Fender Vintera II '60s Stratocaster | Fender Music Australia | RRP: $1999
The Fender Stratocaster hit the market in 1954 and it’s never stopped evolving. Just compare those original instruments to the Ultra Luxe Stratocaster and you’ll see how far we’ve come from the model’s inception to its current state-of-the-art incarnations. But as refined and modern as the Ultra Luxe is – there will always be guitarists who crave those early iterations. Fender’s Vintera II series aims to provide a line of instruments that hit various key points from particular decades, without being an actual reissue of any particular instrument. For instance, there are ‘50s, ’60s and ‘70s Stratocasters in the line, each with period-correct woods and hardware but more cost-effective construction, modern gloss polyester finishes instead of time-and-cost-intensive polyurethane, and more up-to-date electronics (did you know the Stratocaster didn’t have a five-way pickup selector switch until 1977?)
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So let’s have a look at what makes the Fender Vintera II ’60s Stratocaster tick. Available in three colours (Olympic White, Lake Placid Blue and 3-Colour Sunburst) it seems to draw much of its inspiration from the 1962 model year, with its alder body, rosewood slab fretboard, tinted maple neck and the wee little indent in the pickguard where the truss rod adjustment screw is (even though you can’t actually access the truss rod through it). The multi-ply pickguard is home to three Alnico-magnet single coil pickups voiced in the spirit of mid-’60s units, which is to say, a little fuller and a hair darker than 50s versions. The electronics consist of a five-way pickup selector, a master volume and two tone controls: one which operates across both the neck and middle pickups, and another for the bridge pickup. This is considered pretty standard these days but it does actually reflect a popular modification on the original Strat format, where in addition to the three-position pickup selector you would find individual neck and middle tone controls and nothing at all for the bridge pickup.
The neck features 21 Vintage Tall frets and a period-correct 7.25” radius, quite curvy by modern standards and not necessarily the easiest to bend strings on. It’s nice to see a return to rosewood in this line, in comparison to the regular Vintera series with its Pau Ferro fingerboard options, a fine wood but not vintage-accurate enough for some players. The neck shape is a comfortable if not particularly characterful ’60s C shape, and the hardware includes a vintage-style Synchronised Tremolo with bent steel saddles and vintage-style tuning machines, the kind where you have to poke the end of the string into a slot that goes right down inside the post. And that’s basically the whole story, other than the included and quite hardy Fender gig bag.
I happen to own a Fender American Vintage Reissue 62 Stratocaster, a model that is as accurate as you’re going to get to the real deal from 1962, so I’ve been able to compare the Vintera II ’60s Stratocaster quite closely to a version of the type of guitar it’s designed to evoke. All the major features are present and accounted for, from the tint of the lacquer on the neck, to the softer ’60s body radius, to the mint-green tint of the plastics, designed to evoke the way that the original plastic parts would have aged over the years without actually applying any type of Relic treatment. Although my AVRI 62 feels more ‘lived in’ and has definitely been broken in after years of use and abuse, the overall vibe of the Vintera II is very familiar, with the exception of the glossy finish of the Fender Vintera in comparison to the practically matte patina that a nitro finish will take on after a short while.
Sonically, the pickups are definitely in that ’60s vein and their tone is more in line with that fuller SRV tone (though his pickups were made in 1959) than the more crisp Eric Johnson type of 50s single coil clean sound. This is a Strat that loves to be played through a Blues Junior or a Deluxe, but will also give you fantastic overdrive through a cranked Marshall, and will maintain its character through a wide variety of fuzz pedals (I was particularly impressed by how it held its own when run through a Fender Hammertone Fuzz, with or without the octave mode engaged). It’s a gritty, smoky tonal character that feels tailor-made for blues-rock as well as for indie/alternative/shoegaze styles where you need a bold, gutsy clean tone that won’t be lost when augmented with effects. Add some gain and you’ll recognise some undeniably classic overtones and harmonics, although you’ll also recognise the characteristic single-coil hum of a real ’60s Strat. Fender does offer noiseless Strat pickups as an aftermarket product so if the buzz bothers you that much then you do have options (and there are plenty of Strats that come fitted with noiseless pickups right out of the box) but I think it’s kinda cool to hear that classic hiss. It just feels authentic.
The next model up in ’60s style would be the Mike McCready Stratocaster, which is pretty similar in a lot of key ways but with a distinctive Relic finish mimicking Mike’s personal guitar. The level after that is the American Vintage II 1963 Stratocaster, which is quite similar to my 62 AVRI and a very fine guitar. But if your budget doesn’t stretch to the USA-made reissue, the Fender Vintera II will get you nearly all the way there.
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