Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Albert Hammond Jr., it seems so many of the music masters of the past century have wielded a Fender Stratocaster throughout their best works. While Fender have done a pretty good job at keeping the Strat alive over the years with various signature models and modified versions, it’s blaringly obvious by now that if something’s already good, it really doesn’t need to be fixed. Thus, Fender has given us the American Original ‘50s Stratocaster – a faithful tribute to the original guitars of the era that reshaped the course of popular music forever.
Replacing the long running American Vintage range, the new American Original series features historically accurate specs such as vintage pickups, period specific neck profiles and nitrocellulose finishes, with just enough contemporary comforts such as five-way switching to appease the modern player. Other additions include specs such as cloth covered output-wires, brass saddles, and the classic six-point synchronised tremolo system, with Fender going the whole way to ensure their new series is as period correct as possible. This is particularly evident with the American Original ‘50s Strat, boasting a classic combination of an ash body, maple fretboard, and a thick soft ‘V’ neck.
Although Fender have certainly recreated the nuances of the original model to a T, I feel like the chunkiness of the neck has the potential to put a lot of people off the American Original Series. While the 9.5” fretboard radius makes playing chords a breeze, the neck is certainly one of the thickest I’ve ever encountered on a Strat, and took a considerable amount of playing to finally reach a level of comfort. Maybe we’ve just been spoilt with so many Strats in recent years having ultra-thin, super-shreddable necks that we’ve forgotten the labours of wrangling a true vintage neck profile – or maybe my hands are just small. Either way, it might take getting used to for some players.
The three Pure Vintage ’59 single-coils are definitely up there with some of the best Strat pickups made available in years. Playing through an AC30 with the tone rolled off the neck pickup, I was immediately reminded of John Frusciante’s sparkling clean tone, which sounded huge when saturated with a simple top-boost pedal. Elsewhere, the middle pickup had all the quackiness that you’d want to hear from a vintage Strat, and sounded perfect when paired with some Chic-inspired disco strumming. While the bridge pickup was a tad on the shrill side, a simple tone knob adjustment tamed the top end to create a subtle spank that worked great with fingerpicking licks. The responsiveness of the bridge pickup also worked a treat with lashings of overdrive and reverb, creating a cavernous lead tone when playing up the neck.
One of my favourite features of this Strat is the vintage nitrocellulose lacquer finish, which both looks gorgeous and allows for the characteristics of the natural ash body to resonate and breathe freely. Hopefully Fender include nitrocellulose finishes on more of their future releases, because it really does make such a big difference to the tone colour of your guitar.
The Fender American Original ‘50s Stratocaster is by all means a testament to Fender’s triumphs as a manufacturer and the role they’ve played in shaping the course of music history. While the thick neck might seem somewhat uninviting to the modern player, the era-correct specs, incredible pickups and aesthetic brilliance of the American Original ‘50s Stratocaster result in a faithful tribute to the guitars of yore, promising to continue inspiring generations of guitarists for decades yet to come.
Hits and Misses
Impeccable era-correct accuracy
Pickups are an absolute breeze
Thick neck might be off-putting for some