After all these years, what can Fender do to keep the Stratocaster appealing? By Peter Hodgson
This is an interesting time for Fender. On the one hand, they have legacy products that still draw a huge audience. Think period-faithful ’50s and ‘60s Strat and Tele reissues, for example. And on the other hand, there are players out there who love the general Fender style but demand more player-friendly features than those employed by the guitarists of 50 or 60 years ago. Fender does a great job of balancing the needs of each across various series, and the American Professional is the latest line to combine classic and contemporary features.
The American Professional Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker has a solid alder body with a glossy finish available in a range of attractive and decidedly non-vintage finishes. The neck is made of maple with a maple or rosewood fretboard depending on its finish, and the back of the neck is a C Modern shape - comfortable for a wide variety of hands. The fingerboard radius is 9.5”, which is a little rounder than what we think of as modern necks, but not quite as round as the 7.25” radius of vintage Strats. There are 22 medium jumbo frets instead of the traditional 21. The inlays are simple dots, and it looks very classy.
The bridge is a traditional six-saddle vintage-style ‘Syncronized Tremolo’ type - an interesting choice given the tendency towards two-point fulcrum type bridges. The tuning machines are die-cast, sealed and non-locking models.
The pickups are designed by Tim Shaw (the legendary pickup designer, not the DemTel man). Fender has been using his fat-sounding ShawBucker for a little while, but this model includes his new V-Mod single coils which are voiced specifically for each position, and which mix alnico magnet types to produce powerful, nuanced tones with original Fender DNA. There’s also a treble bleed circuit on the volume control, so you can roll it back without losing upper-end clarity. The volume control also has Fender’s S-1 switch integrated into it to split the coils of the bridge humbucker.
Shaw has put a lot of work into making the ShawBucker sound like a ‘50s bridge single coil when in split mode, but in humbucking mode it’s fat and chunky. The neck and middle pickups each have an undeniable Fender vibe to them, but the unwound strings seem sweeter and the wound strings seem punchier. It’s great for players who rely on clean or semi-clean tones - kick in that bridge bucker, though, and you’re well and truly in heavy rock territory.
As far as playability goes, this isn’t quite as comfortable as, say, an American Elite model with a compound radius fingerboard and compound ‘C to D’ shape, but it’s still a very comfortable and easily adaptable shape.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The overall feeling here is that of an extremely well-built Stratocaster that takes a lot of queues from ‘50s-style Strats, but still has plenty of modern touches. As a result it’s great for the standards - blues, country, rock, some types of metal - but it’s also voiced for indie, alternative and pop styles.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Alder body
• Maple neck
• 22 medium-jumbo frets
• Fender Shawbucker and V-Mod pickups
• Six-screw vintage vibrato
• Wide variety of tones
• Effortless playability
Fender Music Australia
Ph: (02) 9666 5077