1970s Tokai T-600R "Masterclone" 5-String Resonator Banjo




This old bluegrasser came in via trade and, when it was made, it was quite a good instrument of the Japanese-made persuasion. Longtime blog readers will know that I have a soft-spot for the better-quality Japanese banjos of the '70s (fancier Iidas, Alvarez twangers, and Arias among them), and Tokais are among the best as their production formed the 1979-into-1980s "Gold Star" product line which continues to be a desirable set of instruments.

Suffice to say, they're very rare to find under their "real" brand over here, though you find a number of them on eBay Japan and the like. This one appears to either be a T-550R or T-600R model and it's a riff on a Gibson Mastertone RB-250's general looks and vibe. There are some old catalog scans about these Tokai banjos at this page towards the bottom.

Work included: a fret level/dress, reseating of the 5th peg, minor cleaning, and a good setup with a custom set of 9/22w/13/11/9 gauges. The neck is straight, the truss rod works, and action is dialed-in at a perfect 1/16" at the 12th fret. It has a slim, fast, Gibson-like neck profile that gives it electric-guitar-like speed.

Scale length: 26 3/8"
Nut width: 1 7/32"
String spacing at nut: 15/16"
String spacing at saddle: 1 11/16"
Head diameter: 11" with recent Remo frosted-top head
Resonator width: 13 3/4"
Side depth: 3 1/4"
Rim wood: ply maple
Neck wood: two-piece maple
Fretboard: rosewood
Neck shape: flat board with fast, C-shaped profile
Bridge: maple/ebony and compensated
Nut: original bone
Tonering type: flathead
Weight: 11lb 4oz

Condition notes: the rim's beading that separates the flange from the flathead tonering is crushed-out around the tailpiece area and running along the treble side of the rim. The rim itself has also been spray-painted a dark red/burgundy color in the past. The rim seems stable but this issue should be considered. The owner (it's a one-owner instrument) told me it'd been reglued in the past but clearly it wasn't super-successful. There's also minor finish nicks along the resonator's top edge and minor use-wear throughout otherwise.




This banjo was played! I had to be a little heavy-handed on the level/dress to remove decades of wear to the frets. There's still decent height left on them, though.



I'm not sure if the tailpiece is original, but everything else save the head and my new bridge appears to be. It's a good-quality tail, however.




The tuners are nicer-quality than average for the time. They're smooth and hold well.










Here's the inside of the rim during setup. Note the dual coordinator rods and flathead tonering.




Here's the icky stuff -- note the crushed beading between the flange's top and tonering's bottom edge. It's only on this tailpiece-section of the rim, however.

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