So I got this email from the Fender PR department telling me about their new guitar configurator called “Design Your Own.” So I went down to the Fender site and designed my dream Strat. Pretty cool stuff! I guess Fender figured if car manufacturers could do this (I designed my 2014 C7 Corvette), they could do it too. And why not? It’s totally cool to be able to spec out and also see what you’re going to buy (or at least plan or dream about buying).
You know me, I’m not too much into gimmicks, and on the surface, this might seem like one, but it’s actually pretty cool. Check it out!
Not sure how I feel about this one. But here’s a press release I got from Fender yesterday.
FENDER® MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS CREATES UNIQUE MLB-THEMED STRATOCASTER® GUITARS FOR MUSICIANS AND BASEBALL ENTHUSIASTS
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (March 20, 2014) – Fender is proud to announce it will offer fans collectible MLB-themed electric guitars that sound as great as they look. Each Fender Stratocaster® guitar will feature official team logos along with custom designed landmark imagery unique to the team’s market, as well as a “MLB” logo adorning the neck plate.
The initial group of team guitars available in 2014 includes the Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Also available is a Minnesota Twins All-Star Game guitar that features unique Minnesota imagery in honor of the team hosting the Midsummer Classic in 2014.
In addition, each guitar features an alder body, maple neck with a modern “C”-shape and 21 medium jumbo frets, three standard single-coil Strat®pickups, six-saddle vintage-style synchronized tremolo, five-position switch, master volume and tone knobs, and standard gig bag.
“Fender and Major League Baseball are all-American originals,” said Justin Norvell, Fender marketing vice president. “Through this relationship, we’re excited to ‘team up’ to provide one-of-a-kind collectibles for musicians and baseball fans alike. The connections are intrinsic — baseball bats and guitars are both made from maple and ash, and tons of ballplayers are guitar players. We’ve had more casual or informal connections with players and teams for years, so this further solidifies a relationship we’ve long valued and enjoyed.”
Fender and MLB officially launched their relationship during the 2013 MLB All-Star Game at the New York Mets Citi Field by selling limited edition MLB All-Star Game Stratocaster guitars. Now, baseball fans throughout the United States can craft their own rock ‘n’ roll classics while representing their favorite MLB teams.
Don’t know what price point these will come in at. I guess we’ll see when they get released on March 31. Definitely not something for me. Even though it’s a Strat, to me it’s akin to that leg lamp from the movie “A Christmas Story.” I suppose if you’re a big fan of particular team and a guitar player, you’d want one of these. But for me, as much of a Giants’ fan I am, I don’t ever see myself toting this one on my shoulder.
Just this email from Fender this morning. Usually I take my time with manufacturer ad emails, and this particular one was no exception. So I waited until a few minutes ago to read the email, and my mind stopped dead in its tracks. For on my screen in front of me was a Strat that has finally blown me away. Don’t get me wrong, I love my American Deluxe Strat. For single-coil work and especially the Kinman pickups it has, I get some freakin’ awesome tones.
But I was always thinking that I would love a Strat that had two humbuckers as opposed to the HSS; in fact, my wish was to have an HSH. My thought was that I would love a Strat that always had the fat tones of a humbucker, while still retaining that Strat vibe, and lo and behold, here was a picture of a brand-new American Standard Hand Stained Ash Stratocaster® HSH!!!
Talk about getting some serious GAS! Not only does it have the HSH pickup configuration, it has an alder body, a maple neck, and a rosewood fretboard: Exactly how I like my Strats! Fender lists it at $1569 MSRP, but I’ve seen some stores online advertising it pre-order for $1149.
My American Deluxe Strat is the very first Strat that I actually liked. A lot of it has to do with the pickups, which are Kinman Hx noiseless single coils. These have a bit more output than stock Strat pickups and they make a HUGE difference in the tone of the guitar; fattening up the sound significantly.
Traditionally, I have absolutely abhorred the middle pickup of Strats. To me, with the stock set, though it is mid-rangy, which is a tone I like, I always felt the middle pickup was a little lifeless. Even EVH with the Frankenstein removed the middle pickup, and replaced the bridge pickup with a humbucker I suppose to fatten up his tone. With my Kinmans, the tone is not quite ‘bucker-fat, but it is much fatter than the stock pickups. As for the middle pickup, it’s my favorite pickup on the guitar when I’m playing with distortion. It produces tons of mid-range that cuts right through a mix.
Plus, at least to me, it has the best balance of sustain and fatness to simply be an ideal pickup. Take this demo that I recorded this morning called “The Way The Truth The Life:”
I actually recorded this a few years ago, but couldn’t get a groove with the song. So I finally got it put together, and after I recorded the acoustic guitar and piano parts, realized that it needed a driven electric guitar sound; specifically, my Strat through a cranked Marshall. 🙂 To be honest, I tried recording with the neck pickup which is my usual go-to pickup, but that was way too fat, and the bridge pickup was way too thin. But the middle pickup was just right… (yikes! sounding like Goldilocks and the three bears).
When I spent time with Doug Doppler way back when, he talked about the middle pickup being one of his favorites. I personally didn’t “get it” at the time because up until that point, I hadn’t heard a middle pickup on a Strat that I liked. But after recording this song, I’m sold. When I want a smooth drive with lots of mid-range, the middle pickup is it!
Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster Summary: Finally a Strat that I love to play. This one has been upgraded with Kinman pickups and an L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X X-Bridge pickup.Features:
Alder Body with 3-Tone Sunburst Finish (my favorite Strat Color)
1-piece Maple Neck
Rosewood Fretboard with Abalone Dot Inlays
Nut appears to be synthetic tortoise shell – very cool!
L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X Drop-In Tremolo/Bridge Replacement
Kinman Noiseless Pickups
Tone Bone Score: 5.0 ~ Wow! What a tone machine! The Ctrl-X pickup has tons of gain on tap, and will give you plenty of crunch when you need it! The Kinman Noiseless pickups really smooth out the tone, and flatten the significant midrange that tends to be in stock Fender pickups.
I love estate sales because you can find some real gems. A friend of mine happened to get a bunch of stuff at an estate sale recently, and picked up this fine specimen of a Strat. What drew me to it initially was the 3-tone burst, which I love. Of course I had to try it out, so we hooked it up to a cheapo amp, and I couldn’t believe my ears! I was expecting that typical bright Strat sound, but what issued – even from that cheapo amp – was a much smoother tone. The tone definitely spoke “Stratocaster,” but it was in another dimension. Of course, I had to take it home with me to bring into my studio and to gig with this weekend… 🙂
For me, I had all but lost hope with Strats. I just couldn’t find one that really appealed to me. But with the changes in this particular Strat, I’ve regained my faith. This is an absolutely killer guitar!
Fit and Finish
The previous owner tragically passed away a few years ago, and the dude was a total gear nut! As a result, he just didn’t play his gear all that much, and so the guitars that were in his collection were in absolutely pristine shape. This particular Strat has the most signs of usage, but there is absolutely no major scratches, and just a tiny ding on the neck. Other than that, the guitar is perfect. The rosewood fretboard is in particularly great shape, and still retains a gorgeous sheen. The abalone dot inlays are a great touch. Here are some pictures:
Unlike a lot of Strats that have really narrow nut width, this Strat’s 9.5″ nut radius is perfect. The neck is a gentle C and even with my short fingers, I have no problem reaching the lower strings high up on the fretboard. The shape of the neck is simply terrific, and provides a nice balance between solid-feel and speed. I could play this guitar for hours and never get tired. It’s really a player’s guitar.
How It Sounds
As I mentioned above, it sounds like a Strat, but it has a much smoother tone. This is due to the Kinman Noiseless Pickups that replaced the original “noiseless” ones on the stock Strat (don’t have the stock ones, but don’t want ’em). This Strat also has tones of sustain, which really surprised me. It’s not on the order of a Les Paul, but it sustains a lot more than other Strats I’ve played in the past. The Kinman pickups also add a lot of depth and complexity to the tone, picking up subtle harmonics that give the tonal presentation a real 3-D effect – it’s almost reverb-like. How cool is that?
On top of that, the original owner replaced the tremolo with an L. R. Baggs Ctrl-X system. This adds yet another pickup to the bridge that has all sorts of gain; very humbucker-like, but retaining the single-coil characteristics – there’s just more of it. The Ctrl-X system is cool in that you can switch between going fully magnetic to blend with Ctrl-X or fully Ctrl-X. The full-on Ctrl-X is great for soloing!
To demonstrate the gain differences, here’s clip I recorded this morning (actually, the two clips were included in my previous article that I wrote this morning). But here’s the first:
Finally, here’s the quick song that I recorded this morning that has the rhythm part in fully magnetic mode in the 4th switch position (neck/middle). The lead is played in the first position with the Ctrl-X system:
Both clips were recorded using my Aracom PLX18 BB Trem, a fantastic 18-Watt Plexi clone. I was originally going to record with my Fender Hot Rod because the guitar sounded great through it. But my problem with Strat tone came from switching to vintage Marshall-style amps like my PLX that have lots of midrange. Strats just didn’t sound right to me with these amps. But this one blew me away!
It’s difficult being a gear freak and having so many avenues to evaluate great gear. I have to have this guitar. Period. It’s completely changed my view of Strats!
Ever since Fender announced the new Roadworn Series of guitars, I’ve been lurking the gear forums and googling for information about them and trying to get a feel for what people think about them. It’s still early in the game, but not surprisingly, opinions are fairly evenly split. Lots of people like them, lots of people don’t. I’m part of the latter crowd.
From my point of view, if I was going to play a beat-up-looking, “roadworn” guitar that’s broken in, I’d rather have done the breaking in myself, or have had it done by someone else – like my first electric guitar that my little brother gave me. It was an Ibanez Strat copy and it looked like a piece of shit! The paint was cracked and flaking in areas, the electronics were completely screwed up due to the jury-rigged wiring jobs my brother did on it. But when I had it working, that little bad boy could sing! Even my brother inherited from one his band mates. In other words, this guitar has a history, and it plays and feels like it has a history.
My problem with the Fender Roadworn series is that these are brand new guitars that are made to look like they have a history, but they’re fresh off a friggin’ production line! They have no history! Oh yeah, I can hear a Fender rep saying, “We ‘wore out’ some of the most common areas where guitars get worn, and added some other cosmetic blemishes to produce a guitar that looks and feels like its been played for 20 years.’” What a crock of shit! Sorry, not buying the rationale, nor the guitars. Besides, to me, it’s how the guitar sounds and plays whether it’s new or used that counts.
I suppose if you have to have a replica of a famous guitarists axe, hey! More power to you! But in the end, you’re the one playing it, and you ain’t gonna sound like the guitarist whom which the guitar was modeled.
What do you do when you have two kick-ass overdrive/distortion pedals and don’t know which one to choose because both pedals bring so much to the table? The obvious answer is to use both. But my problem in choosing is exacerbated by limited pedal real estate, so I have to make a choice.
Actually, the choice wasn’t too hard to make once I started playing with the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire. While I love the OCD, the Holy Fire wins hands-down for its versatility and total transparency. While the OCD is somewhat transparent, it can get kind of muddy and a little choppy at high drive settings, whereas the Holy Fire’s distortion section reacts a lot like a power tube at high gain settings producing a compressed effect that just rocks the house!
I still love the sound that the OCD produces. It really brings out harmonics and overtones, and set in a “sweet spot” produces a nice sparkly distortion that really sounds great. But as of late I’ve been gravitating towards retaining the natural sound of my guitar and amp, so the added artifacts that the OCD adds aren’t really what I want right now.
On the other hand, the overdrive on the Holy Fire is totally unique, and nothing like I’ve ever witnessed in all my tests of overdrive pedals (and believe me, I’ve tested a lot). The overdrive has what Creation Audio Labs calls a “wave shaping” circuit that evenly distorts the entire bandwidth of the incoming signal as opposed to creating a mid-range hump, or scooping the EQ. It really is completely even. You don’t lose any lows or highs, which is common in overdrive pedals. And the circuit reacts to both volume and pick attack, providing more wave shaping as you hit the front-end of the pedal harder. Simply put, you retain all the natural tone of your guitar! It’s insane! And it’s so special, Creation Audio Labs is trying to patent it!
I gigged with the Holy Fire for the first time this evening at my weekly Church gig. Make no mistake, this may be a church service, but we regularly hit above 100db in our sets, so there is plenty of room to let our amps breath, and take advantage of the higher gain settings on our equipment. Tonight, I made sure to pick music that would allow me to use the Holy Fire throughout my set. Talk about being inspired! I used it with my Strat and a Reason SM25 amp. What a combo! I set the gain to just above unity with the clean channel (about 10am), the overdrive at about 2pm, and distortion at about 3pm (so the distortion section would compress – it does this at around 2pm). The breakup was so smooth and delicious, I wanted to keep it on all the time! Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that with some songs, but where I had the entire band playing all out, the Holy Fire just made my heart sing!
The Holy Fire also plays well with other pedals. My mainstay overdrive pedal is my trusty green machine, an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer. That’s one pedal that will NEVER leave my board! But here’s the cool thing: Running the Tube Screamer in front of the Holy First was like nothing I’ve heard before. I did this with my OCD as well, essentially getting a combined tonal effect that the TS and OCD produce. But the Holy Fire maintained the tone the Tube Screamer produces! On the other hand, it smoothed out and thickened the distortion. The result was the expected mid-range hump from the Tube Screamer, but with super-creamy distortion, plus the TS tone, that was like candy to my ears. No extra coloration that I came to expect by running my TS into the OCD. It was like playing a fatter Tube Screamer!
Believe me, despite playing in a worship service, the way I was feeling with both those pedals running together made it seem I like I was flying with the angels! I’m not exaggerating! There is absolutely nothing compared to the feeling you get when you’re playing with wonderful tone. It inspires and emboldens you, and you take your playing to places you didn’t think possible.
That was the feeling I got when I first started playing with the OCD, and frankly, I didn’t think it could get much better. But the Holy Fire has changed everything.
On top of that, I was using another Creation Audio Labs pedal, the Mk.4.23 clean boost, yet another amazing product from those electronics wizards. I used the booster to give me just a slight gain boost for when I was doing solos, or was in the refrain section of a song when I needed just a bit more volume. It too is a totally transparent boost, adding ZERO artifacts to your signal, so all the time I spent dialing in my settings wouldn’t be lost when the Mk.4.23 was engaged.
I swear, I must sound like a twitterpated, googly-eyed schoolgirl! 🙂 But it’s been a long time that I’ve felt truly inspired, like everything was totally right with my world of tone. I’ve finally (at least for now), found total balance in my tone. The circle is complete…