Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Gibson Nighthawk - A Very Unique Gutiar

The Gibson Nighthawk represents a very unique guitar that combines aspects of the Gibson family of guitars with features one would find on a Fender Stratocaster.

1993 Nighthawk CST3
The Nighthawk was introduced in 1993. It’s maple-capped, single cut-a-way mahogany body, along with its mahogany neck, white binding and traditional headstock are reminiscent of Gibson’s Les Paul Guitar, however the design is radically different in many aspects.

The guitars body is smaller than one would find on a Les Paul instrument, the cut-a-way is more pronounced and the guitars top is flat, without the carve that one would find on a traditional Les Paul. What’s more, many of the Nighthawk guitars came with three pickups. Each pickup was very unique and quite different.

Bill Lawrence OBL L-500
The neck pickup was an OBL humbucker manufactured by Bill Lawrence. The original Bill Lawrence OBL L-500’s were made in Germany from 1986-1989. The spacing for the flat blades on these was unusual as it was 2.225” which allowed the pickup to be used on Gibson and Fender instruments.

The middle pickup was also manufactured by Bill Lawrence under his OBL (Original Bill Lawrence) brand. This was a single coil pickup.

The bridge pickup was a Gibson mini-humbucker that was manufactured on a slant that was positioned in a very similar pattern to what one would find on a Fender Stratocaster.

The original Nighthawks had a mahogany body was capped with a flame maple top. The saddle/bridge assembly could have been right off a hard-tail Fender Stratocaster. The unit was gold plated and attached to the body with four gold plated wood screws. The strings were fed through the body and attached on the guitars back through six grommets.

Like a Stratocaster saddles, the Nighthawk had six individual string saddles each with two adjustable height screws and a screw to adjust the strings length for perfect intonation.

The guitars scale was similar to most Fender instruments in that it was 25 ½”. The bound mahogany neck had 22 frets on its rosewood fret board. The style of the position markers were inlaid based on the version of the instrument.

The headstock was topped with a traditional Gibson flower-pot inlay and the Gibson Logo. Kluson tuners with white caps held the strings in place.

The electronics on this guitar were not the norm for Gibson. Instead of the usual Switch-Craft 3 position toggle switch, a 5-way blade switch ala Fender Strat was utilized. A single volume and a single tone potentiometer with top hat knobs were featured.

The five position tone knob yielded 5 distinct tonal combinations, but the push-pull feature on this guitars tone knob added an additional set of 5 tonal combinations, bringing a total of ten distinct sound combinations.

The dual humbuckers coils were split into differing combinations outlined in the diagram.

1993 CST
Gibson also produced two pickup Nighthawks with the OBL neck pickup and a slanted Gibson mini-humbucker.

These guitars came with similar accoutrements, but the electronics only yielded five distinct tones.

Gibson Nighthawk - CST3 and CST
There were three original versions offered by Gibson. The first was the Nighthawk Custom with the designation CST or CST3 for either two or three pickup models. This was the deluxe version which featured a beautiful flame maple top.

The headstock, neck and body were bound with white trim. The rosewood fret board was topped with crown-shaped pearloid inlays. The instrument was available in either antique natural, fireburst or translucent amber finishes.

Nighthawk ST3

The next version was called the Nighthawk Standard with the designation ST or ST3 which signified two or three pickups. This guitar had a flame maple top, but was not quite as decorative as the Custom version.

Nighthawk ST
The neck and body were bound with white trim on this model. The rosewood fretboard had split parallel-o-gram pearloid inlaid position markers.

The colour optons included fireburst, translucent amber and vintage sunburst.

Nighthawk SP
 The Nighthawk Special designated the SP and SP3 based on number of pickups came with similar pickups and electronics as the other versions.

Nighthawk SP3
Only the body was bound and the neck did not have any decoration.

During the mid 1990’s Gibson seemed to stretch things a bit by coming up with some limited edition models of many of their instruments. The Nighthawk was no exception.

Landmark Series
The Landmark series included a decal representing a state park or monument. This instrument came with twin Series M mini-humbucking pickups.

Nighthawk LTD Edition
In 1994 Gibson released a series of 100 Limited Edition Nighthawks. These were ST3 versions with a dark chocolate brown finish and a truss rod cover that stated it was a Limited Edition model.

The Hawk
The Hawk was a very plain version of the Nighthawk and came with twin Alnico humbucking pickups.

1998 Blueshawk
I recall seeing the Blueshawk at a mid 1996 guitar show.

Little Lucille
This guitar and the “Little Lucille” edition (which included a Varitone) were dedicated to Blues players and came with twin P-90 pickups. The body of the Blueshawk was hollow and it had 2 F-holes.

2009 Limited 
Production on all Nighthawk guitars ended in 1998 and did not resume again until 2009 when Gibson released the limited edition version that year.

It featured two pickups; a P-90 as the neck pickup and an Alnico humbucker for the bridge.

2010 Nighthawk Standard
A year later the Nighthawk Standard 2010 was released as a limited edition model. It was fancier with a quilted maple cap. The body was chambered and made of poplar. The hardware was gold plated. As with most Nighthawks the bridge was fixed. This model came with three pickups. This guitar was equipped with Burstbucker pickups in the neck position and bridge position which came with a split-table feature, and a gold blade single coil as the middle pickup. The guitar was offered in a variety of finishes which included Chicago Blue, Memphis Mojo and St. Louis Sauce. (Who thought this stuff up!?)

2011 Nighthawk Standard
This guitar carried over to 2011 but that year it was offered with a Vintage Sunburst finish and a higher price tag. The body was solid mahogany without a cap or veneer. It came with twin Burstbucker pickups.

In 2011 the Nighthawk Custom was offered under the Epiphone banner with a reduced price. This guitar was similar to the CST3, however instead of a maple cap, it had a maple veneer over its mahogany body. It came in a variety of finishes.

2013 was an adventurous year for Gibson. They offered three versions of the Nighthawk during this period.

2013 Nighthawk Anniversary Edition
The 20th Anniversary Nighthawk Standard edition was offered. It was very similar to the Nighthawk ST3 however the pickup combinations were different, but still offered 10 unique tones. It was available in Antique Natural or Fireburst finishes. This guitar was  priced at $1500.

Nancy Wilson Nighthawk
That same year, Nancy Wilson of Heart became an endorser of the Nighthawk with her own Nighthawk Standard model.

It came with a mini-humbucker in the neck position and a slanted humbucker in the bridge position and very similar to the original Nighthawk ST. It was designed by Nancy and Gibson and only available in a Fireburst finish.

Nighthawk N-225
According to the catelog, in 2013  Gibson also offered a unique version called the Nighthawk N-225 which is unlike the previous models. This model may have been available as early as 2012. This guitar has a double cutaway design. The body is made of chambered maple with split diamond F-holes. It featured two pickups; a P-90 in the neck and a Dirty Fingers Plus pickup in the bridge position.

This pickup is an updated version of the Dirty Fingers pickup and was designed by Jim DeCola. Like the original, it employs a ceramic magnet but has a more focused tonality designed for scorching lead tones, saturated rhythm and sustain depending upon whether it is used in full or split mode.

This is accomplished through the push-pull feature on the tone potentiomer. Gibson’s usual toggle switch determines which pickups are utilized.

The guitar also features a throw-back style Gibson Vibrola tailpiece. The maple neck is glued in and features a rosewood fretboard with 22 frets. Block inlaid position markers adorn the fretboard of the unbound neck.

The headstock features Gibson’s split diamond design inlay and utilizes Grover tuners. The hardware is all done in black anodized paint. It is available in a natural transparent finish, a red transparent finish or a black finish with fancy red pin-striping.

2015 Epi Nighthawk

Gibson discontinued the Nighthawk guitar as of 2014, but still offers it under their Epiphone banner.

2014 Custom Quilt LTD
Currently the 2014 Nighthawk Custom Quilt is available. It is a very similar instrument comparable to the Gibson CST3 and has three very different pickups.

The neck pickup is a 4-wire NHR mini-humbucker, the middle pickup is a NSX single coil and the bridge pickup is a slanted NHT 4-wire humbucker.

The mahogany body is topped with AAA+ maple veneer. The glued in neck is also made of mahogany and has a scale of 25 ½”. The body, neck and headstock are bound with white trim. The position markers are inlaid Gibson crown style blocks. The headstock features a Gibson flowerpot design and comes with Grover tuners.

The bridge/saddle unit is once again similar to a Fender hard-tail Strat bridge with strings going through the body and attaching at the guitars back.

The electronics consist of a five position blade style pickup selector switch, a single volume control and a single tone control, which has a push-pull feature enabling split-coil capability for the humbuckers.

Unlike the CST3, the hardware on this guitar is nickel plated. It is a beautiful and versatile instrument.

The bound glued-in maple neck is topped with a rosewood fretboard that has mini-diamond inlaid position markers. The scale is 251/2” and the radius is 12”.

The 2015 Epiphone Blueshawk Deluxe guitar appears to have two P-90 pickups, but actually has three pickups. One hum-cancelling dummy coil is hidden beneath the body. The neck pickup is an Epiphone P-90R PRO single coil, while the bridge pickup is an Epiphone P-90T PRO single coil.

The electronics feature a Gibson style volume control and a Gibson style tone control that is connected to a Varitone true bypass controller that offers 6 differing capacitors for shaping your tone. The body and neck are bound. The headstock features a double diamond inlay topped with Epiphone Deluxe tuners with Gibson style plastic knobs.

The bridge/saddle is once again the Nighthawk style with through the body stringing.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Friday, August 17, 2018

Tokai Guitars

2018 Medicore Guitar Player

I used to be an avid reader and subscriber of most of the guitar publications.

From the Tokai Catalog

I recall that sometime in the late 1970’s I came across advertisements for some guitars that looked spot-on like a Fender Stratocaster, but the name on the headstock said Tokai.

Tokai Alvin Lee Model

As time went on there were more Tokai ads, but not just for Strat copies, there were copies of Telecasters, Les Pauls, ES-335’s, SG Standards and Juniors, Flying Vee’s, Explorers, and others. These guitars appeared between 1977 through 1978. I was gobsmacked that Fender and Gibson allowed these outright copies of their products to be sold.

However in June of 1977, the Gibson Guitar Company (Norlin) filed a lawsuit against Elger Music of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Letter to dealers regarding suit
Why Elger Music you may ask? It is a long story that started when the owner of the Elger Music store, Harry Rosenbloom was frustrated that the nearby Martin Guitar Company would not award his business a franchise. He hired some luthiers and built his own guitars under the Elger brand name. And I must say, his Elger guitars were very impressive. The venture lasted about a year, when Mr. Rosenbloom realized this was too expensive.

He contracted with Hoshino Gakki Gen of Japan to build and ship acoustic guitars using the Elger brand name.  Hoshino Gakki, owned the Ibanez brand, and realized they could also ship their “replica” electric guitars to his store. Hoshino purchased Rosenbloom’s business in 1971, and used it as a U.S. distribution center for Ibanez guitars.

1975-76 Lawsuit Guitars
Since the Ibanez models they sold were pretty authentic looking Gibson copy guitars, Gibson decided enough is enough. They took this opportunity to protect their intellectual property.

However, by that time, Ibanez had already made some changes to their guitars to differentiate them from Gibson. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

Tokai "Fender" headstock
From then on most Asian guitar manufacturers understood their replica, and tribute guitars needed to differentiate in some way from US made instruments, if they were going to sell them in the United States.

Since then at least until most US guitar manufacturers, including Gibson, started using Asian companies to manufacture their lower cost guitars. But I have gotten off the topic.

1960's Tokai Melodica (Pianica)

The Tokai Gakki Company of Hamamatsu City was founded in 1947 by Tadayouki Adachi. And to this day, it is still a family owned business. The company began by making harmonicas, melodicas and pianos.

1960's Tokai

By 1965 the company offered classical guitars, and three years later they offered their first electric model guitar. The first model was called The Hummingbird, and was loosely based on the Mosrite Mark I and Mark II models.

1970's Conn
acoustic guitar

In 1970 they entered a three year agreement with the G.C. Conn Company, who was best known for manufacturing horns; trumpets, trombones, and saxophones. Tokai built acoustic guitars for Conn.

1972 Sigma DR-11

In 1972, Tokai entered into an agreement with the Martin Guitar Company to supply acoustic parts that would be assembled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania as the companies budget Sigma guitar line. They also built that eras Martin electric guitars.

Tokai Hummingbird banjo T-1000R

By 1973 they began producing banjos, and harpsichords. And in 1975 they offered an electric piano.

1974 Tokai
 F-150 Cats Eyes

It was in 1974 when Tokai launched it’s own brand of C.F. Martin guitar replicas, which they called Cats Eyes acoustic guitars, which are still in production.

The Tokai guitars I saw in the publications were some of the best reproductions of the day. I understand the Stevie Ray Vaughn may have owned a Tokai guitar at one point.

1979 Tokai LS-100 - Les Paul Reborn

After 1978 the models slightly changed. For example, the replica Les Paul was renamed Les Paul Reborn.

1980 Tokai Love Rock

But by 1980 the name was changed to Love Rock due to threats from Gibson and other companies.

1980 Tokai
Springy Sound ST 80

The Fender Stratocaster copies were given the name Springy Sound, which was changed to AST.

1980 Tokai Breezy Sound

The Telecaster copies were called Breezy Sound, which later became ATE.

Since the lawsuit effected American guitar, Tokai was, and is, still producing copies, for domestic production and for distribution throughout Europe, and Pacific countries.

1980's Tokai Hard Puncher Bass

Their Fender Precision Bass replica was called The Hard Puncher, and their Strat was called the 38 Special.

1983 Tokai Talbo

In 1983 Tokai did eventually come up with a very original and unique electric guitar called the Talbo or Tokai Aluminum Body.

Talbo Aluminum body

As the name says, the guitars body is made from cast aluminum. The neck is made of maple, with a rosewood fretboard, that is topped with a six-on-a-side maple headstock. This guitar included two single coil pickups, and a bridge humbucker. It also has a tremolo unit.

1985 Tokai TLS-100

Sometimes we forget that most Japanese manufactured guitars were intended for domestic use, import was a big plus for these companies. With that in mind, it is interesting to know that the names of some of the Tokai models reflected the instruments price, in Japanese currency. For example, the TLS-100 sold for 100,000 yen in Japan.

This was quite similar to Gibson’s original numerical system for the first year of manufacture; 1958. In that years the price of a Gibson ES-335 was $335.00, and a Gibson ES-175 retailed for $175.00.

2002 Fender MIJ
Telecaster by Tokai

Tokai has made guitars in their own factory, and has also built guitars for other companies. OEM contracted with Tokai. Tokai and Dyna Gakki produced the Fender Made In Japan solid-body guitars from 1997 through 2015. The more expensive Tokai guitars are made in Japan. Starting in the mid-1990’s, Tokai began building lower priced instruments in Korea.

Japanese vs Korean "Love Rock"

One distinguishing feature of the Korean made Tokai guitars is the truss rod cover. The have 3 screws. Japanese models only have 2 screws on the truss rod cover. This does not hold true for every guitar, but is a good litmus test.

Japanese vs Korean Tokai bridges
Another test is the Japanese manufactured Tokai guitars have an ABR-1 type bridge. This was the original model designed by Ted McCarty and his team back in 1954. The made-in-Korea models come with the Nashville bridge, which was designed in 1977, as an improvement, when Gibson moved its plant to Tennessee.

2015 Tokai AST90
There are not a lot of U.S. based music retailers that stock new Tokai guitars. One exception is the online site, Drowning In Guitars.

At this time, it appears that Tokai may be attempting to re-establish the brand in the United States.

Tokai Europe

However, Tokai guitars are popular in Japan, Korea, Europe, and Australia, where they are readily available.