I’m ending my mini review series with the guitar which helped get me back on my musical journey — the Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster. It’s the guitar I never wanted. Ever since my youth, I’d seen the Strat as a symbol of Rock machismo, and the choice of Guitar Heroes around the world.
So what changed my mind? I actually played one.
Well, I played a few, to be fair. They were unremarkable, but this one was a completely different ball game. It felt like it had been designed specifically for me — apart from the colour. I might have chosen something other than pink, but when I found myself playing Shine On You Crazy Diamond in the shop, Pink seemed a strangely appropriate colour.
Nearly 2 years on, and I wonder what it is about this guitar which makes it special. It’s not just me too. The shop salesmen all commented that it had been getting a lot of praise and admiration from the punters. They were a little sad that I bought it, because they wouldn’t be able to play with it when the shop was empty. So, what is it?
The first thing I always notice when I pick up a guitar is the neck, and this one has an unbound oval C profile maple neck with a worn-in satin clear nitro finish, a dark rosewood 7.25″ radius fretboard, 21 medium frets, and a 42mm bone nut. It fits my left hand perfectly. Rhythm and lead styles work equally well, and I love the vintage radius.
The Strat’s belly cutaway was a revelation when I first tried one, and cannot be underestimated for a person who equally enjoys pies and pints. Relearning the guitar after 30 years was definitely made easier with the Strat’s ergonomic touches.
The 2-piece alder body also has a nitro finish. There is something special about the weight, solidity and resonance of this guitar which seems to help with its tone. Maybe it’s the alder. Maybe it’s the nitro. Maybe it’s the ideal weight, at just over 8lb. Maybe it’s the custom shop builder’s attention to tonewood selection. I can’t put my finger on it.
The pickups are vintage 60s style, and look nothing special. Like the rest of the guitar, they are made to look older than they are, and this includes the vintage pole piece stagger, which has the side effect of boosting the 3rd plain string. Looks can be deceiving. They sound amazing, and have bags of chime, warmth, and character.
The bridge is a vintage style 6-point floating tremolo with cast steel block and saddles, just liked you’d want. The saddles are artificially aged, but this doesn’t seem to have affected their capacity for fine adjustment. I’m not a fan of tremolos, but they do seem to add a certain character to the tone, even if you don’t use them.
The rest of the hardware is pretty standard for a 60s Strat. Vintage Kluson tuners, 5-way pickup selector, witch hat pots, and a triple-ply white pickguard (which has gone a bit green), concealing a neck-butt-end truss rod screw.
To complete the illusion of age, the finish is what Fender calls Super Relic. I do feel that this can be likened to buying pre-ripped jeans, but I can appreciate that the pale green plastic, tarnished nickel, eroded finish, and scratches and dents galore, gives the guitar a certain feel. And not only that, as the most expensive guitar I own, I’m not so worried about bashing it.
Next time, I’m going to look a little deeper into what maybe makes a guitar good. But will I ever find out?