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Tokai AST33 Review

Date:February 3, 2003
Manufacturer:Tokai Gakki
Author:Ned Cullen

Introduction

The AST33 is a Korean made version of Tokai's Goldstar Sound. There is much debate about the Korean vs. Japanese Tokai's and I am the first to admit that the Japanese made guitars are better instruments overall. Why, the electronics, tuners and bridge are just plain better quality parts. However, the finish and neck on this guitar are absolutely top notch and since I can't leave the electronics or tuners alone anyway why pay the extra dollars for parts that will get replaced.

Features

Body: Alder
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Rosewood or Maple, 21 frets
Bridge: ST-VT1K Tremolo
Pickups: TOS-1K
Controls: 1V, 2T, 5way-selector
This guitar is Lake Placid Blue with a pearloid pick guard which adds a bit of flair to the guitar. Other features include a 4 bolt neck and from the '85/'86 catalog the AST40 claims a 'C' contour neck with 21 frets I'm guessing the AST33 also has a 'C' contour. The guitar has 3 springs on the tremolo and included a bag with the trem arm, extra trem spring, allen wrenches and a guitar cord. There is also an AST28 available with standard colors and plain pick guard.

Construction and Feel

The fit and finish of the Tokai AST3 are excellent. From the well setup action which is set really low and produced a small amount of buzz when playing open strings, to the smooth paint coat on the body and clear satin finish on the neck, it is clear that this AST has been crafted to exacting standards. The frets were also well installed, buffed, and even.

For those familiar with the feel of a Stratocaster, the AST plays as any well-made Stratocaster should. While many may prefer the heavy lacquers used on the necks on the vintage and vintage reissue instruments, I found that the neckís clear satin finish felt very nice in that it was neutral. It was not too heavily lacquered and "sticky" like the finishes on the other guitars, and not rough as an unfinished neck would be. The satin finish gives a nice "slippery" feel overall. Bending strings and playing chords were both comfortable, especially against the smooth frets and satin finished neck. Again, this is excellent craftsmanship for a Korean made instrument. AST33 Body

The tremolo system is a basic die-cast unit used on older Strats. Unlike the Wilkinson unit on my American Std. Strat you cannot rest your palm on this tremolo as the allen screws tend to stick in your palm. However, it is easier to adjust the intonation than on the Wilkinson unit. My personal favorite tremolo system is the one used in the mid-90ís era Strat pluses that incorporated a roller nut, no string guides, locking tuners, and a Hipshot Tremsetter system. One could fairly easily add those features to the AST and I highly recommend that for those who are concerned over tremolo and tuning stability. I have personally added a Hipshot and locking Sperzel tuners to my American Std. Strat and plan to do the same to my Tokai. AST33 Head Stock

So how does the Tokai feel compares to my '96 American Std Strat? Different. The neck is much flatter and thinner than my Strat but it is also more comfortable.

Sound

This is were the Tokai really falls short. I prefer my strats to have a bell like tone when played on the neck pick up with a Fender amp. The AST33's sound is very muddy when played with the Super Reverb patch on my POD. However... there is huge potential for this guitar as when I play unplugged the guitar can be heard almost across the entire house, excellant acoustic qualities on this axe. Future plans include a set of Rio Grande pickups which should really spice the electric sound of this guitar right up.

The tone controls are your basic Strat type with the volume control easily accessible with your pick hand so you can easily roll back the volume to smooth out your sound. The one inconsistancy with the vintage vibe is the 5way selector switch. The Strats that these Tokai's are copying all came with 3way switches but Tokai must have seen the inclusion of a 5way switch as a improvement much as Fender did in later years. I know when recording near the computer, and when your computer is your recorder it's hard to get away from it, the 5way switch is a savior as it eliminates the hum introduced by the PC's monitor.

Conclusion

If your a Strat player who needs another axe and must modify your guitars I highly recommend the AST33. If your the kind of person who doesn't need to fiddle with your guitar I would opt for the AST50 series from Tokai for the better parts. I plan on changing the tuners and definately the pickups then set the guitar up with a drop tuning (Eb) so I can jam along with SRV, Kiss, Van Halen and other drop tuning bands. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would rate this guitar a 7 due to the fact that I know you can't find a better guitar for under $300.00 as this guitar blows away the Korean and Mexican Fenders. AST33 Strat Head Stocks

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