Stratocasters have been on my mind a lot lately. Part of it is that I just had my Strat set up by the wonderful Joseph ‘Soxy’ Price, who does incredible work. Part of it is that I’ve barely been able to let my Strat out of my sight ever since, because it’s just such a joy to play. And part of it is probably the new Seymour Duncan Jimi Hendrix Signature Strat Set, which I’ve got to get into my guitar ASAP. Whatever it is, I’m daydreaming about Strats a lot at the moment.
When it came time for me to choose my personal Strat, I had a few great models to choose from in the price range I was looking at. If I was buying now I’d add to that the incredible American Elite Series. But I decided to go with an American Vintage ’62 Reissue. That model isn’t available any more but the American Vintage ’65 is a very fine guitar with a lot of similarities.
So why did I go for that particular model when I could have had an American Deluxe or an American Standard? Well for me it came down to authenticity. The Stratocaster is a design that has adapted very well to modern improvements in playability, sound and stability, but for me personally I wanted a really ‘Stratty’ Strat: true single coil pickups, old-school tuners, 7.25” radius fretboard. Basically I wanted a Strat that would capture the feel of some of the really great ‘60s Strats I’ve been lucky enough to play. I wanted a Strat that would put up a bit of a fight and make me earn it.
That’s not to take anything away from more modern Stratocasters. An American Elite gives you really great playability upgrades like a compound-profile neck (a modern “C”-shape at the nut, morphing along the length of the neck to a modern “D”-shaped profile at the updated neck heel), locking tuners, compound radius fingerboard (9.5″-14”), noiseless pickups… it’s basically exactly what a Stratocaster for 2016 should be. And yet that’s where Fender gets it so right: if you want a modern Strat, there are plenty out there for you. If you want a vintage-style one, that’s available too. And if you want something that falls somewhere in the middle, there are lots of guitars across the range that will do what you need.
So what about you? What’s your idea of the perfect Strat? Here are a few of my favourites from the current line.
Okay, so I’ve already talked this one up, but here’s what Fender has to say about it: “Externally the American Elite Stratocaster has Fender’s timeless style, but under the hood it’s an entirely new breed of guitar designed for 21st-century players who constantly push the envelope. With over a dozen new innovations, each guitar is a true performer with eye-catching style, exceptional feel and versatile sound from the very first moment you plug it in and play.
This Strat has a a 9.5”-12” compound radius fingerboard and a mid-‘60s Oval “C” shaped neck, a Seymour Duncan Custom Shop ’78 humbucker and Sperzel locking tuners, along with a two-point Classic Player vibrato. I dig the stripped-back electronics and narrow jumbo frets too.
I’ve had the extreme honour of interviewing Buddy Guy several times and he once told me a really beautiful story about how this guitar’s finish came to be. He said his mother used to wear a black dress with white polka dots, and he always told her that if he became famous he’d buy her a Cadillac to match her dress. She passed away before that could happen, so he uses this colour scheme on his signature gear as a tribute to her. Isn’t that beautiful? Every time I step on my Jim Dunlop Buddy Guy Crybaby wah, I think of that story.
This is a great one. Floyd Rose vibrato, Seymour Duncan Hot Rails and JB Jr pickups, 9.5″-14″ Compound Radius fretboard but still the traditional 21 frets. It has a real ‘ultra-hot-rodded-but-vintage’ vibe.
I set up quite a few of these in my guitar store days because they seemed to sell really well, Jimmie Vaughan fan or no. Alder body, specially shaped tinted maple neck, medium jumbo frets, single-coil Tex-Mex neck and middle pickups, extra hot Tex-Mex bridge pickup, single-ply white pickguard and vintage-style hardware. Nice.