The Fender FSR Ash Noiseless Stratocaster Transparent White Blonde Review – Creamy Goodness!

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The Fender FSR Ash Stratocaster Noiseless See-through White Blonde Review! Good enough to own one twice!

So, what is “FSR”, anyway? According to Fender’s web site, FSR means “Fender Special Run.” You can read a bit more here at Fender’s web site. The link opens a new window…. FSR Fender products pop up here and there, generally at major online or brick-and-mortar dealers. Sometimes the extra cool ones (like the ones that Jeff Allen signed) come to hometown dealers, too. I’ve had an FSR Strat or Tele here and there over the years. Sometimes they are just color combinations on the standard stuff, other times; they’re great combinations of great materials that aren’t offered together.

The white blonde Fender FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless Pickups is one of those wonderful FSRs that shouldn’t get away from you if you want an awesome sounding Strat that really fits the bill. Why did I sell off some of my instruments just so I could get one (and then another after someone offered me the right price for my first (customized, too!) one? Read on…

Although zZounds doesn’t offer the blond ash Noiseless FSR Strat, they do carry a HUGE array of Fender Stratocasters. Click here and read all about them! It helps me write more reviews if you buy awesome gear at zZounds. Besides, they have great customer service and return policies!

FenderFSRAshNoiselessStratFactoryImage

Factory image. The colors are a little off, but the idea is about right

Quick Opinion: The FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless pickups and the transparent white blonde finish is superb. The neck is (at least, at the moment) unique, the electronics are awesome, and the build quality is just fantastic. I love this guitar. If you’re looking for a mid-priced Stratocaster that won’t break the bank and will play its heart out, this is definitely one to consider!

This particular FSR Stratocaster has good looks, easy playability, that wonderful ash-body sound, and the quiet power of Fender’s “Noiseless” single coil pickups. Even the pickguard is cool: mint green – like an old friend from the 70s that’s been around for a long time.

The interesting neck, the mint pickguard, the pickups, and the look and feel of the transparent gloss finish on the ash body is intriguing and very playable.

Here’s a quick breakdown of this particular guitar’s features:
* Ash body;
* Transparent white blonde body finish;
* Combination semi-gloss/gloss neck (read on), modern C shape;
* Vintage-style 6-screw non-floating tremolo bridge;
* Maple neck, maple fretboard;
* Traditional S-S-S pickup configuration with two tones and a master volume;
* 5-way blade pickup selector switch (N-NM-M-MB-B);
* Mint pickguard… Cool!;
* Ping-style tuners and old-style string tree on B and high E;
* Synthetic bone nut;
* Fender’s awesome Noiseless hand-wound pickups;
* Nicer Fender gig bag

Sound: If you like a quiet Stratocaster that has the guts to pull off everything from country to blues to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jeff Beck to Clapton, this guitar is a real contender. Overall, this Strat captures the essence of what a Strat sounds like, but with quieter oomph.

Let’s get into details about what drove me to this MIM Strat in the first place…
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods – a one-piece maple neck and: Ash!

Pickups and Electronics: The pickups are a big part of “the reason for the season” with these particular FSR Strats. The pickups are hotter than vintage, but aren’t super wide-open. They live up to their “quiet” reputation with their AlNiCo magnets, special enamel-coil wire, dressed magnet edges, and the nicely upgraded controls (pots, caps, resistors). They sound great, are nicely balanced, and are truly great at making that “Fender Strat” sound.

The electronics are the upgraded/special set of controls that Fender sells with its Noiseless set kits. The tone pots and volume pot work superbly and sound just fine. All the solder joints are really clean and nicely done. The wiring is well-routed and planned – overall: nice stuff.

I like the traditional CRL-style mechanical blade pickup selector switch. Fender, please don’t switch to those awful PCB switches (like those in the Blacktop Fenders)!

Tone woods Some of the best sounding Fender guitars in history have been ash. Ash has a completely different character than alder or basswood. It has a denser tone (at least, to my ears), and has more definition and ring than alder.

My particular FSR ash Strat sounds warmer and more full than my alder Stratocaster. It has a heavier feel to the shoulder, but I like the sustain and resonance of the ash.

Body wood can be a really personal thing for Fender players, so I won’t take up a stance here – I just want to try to have an objective view of things in my reviews: Ash is a great tone wood, one that does great for rock styles and country styles.

FenderFSRAshNoiselessStratocasterJimPearsonCustomBodyShot

My customized FSR with the 50s Reissue neck, my Jimi Hendrix-style “Gypsied” pickguard, and my Schaller strap locks

Playability This guitar fits the body like a soft cotton shirt, and the overall balance is excellent. The ash body is a little heavier than my alder-body Strat, but not enough that I really notice it. I found that the body feels smoother against my skin than my Highway 1, but not as buttery as my Jimmie Vaughan signature MIM Strat. The body is extremely high gloss, done to the nines. Someone spent A LOT of time getting this one right. When I sold my first one, I found myself pining away for it about a week later… I eventually saved up and bought another during a big online sale.

The feel of the traditional Strat body is a story on it own, with countless thousands of friends out there to testify. It’s a very playable body, comfortable and straightforward. So very easy to reach the front of the guitar… you don’t spend much time thinking about the body’s contact with your arm and ribcage. Simple. Genius.

Vintage-style (6-screw, non-floating) Fender Stratocaster bridges aren’t the most intonation-stable bridges. They require a good setup to stay close in tune for an extended period of play, but still go out here and there even then. If you want extreme tuning stability, you’ll need to go to a stop-tail with locking tuners, or a double locking trem such as a Floyd Rose, Jackson, Kahler, or Ibanez. (There are Floyd-bridged Strats out there…). If you can accept that you’ll have to tweak the tuning keys if you’re a big tremolo-bar-bomber, the vintage-style bridge is fine. When I’m not specifically looking for trem effects while I’m playing, I don’t even put the trem arm in my Strat’s bridge when I play it. To put this into perspective, when I recorded with my American Standard Stratocaster last month (two-point floating trem, Ping-style tuners), I had to stop and tune it several times when I pushed the trem around a bunch for some parts of the recording.

I love the way Strats play. Even though I am a fan of many types of guitars, I’m not sure I’d ever do without at least one Strat in my closet.

Playability: The neck This particular FSR Strat came with a neck that isn’t like its contemporary MIM Standard Strat cousins. The fretboard and headstock face are high gloss, while the back of the neck is a creamy semi-gloss/matte finish. The back of the neck feels a lot like my Fender Deluxe Ash Telecaster’s neck. The front of the neck reminds me a lot of the nicer Japanese Fender necks and the 50s reissue necks made in America and in Mexico.

This (currently) unusual combination of gloss front/matte back is a neat combination. I felt instantly comfortable with it. The neck back profile is a general C “modern” shape and feels compatible with the necks of the Fender MIM Standard models. It’s just thick enough to feel substantial, without feeling like a Jackson speedy neck. The width is quite comfortable, and I find chording is just as easy as picking and arpeggiating. Nice neck.

(Editor’s note: I really like a boat, V, or D neck on Fenders, so I ended up putting a 50s reissue neck on my FSR. A VERY happy eBay member got my FSR’s original neck and found it to be a real winner for him… Necks are like shoes. You like the way they feel or you don’t. NO issues with the FSR’s beautiful neck: I just liked my V neck better.)

Don’t forget to check out zZounds’ selection of Fender Stratocasters

Quality: The build quality of my FSR Ash Noiseless blonde Stratocaster is nothing short of superb. There was only one flaw on the entire guitar: the neck pocket on the bass side has a tiny gap with the original neck, on the edge facing towards the headstock. I don’t think this is a deal-breaker for me. After all, this is not an Eric Clapton Signature Strat or an Eric Johnson Signature Strat. It’s a mid-line animal that was built with LOTS of attention to detail and love from the folks at the Ensenada plant.

FenderFSRNoiselessAshStratocasterDetailBackByJimPearson

The back goodness of creamy transparent blonde. You can just see the grain in this (not my best) picture. The “F” neck plate is my addition: factory versions ship with a plain neck plate.

I couldn’t have found a nicer example of neck craftsmanship, body routing and finish, electronics detail, and fret detail in such a nice mid-priced guitar. Speaking of the frets: they’re very nicely ended and crowned, smooth, and even…

I’m gushing, but then again, this guitar deserves it. I don’t know that every one is this way, but the two I’ve had were excellent examples.

Value: The FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless pickups is about $150 more than the MIM Standard Stratocaster. In my opinion, it is very much well worth it. It’s a strong value if you’re looking for much nicer pickups and much better neck and tone woods. In the grander scheme of Fender guitars, this one is mid-range and has a value that’s more akin to the $899+ “specialty” Fenders like the Player series and Road Worn series

I would have a hard time choosing between this Strat and the much more expensive 50s Player Stratocaster. I like the 50s Player: a lot! But this one is much more affordable and sounds much better! The difference for me? The body wood wins on the FSR and the neck wins on the 50s Player.

Wishes: I do wish these particular FSRs had V-shaped necks. Otherwise, I love them just like they are!

The mighty Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone Review! Get down low without breaking the bank!

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The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone Review! An affordable giant down low!

I love this guitar. I am so glad I bought one! Read on.

I’ve been playing lots of very distinct sounds and ideas in the past couple of years. It’s great that I’ve been able to use such a diverse array of instruments from guitars to basses to keyboards and even some folk instruments and meditation instruments…

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFullFront

The Fender Blacktop Tele Baritone in all its glory

But sometimes you just need something that adds more richness to recordings. It’s well enough to use guitars and basses – but what about something that layers sounds in between? Here’s where 8- and 7-string guitars come in, and my favorite mid-voice: the Baritone.

The baritone guitar is an interesting animal. You get the neck feel of a 6 string guitar – just longer. It doesn’t have the width of a 7-, 8-, or even 9-string guitar’s neck. It feels right at home to the traditional 6-string guitar player – just a little further to the left (or right, for my left-handed friends). I personally love just about any of the extended-range guitars including the old Fender Bass VI – very nice. But sometimes, you just wanna get low without having to deal with a different feel.

Baritones are generally like a thin-necked 7-string minus the high e. It’s important to note that the interpretation of “Baritone guitar” has many permutations. Some feel that 7-strings (and more) are baritones. Some feel that it has to be a 6-string guitar with a longer scale. Yet others feel that putting telephone wires (humor me here… laughter is great) on a standard 6 and just tuning the guitar down a bunch. My definition is really more simple: a long-scale 6-string tuned the next “string” lower – generally starting on a low B below the “standard” low E of a traditional 6. I’ve played Baritones from LTD/ESP to Fender to Epiphone to Gibson and Agile. I’ve liked them all.

Fender is no stranger to the Baritone business, with adaptations of the Bass VI, the Jazzmaster Baritone, and even the wonderful Jaguar limited edition HH Baritone guitar all being great guitars that give Fender some wonderful credibility for making a long scale low-tuned beast.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonBodyShotPickupDetail

HSS with a crunchy humbucker and two Tele pickups. Nice!

Back to the subject: This review is about a new Blacktop Fender Telecaster in long scale Baritone tuning. WOW. Love it. Read on… I’m keeping mine for a good long while.

Please visit zZounds and get more information as well as pricing info about the awesome Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone – click here! (visiting my sponsor helps me fund more reviews! (And G.A.S., of course! :-))

Quick Opinion: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone is a winner.
Simple and easy-to-play design? Telecaster with a long neck: check!
Diverse sound pallette – more so than the standard HH config? HSS with Tele neck pickups in mid and neck with the humbucker being hot rock: check!
Nice long scale with a great neck: Telecaster at 27″ 9.5″ fretboard radius, medium-jumbo frets, maple neck (the back of the neck, anyway) with a nice finish: check!

This grandaddy-long-legs Telecaster is a scream to play and really sounds great. There are a few things about it that I wish were different – but overall, these guitars are a major buy… well-priced, nicely executed, fairly high quality, and sounds like it’s a nice chunky rock and roll machine! This Fender Baritone is easy to play – just like a Tele should. It’s fun, interesting, and feels good in the hands.

How low can you go!? If you play metal and need something metal-y, I like the Fender Baritone Telecaster – it has a lot of spunk. Of course, for metal, you could always paint it flat black and use bright orange duct tape to attach a pointed cap on the end of the headstock to make it monstrous :-). Have fun, play guitar!

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFretDetailShot

Really nice: Blends of gloss, buffed natural, and metal. Nice!

Playability: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone plays like a dream when it comes to playing baritone guitars. The neck is easy, the body is familiar and simple, and the strings aren’t massively bigger (but enough that you know it). It’s oddly satisfying to handle that big long neck with the thicker strings. It’s chunky yet very comfortable feeling. The overall guitar somehow seems to feel “more substantial” when you are playing it. In some ways, the neck-to-body balance seems to be just right. If you’ve felt comfortable with a Tele before, this guitar is not a big stretch to which to make the leap.

I guess I had one issue with the playability of my Blacktop Baritone Tele: tuning. The Ping tuners work fine, smooth, and consistently. But their tuning ratio is too close/low to be useful on a thick-stringed baritone. When you’re trying to get the Tele Bari in tune enough to play with others or to record, you spend a LONG time hair-touching the tuner buttons trying to get them into tune. Not a picky thing here: a real issue. If you tweak the button just a little bit, it can go almost a quarter-tone out of tune on the low B and low E strings. Solution? Either use a tuning crank (and some care) to slowly adjust the button, or put in tuners that are 16:1 or better 18:1 (I could be wrong, but I believe that the current tuners feel like 14:1). I did the tuning crank for about a week. I got frustrated spending too much time tuning and re-tuning (the Pings didn’t hold tune once set) – and bought a set of locking 18:1 in-line mini Grovers. Tuning baritones is still a challenge, but these tuners cut my tuning times into half. I have nothing against Pings – but I just wish they had a larger/wider ratio on any of my Ping-tuned Fenders.

Sound: The sound of the Fender Telecaster Blacktop Baritone is substantial. It’s rock-oriented and can handle country and alt styles as well. The stock pickups (like the Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone) aren’t generally well-suited for super-clean styles like New Age and Jazz. You can use the neck pickup in combination with the middle pickup to get a nice noise-canceled Tele sound – just remember that it is a Tele – it’s not rich and broad like a humbucker with AlNiCo magnets… I have gotten some nice single-coily cleans with my Fender Tele Baritone – albeit that the tones can get a little snappy… snappy is not always a bad thing!

A short note: I’ve discovered that my Telecaster Baritone sounds best through a bass amp or a guitar amp coupled to a/some cab(s) with 15″ speaker(s). I’ve played my blacktop through Crate, Peavey, Marshall, and Bugera guitar tube amps and cabs – without a doubt: the Tele Baritone sounded great through my bass amp; it sounded woofy and too muddy through a guitar amp with 12″ speakers. For more, read on to the “sound” section of this review.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonBack

There are many components to sound quality in an instrument. Like many of my more recent reviews, the sound section deserves a little extra detail. In this case, I’ll write about:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge
3) The Telecaster body as a choice of shapes

Pickups and Electronics: For this review, there is a bit of a mashup of “sound”, “quality”, and “value” wih respect to the pickups and electronics in the Blacktop line of Fender guitars, including the Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone.

From the ear’s point of view, the Blacktop Telecaster Baritone sounds like a rock-and-roll favorite for the future. Guitar players will look for these in decades to come, particularly if Fender doesn’t continue to make them year after year. This guitar rocks. It knows how to grumble and growl, it can scream and yell, it can blanket you with a wall of sound through a tube amp with some big speakers. I’ve found that this guitar’s electronics work MUCH better through a bass amp or a big-wattage head through a cab with several 10″ speakers or a 15″ speaker. No doubt, my little 2×10 Behringer 450-watt garage amp smacked out the Baritone tone like a champ! My Marshall sounded good with it, but only through the Behringer’s speakers – and not my Peavey 4×12. Keep this in mind: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone does exactly just the right stuff… we just have to think about how we play baritone guitars in general – my comments are about my experience – not shortcomings of a particular guitar or amp…

The pickups have a huge strength and two weaknesses. The pickups are economically-made, and they are muddy in many amplification settings. They do gain definition with the right amp and even with DI computer input or something like a Line 6 TonePort. The strength? They sound GREAT when you put them in the right place.

The electronics are a surprise. Gone are the everyday solid CTS (or similar) high-quality pots, the burgundy chicklet capacitor, and the time-proven mechanical blade switch (like a CRL or an Oak). Now? The really, really cheap bargain-bin pots, an unknown quality cap, and the super-cheap circuit board flat ultra econo-switch. I’m not thwacking Fender for doing this: the Blacktops are cheaper than Fender Standards when it comes to street price – but grrrr: They could be STANDARD Fender stuff without killing profit. I think these guitars sound pretty good overall, but I was truly saddened when I popped open the control cavity and pickguard. Fender could have done better. Sad face. I popped in a Fender OEM volume pot, a nice push-pull 250kOhm tone pot (for 7-way switching), a Fender OEM tone cap, and a real Fender OEM mechanical blade 5-way pickup selector switch. It sounds AWESOME now – and I’m lovin’ my Fender Baritone being a Fender.

The Factory electronics of a Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster

The Factory electronics of a Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster

I do like the simplicity of the wiring as it comes from the factory, though:
Positions, starting from the bridge:
1) Bridge only, full humbucker
2) Bridge and middle, birdge still in full humbucker mode
3) Middle only as a single coil
4) Middle and neck in humbucking mode (quacky, but warm – LOVE me some Tele!)
5) Neck only as a single coil

Tone woods: The tone woods of this Telecaster are on par with the Fender Standard Telecaster. I am pleased with the overall sound, resonance, and weight of the guitar. You can count on it for consistency in manufacturing detail, and it sings nicely when you play.

Why Telecaster?: Why not? Baritones work well with most standard guitar shapes and configurations. The Tele Baritone sounds good because of many things, not the least of which is because of its slab-o-genius body. I like it. It sounds nice, especially with the swimming-pool-esque rout under the pickguard: the Telecaster lends itself to a certain sustaining resonance. That’s one of the MANY reasons why I love having them around.

Shameless sponsor plug 🙂 To be honest, though, zZounds has a great return policy and a love-your-gear guarantee that’s hard to beat. They price-match, too.

Quality: My Fender Telecaster Blacktop Baritone is extremely well made. It came out of the factory box without a single flaw or problem at first, and I was extremely pleased to wipe it down, tune it up, and start playing. I do think the bridge could have been seated a little bit further towards the lower bout tail – it would be easier to set the intonation.

I did have one problem after a week: The neck pickup stopped working. The PCB cheap switch was the problem. When I put in standard Fender stuff (including an OEM Standard switch), the neck pickup issue went away. I can now play all 5 positions with glee. Works great! (And, now that I have modified my Bari, the neck pickup is independent with a push-pull – that way I can get neck + bridge and neck + middle + bridge sounds, too.)

I had to set the intonation on the saddles – a step almost always necessary on production-line guitars (why is that, anyway? Can’t a factory person at least do the 12th fret harmonics setup?). No worries. Five of 6 saddles adjusted the intonation into place. The sixth ran out of room on the spring – I can’t get it any closer than 10 cents unless I clip the spring or change the saddle in some way. Overall? It does fine.

The fit and finish is flawless. it looks like people who really love guitars built it (and, I think they do). The feel of the finish on the neck and body are excellent, the fret ends were nice and simple – no jagged edges on frets. The fretboard is nice and smooth – none of that cheap rough stuff you see in economy guitars.

The Ping tuners (if they are indeed still made by Ping – they look like standard everyday Ping Fender two-pin tuners) are good tuners overall – but they don’t work well for this baritone (see the “playability” section of this review). The quality is excellent, though. I love the traditional old tiny simple thin string tree for the g and high b strings.

The neck pocket was sweetly dressed, and when I put on my trademark “F” Fender OEM neckplate, I found the fit to be paper-smooth and just the right tightness. I also found the neck shape to be something I love. It’s thicker than a regular standard or USA Tele neck, but not excessively so: the neck grinder did an excellent job at the factory.

Value: This guitar is a bargain. It is just about impossible to find a decent baritone 6-string in this price range, new from the box. With only two foibles (neither of which is a red x to me), this guitar performs and sounds and plays like many guitars in the $799 street price range. The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone sells for (as of this writing) $549 street, and occasionally $500 on sale here and there on the internet.

I think the price makes this guitar extremely good in the price-for-value ratio. I would buy a new one again if I was in the market. As of this writing, there aren’t very many used ones in the used marketplace, so only time will tell if they do a good job of keeping reasonable value after purchase.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFullBodyShotFront

The Amp knobs are a nice touch. A new classic cool - even in its first incarnation

Wishes: Fender: Please use real CRL-style switches, CTS/CGE-quality pots, and the good old burgundy chicklet cap. Also, please find a way to use tuners with a wider and bigger tuning ratio. It would be nice if the bridge were seated about a 1/4″ more back on the body for better intonation setting.

Oh: and Olympic white with a tinted maple neck/fretboard, please? Maybe for 2012/2013 model year? I would buy an Oly white with maple/maple in a heartbeat!

The Fender Deluxe Ash Telecaster (Tele) review: 6 years with a USA-crafted pinnacle instrument!

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Fender Deluxe Ash Telecaster (Tele) Review – 6 years of sweet harmony between player and instrument

I started making music again in 2004, after a decades-long hiatus. By the beginning of 2005: not only had I begun playing seriously again, I was actually teaching myself to record and I was expanding my instrument library by leaps and bounds.

My brother Will has been one of my strongest musical supporters, even from the first time I picked up a guitar at 12 years old. He purchased all my funky little early albums when they released, and continued his support in so many wonderful ways. One day I walked to the front porch step and there was a big box there. He had given me a gorgeous USA Fender with which to make music.

Thank you, Will. “Blondie” will forever be a part of my sound. I’ve since used my American Deluxe Tele to record countless pieces and even gig small venues. This instrument is a part of me, a part of my sound, and a part of the thrill of creating and playing music.

This review is based on more than six years of owning and playing a 2006 Fender USA Deluxe Telecaster. Believe me, my review is completely unbiased and is based on real experience. I’ve played countless hours on this delightful instrument

Fender Deluxe Ash Factory Picture

Fender Deluxe Ash Factory Picture

Quick Opinion: Everything about the Deluxe Ash Telecaster is awesome. It’s a “pinnacle” instrument, comparable to any custom shop or “old school build” Tele I’ve ever played.

Without blushing too much, this instrument is the finest Fender I’ve played in the many decades of my experience. I’ll leave the details to the review. Read on…

Playability: The neck has a silky feel that is not the same as the satin feel of the Mexico Standard Teles and the American Special Telecasters. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s like a perfect balance between silky smoothness and sensual touch. It is almost a gloss to the eye – but doesn’t grab the skin like gloss can (once you begin to play hard or for long periods of time). It’s beautiful tinted silkiness. I enjoy the medium-jumbo frets. They’re not huge, but they’re not the “fretless wonder” either. They’re comfortable and excellent. The neck is a 9.5″ radius. Nice!

I love the hand-rolled edges of the neck. The frets were superbly dressed and in perfect condition. Level, smooth, no jags on the paws as you navigate the fretboard. What more can a guitar player want? It is an extension of my heart’s music – playing out into your ears through that neck. Wow.

Find out more about the new Fender USA Deluxe Telecaster here at zZounds.com

The body feels like a good old Telecaster. Medium weight, perfectly routed on the edges (the blonde version does not have binding, some other deluxe models do), and the picking arm feels right at home on top of that ol’ Ash slab. It’s a standard Tele shape, so it is what it is, just the feel is great from the hand-applied finish.

I do like the bridge. There’s a lot to like with brass three- or six-saddle Tele bridges – but to be honest, this block-saddle bridge works great and intonates well. The bridge is not overly tall and doesn’t often interact with the picking hand.

Tuning is relatively stable. My Deluxe Ash Tele has Ping-style tuners – I personally prefer the vintage Kluson-style tuners, but these work really well and stay in tune as much as I need them to. I think locking tuners would have been good – but to be honest, this Tele behaves in a consistent way even after hours of play. No more or less out of tune than you would get with Ping tuners on a saddle-bridged Tele. The new (as of at least 2012 – don’t know when it started) Fender Deluxe Ash Telecaster has staggered locking tuners on its compound radius neck. Sounds great to me!

Overall, it plays like a dream: partly because of the feel; partly because of the weight balance; partly because it just fits the body and hands like the genius instrument it is: Simplicity and power, all at the same time. No wonder many of the greats still play similar Telecasters.

Vivid Peace's Fender Deluxe Ash Telecaster, 2006

Vivid Peace’s Fender Deluxe Ash Telecaster, 2006

Sound: There are many components to sound quality in an instrument. Like the Gibson LP Studio Baritone, the “sound” portion of this review deserves a little more depth than usual. I’ll explain:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge
3) Hand-crafting

Pickups and Electronics: The electronics are about as good as it gets without having a boutique manufacturer custom make pots, caps, jacks, switches, and wire for you. They’re good, solid Fender, the soldering is great, and the wires aren’t cheap stuff. The caps are basic Fender stuff – but they make the right sound – I left mine alone and didn’t touch any of the circuit mods from the factory.

The pickups are stellar. Nicely-wound, pretty much as noiseless as a great humbucker, and give me a satisfying Telecaster sound that can twang, spank, and can rock hard in pretty much any genre I choose to play. It even sounds delightful with plain tubes in warm (not drive) mode in a clean channel or clean model on my computer interface. I’ve recorded extremely hard versions of Clapton-esque drive to metal to jazzy to new age to prog rock to classic rock (sorry, I don’t have country in my repertoire yet – but stay tuned! When I do noodling covering country stuff, this guitar brings it on in DROVES!).

The pickups are Fender’s SCN pickups on both bridge and neck (neat little insignia to let you know…). They’re Samarium Cobalt Noiseless pickups: and they’re an awesome addition to Fenders’ Vintage Noiseless, Vintage Hot Noiseless, and N3 pickups (The current crop of deluxes use the new N3 pickups… you’ll have to get an older model to get the SCNs). These totally flail down the aftermarket noiseless Tele pickups – when it comes to the music I play.

The controls are: master volume, master tone (a no-load tone control – I put these on most of my modded Fender guitars and basses – the circuit completely bypasses the tone circuit when the tone knob is turned all the way to ten).

The S1 circuit is extremely flexible and adds A LOT to the sound of this instrument. With the standard Tele 3-way switching, the S1 switch really adds an “oompfh” setting to the middle switch position. Here’s a look at what you get:
S-1 Switch Down (On):
Position 1. Bridge Pickup
Position 2. Bridge Pickup in Series with Neck Pickup
Position 3. Neck Pickup

Tone woods: I love ash. The other tone woods are good, too, but if I can get a Fender in Ash, it makes my ears happy. The wood is excellent and actually kind of light under the blonde finish (light as in lighter than most ash grains). The snappy maple neck and fretboard of my Deluxe Tele is perfect for sounding “like a Telecaster.” Nicest “slab” guitar in town!

Hand-crafted excellence: Wow: The electronics were done as though it was the last and best Telecaster on Earth. Really. Very well-done, attention to detail, and a good instrument made on a good day at a great factory.

Quality: I think I’ve already alluded to the quality of my Deluxe Tele in the previous paragraphs, so I’ll abbreviate this section of this review.

My Telecaster is the best-made Fender I’ve ever played. It’s on par with my Bozeman-made Gibson acoustic and my two Gibson Standards. They’re truly the pinnacle of simple, playable hand-crafted art. There were zero issues with my Tele. It still plays and sounds perfectly wonderful.

Value: My Fender Deluxe ash Telecaster came with a deluxe G&G USA case, just like the old stuff – just black tolex instead of tweed. I love the case. It’s great for around the house and short trips to small gigs. But I like the case enough to want to take care of it. I do have one other case I use (shared among my Fender Strats and Teles) that is the new SKB TSA-approved molded high-tech case. The newer Deluxes come with the SKB case standard and no longer offer the G&G vintage-style case. In either event, new or old, you get a great case for your awesome Telecaster.

Overall value? They were around $1300 when Will bought mine. They’re now a few hundred more than that. They’re worth every dime, maybe even a little more than $2k. If you’re looking for a bargain instrument, don’t look at customs and deluxes. BUT: if you want a deluxe or custom instrument that is a bargain in its ranks: The Fender Deluxe American Ash Telecaster is at the top of the list: affordable and so very close to a custom-shop guitar in overall execution and quality.

Features: The features. Great! On my particular Tele, the position markers are abalone. They’re a bit fainter than black dots, but I like them a lot. The newer Deluxes have standard black dot position markers… Tomato-tomahto.

In short, the American Deluxe Ash Telecaster earns its name as a feature-rich guitar:
Ash body
That “feels-like-a-thousand-dollars” neck
Excellent electronics and care-made pickups
Superior woods
Flawless finish
S-1 circuitry
Excellent case

Long on features, short on price.

Buy one. Now.

Wishes: Locking tuners. Fender already beat me to it.

Fender Highway One (Hwy 1) USA Stratocaster Guitar Review – I still have one for recording to this day. Love them!

TheGuitarReview.com is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

I first wrote this review on October 3, 2009. I’ve had a few of these for short periods of time since then. I now have a burgundy SSS model – it’s become a bit of a Frankenstein, with a 50’s reissue V neck, vintage tuners, and such: but still the excellent body and pickguard and electronics I’ve come to love and respect from a Highway One USA Stratocaster…/h3>

2007 Fender Highway One USA Stratocaster Review

No matter how many instruments I own or play, there’s always a need and a feel for a Strat. The sound is unmistakable. The feel is just right. The overall experience playing a nice Stratocaster is really an eye, feel, sound thing (and sometimes, a smell thing).

Strats have changed over the years, from the simpleness of the 50s to the big-hair rock of the eighties to the current array of models. We have so many from which to choose… Made in Mexico, made in Japan, and made in the United States of America. Maple, SSS, HSS, HH, rosewood, alder, ash, mahogany, big frets, skinny frets, vintage headstock, “Jimi” headstock (would that be a Woodheadstock?), gypsy bridge, AlNiCo, ceramic, samarium cobalt, noiseless, noisy, Greasebucket, S1, roadworn… There are so many different Strats and so many different things about those Strats. For every season, for every reason, for every musical decade, there are Strats for them since the 50s. They’re a part of music’s fabric now – and are one of the greatest easy-to-customize guitars on the market…

I was looking for a USA Stratocaster. I didn’t quite have the change available for an American Standard or an American Deluxe – so I looked at and fell in love with the Highway One. I’ve had Highway One Fenders before, and have always been pleased.

This particular Stratocaster is a complete joy and has absolutely no disappointments. The sound is unmistakable, remarkable, and pure Strat. It plays and looks like a dream.

Quick Opinion: The 2007 and later Highway One Strats are great (previous ones were fine, but for this conversation…). They play well, are affordable, and they sound just like I wanted to hear. They really are well made, and are very comfortable to play for one recording or a whole set of gigs. If you’d like a nice big-fret USA-made Stratocaster, you owe it to yourself to try one of these.

Features: Where do I start? They’re genius simple and complex-wonderful all at the same time. They sound and play in a rich experience that leaves the player (and the listener) grinning.

There are lots of kinds of Fender Stratocasters. Browse them and find the right one for you at zZounds.com and their “love your guitar” guarantee.

My particular Highway One is, if I am correct, a short-run guitar. I purchased this one when all that was available was rosewood-fretboard Highway Ones. Now, Fender makes a version of these as a standard offering. I’m really glad they did. I like the old HSS Highway Ones just fine, but this was my alternative to an SSS American Standard – and I LOVE maple fretboards on Fenders. (To be honest, I’m reviewing a Gibson SG Raw Power with a maple body, neck, and fretboard – and I love it there too… stay tuned.)

A short list of what the Highway One has:
Excellent post-vintage AlNiCo III magnet pickups with staggered poles and excellent output balance – not too hot, not too thin
A thin-skinned nitrocellulose finish – the more you play it, the smoother and shinier it gets, the more it feels and looks like an old friend…
An excellent mid-size maple neck and fretboard with that 70s “Jimi” headstock and lettering
A comfortable lightweight body
The excellent vintage-style tremolo
The always cool Fender Greasebucket tone circuit
Standard tuners and buttons
Decent mass to the trem block
Great-feeling jumbo-style frets

Quality: This particular Highway 1 is an extremely well-made instrument. The craftsmanship is careful and is an extremely good example of what American guitar builders can do.

The fit and finish are flawless. The pickups are wound wonderfully well. The feel, finish, and wood chosen for the neck are just right for the satin variety necks.

Screw holes are lined up right, the action was just perfect for .009 Fender Bullets right out of the box. Easy and buttery to play, without any issues or not-normal buzzes. The frets are level and are nicely polished from the factory (see my wants and desires section of this review…)

I was extremely impressed with the consistency of the matte nitro finish. Nitro is not easy to apply in any stretch of the imagination – and matte finishes show every little flaw or inconsistency. This Strat was loved by the person who made it. Period. The lacquer finish feel is great and is a pleasure to have against your skin. I do like gloss finishes as a personal preference. However, the finish on these doesn’t grab when you get sweaty…

I also felt the new Fender gig bag is a major improvement. Highway Ones come with the new super-thick, super-strong-fabric gig bag. Very nice. As gig bags go, these are definitely among the very best.

Playability: Here’s where I start getting warm fuzzies about the Highway One I have: the physical experience of playing the guitar is fantastic. Everything about it from the way the trem works to the feel of the frets to the balance of the body and neck is just a pleasure. That’s the operative term for these: a pleasure. Not every Strat is a pleasure to play, even when they’re correctly and professionally set up.

The balance on my shoulder (with a nice 2.5″ faux-suede, thick black strap)is superb. I don’t know if this is something factual, but here’s something nicely subjective: the big headstock makes the balance unique. I felt that the way this guitar is assembled and planned and sourced is ideal for someone looking for their guitar to feel almost transparent to their playing.

Simply put, it becomes an extension of my mind and heart – without getting in the way and demanding my attention. I’ve made some nice progressive rock instrumentals with this instrument, and I couldn’t be more happy with the way the guitar felt standing or sitting.

Action is subjective, and is really a personal thing. My son Kennon (of the N.C. band InterTwyneD) likes his strings low but off the frets a good bit – he likes to dig under the string a little when he bends. Me? I like it low enough that the strings buzz a little when they’re struck or plucked with vigor. This Strat has been set both ways, and in both instances, it STILL played like buttery joy. Smooth, effortless, and just awesome. This thing plays .010s just fine, but it really feels effortless with .009s. (Incidentally, I tried this guitar with Carlos Santana Big Core 10.5 pure , nickel strings and was very happy with the result.)

Sound: OK… this is a place where you’ll either think I’m a genius or a charlatan – Strat players are funny about their sound. Malmsteen, Beck, Hendrix, Clapton, Guy (and the list goes on in a BIG way)… all these folks get (or got) different sounds out of their Strats, and contemporary amateur and pro Strat players are no different. That’s my disclaimer… and I’m stickin’ with it.

I REALLY like the Jimmie Vaughan, SRV, and Tex-Mex based Roadworn Strat sounds. They make me giddy with distortion, clean, blues, chorus, wah, phaser, crunchy, reverby, vibe-y, and more. BUT these AlNiCo III USA pickups are a great way to have vintage sounds without the truly vintage thin-ness.

Bell tones. Bell tones. Bell tones. Bell tones. (Did I tell you Bell Tones?) The 2 and 4 position sounds on this guitar are just fantastic.

The neck position sound is a little too bright for me. I really wanted something warmer out of this guitar. Even with unique wiring, this guitar didn’t quite give me the smooth rich neck pickup experience I was expecting.

The bridge sounds great in overdrive, as does the middle (3rd position). I use an http://www.buyanalogman.com (opens new window) SD1 Silver when playing some of my more adventurous Strat stuff – and the two are MADE FOR EACH OTHER. Wow. Just, WOW.

Value: These days, guitars have gone up in price to reflect the US Dollar, and the cost of everything… but when you look at the Highway One’s street price compared to the US Standard street price and the MIM Strat street price, this guitar is really priced just right. It’s not a bargain. But at the same time, I don’t see it as overpriced, either. The Highway One Stratocaster is an extreme bargain when compared to MIJ Strats.

You get A LOT of guitar for your money. The craftsmanship, features, and components are well worth every cent these cost. Both in the new market and the used/secondary market they are worth the money.

They hold their value more than the MIM Strats, and in some selling environments, better than the depreciation of the USA Standard Stratocasters.

When times get better, I will buy another to replace this one once it is sold.

Wishes: I’m not really too hung up about anything on this particular Strat. But I do have some wishes:
Do a better job with the fret-ends.
Really, the rest of the craftsmanship is worthy of rolled-edge fretboards. The lack of rolled edges feels strange on a guitar this nice.
Tuners: they need to hold tune better. They’re nice and they’re smooth, but could do a better job on this particular instrument. The vintage string-in-post tuners on the Jimmie Vaughan and Roadworn Strats hold much better.
Honestly, bring back the honey blonde with the maple fretboard! Or at least, some type of white/tan/blonde. Black and sunburst are so very commonplace these days…