982/83) went into the LS 120. Tokai Love Rocks

    As I was trying to find out if the combination of these guitars and pickups still made sense with my different amps and changed taste over the years, I started this comparison playing all four Love Rocks side by side at home without an amp trying to learn their dry sound first for several days. In my opinion this is essential when deciding such a question, because you cannot completely alter the sound and character of a guitar with another pickup, at least not with these kind of PAFs supposed to transfer the natural sound and only slightly adding nuances to it. But you can try to match this natural sound with the tone of a pickup set, if you know from where you started.

    During that phase I also changed the setup of the guitars to my preferred string height and gauge (standard .010 to .046 D'Addario XL strings), neck tension etc., so they would have equal conditions for the test. This also included the same string wrap around the stop tailpiece that you can see on the photo. This method mellows the tone a bit due to the lower string tension on the neck caused by the flatter angle and can be a good match for a brighter sounding guitar if you want that softer 'wooden tone'.

    In the meantime my Love Rocks both have a lightweight aluminium tailpiece with the usual string attachment (i.e. no wrap). The LS 120 was originally equipped with that stop tailpiece, and the LS 60 now has one I still had as a spare part from another guitar. The LS 120 literally came back to life afterwards, because it already has a dark and rich tone which obviously suffered from that wrapped string attachment.

    About the same happened to my LS 60 which lost its strong treble tone and traded it for a more silky sound with richer harmonics. Can you imagine how puzzled I was? I admit that this is my contribution to those Voodoo theories, but hey, it sounds marvellous now (yesterday I played the cherry sunburst for several hours first shaking my head in disbelief and then my hips a bit, too), and you can try it yourself rather easily for less money than a new pickup. That was also the time when I decided to better write this review before other strange things might happen...

    OK, so now I knew (or at least thought I knew) how those ladies behaved barefooted, what about their pickups then? I started with my friends' Tom Holmes set in his plain top LS 60 over my Mesa Boogie Mark IIB head and 1x12 cab at home, because I had to give it back the next week. It took me only a few minutes of balancing their overall sound lowering the bridge humbucker on the treble side a bit and checking their general output when switching between them (7.95 and 7.23 kOhm). Then it was clear that those rather bright pickups were the perfect match for that guitar, because it has a loud and strong acoustical midrange with almost nothing else besides it, i.e. no extra sparkle like my cherry sunburst or fundamental bass power like the tobacco sunburst.

    We had already tried this set on his other flamed maple LS 60 before which has a rather neutral sound, i.e. enough of everything (highs, mids and lows). There the Tom Holmes pickups didn't work out like they do now, because they enhance the higher frequencies in these kind of guitars too much. So this Love Rock (with empty cavities on the photo) got the Seymour Duncans I mentioned earlier. The Pearly Gates at the bridge measures 7.77 kOhm which is less than it's supposed to have, and the '59 at the neck 7.37 kOhm. You can also find pickup specs and sound samples (4 for each pickup) on their web site.

    While the Pearly Gates with its overall brighter sound and not too much bass (Alnico II magnets) may or may not be the right choice in this guitar, the '59 at the neck sounded too boomy (Alnico V), so it was rather difficult to find a balance between them. This also convinced me (again) that it's a better idea to use a set of similar pickups in one guitar that will probably match its natural sound as a whole, i.e. with a bit more windings for the bridge version. The Tom Holmes and Shaw PAFs as well as the P-94 single coils could easily provide this. Tokai Love Rocks

    The last candidate was my cherry sunburst LS 60 which originally came with stock Tokai '57 PAFs that I also used in this comparison. When I bought the LS 120 back in 1985, I swapped its Shaw PAFs (7.27 and 6.82 kOhm with unorientated Alnico V magnets) with the Tokai pickups, because I wanted to combine their great midrange tone with the lightweight cherry sunburst (about 3.5kg) and not with the heavier tobacco sunburst (~ 4kg with a thin neck). I also love the rich overtones that these pickups provide, i.e. they offer the so-called 'bloom' effect when playing slightly distorted chords or intervals of thirds and sixths adding an extra bonus of harmonic distortion and a general 'wellness factor' to them. And this can be heard very clearly in the cherry sunburst, now even better because of that new stop tailpiece...

    So I only installed the Tokai PAFs for a short check of their sound knowing that I would very likely end up with the same set of Shaw PAFs in that guitar. The Tokai pickups can be compared to the Pearly Gates in a way, because they have only a slightly higher impedance (both at ~8.3 kOhm) and probably a similar magnet (Alnico II or III) which results in a lower output than the impedance would suggest. They also sound similar, i.e. not too much bass response combined with a bright tone and attack reminding me of a Telecaster, but with enough 'creamy' substance to it to make it a good humbucker. So probably they are better neck than bridge pickups (like the Pearly Gates), and having two with almost the same impedance in a guitar can be a little bit difficult to balance. As always it's important to know how your individual guitar sounds if you want to try them, so in a bright guitar it will be 'on the edge' probably while a dark sounding Love Rock will fit them more easily.

    These might also be the 'famous last words' on this part, because the main lesson I learned during my comparison was that guitars with almost identical specs can vary a lot in their dry sound, even if those specs are commonly regarded as being very important for it like age, neck size, one or two piece body and so on.

    OK, so far, so good... it's likely that I want to add something to this posting in the next days which I've forgotten, so Ned please don't copy it to the main site yet.

    I didn't have the time and HDD space to make sound clips during this comparison, but some of our old demo songs on my homepage were recorded with my LS 60 and Mesa Boogie Mark IIB. You can find a list of URLs with short descriptions in this thread on Grailtone.com.

    And you should visit the different sites which provide more infos on the individual pickups, e.g. the DiMarzio and Jim Wagner homepages have samples, too. Reading similar reports on Harmony Central or at the Les Paul Forum as well as the Seymour Duncan Forum and The Gear Page also helps to get started, but you should always do your own tests, because your guitar will sound different than mine, and so will the pickups in your guitar. So don't believe a single word you've just read, please...

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