I discovered this little wonder by pure chance… and I essentially was conquered by its look ! I know, how weak of me…
Now, you must admit that its flame top red finish and golden hardware do look great! You have to see and touch it with your own eyes and fingers to believe it.
Before going further, a little bit of context : this was the very first time I’d touched such a guitar, as from my youth I’d always been used to humbucker-equipped and Les Paul-shaped instruments while never having an opportunity to have a Fender – whatever the model. So this is an all new trip for me - yeepeee !
The first contact is a bit strange : le neck is narrow and somehow thick (not a pickaxe handle either, but clearly more narrow than a LP neck), with a very pronounced D-shaped (yes, I know they call it “Thick C”, but to me this is clearly more of a D as the middle flattens out). Needless to say I have to take my marks and learn how to play again!
This neck’s main asset compared with what I’ve previously experienced is that it seems extremely rigid and sturdy, at least it seems really reliable and I believe this Strat to be able to be taken on a tour with no major problem. Plus, its satin finish makes your life easy while playing (even really fast).
The only cons I could find to this neck is the way the medium-jumbo frets feel as they’ll slow you down… I must express my utmost disappointment to the Japanese luthers responsible for this betrayal that blocks the way to the Mountain of Ultimate Kawai Perfection!
This guitar’s overall workmanship shows a great level of care, I found no fault in its lacquer or problems with the neck/body junction, no screw that juts out or anything like that, so no problem at all – except that with the aforementioned frets (which can easily be solved using a nail file).
The ash body is covered with a maple flame top. Its resonance frequency seems to be lower than the usual alder used on many a classic Strat, which in the end seems to result in a mellower sound, at least playing it unplugged.
The glossy dark red finish lets the maple’s grain show for a beautiful result, and what to say of the pearloid white pickguard which reflections remind of a spring morning with blossoming cherry trees… Well, you see what I mean, huh!?
The harwdware also seems flawless, though I’d prefer a more massive bridge: this one is the hyperclassic Fender model that seems quite correct and lets you set each string’s height and length, but I would have appreciated something more innovative – especially considering the price!
The Gotoh tuners are not locking tuners, but so far I haven’t had any problems with the guitar’s ability to stay in tune. It seems to be able to stay in tune for a whole playing session, unless you use the vibrato to extreme length of course but even then for non-locking tuners the result is still quite good. Of course it won’t allow you the kind of extreme things a Floyd would, but it brings its own magic, just like the rest…
Soundwise finally, I have hardly a reliable point for comparaison but the three DiMarzio single coil pickups seemed true to the sound I was expecting : that of David Gilmour, whom I’ve been listening to since I was 10 years old, but also that from early Dire Straits, and finally of course the immense Jimmy Hendrix.
In a nutshell, I find the sound to have well enough bite on attacks, exactly as I like, plus the whole has a whole lotta punch in the mids – so no problem for playing solos, it’s help you stand out in the mix like a real guitar hero and now I understand why such a guitar made history, from Jimmy the great to Malmsteen and many others…
I personally only go fingerplaying, and even then no problem, the sound stands out clearly even among a dozen pad synth sounds, a huge bass and a crazy drummer . Each and every note can be heard even with a huge overdrive, which in itself borders to miracle.
Special kudos to pickup position 2 for its clean sounds, arpeggios and even basic rhythm sounds, and to the last one for the ear-piercing solos it helps deliver!
The DiMarzios are relatively silent, even if at the highest volume settings on a tube amp you tend to get interference here or there, but nothing too problematic. Plus, what would an electric guitar be without the accompanying noise? This is part of the sound’s “life” if I may say, of its dirty, vulgar, naughty and unpredictable aspect that no sampler can ever dream of capturing!
Of course, the pickups will never deliver as much power as humbuckers, so the overdriven sounds won’t ba as heavy-sounding as they would with humbuckers or active ceramics pickups such as EMGs, but frankly, who cares?
If you want a huge overdrive, just use a transparent booster (if you like your amp’s natural overdrive and don’t want to change anything to your sound), or a preamp or overdrive, and here you go!
So, overall? I put one star away for the fret problem, the very classic and thin metal bridge (don’t worry, it will stand time but I would have preferred something more massive like those you find on some basses from the brand, the aptly-named HiMass)… plus, for the fact that the guitar is provided “as is”, without a case or even a bag, this is really stingy of you Mr. Fender!