Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien is possibly the most overlooked guitarist in music history. Despite being wedged between the enigmatic persona of Thom Yorke and the mad musical genius of Jonny Greenwood, O’Brien’s effects driven, ethereal guitar style is possibly one of the most important aspects of Radiohead’s sound. So when Fender and Ed O’Brien announced the EOB Sustainer Stratocaster, a model fitted with a unique Fernandes Sustainer pickup system used by the guitarist for close to 20 years, it caught the attention of musicians around the world. Instead of a stock Stratocaster with a huge price tag and an autograph scrawled on the headstock, the design of the EOB Sustainer offered guitarists an entirely new way to create unorthodox textures and intuitive soundscapes - but does the guitar live up to the hype that preceded it?
Straight out of the box, the EOB Strat is a head turner, with the combination of a maple fretboard and Olympic White finish never failing to please the eyes. However, I was surprised by the unexpected thickness of the neck on the guitar - with a 9.5” fretboard radius and 10/56 ‘V’ neck profile, the neck was closer to that of a Telecaster than a traditional Stratocaster, which definitely put me out of my comfort zone. As a result, I found myself avoiding playing Hendrix-esque bluesy licks and pentatonic runs that you tend to play with a Strat, which I suspect was an intentional move from O’Brien and Fender to push players to experiment with the pickups more. While the chunky neck might be off-putting for some hardcore Strat players, the vintage style tuners, synchronised 6 saddle tremolo, synthetic bone nut and 21 narrow-jumbo frets are all familiar territory for Strat enthusiasts, and the satin finish on the neck makes the guitar feel super comfortable in your hands.
Specs aside, this guitar is all about the electronics. The inclusion of a Duncan JB Jr Humbucker in the bridge position and a Texas Special single coil in the middle position gives you a variety of tonal options, with the Duncan JB Jr particularly adding a whole new sonic dimension to the guitar - and then there’s the Sustainer Driver pickup in the neck position. When the Sustainer function is turned off, the neck pickup functions as a humbucker, which I found worked particularly well with the tone rolled back half way with a bit of overdrive for some classic Radiohead rhythm tones. However, when the Sustainer switch is flicked on, this guitar really opens itself up - from droning string bends to synth-like volume swells, the Sustainer makes it incredibly easy to create experimental textures straight off the bat. In addition, you can choose between three different sustainer modes - Fundamental, Harmonic, and Blend, which you can use to drastically alter the characteristics of the sustained note mid-performance. When paired with a bit of delay and modulation, you can create singing, sustained swells reminiscent of O’Brien’s Kid A instrumental ‘Treefingers’ with the Fundamental mode, while the Harmonic mode is perfect with a fuzz pedal to emulate Ed’s searing feedback heavy riff on ‘Myxomatosis.’
Possibly the only drawback about the Ed O’Brien Sustainer Stratocaster is that unlike most other instruments, this guitar demands to be used with multiple effects pedals to unlock its full potential, which might be a bit off-putting for those on a tight budget. However, the EOB is definitely a fresh take on the tried and true Strat, and in the hands of the right player, the Sustainer system will open up a whole new world of sonic possibilities otherwise unachievable with a traditional electric guitar, resulting in one of the most memorable playing experiences offered by a Fender signature model in a long time.
Hits and Misses
Endless tonal versatility, especially with the Sustainer system
Ed O’Brien finally being recognised
Works way better with effects pedals