Review: Fender 70th Anniversary American Vintage II 1954 Stratocaster

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Review: Fender 70th Anniversary American Vintage II 1954 Stratocaster

Fender 1954 Stratocaster
Words by Paul Blomfield

70th Anniversary American Vintage II 1954 Stratocaster | Fender Music Australia | RRP: $4499

2024 is a huge year for Fender. In case you hadn’t heard (my, that’s a very large rock you’ve been hiding under) it’s the brand’s 70th anniversary. To celebrate, they’ve launched several campaigns to reissue, recreate and reimagine the guitar models which, over the last seven decades, have become household names. Recently I was lucky enough to test-drive a 70th Anniversary American Professional II Stratocaster. Once again I’m counting my lucky stars—I’ve brought home a 70th Anniversary American Vintage II 1954 Stratocaster for the week. Can confirm, it did absolutely nothing to quell my burgeoning desire to own a vintage Strat.

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The key message with this guitar is authenticity. The goal was to recreate in as much detail as possible the experience of owning a Strat built in 1954, all the way down to the tuning machines; the disc-style string tree; the pickup covers; the football shaped switch tip, the shape of the tone and volume knobs, even the circular string holes in the backplate. And it doesn’t stop there, as you’ll see below.

Fender American Vintage

Once again my spare-room studio is awash with that new-guitar aroma, although this time the smell is distinctly nitrocellulose lacquer, a finish commonly used in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The hard-case is as vintage as you can get: beige tweed, brown leather accents with white stitching, gold hardware, crimson crushed velvet interior with commemorative 70th Anniversary Stratocaster embroidery in the lid—excuse me while I grease back my hair and slip on my loose-fitting pleated suit pants, suspenders and patent leather shoes. Of course, we’re here for what’s in the case, and good golly Miss Molly it is an absolute treasure trove—and I’m not just talking about the guitar! This package has more case-candy than you can “Shake, Rattle & Roll” about: we’re talking vintage style bridge cover; vintage style strap; vintage style cable; swap-out engraved 70th Anniversary neck plate (the guitar comes fitted with a default blank neck plate for authenticity); whammy bar; and even a manila folder containing a wiring diagram and replica set of vintage instructions to really slam dunk on the immersion. The kicker for me, though, is the swap-out 5-position switch. Yeah, you heard me. If you find your tone control limited by the default 3-way toggle, they actually provide you with a 5-way switch that you can swap out yourself. I didn’t quite find the kitchen sink in there, but it wasn’t far off.

Nitrocellulose lacquer

“It’s so shiny”. That was the overwhelming impression when I first saw the 70th Anniversary American Vintage II 1954 Strat in its case. When I revealed it to my partner a few minutes later, she said exactly the same thing. Verbatim. The nitrocellulose lacquer gives it an air of antiquity—something that should be in a museum or a vault. The 2-piece ash-body and 1-piece C-shape maple neck lend the instrument some serious heft. The guitar weighs in the vicinity of 3.5kg. Lifting it out of the case, I felt that I was holding something that predated the industrial revolution, when everything was made-to-order, nothing was mass-produced, and materials weren’t cheap or nasty. That feeling stayed with me as I sat the guitar in my lap and navigated the fretboard. These ‘baseball bat’ necks have amassed something of a cult following, and I now understand why. Further, there’s just something about that glossy maple feeling under the left hand, that snappy thing that maple fretboards do, that hits different. I’ve been eyeing up a maple fretboard for a while now, and this guitar very much validated that craving.

Fender Stratocaster pickups

The authenticity persisted as I plugged the guitar in and strummed a few chords. The three 70th Anniversary 1954 Single-Coil Strat pickups (bridge, middle & neck) have an almost primitive quality about them, but they don’t miss. The tone mellows up really nicely when you roll back the volume, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about the bass response and the warmth that comes through that neck pick-up. The guitar has three knobs – one for volume, one for bridge pickup tone and one for neck & middle pickup tone. A highlight for me was the way the sustain, clarity and intonation didn’t suffer at all while I was playing higher up on the fretboard on the lower strings. I found myself noodling around at the 12th – 15th frets on the A and D strings for an unreasonable amount of time, simply because I’ve never played a guitar that made that part of the fretboard sound so good, particularly through the neck pickup.

There’s a vintage style truss-rod butt adjuster at the base of the neck, so you don’t have to take the whole neck off to adjust. The nut is bone. The saddles are vintage bent steel. The 2-tone finish on the 70th Anniversary American Vintage II 1954 Strat is perhaps a little more understated than the Professional II, but that feels correct: it’s a classic guitar with a classic finish.

I wasn’t around in the ‘50s. But if I was, and I forked out two-hundred-and-fifty 1954 dollars for a Fender Stratocaster, I’m confident that I would’ve walked away with something almost identical to the instrument I tested for this review.

For local Stratocaster enquiries, visit Fender Australia.