Fender Squier '57 Strat, '62 Strat, '52 Tele
Fender's decision to mastermind Japanese models of their own, legendary guitars proves two theories: these days you have to be cheap to compete, and the land of the rising sun must now have the best guitar production teams in the world.
In part, Fender's Squier series is an answer to Tokai's excellent, close impersonations of Vintage Strats, Teles et al. That landed Tokai in much legal hot water.
Fender pounced so hard to protect their trademarks and copyrights, you could now find yourself in court if you describe any other manufacturer's instrument as "Strat copy", "Strat style", even "Strat shaped".
Those restrictions apply to other words such as Telecaster, Jazz, Precision, Fender and so on. In (justifiably) protecting their own interests, Fender have made the guitarist's language a lot clumsier for all of us, caused many dealers great problems in advertising their goods and, I believe, made themselves more aggravated enemies than sympathetic friends.
After all that, you might think they'd get their own house in order. Squiers originally appeared in this country with the word "Fender" written bold on the headstock and Squier in smaller lettering underneath. The second wave had this situation reversed.
Whatever happened, the instruments are superb. They're reasonably priced, exciting to play, beautiful to look at and constructed to an oriental standard that merely reinforces how badly Fender's own American-based production had become in recent years.
Fingers first; we have a maple neck, full and round, generously lacquered with individual Kluson copy machine heads and a walnut strip down the back. The original all white scratchplate is surrounded by a two-colour tobacco sunburst finish. The Squiers plump for the original three-position pickup selector, but careful fiddling will lodge it into place for that honky out of phase mixture of neck and middle or middle and tail coils.
The other details even the scruffiest of copies usually manage to get right — three single coil pickups, recessed jack socket, tones for the neck and middle coils and one volume close up by the little finger.
Where they less frequently succeed is in the feel and balance. This sits right, moves easily under the fingers and is a pleasure to play. It's hot at the top and the substantial body lends depth to the fiery bass end. This '57 is a meatier, slightly solider-sounding guitar to the '62, though both have the same bridge and tremolo arrangement which generally sends the pitch in more different directions than a rugby club after the pubs close.
American Fenders haven't won gold medals for quality control over the last few years, though there are signs that's improving. The Squiers are better than many out of the box Fender's I've encountered, though still not entirely problem free. This one had the G saddle almost popping off the end of the intonation screw in order to get it in tune down the neck. Still, Gs have always been the black sheep on any Strat. £234
My favourite. A lighter body, thinner neck and crisper sound, exhibiting the bristling electric crackle in the upper frequencies that typified Strats of this era.
When this one left the factories it packed less bass in its suitcase than the '57. The sustain also comes off marginally worse, but it's easily compensated by the spitfire sound. The white/black/white scratchplate bears a sticker proclaiming "Pickup. Made in USA" and I might add that it's in larger letters than the "Made in Japan" legend on the headstock.
Additions from the '57 run to a three-colour sunburst finish, otherwise the body shape is identical as are the interior electrics and wiring, barring a couple of variations on the potentiometer values. Same capacitor, by the way.
None of these guitars features Microtilt, the Fender method of setting the neck angle. That was a later addition, one which many guitarists would gladly see the back of, since amateur tinkerings invariably screwed things up.
The rosewood fretboard has a dryer feel to it than the lacquered maple of the '57, so it isn't quite so speedy, but I much prefer the slimmer neck, flatter at the rear and better suited to the thumb round the back players.
A cracker of a guitar, well finished and constructed and a gutsy challenger to any thoroughbred Stratocasters you might find on the shelves. £242
Well, tastes vary, but I found this a less successful transfer from the American birthright, even though it's undoubtedly the best looker — a gorgeous creamy butterscotch, arm-in-arm with the maple neck and set like a jewel against the plain black scratchplate.
It follows tradition down at the bridge. There are three brass saddles instead of six, and the tilted tail pickup is set into the bridge plate, though there's no cover provided.
Each of the Japanese Vintage guitars is matched by an American model built in the States to the same age and design. The American '52 Tele is £400 more expensive and the only extras you get are a tweed case and a conversion kit swapping the three saddles for a modern six. Not so on the Squier. Not so the mortgage, either.
It's a snappy number, not as biting as modern-day Teles though neither was the original '52. It's functional, straightforward, plain speaking and sturdy, but not fired with imagination.
It also demonstrates the "woolly option" of early Teles where the neck pickup sounded as if the treble was permanently turned off. The medium depth neck had the lowest action and the slinkiest feel of all the Squiers yet was somehow... I dunno... "Japanese" I suppose.
Three ticks for the walnut strip down the rear of the neck, the flattened edge to the body where the jack socket fits and the perfectly aligned string holes at the back. £208
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Review by Paul Colbert
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