Squier Stratocaster Guitar
WHAT DO THE LEGENDARY Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and Mark Knopfler have in common. That's right. They're all dead. Oh... he's not? Well, you could have fooled me. Actually, they've all been devotees of the equally legendary Fender Stratocaster. It may be only a few slabs of wood, some shiny metal sort of bits and some cheapo plastic things, but the Stratocaster is the physical embodiment of rock 'n' roll. It's the glare of the spotlight, the roar of the crowd. It's chugga-chugga-chugga, widdly-widdly, gethrrrang! It's... it's also right in front of me.
This, however, is a Squier Strat, still made by Fender, but manufactured in Korea using Japanese hardware. This also means it's cheap(ish). In the early 1980s clever companies like Tokai began to churn out quality copies of established guitars, and promptly gave the big guns of the industry quite a shock. Fender's response? The Squier range - created to tackle the likes of Tokai head-on. With the Squier Strat competitively priced at just £199, Fender cannot be accused of shying away from the opposition. The idea of the Squier range was to reproduce earlier Fenders as faithfully as possible, and beat the copyists at their own game. So imagine my surprise, dear readers, when the Squier Strat turned out be a faithful reproduction of an earlier Fender. Quite remarkable.
In these days of designer-vomit finishes, the Strat does look rather plain. The ash body is finished in gloss black, the scratchplate is plain white and the lacquered maple neck features plain black dot inlays. I mean, boring or what? Well maybe, maybe not. This Strat is definitely for those who prefer a more "classic" look.
The Strat design has been tried and tested (not to say used and abused) by thousands of guitarists since the year dot, so I wasn't expecting anything new. The Strat's a well-balanced guitar and comfortable to play. The neck is fixed to the body by four screws through a square chrome plate, and I presume this features Fender's micro-tilt system, allowing the angle of the neck to be adjusted to correct buzzing or improper intonation. However, as I don't have a screwdriver handy, I'm not sure! The neck is pretty small, with small frets, and fast with it. I personally prefer a slightly wider fingerboard, but the only way for you to decide is to give it a go yourself. The Strat was perfectly set-up - not even my ham-fisted efforts produced any rogue rattle or buzz.
The three single-coil pickups are mounted on the scratchplate, along with a single volume pot, two tone pots and a five-way selector switch. Those of you well-versed in the history of the Strat will know that originally the guitars featured three-way selector switches, until hordes of players realised the switch could be balanced between positions one and two and positions two and three to produce the classic Strat "out-of-phase" sound. So, the switches were modified to incorporate these settings good and proper.
During the test period, the Strat proved itself to be a very versatile guitar. Selecting the neck pickup produced a clear, rounded sound, with plenty of boom, but no break-up. A liberal dose of distortion, and HM dirges are at your fingertips. Despite having single-coil pickups, this Strat is capable of a surprisingly ballsy sound. Flicking to the bridge pickup lays on the treble pretty thickly. A clean sound is perfect for some instantly crisp rock 'n' roll. Add a splash of reverb, crank the amp up and... good Lord, we're back to the old man Hendrix again. The trebly tone of the Strat, combined with a hard plectrum, gives plenty of scope for some nice funky percussive sounds.
The "out-of-phase" setting does not disappoint, either. A quick flick of the selector switch and Knopfleresque widdly bits leapt from my fingers. With a touch of distortion to add a bit more punch, I found this tone extremely usable - reminiscent of Robert Cray - although like other recent fashions (guitars swathed in chorus, for instance), some people feel it's been overused and has become about as exciting as a Kraftwerk album. Surely it can't be that bad? Obviously, whether you agree is a matter of personal preference, but the sound's here in abundance, should you want it.
Turning to the tremolo arm (oh alright, vibrato), the design is the tried-and-tested fulcrum type, popularised by the original Stratocasters. The strings are passed through the back of the body through a lead block (to help sustain), then over the bridge and along the neck. Although it is now a positively antiquated design compared to some of the "space-age" locking systems, the Fender unit performed well. There was no sign of the sticky nut syndrome and even when subjected to the most outrageous whammy-bar treatment, the strings returned in tune - well, almost. On the whole, simple but effective.
If I have a major objection to the Strat, it lies in its basic design. I might be the only guitarist who thinks this, but I find the pickup selector switch and volume pot annoyingly close to the strings. Following through from hitting a full chord, my hand will often catch one of these - and even if it doesn't alter the sound, it's an annoying inconvenience. Having said that, this Squier is faithful to the original, so if you haven't found this problem with previous Strats, don't worry.
The Strat has an illustrious history, and the pedigree does show in this instrument. At only £199, the Squier is a great deal cheaper than an American Fender, and with popular Strat copies like the Marlin Sidewinder clocking in at under £150, there's certainly an abundance of choice in the "Strat" market. But the basic quality of the guitar is undeniable, and with the range of tones that can be wrenched from it, if the spotlight does beckon, the Squier will perform as well as you want it to...
SQUIER STRATOCASTER GUITAR: £199 inc VAT
INFO: Arbiter Musical Instruments, (Contact Details)
Review by Michael Leonard
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