Review: Fender 70th Anniversary American Professional II Stratocaster

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Review: Fender 70th Anniversary American Professional II Stratocaster

70th Anniversary American Professional II Stratocaster
Words by Paul Blomfield

Fender 70th Anniversary American Professional II Stratocaster | Fender Music Australia | RRP: $3699.00

Dwight Eisenhower announces the world’s first hydrogen bomb. Audrey Hepburn wins best actress at the 11th Golden Globe awards. Bill Haley and His Comets record “Rock Around the Clock”. A newborn Stevie Ray Vaughan opens his eyes for the first time. The year is 1954. An ad in the April issue of the International Musician magazine announces the arrival of the new ‘Comfort Contoured’ Stratocaster by Fender, featuring revolutionary double cutaways, three single coil pick-ups and rear-spring based tremolo system.

Designed by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares, the Stratocaster would become the most popular guitar shape in the world, a title it still holds 70 years later.

Read all the latest product & music industry news here.

I got my first real six-string, a black and white Fender Squier Stratocaster, back in the summer of 2004 (the Strat’s 50th anniversary, coincidentally). While I’m unsure of the fate of that guitar (I donated it to a friend), I clearly remember how incredible it felt to play. I’ve been through my fair share of guitars since then, some with too many spikes, some with too many strings. I’m a little older now, and it’s starting to feel like there’s a critical missing piece to my arsenal: a classic.

Fender 70th Anniversary American Professional II Stratocaster

Sliding the ‘Inca silver’ deluxe moulded Fender case out of the box, I immediately feel I’m in possession of something of immeasurable importance and value; something to be treasured; something with gravitas. The military grade ABS outer shell makes it feel like the Fort Knox of guitar cases. The chunky ‘ergo-grip’ injected moulded handle feels so comfortable in my hands, I kind of just want to carry it around with me everywhere I go for a few days. Although the centre latch is fitted with a TSA-approved locking system, airline staff would need to pry it from my hands in order to check it into oversized baggage while I scream and beg them to let me carry it on the plane with me. Finally putting the case down, I discover that when you fold the handle sideways, it gently snaps into place like a soft-close kitchen drawer – a feature that makes me giggle with joy. And I haven’t even opened the case yet.

Fender headstock

Opening the Inca silver ABS hardcase

I half expect to be bathed in an ethereal glow as I lift the lid. The manufacture tag claims this guitar was made nine months ago, but I know she’s a much older soul. My eyes are awash with the colours of yesteryear. The case is lined in a velvety ‘Lake Placid Blue’ polyester. In the distance I hear Bobby Vinton crooning “she wore blue velvet”. The blue lining sets a striking contrast against the rich warm colours of the guitar: the oranges, reds and browns of the the flame maple top in ‘Comet Burst’ finish; the deep, swirling maroons of the tortoiseshell pickguard; the delicious caramel tones of the maple neck and headstock, the earthy Rosewood fretboard and the vintage ‘aged white’ switch tip and control knobs with gold engraved numbers. ‘New car smell’? Never heard of her. I’m here for the new guitar smell.

Picking up the Fender 70th Anniversary American Professional II Stratocaster felt a bit like walking in the front door of my childhood home. There is a nostalgia here that predates my lifetime, and the guitar demands that I treat it with the appropriate level of respect. No sooner had I picked it up than I was overcome by the urge to keep it all as fresh and clean as I could.

Turning the guitar over, the alder wood grain gives the impression that her body has been hewn from the great central pillar of some prestigious mid-century building. As though even the raw materials are of historical significance. The feeling is reinforced by the 70th Anniversary engraving in the neck plate and the fine detail in the deluxe cast locking tuning machines. I know she’s in tune before I’ve even touched the strings.

Unplugged, the .009 – .042 gauge nickel strings sound crisp, bright, brilliant, snappy, sparkly, shimmery as they resonate through the body of the guitar.

Stratocaster pickups

V-Mod II Single-Coil Strat pickups

The Fender 70th Anniversary American Professional II Stratocaster has three 70th Anniversary V-Mod II Single-Coil Strat pickups (neck, middle, bridge) and a 5-way tone selector switch. The three knobs control the master volume, neck tone and bridge tone respectively. While in the bridge or bridge-middle tone position, depressing the push/pull bridge tone knob engages the neck pickup, which adds a nice growly mid-boost.

With only the bridge pickup engaged, she is as clear as a bell, with fantastic definition in picking dynamics. I felt most comfortable rolling back the master volume and tone slightly while playing through a clean amp. Pushing the gain into distortion is where I found the most vintage character from the pickups. I’m used to much hotter pickups, so I was exploring new territory with the more gravelly sound of the 70th Anniversary V-Mod II Single-Coil Strat pickups (for the record, this guitar does not djent).

In terms of playability, the Stratocaster is unrivalled. This guitar made me a better musician within half an hour of unboxing. Strumming a Radiohead song, I was unexpectedly surprised at how seamlessly I transitioned from a G to a C. So much so that I stopped playing the song and just played the G – C transition repeatedly for about two minutes straight. The entire experience of my left hand on the fretboard was akin to spreading softened butter on warm sourdough.

In terms of craftsmanship and distinction, my old Squier was several orders of magnitude beneath the 70th Anniversary American Professional II. And even though my lifetime is merely a tiny blip compared to the scale of Fender and their Stratocaster, I highly doubt that I’ll ever find a guitar that feels more ‘right’ to play.

Yours, a newfound fan of the Stratocaster and excited to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the Fender Strat.

For local enquiries, visit Fender Australia.