Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster
Let me start this off by saying I love Strats and I hate 'em.
They can be a great sounding guitar - if you can find one. Fender
guitars are notorious for being inconsistent. You can audition
ten Fender guitars in a store and some sound good, some play good, but
not both. I don't have the patience to sort through a rack of
guitars to find a good one. I managed to land a really good Jazz
Bass guitar, but good Strats or Teles seem to be fewer and farther
between. A discriminating guitar player that I know echoed the
same disappointment - and he worked at a store for years that carried
Fenders. He owns a real sweet vintage Tele, but has yet to find a
Strat worth buying.
So I gave up on finding a Fender guitar for years. My Epiphone
Genesis fit my needs since 1984. Then I was going through a phase
where I wanted some more variety of guitar tones, which the first step
toward that goal was acquiring my Vox Valvetronix amp. The
Genesis was a nice sounding guitar, but a bit hard to play.
Then I spotted an ad for a vintage guitar show here in lowly Owego NY -
of all places. I decided to check it out. Not much of a
show to boast about (although I enjoyed socializing with the folks
there), but this piece caught my eye.
I had never heard of a set neck Strat with mahogany body before.
My preference lean toward glued-in necks because they stay in tune
better, so this got my attention. But I was out of work, out of
money, so I didn't think any more of it. When I got a job a month
later, I went back to the store that displayed that Strat at the show
and auditioned it.
I was quite impressed - at last here was a Strat that both sounded AND
played good. That meant more to me then the fact it was a custom
shop guitar with pretty artsy woods. It has medium jumbo frets
and an ebony fingerboard, the action is nice and fast, and has a satin
finish neck (I don't like the "stickiness" of lacquer
finishes). The body is mahogany with a bookmatched quilted
maple top - I always liked Les Pauls, so here was a Strat with similar
body construction. Combined with the set neck, it had the sustain
of a Gibson with the twang of a good Strat.
The bridge pickup is a Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck model split coil
humbucker while the
middle/neck are Fender Texas Special single coils. The custom
shop added a mini-toggle
switch that toggles the bridge pickup between single coil and
humbucker. This piece sports an interesting "midrange" control in
addition to the standard tone control - it combines the neck and bridge
pickups that creates a midrange boost with bass cut. With the
control all the way up, it barks like a Gibson - all the way
down, it twangs like a Fender. Now this is tone variety. It
best with the bridge
pickup, is very subtle with the neck pickup, and is totally
ineffective with the middle pickup. Between the pickups, the tone
controls, and the coil switch I was able to get a wide variety of
Coupled with my Vox Valvetronix, it made the amp come alive.
The guitar has an American Standard deluxe vibrato tailpiece with
whammy bar and stainless steel saddles, Wilkenson roller nut,
and Schaller locking tuning
keys. I can bottom out the vibrato and it comes back in perfect
tune - try that on a production Strat! I was surprised of the
total lack of string trees on the headstock, but with the sustain
offered by the ebony fingerboard and mahogany/maple top coupled with
the locking tuning keys, string trees aren't needed! The pearl
pickguard looks nice with the quilted maple top.
The Certificate of Authenticity states that the guitar was built in
December 1993 at the Fender Custom Shop in Corona California. It
had no signs of wear at all on the guitar, leading me to believe that
it sat unsold in the store. On the contrary - its original owner
bought it for over $4,000 and then put it away as an investment, having
never played it. He didn't get his investment back, as I bought
it for less than a fifth what he paid for it! I am told that
there were about 100 of these guitars made. It's a very unusual
guitar, but plays and sounds exceptionally well.
I was tempted to get gold plated hardware with the idea that it would
look classy with the quilted maple top. Then I saw exactly that
guitar on the 'bay - to be honest it didn't look that great, the gold
hardware/maple top actually clashed. The chrome hardware with the
maple top looks better, so the guitar stays as it is.
Strings make a significant difference - I've been experimenting with
different gauges and makes. When I bought the guitar I
immediately changed the strings, but it felt and played
different. I wanted to find out what it was strung with, whatever
it had they sounded and played real good. 0.046-0.010s were a bit
heavy, 0.042-0.009s are way too thin in tone and playability. I'm
finding I like 0.046s for low E while 0.010s didn't feel right. I
found that Fender 0.046-0.009s definitely felt like the original
gauges, but they sure seem to be a popular set as most stores I visited
were out of stock of them. I like the Fender strings, but am
experimenting with D'addarios and GHS Boomers of the same gauges.
DRs did not sound very good and weren't good for vibrato tailpieces,
but they make much better bass strings.
Guitar is not my main instrument (I leave the glory to my brother, I
actually play keyboards) but I know enough about amps and guitars to
know the good ones. I don't make a habit of checking out guitars
in stores, but once in a while I stumble onto one and my instinct tells
me to check it out. Every guitar I own was a happy product of
that instinct. When you find a good guitar, you don't let it get
away - and they almost did, as shortly after I bought them the store
owner had another customer come in ready to buy them.
Good Strats are quite rare, and my Epiphone Genesis has been feeling
neglected since I picked up this beauty. But there is a use for
both, as one can get sounds the other cannot. I sold my Mesa
Boogie MkIIa because it was redundant after I got my Vox Valvetronix -
but the Epiphone guitar isn't redundant so I'll be keeping both
guitars. Nonetheless, this Strat is one of the best finds I have
made and it will have a home for a good long time.