Fender 'Pop' Squiers
We have Ritchie Blackmore to thank for this one. In the mid seventies an all black Strat became firmly established as his trademark and the banner of a thousand fans.
While Fender may not have consciously decided on a Blackmore copy, they must have been looking for a cause to Nipponise. The '57 and '62 Strats went down in the history books as classics of the brand and were the obvious first selections for the Squiers to imitate.
But in later times, Strats were known not so much for vintage years, but for spectacular eras attributable to two or three heroic players with distinctive styles (or colour schemes).
In fact, there are plenty of experts around who would claim the mid seventies represented the Strat's lowest ebb. The ideas might have been there, but Fender's American headquarters was smitten by overconfidence and a severe lack of quality control, both of which have now thankfully been rectified after a considerable struggle.
So we arrive at this latest Squier. When I said black, I meant it. The glossy finish is a deep, lustrous pure black, no hints of blue. Light gets lost in it. The only relieving contrast is the single strip of white revealed round the edge of the three layer black/white/black plastic scratchplate.
Everything else — pickups, two tones and single volume control, pickup selector switch and plastic end to the tremolo arm — are the same midnight shade. The metalwork is chromed, including the triangular, three bolt backplate that attaches the neck to the body.
It was this change from the original four bolt neck that helped damn the Strats of the seventies. With a tight neck to body fit they were okay, but if the machining was out, the three bolts on their own were not enough to keep the neck stable.
While peering round these nether regions, you'll notice that there is a tiny hole at the apex of the plate, leading to the micro-tilt — Leo Fender's patented method of angling the neck to adjust for action and neck relief.
The Squier comes with a medium sized Allen key to fit it, plus a smaller alternative for altering the height of the bridge saddles and a thicker version for tightening the truss rod. True to the Strats of this age, the truss rod nut appears like a chromed bullet behind the nut on that initial, downward curve of the headstock. Earlier versions were sited where the neck met the body.
But while we're still at the headstock end, this is another trait typical of the Blackmore era. It's a large, undulating headstock, very different from the slimmer proportions of the '57. Original Strat devotees sometimes clamour that this broader profile is overweight, obese, out of scale with the rest of the body. They probably eat lentils.
On this review sample, the nut had been lightly nicked so the strings rested in a niche rather than being sunk in a canyon of plastic. The E and B, plus the G and D both had string trees to retain them at the right angle as they passed from the nut to the imitation Kluson machines. With laudable attention to detail, each of the two trees had an individually sized plastic washer underneath it to keep the pairs of strings at the proper inclination.
The rosewood fretboard bore thin, well fitted, medium height frets. There was no sign of lifting, they were all tight into the rosewood with no rough edges; a first class job. The rosewood itself appeared open grained, and might get grubby if you didn't regularly clean the dead bits of finger out from the cracks.
It offers a slim maple neck, backed by a walnut strip and closer in character to the '62 rather than the more rounded contours of the '57. The 21 frets on the 25½in scale length are marked by substantial imitation mother-of-pearl dots on the rosewood and smaller black dots along the side.
Finally this is an original contour body (says so on the headstock) and carries the familiar five position pickup selector, master volume control, tones for the neck and middle pickup, angled jack plate, one piece tremolo block and a back plate to cover the three fitted springs. The colour of the back plate is, of course... yes absolutely right, luminous pink.
On construction I'd say the Squier was eight out of ten. In tell tale areas such as the neck/body joint there's not even so much as half a millimetre of body timber standing out past the neck. The scratchplate is flat to the body all the way around and the only fault in materials I could find was on the tremolo arm. Unfortunately it's a fairly serious flaw.
The first time I pushed the arm down with macho force, the arm buckled alarmingly. It warped directly around the thread where it screws into the bridge block. I can't imagine it would have a very long life expectancy if the genuine Ritchie Blackmore got hold of it. With Adrian Belew it wouldn't even have a childhood.
It would be overstating the point to say every Strat sounds different. That's daft. But individual years, possibly even certain production batches, do bear their own characteristics, and this Squier will stand out as another option alongside the thicker '57 and the cracklier top end of the '62. It sounds tight, percussive, with that ringing piano like quality which single coil pickups instil in the bass strings.
We nicked this review sample as soon as it came off the boat, so CBS/Fender in Middlesex hadn't been given that long to check it over. I would have recommended extra work on balancing the strings — the D was underpowered on all five pickup selections — and a closer squint at the nut. The G in particular (always a curse on Strats), kept sticking and needed frequent tweaks on the machine head to bring the tuming back in line.
Lots of Japanese guitar manufacturers have tried to copy the honkiness of an out-of-phase Strat, but few have nailed it as tightly as the Squiers.
The next one takes us back into yesteryear with a more forceful tug than the Squier Strat. There's an original style Tele bridge and tailpiece — a metal tray containing a black, exposed coil pickup, sharply angled toward the treble strings, and only three saddles for the E and B; G mid D; and A and E strings.
Fender haven't bothered with a cover which is no bad thing, since they were invariably discarded. A white/black/white plastic scratchplate occupies the upper half of the guitar's curves, while a separate chromed strip takes the three way pickup selector with chunky black plastic top and the master volume and tone controls treated to heavy duty, knurled, flat topped metal knobs.
Superior production line techniques show again in the way the strip dovetails perfectly into the scratchplate, though there is a slight gap between the one piece maple neck and the butterscotch painted body — just enough to secure a spare plectrum.
Imitation Klusons (rather bland ones, in fact) occupy the headstock which again proffers two string trees. And this time it bears the legend "Squier Telecaster" and underneath in smaller script "by Fender."
The frets have a similar feel to the Squier Strat, but otherwise this is a completely different animal. The neck is fuller and more rounded though the fingerboard is slightly flatter, I think, and is lacquered to make it much faster. A lower action helps here, but I also like the way the edges of the neck curve inwards towards the fingerboard. They lead to a more comfortable grip with less chance of the side of the neck digging into the skin between your thumb and first finger.
The Tele sounds very little like its mate. It's thinner, brighter, with additional presence in the upper harmonics though lacking the gutsy, hollower middle frequencies that make the Strat a punchier, and more mischievous guitar.
It would cut through clearly from the back of a band, but perhaps would not have the identity that lets the Strat make those "oy, this is my bit" solos.
This Squier Precision has the usual split pickup in the centre of the gap between the end of the 20 fret, 34in scale neck, and the four, individually adjustable chromed saddles which seemed happily buzz free. Chrome knobs identical to those on the Tele sit atop the single volume and tone controls which take up the bottom curve of the white/black/white scratchplate followed by the top mounted jack socket.
Four gratifyingly solid and smooth machine heads sit on the headstock which closely copies the fullsome curves of the Strat's. This time, as an additional cosmetic bonus, the word Squier is traced out in gold with "made in Japan" running underneath in a print size commonly referred as 'gnat's cock'.
There are a couple of minor buzzes along the neck, but nothing that's going to make a studio engineer reach for his 12 bore. Generally the Precision produced a smooth, well heeled tone that benefited from a gentle tweak of the tone control just to expand the depth and smooth over the middle frequencies, without killing the treble.
On the whole, better for strong, bottom ended lines rather than the nifty, up front 'I really wanted to be a lead guitarist' stuff. Not a Ferrari, but maybe a Jag.
Gear in this article:
Review by Paul Colbert
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