Woe is me – Fret-board Turmoil
Where to start? I like to blame Tom Wheeler’s very fine book, The Stratocaster Chronicles. Before that, the mysteries of the Fender Stratocaster back-catalogue were pretty closed to me. I knew that pre-CBS was best and that there was an array of maple and rosewood, hard-tails and humbuckers but I really had no pattern to frame all this in.
Too many years ago, in my late teens, guitar number three (in series, not parallel) was an extremely fine Strat copy by Hohner. This came after a rather nasty, cheap Telecaster Deluxe copy (£55) whose brand is best forgotten and a Suzuki acoustic which I never really loved. The Strat was Black because the store (Sound Control in Dunfermline, still going strong over 20 years later (oh bugger, that ages me)) didn’t have the Natural version in stock. I had read a fantastic review in Sounds magazine – a fine publication, required reading for the too-much-hair-penchant-for-denim-and-leather-not-yet-hit-by-the-latex-extravangance-of-Twisted-Sister brigade. That’s where I first learned about the much lamented Warren Zevon (well worthy of separate post and one of contemporary music’s most literate songwriters – try Genius: the Best of Warren Zevon or Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon) and many other less than mainstream artists that now fill my shelves. That’s also, coming back to the point, where I first learned about the wonders of pre-CBS, or m/n and r/n (Maple neck and Rosewood neck). I can still remember those small ads: "Fender Strat, Lake Placid Blue, r/n, pre-CBS, £250" £250! Can you imagine?! That was miles out of reach back then but even so, oh for the gift of foresight. Today, a wrecked and refurbished (and wrecked again) pre-CBS Strat will cost upwards of £5,000 and mint examples go for more than my first house. Those were the days (the very brief days as it turned out) of those head-turning ads featuring the new Tokai "Springysound". The guitars that turned the instrument world on its head, copies of 1954 Strats so faithful and so good that musicians swore they were better than the originals. So faithful, in fact, it turned out that Fender’s lawyers were distracted less by the naked girls than by the cheeky, "Tokai Springysound, Oldies but Goldies" logos. So distracted that they sued, forcing Tokai to revert to a boringly black, block logo and (presumably coincidentally) to abandon the ads so eye-catching in more fleshy ways.
Back to the Hohner, which still hangs much loved – if a touch dusty – on my wall, it really is a fantastic guitar and a pretty faithful replica of an early 70’s Strat: large headstock, bullet truss-rod and – like all Strats up to that points – a 7.25" radius fingerboard. This last point turns out to be critical. I set my guitar aside for many years (more fool me) and then picked it back up a few years back. Flushed with the success of employment, I purchased my first genuine Fender. It was a very nice US built Highway One Strat in translucent red. I bought it in Guitar Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Somehow though, once I got it home, I never really gelled with it. It was at this point that I encountered The Stratocaster Chronicles and realised it was the changed radius which did it for me. Years of noodling had addicted me to the more curved 7.25" radius and modern Fenders come (usually) with the flatter 9.5" radius. I took the guitar up to Chandlers in Kew for a while-you-wait set-up. They did a fantastic job and the guitar played like a dream. But its fate was sealed. While waiting, I had been fiddling around with one of the Mexican built "Classic 60s" Strats: Lake Placid Blue, aged "mint-green" white bits and a 7.25" rosewood neck. I was completely sold on it. Within a couple of weeks, my good friend the King of Scotland had the Highway One cuddling up to his Telecaster and I was the very happy keeper of the blue 60’s Classic 60s. Not only that, but with my heart – and some future bonus (es) – set on an original, if well-worn 1964. Ah, happy days.
Which brings me, finally, to the Turmoil bit. About a year ago (Guitar Center, Seattle) I bought a Highway One Telecaster. And then, about three weeks ago, I began leaning towards the wonders of that flatter fret-board; the possibilities of low action and big bends. What to do? What about the dream 1964? It’s all feeling decidedly off-centre. And then, with a strange synchronicity, I received a letter from my friends at Fender (well ok, a junk E-Mail) describing their new range of Vintage Hot Rods. That ’62 Strat with flatter fret-board, reverse wired, noise-reducing pick-ups…mmmmm. Maybe time to set aside my but-its-not-original snobberies.