A used Strat on £500 Budget?

After having had My Gibson Les Paul set up at Chandlers and consiquently falling back in love with it, I’ve decided not to sell it. I did actually tried gigging it on Saturday night in Blackpool and I’ve come to the conclusion that while its a fine guitar, it does not cut through the mix as well as my Telecaster and is therefore no use as a gigging axe in my current band.

So needing a good backup guitar soonish. I’ve decided my next guitar will likely be a Stratocaster or good variant, however I want one with certain specifications. My ideal Strat if I had the cash to splash at the Fender Custom Shop would feature.

A 22 Fret neck, ideally with Jumbo Fretwire (string bends are easier and it feels more expressive)

Either a humbucker in the Bridge Pickup, or an active boost of some kind, maybe those nice SCN pickups and S-1 switching of the American Deluxe Strats.

A modern Radius (ie:flatter) fingerboard profile on a traditional late 50′s, soft ‘V’ neck profile.

Locking machine heads and a modern Trem

It would be black with a black scratchplate and look all mean

A vintage tinted neck with a Brazilian Pau Ferro fingerboard (ok I’m getting really silly here)

However I don’t have £3000.00 to spend! The most I’m gonna spend on said instrument is likely to be around £500….. ish , so in order to get maximum bang per buck, I’m going for either the secondhand market or the grey import one.

So far I’ve narrowed it down to the following instruments

1: Fender J-Craft Clapton. The japanese version of Erics signature strat has a V neck, active preamp and Lace Sensors which IMHO piss all over the current Clapton models choice of Fenders own “Noiseless” single coils.

Basically its a japanese built mark 1 Clapton Strat. Now these are so cheap I can get a new one for £500. Its got the active boost to give me fat humbucker type tones and a V neck. Would change that shitty 1 ply scratchplate though.

2: Levinson Blade RH2/RH4. A japanese built classic from the late 80′s. Blades are very popular with session musicians and working pro guitarists alike, they don’t have many rockstar endorsees but chances are, if your in the pit band in Miss Saigon, you own one of these.

Featuring a 22 fret neck, Jumbo frets, a fabulous build and Blades own VSC active electronics. The Blade is the dark horse here. The biggest drawback is their residual value. The prices seem all over the place used. A quick scan of Ebay shows used prices from £500-900 depending on condition. Thats a lot of variation for a rather unfashionable guitar. But its a lot of guitar for the money.

Downsides? I’ve heard that the pickups are a bit clinical sounding and seen quite a few guitars retrofitted with EMG’s. Lookswise its a bit dated now. But its features in this price range make it a serious contender.

3: Used American Deluxe Strat. The V neck version is probably my ideal guitar but think some of the the colour schemes are rank. That gold adonised scratchplate looks nice in the dealership, but wil look like shit after 3 months of gigging.

Plus factors? Loved the SCN pickups and S-1 switching, the soft V neck was ace on the guitar I tried last year. However most guitars on the used market will have a modern C profile neck, which feels too small for my big hands. The credit crunch in Britain means I am seeing quite a few of these in the classifieds going for reasonable prices as Barry defaults on his mortgage payments and under pressure from the wife decides to use his Squier silver series instead.

Downsides? The earlier American Deluxe Strats feature the same Fender “Noiseless” pickups as the later Clapton Strats, these are best described as tight sounding and scratchy and are to be avoided, unless you factor a complete pickup retrofit into your budget, and that would be at least another £150. EEEEK!

And finally

4: Fender Lone Star/Texas Fat Strat. A late 90′s classic variation on a theme. Its also the devil I know as a mate of mine owns one of these and they are amazing tonally. The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates HB + 2 Texas Special single coils give incredible versatility. It literally can do anything tonally, one of the few guitars made with hot pickups, where an element of thought has gone into how the pickups interact with each other.

Downsides? As with the American Deluxe, I’m not a fan of Fenders modern C shape Profile. Also the body carve looks a bit boxy and square on the examples I’ve tried. Also its getting on for a 10 year old guitar, so finding a clean one may be difficult.

I’ll update this blog as I try these beauties out and give my conclusions here.


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