I really don't think it is necessary to describe a Stratocaster. Its design has continued with few visible changes since almost the beginning of the electric guitar's popularity. The design has not changed in principle because it was right first time and is a good compromise between the conflicting requirements of versatility and simplicity of operation. (If you really don't know what a "Strat" is, CBS/Arbiter will be pleased to send you some very well produced literature, with lots of pictures and explanations, if you fill in the reader service coupon in this issue. With the exception of the claim that "all parts subject to wear are case-hardened steel", the Fender catalogue is really rather impressive.)
These Guitar Checks exist primarily to answer the sort of questions a player would wish to ask. I believe they would be: 1) How well does it play? 2) How reliable is it? 3) How close is it to an old Strat? 4) Compared with its competitors, is it good value for money? These are the questions I shall try to answer. The answers are my opinions only, based on this review sample and an average of other new Strats over several years.
1) How well does it play? After reasonable, but not fanatical adjustment, I achieved an action of 1.2 mm. treble and 1.7 mm. bass, under our standard conditions, with a reasonable grading of actions on the other strings. This test included bending string one up by two semitones, and strings two and three, up by three semitones. These action measurements are very good; there was a slight kink in the neck, but it did not cause fret buzz even at this low action. The minimum action could be reduced further by "stoning" the frets, and either accepting a smaller amount of string bending (particularly on the first string) or by causing the stoning to reduce the fret and fingerboard curve a little between strings one and four. The positioning, fitting and levelling of the frets are all good; trimming of the fret ends and the shape of the fingerboard edge could be improved.
There was no question of faulty intonation as the Strat system allows large individual octave adjustments on each string, and the nut slot was cut (accurately) at the same time as the fret slots. There were some tuning problems with the open strings until I adjusted the depth of the string slots in the nut.
The tremelo arm was slightly loose in its socket, which made its "feel" less certain: one strand of sewing cotton in the socket would probably fix this.
All electrical controls worked well and smoothly and the pick-ups could be adjusted up and down without problem.
I find it strange that modern Fenders are fitted with pick-ups which are apparently balanced for a wound third string. The plain third, which was supplied, and which many people use, sounds too loud. There were once two sorts of pick-up for the two sorts of third string.
Apart from the above reservations, and my own preference for lower frets, I would find it difficult to fault the playability of this review sample, although I have seen some which had more serious neck problems. One could say that the pick-ups do not sound the same as old ones, but then I know of at least three different vintages of Strat pick-up all sounding different, so where does one go from there?
The guitar balances well, weighs about right, is made from roughly the same materials as before and has no recognisable mechanical weaknesses which are not also present in "vintage" models.
2) How reliable is it? I can forsee only three reliability problems: The machine heads are dreadful and are obviously a faulty batch; part of the scratchplate, near the support screw for the bass end of the bass pick-up, is already warping and is raising the pick-up as it does so. This is not common to the other Strats I have seen; I have some reservations about the long-term stability of the neck. For a rock maple neck, it is surprisingly flexible, and much more so than some older models. The change seemed to occur between five and seven years ago. My guess would be a combination of slightly different wood combined with a different truss rod system, but until I can arrange X-Ray facilities it is just a guess.
3) How close is it to an old Strat? The most obvious change is the use of black pigment for the "black" edge of the sunburst. This looks more like dark grey and gives the whole body the appearance of being moulded from plastic.
I have reservations about the suitability of die-cast alloy for the tremelo block and the bridge inserts. I would prefer heavier castings and hardened steel. This could have a significant effect on the instrument's dynamics and sustain.
If you get one with a good neck and you are willing to subject it to the same process involved in restoring an old one, (ivory nut, new machines, a very good fret job, hand re-winding pick-ups, etc.), then you will probably not be far off.
Remember that some old Fenders were always magnificent — and some were originally dreadful (I see some of them before they have been worked on). Some features such as the additional string clips on the head, and the present "bullit" neck adjustment are an improvement on the original.
4) Is it good value? If you compare on the basis of materials and workmanship, better value than some American guitars; less good than others. But you can't compare this way — guitars all sound different, and if you want the sound of a Strat, then that is what you have got to have. If you compare between new (or nearly new), and old/restored, and a really good hand-made replica, then I would say if you know what you are doing and you find a new one which will be what you want with only minor adjustments, then that is your best buy. If it is going to need major modifications to satisfy you, then consider a restored or unrestored old one, or a very good "one-off". Don't forget that it is possible to spend a lot of time, and care and money on an old wreck, without actually making it work really well. Remember also that beautiful workmanship in a "one-off" is not a guarantee that it will do the same job as a Fender, old or new.
Retail Price £232.00
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