I recently picked up a copy of the latest Fender catalog.The biggest shock reading it is simply how many variations of Strat/Tele/Precision/Jazz Bass exist at every single price point.
Fender’s current Stratocaster range encompasses 160+ models, ranging from a £149.99 Chinese made Squier to the more silly Custom Shop models at around £5,800.00. The Stratocaster is a truly global product. Currently being made in China, Japan (for the domestic market only), Korea, Mexico, and of course the U.S.A .
While about on my regular perusal of London’s Denmark Street. I recently had the chance to try 3 different Strats. A Custom Shop “Clapton”, an Eric Johnson signature and a new and rather interesting variation of a 62 reissue.
First off the Clapton had a great neck, from what I could see the specification was pretty much the same as the normal Clapton signature Strat. However the supposed “extra hand finishing” of the neck made it an extremely playable soft Vee profile. Bends were comfortable and the guitar felt good off the bat. The guitar itself is essentially a 57 reissue with hotter pickups and a mid-boost active preamp built into the centre tone control enabling thicker more Gibsonesque sounds. A pretty common sense idea from the former Cream legend and one time Celebrity Smackhead.
However the 3 ‘Noiseless’ pickups were pretty horrible. ‘Toneless’ might well be a better description. They just felt tight and weedy, with the active boost switched in the guitar sounded scratchy and cheap. My other niggle is the 1 ply pickguard, it may be “Claptons choice”, but it just felt cheap and nasty. YEUCH!
Then I stopped and looked at the price, £1199 was the sale price, these guitars are normally around £1600.
Next up was the Eric Johnson signature. Johnson is a legend amongst guitarists and once said in an interview that he could tell the difference in tone between Ever Ready and Duracell Batteries, (If he can hear it, I wonder if Jodie Marsh can feel it ???).
The guitar is essentially a 57 reissue with a thin nitrocellulose finish and staggered machine heads, thus eliminating the need for a string tree. As with the Clapton the body is two peices of alder. 1 peice maple neck etc etc.
The EJ felt classier and sounded much better, thanks to its two custom wound pickups. However the biggest shock was the bridge block, which looked as though some one had managed to shove a radiator into the rear cavity. It was bloody massive.
Tonally this was a great improvement, the guitar seemed to sing through the Vox AC30 I was playing through. However it still seemed a rather pointless exercise. Given the price of top notch replacement pickups and the fact I could buy a vintage style steel trem block for about £50. Why not buy a good used US or Japanese 57 reissue and get my local luthier to do the mods for me?????
At £1399.00 this was still an awful lot of money to me. Maybe if EJ is your hero…?
Finally the rather unusually helpful sales assistant brought in an FSR (Factory Special Run) 62 Deluxe players Strat. This is a rather clever idea. The guitar is essentially an American 62 reissue with more modern appointments such as 22 fret neck,a flatter radius fingerboard and modern electronics courtesy of Fenders new SCN (Samarium Cobalt Noiseless) pickups and S-1 switching.
The guitar was well set-up and played really well, The vintage C shape neck being offset by the wider fingerboard, made for a comfy playing experience, while still giving enough neck mass to really dig in on those money notes. The neck felt better than its two counterpart’s, which says a lot about the bubbles of perception we associate with some of the so called marketing terms such as “extra finishing” and “highest quality”.
These buzzwords are seen more and more in guitar magazines now than ever before.
As I understand it the pickups use rare earth magnets, which are supposedly able to deliver a greater magnetic feild using less mass…… which could be a total load of snake oil bollocks……….however!
The sounds of this guitar, almost had me wanting to sell a kidney there and then. The neck was full bodied and gave all those tones you know….Hendrix, Knopfler, Blackmore, Frusciante…..?…..it was all there. By depressing an indent on the volume control. The pickup engaged an extra coil underneath, therefore giving huge fat warm saturated tones. On the bridge pickup I engaged the S-1 and it turned into a feiry beast perfect for slamming out facemelting rifferama. Back off the S-1 and what was left was a perfectly good range of classic strat tones. On clean, with the S-1 engaged I found a superb collection of spikey funky strat tones. Nile Rodgers…..Jamie West-Oram’s clean sounds from those Fixx records. It’ll do everything.
My only niggle is the vintage style tremelo bridge, anyone wanting modern tonal performance and a flatter radius fingerboard are probably going to want maximum tuning stability too, so why not fit a nice modern tremelo, probably with locking machineheads too. Fender????
That gripe aside, I’m usually very cynical of modern US Strats, especially given the fact that build quality and hardware are as good, if not better on Fender Japan’s domestic grey import J-Craft guitars. But this instrument had that wow factor. What also impressed me was the price of £1099.00. Now I’m not so sure how “limited” these actual production runs are. But this guitar impressed me, and in this day and age thats pretty good. If your a guitarist who plays a variety of styles or simply needs one instrument to do everything, then file under reccomended.