Hey guys, it’s Brian from World Music Supply here yet again to bring you your usual dose of gear and guitar news. In today’s review we’re going to cover some cool guitars from the Fender Squier Vintage Modified line of guitars. Squier came up in the midst of the CBS ownership of Fender, first coming into being in the mid 60’s as a company that would produce strings for Fender guitars, it wasn’t until 1982 that Squier guitars became a reality. You see, at the time, Fender was having a tough time competing with the huge number of Japanese made Fender copies that were flooding the market, as now anyone could have a guitar that looked and roughly sounded like a Stratocaster, for a tenth the price.
Fender did their best to compete, with lines like the Lead series which was an attempt for American made instruments to meet a similar price point as their Japanese made counter parts, the problem was, people weren’t buying. Fender soon realized that if you can’t beat them, you need to join them, and they bought up a factory in Japan to begin producing cheaper variants of their U.S made guitars under the name Squier.
The initial idea of creating Fender guitars that anyone could afford has stuck with us through the years, and though their factories have migrated, with some being made in Indonesia, Korea, and even a few in the USA, Squier has always delivered on creating great sounding, and great playing guitars at an affordable price. The Vintage modified series is a great example of this fact, as they are guitars based around an excentric grab bag of classic Fender style and function. Reflecting the myriad of modifications that people have made to their beloved Fenders over the years, the Vintage modified series was designed to give players what they normally would only be able to get from either pawn shops, or through hours and hours of rewiring, and in some cases, wood working their classic Fender instruments.
First up in today’s review, is the Squier Surf Stratocaster which is exactly like a typical Strat, except that instead of the typical staggered pole pieces, features retro style lipstick tube pickups. Lipstick pickups are a very straightforward style of pickup, with a cool history, and an even cooler sound. See back in the 60’s, a company called Danelectro needed to keep costs down on their new line of solid body guitars; they did everything from making guitars out of masonite and plywood, to using surplus lipstick tubes as the housing for their pickups. Now while plywood guitars never caught on, the strange, jangly sound of lipstick pickups did. They have a very round tone to them, with a very mellow bass response, full sounding mids, and a very smooth treble tone to them, that helped shape their distinctive surf tone.
This guitar is called the Surf Stratocaster for this very reason, as it has all of the jangle and smooth attack that a 60’s surf band could ever dream of. While it for all intents and purposes looks and feels like your typical Stratocaster, plugged in it certainly has a totally different sound. The sound is definitely more transparent than your typical single coil, with less of a twangy edge, and a very smooth attack that is so round, it’s almost jazzy in its execution. Plugged into a Randall RT503H with the reverb cranked, and the bright switch engaged, this guitar suddenly had all of the cool swinging surf tones that made bands like the shadows and Dick Dale and the Deltones so famous back in their day. The smooth, round tone is very reminiscent of a typical single coil tone, but at the same time, has its own character and strengths.
The strength of the pickup is the fact that it is very clear sounding, with a roundness that is defined and smooth, which translates to chords that are very clear, with each string ringing out with a clear and distinct voice. This is useful, as you can drench the amp in reverb and delay, and still have plenty of clarity in your notes. However, this clarity can also prove to be a problem when you crank the amp, as those crystal clear tones tend to distort in an odd way.
Overdrive this guitar has a character that is wholly unique, and if you’ve ever played a guitar with lipstick pickups, you should know what I mean. Where typical single coils follow the telecaster strategy of having a very bright, and twangy pickup in the bridge, and a more “acoustic” sounding neck pickup, the lipstick pickup is warm and clear across its whole range. Sure the neck is warmer sounding than the bridge, and you can still get some twang out of the bridge, it certainly doesn’t have nearly as much snap as a typical strat pickup in the same position. This means that when it distorts it has a very fluid sound, which is good for single note runs, and lightly overdriven chords, but doesn’t lend itself as well to drop tuned power chords quite as well. While this guitar does have a very unique sound, with a clarity and warmth that is hard to find in many modern guitars, it won’t suit the needs of many hardcore, or straight ahead rock guitarists, but if you’re an alternative guitarist, a lover of surf rock, or just someone who wants a strat that is a little outside of the norm, this guitar gets a solid 9 out of 10.
Next up, is the Vintage Modified Telecaster, with its more or less classic tele features, but adding in some cool Fender approved mojo. First thing that you are sure to notice is the oversized early 60’s style Jazzmaster headstock. The second thing you are sure to notice is that the typical nickel covered neck pickup has been replaced with the giant neck pickup off of a Jazzmaster, and as I have mentioned in previous blogs, these giant pickups were not modeled on P90 pickups as many believe, but rather based on steel guitar pickups, aiming to have a much wider frequency response with a clearer, more direct sound.
Through an amp this guitar certainly delivers on that idea, with all of the snap and treble of a tele in the bridge, and all of the jazzy, hollowbody esc tones you typically get from a Jazzmaster in the neck. This design feels like something that would have made Leo Fender laugh back in the day, as it combines two markets that he viewed were completely separate from one another, the Telecaster with its country style spank and swagger, and the Jazzmaster with it’s artsy tones, and crystal clear response. Oddly enough the marriage of the two seems to have worked out wonderfully, as this guitar certainly has all of what you would want from both guitars.
Through a clean amp, this guitar delivers all of the classic Tele tones, but you also can creep into the world of jazz guitar by switching to the neck, or live in a strange world in between the two in the middle position. The middle actually proved to create a very distinct, and frequency rich tone combining the clear twang of the brass plated bridge pickup, with the bell like sound of the neck, making a very round, and warm tone. Strumming chords proved to create an almost acoustic guitar like attack, with plenty of percussive bite, but at the same time, long bell like sustain.
Switching to a dirtier channel, this guitar had a life all its own. The swampy textures of the bridge pickup contrast nicely with the smooth, spacey textures of the Jazzmaster neck pickup. The two together create a sort of “super Tele” kind of sound, with far more of that round neck pickup tone in the mix than a typical Tele. This guitar even distorts well thanks to the typically aggressive quality of the Tele bridge pickup, which takes distortion and over drive with ease, and the neck pickup sounds amazing as well, with a very round tone that sustains for days. The Jazzmaster neck is appropriately comfortable, and fast, allowing you to travel effortlessly along its length. The Vintage Modified Telecaster has a very beautiful voice which would be at home in any situation either of its parents, the Tele or the Jazzmaster would be acceptable in, from country to alternative, to even jazz, this guitar can do almost anything. If you’re looking for a cool Tele with a slightly different voice, this guitar could very well be it. It’s thanks to this versatility that the Vintage Modified Telecaster earns itself a 9 out of 10.
Last up in today’s review, is the Vintage Modified Stratocaster with the Duncan Designed Humbucker in the bridge. This guitar is a veritable dream team of classic Stratocaster design. From the oversized 70’s style head stock, the classic finishes from charcoal metallic, black and classic three tone sunburst, and the engraved neck plate. The genius of this guitar, is it takes a mod that became so common that it eventually became an actual standard guitar for Fender, the Fat Strat, the idea of placing a hot humbucker in the bridge to fatten up the guitar might not be anything new, but what is new is the fact that this guitar uses three Duncan designed pickups.
The Duncan designed pickups are blisteringly hot, which allows this guitar to play all of those classic Strat sounds, but still have all of the punch and clarity that a modern guitarist would need. Playing this guitar through a clean amp was a treat, as the pickups can easily nail all of those classic clean Strat tones, but at the same time are powerful enough to drive most amps into that weird almost overdriven, yet still clean world that Strat players love to live in.
This guitar also can live in the purely distorted realm with no problem, as the hotter pickups allow it to lay down big down tuned chords with ease and play flutey lead tones for days. This guitar can live in any world it chooses, from snappy hot country licks, blues runs, rock & roll rhythms, or searing metal chops, this guitar can do it all. For that fact alone, this guitar easily earns itself a 10 out of 10.