Jimmie Vaughan Fender Stratocaster – A long term review! The first of many long-term reviews about my “keepers”

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I first posted this review August 21, 2007. I still have and love this guitar!

Jimmie Vaughan Fender Stratocaster Longer-Term Review and Impressions, the first of many!

Just for web stuff and completeness: Jimmie Vaughan is one of the best musicians I’ve ever heard or seen. I’d love to shake his hand in person (and get him to sign my JV Strat!). Check out his recordings and discography. He’s played with the kings and queens of guitars and the blues. The fellow is amazing. Thank you, Jimmie, for your gifts of music! (By the way, his name is not Jimmy :-))

My previous review of my Jimmie Vaughan Fender Stratocaster has had hundreds of reads and lots of positive reactions and emails. Thank you all for reading! I’ve been playing my Jimmie Vaughan for many years now… it’s still a seriously wonderful instrument, and is a pleasure to play. I’ve had other Stratocasters now and then since I purchased my Jimmie Vaughan, but none give me the vibe and feel that Jimmie does. (Some folks call these Strats the Jimmy Vaughan Strat…)

I’m going to deviate a bit from my standard review format for this particular write-up. The Jimmie Vaughan Fender Strat is an extraordinary instrument, and has been an extraordinarily good influence on me and my music. I have used my Jimmie Vaughan on three albums now (soon to be a fourth). It is indispensable and an absolute joy to play. Imagine an instrument with an old warm soul – warm and complete – even though it is only a couple of years old. That old soul is harnessed in the Jimmie Vaughn signature Fender Strat.

What follows is my (humble) opinion about this fine instrument – based on real-time experience and many hundreds of hours of play. I’ve made sounds from six different genres with my JV Strat…

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Playability: When one picks up a JV Strat, something sparkles in one’s imagination and in one’s consciousness. It is light-weight, extremely well-balanced, and has a great mixture of features and parts. I want to be very clear that I am not gushing praise on this instrument due to a relationship with a vendor, manufacturer, or for any other reason – I’ve played this instrument a great deal, and I look forward to each opportunity to play my JV Strat.

The neck is still one of the best features of the instrument. It is a nicely-graduated V profile, with great wood, a great carve, and great finishing. The neck has a nice tint, and its finish is a wonderful balance between satin and gloss. When my hands sweat from playing in a hot room, the finish on the neck does not feel grabby or overly slippery. I wish all my Strats had this same neck and neck finish. The fretboard width at the nut and at the saddles is just right – I can finger-pick, hybrid pick, chicken-pick, strum, and more – all in complete comfort for both my hands. This guitar is the best Mexican-made Strat I’ve ever handled. It is one of the few I’ve hardly modded (mine has an “F” neck plate, a roller-string-tree, a treble bleed circuit, and a push-pull neck pickup control for 7 different combinations). I have all the original parts, although I don’t think I’ll ever need them. My wife and kids will keep this one for a long time after I’m gone.

The body contour, weight, and balance is about as comfortable and playable as any guitar I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. Even the consistent, smooth, and beautiful finish of the paint on the body makes the guitar more playable – it’s like holding a brand new guitar, even after a couple of years of wear.

Features: One of the strengths of the JV Strat is its diversity of features. It has a great, upscale neck. It has awesome wiring. It has great-sounding pickups. It has wonderful vintage-style tuners (with old-style string-in-post machine heads). What’s interesting about this is that the Jimmie Vaughan Strat neck sells for more than half the cost of a used JV Strat in its entirety. The neck is the thing and the thing is the neck!

All these features, plus a vintage-looking pick guard and an awesome vintage-style tremolo/whammy make for a Stratocaster package you’ll enjoy for years to come. Other than some funky knobs, I’ve left my JV Strat completely stock – and it will stay that way: it’s just right, just like it is.

Sound: Playability and sound are the JV Strat’s strongest suits. By far, the wiring and Tex-Mex special pickups in the JV Strat sound distinctive, strong and vintage at the same time, with dynamic sound diversity to spare. I’ve still got my original pickups and volume pots. The rest of the circuit has been changed just a tweak 🙂

The JV Strat can play along with country, rock (any), jazzy warm music, smooth music, and even hard rock music. A flip of the pickup selector and a change of gain/eq cause the JV Strat to seem like tons of different guitars. The Jimmie Vaughan Stratocaster is versatile enough to even please my son (he prefers hard-rockin’ nads-to-the-wall double-humbuckin’ guitars with ceramics and metal-looking stuff). I asked him one day which Fender he’d like to get his hands on (if I were to ever let any of them out of my cold, stiff hands ;-)). Without hesitation, he said, “I have always wanted to keep Jimmie.” ‘Nuff said!

Fender Jimmie Vaughn Strat Body Beauty Shot

The body of my 2005 Fender Jimmie Vaughan Strat - hoping for another someday

Value: The Jimmie Vaughan signature Fender Stratocaster is not the least-expensive Strat in Fender’s stable. It is, however, very high in value as compared to other non-USA Stratocasters. With a JV Strat, you get good build quality, great electronics, a superior neck, and good finish in one nice package. I still think it is very much worth its street price. Looking back over the past couple of years, I would definitely say that I would buy it all over again, only to find joy in guitar playing again.

Wishes: I have come to love the simple, vintage-look pick guard. I have no wishes to change this guitar. I wouldn’t change a thing as it comes from the factory – except that I wish I had a second Jimmie Vaughan Strat to play – I don’t want these to go off the market before I get my hands on another. It means too much to me to be without it. Maybe a 70s “F” neck plate?

2006 Fender HSS Stratocaster (Strat) Review – I love these versatile coil-splitters!

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I first wrote this entry on February 12, 2007… These are still a strong option for those in need of a Strat and a Humbuckery guitar

Fender Standard HSS Stratocaster (“Fat Strat”) Review

Electric guitar: Effervescent, visceral, emotional, and motivating…
Whether or not you start out as a Fender fan, the HSS Stratocaster is an extremely flexible instrument that is sonically diverse and very playable!
I was looking for an instrument that was comfortable and had a sonic range of sounds, was comfortable and affordable, and would compliment my Epiphones, Parker, Squiers, and Fenders.

I love the feel of a Stratocaster – the light weight, the wonderful ribcage cutaway, the warm rounded shoulder for the picking arm, and a simple, clean neck design.

The Fender Standard HSS Strat is all the things a Stratocaster is – but adds the crunchy, punchy sound (to the bell-tone Strat sounds of the neck and mid pickups) with its bridge humbucker.

At first, I wasn’t really interested in the idea of a humbucker-enabled Stratocaster – Strats have always been “three singles” to me. However, after I played them many times over, I discovered just how sweet they are and how versatile they are.

Quick Opinion: The Standard HSS Strat is a dream to play. It has sounds that crunch like a Gibson and sounds that sing like an old Stratocaster. The 2006 (and later) Standard Strats (including the HSS) are deeply improved over previous years, and it shows. The new tremolo block, pickups, frets, and finishes are outstanding.

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Playability: The HSS Standard Stratocaster plays with great ease. It has wonderful string-bending capability, has a body shape that lets you forget that your pick arm is on a guitar body, and has a neck that is medium-broad for pretty good finger-picking capability. (In fact, if you’re a finger-picking or hybrid-picking player, the Fender Strat neck and fretboard are among the most comfortable and easy-to-play on the market.)

As with most any Strat, the pickup selector switch is easy to use and is well within the pick hand’s reach. Since the tonal variety of an HSS Strat is often more interesting and varied than a Standard three-single pickup Stratocaster, you may find yourself hitting the 5-way pickup selector switch quite often – varying your sound has never been so easy.

The subtle, non-gloss neck finish is great for when your hands are damp with sweat – your hands can still slide around the neck pretty well, but you can also get a good grip for those hard-to-finger chord shapes.

Features: The Fender Standard Fat Strat has all the features you’d expect from Fender’s latest Stratocaster offerings. It has the famous Fender 5-way pickup switch, skunk-striped hard maple neck, a fantastic light-weight body, and extremely well-made electronics.

The pickguard is three-ply on most models (for example, White-Black-White). The back cavity cover is pretty standard for this type of Strat, generally a one-ply white cover. All the plastic parts are color-matched to the pickguard.

The tremolo setup is a standard three-spring mechanism, with string-through saddles and bridge. Tuning stability is average for a Stratocaster – although I did use a tremsetter for a while. I’ve since gone back to playing the bridges on Strats as-is… The HSS and standard Fender Strats use the six-screw Fender “vintage style” bridge – different from the slicker, smoother 2-point bridge like Jeff Beck and others use. The two-point is available on select USA-made American Stratocasters.

Sound: Sound, sound, sound. That’s the main reason for buying an HSS Fat Strat over a three-single Strat.

With the neck and mid single-coil pickups, you get the strong, bell-like tones you’d expect from a Stratocaster. In this respect, especially with the 2006 and later Strats, the HSS will not disappoint. These newer pickups seem stronger and clearer – and have somewhat less noise when playing through a strong tube amp.

With the Fender humbucker on the bridge (some models have had the Fender Diamondback for a while…), a whole new set of sounds come out of your Strat. This humbucker is actually pretty hot in output, and is really crunchy. It does blues, country, and hard rock very well (but can be dialed back for super-smooth sounds of jazz, contemporary gospel).

The pickup switch configuration is as follows:
Position 1: (switch all the way towards the bridge) is full humbucker, no tone control in the sound. This is crunchy, can be dialed up loud, and is super-clean (good midranges, too).

Position 2: You get the front coil (split) of the bridge humbucker and the middle pickup in combination – the lead (closest to the input jack) tone control effects this combination. This position is very bright, and is louder than the standard Stratocaster bell-tone. This position is good for cut-through-the-band lead tones, but without all the crunch of the humbucker.

Position 3: This position opens up the middle pickup only, with the lead tone control affecting the sound. This sound is the traditional Stratocaster mid pickup sound – somewhat warmer than the bridge, but not as mellow as the neck.

Position 4: This position sets up the middle and neck single-coil pickups together, with the lead and rhythm (middle) tone controls shaping the sound. Warm, but still lots of belltone.

Position 5: This is for the neck pickup only, and uses the rhythm tone control for sound shaping. This pickup position is the warmest of the single-coil sounds. By far, this pickup selection is the mellowest.

Value:This is an extremely high-value Stratocaster. It is worth more than its street price, probably in the $425 to $450 range in actual value (2006 prices. Inflation sets in and they’re about $499 now… still worth their price!). You get lots of really nice options (humbucker, coil-split combination) to add to the versatility of your favorite Strat sound and feel.

Folks with a one-guitar budget who need/want to play lots of different styles of music should seriously consider this instrument as a front-runner for purchase consideration.

On my HSS Strat, the fret ends are cleanly set, the height of the frets is very good, and the intonation was pretty close (as set up by the factory). It didn’t take very long for me to set the Strat’s intonation to a very serviceable and easy-to-play tuning setup. The body finish is just right, no flaws. The neck is straight and is well-set. The standard Super 250 Fender Bullet Strings are wonderful.

Wishes: There isn’t a lot to wish for with these Strats. I do wish it was offered with a V-shaped neck as an option, perhaps also with a tinted and V-shaped neck as an additional option – similar to the treatment on the 2006-> “50’s Strat” issues coming from the MIM factories. I think all Strats should be offered with optional locking tuners (for those who don’t know how to replace their own tuners).

Fender USA American Jazz 4-String Bass Review – about the first of a few I’ve had, but still my FAVORITE

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Originally published October 11, 2006 – my first USA Fender and maple-fretboard Jazz. Wow, if I could go back in time and get this one back. The S1 circuit on this one was a gem, and the play/action/sound was something I’ve not seen just exactly the same – ever since…

Fender American Jazz Bass Review

There are many good and extremely good manufacturers of bass guitars in the world today. We have the luxury to access a huge variety of basses in all price ranges, lots of different styles and sounds, and a mind-boggling set of choices to make when shopping for a bass guitar.

When I set out to purchase a definitive bass for the majority of my bass playing (and recording), I wanted to have a great sound, a sound that fits many styles of music, and in a guitar that doesn’t require a second mortgage to own. I took several months to play lots of different basses from different manufacturers, and in lots of different price ranges. Although a musician like me wants to have lots of tonal/playing options for his guitars, I need a solid cornerstone instrument for my bass sounds: The Fender American Jazz fits the bill in a huge way. Our Fender American Jazz (“Count Bassy”), will be a member of the family – and a treasured heirloom for many years to come.

Quick Opinion: The Fender American Jazz bass is well-rounded, sonically rich, ultimately playable, and a joy in terms of playing comfort. If you need a long-term bass guitar – one that can fit almost any musical style – The American Jazz is just the prescription the doctor ordered.

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Playability: I played about a dozen bass manufacturer brands before settling on an American Jazz. After long days of playing many basses, the American Jazz felt at once comfortable and effortlessly playable. The particular Jazz I purchased felt like playing an old favorite guitar of many years (just shiny, clean, and new).

The neck is the signature for a Jazz bass – a great taper, an effortless profile, and a satin finish that always feels effortless (even when your hands get hot and sweaty). The neck and body profile make for easy access to the entire fretboard range. As a bass player who loves to use the entire fretboard, the Jazz feels right at home. It is obvious that the person who finished my particular Jazz neck paid attention to even the tiniest of details. (However, see my note at the end concerning the fret wire ends.)

The balance of the body and neck is outstanding for a full-scale (34”) bass. Even though my American Jazz is a tiny bit biased weight to the neck, it never becomes an issue for playing long hours in my home studio. The comfortable body contours for your ribcage and pick/thump/pluck hand arm make the guitar fit to the player like a glove.

Playing our Fender American Jazz bass is a comfortable and enjoyable experience. It’s easy to look forward to recording and playing sessions when one has one of these basses to play.

Features: Another place the American Jazz Bass shines is in its feature set. The vast majority of passive basses in this price range give you tone, volume, and some nice cosmetics. The Fender gives you nice cosmetics, and gives you the wonderful S1 switch. The S1 switch gives you additional sound choices, and can add lots of real-world punch to your sound to cut through even a big, loud band.
My only concern with most passive basses is that it is very difficult to get lots of bass frequency (without sending your equipment/recording gear way into the clip-red-range). The balance between signal volume and punch is a difficult thing to achieve, especially for recording. The S1 switch and the wonderful advanced-magnet pickups in the American Jazz make the search for sound MUCH easier to play, hear, and EQ.

The pickguard is a classy three-layer guard. The neck is a fabulous piece of maple (I chose the maple fretboard for its playability, sound, and looks). The tuners are accurate, easy to use, and simple to maintain. The included Fender hardshell case is wonderful for protecting your Jazz baby.

Sound: I could write a short novel about the sound of the Fender American Jazz bass. (Hey Fender, do you want me to write one?) There are lots of styles of music in the world, and there are lots of wonderful-sounding basses out there from a variety of manufacturers (even several different sounds from Fender). By far, the sound of the American Jazz bass fits more styles and sound qualities than any other bass I’ve had the pleasure of playing (followed closely by the Jazz’s cousin the Fender American Precision bass).

The sound is warm when you need it, it’s very vibrant and broad when you tweak it, and there’s not much out there that can growl, sizzle, spank, bite, or punch better than the American Jazz. The Jazz is loud (for a passive bass) without being intrusive, but can take a lead tone in an R&B or rock tune very easily.

The sound of my American Jazz has inspired me to compose and record duets for bass, and has led me to intuitively play melody and counter-melody with the bass.

Value: The Fender American Jazz bass is well worth its cost, if not even a little more. The combination of quality, playability, and signature sound make the purchase of a Fender American Jazz a purchase you will long enjoy.

Wishes: My particular American Jazz plays like a dream – however, the ends of the frets have not been nicely dressed. I’m accustomed to American Fenders having all the little details done without compromise. If you run your hand down the edge of the fretboard against the edge of the fret wires, you can feel sharp, jagged edges. I used some fret polish paper to take a little of the bite off the edges of the wires – but they’re still not as clean as my American Telecaster.

Squier (by Fender) Affinity Jazz (the “J”) Bass Review – getting started with an inexpensive bass that actually plays great

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Squier Affinity J (Jazz) Bass long-term review Originally posted March 2006… A few edits here and there, but mostly the original review for this repost

Every guitar player should try playing bass. It’s a blast, and can really teach you something about fret stretches, silencing adjacent strings, and serious hand-strengthening. In another note, every bass player has to have a place to start. Sometimes getting a low-cost bass doesn’t mean having to get a cheap bass!

Jazz Bass, J Bass… You say Fender, I say Phendre.

Quick Opinion: The Squier Affinity and Standard Jazz Bass guitars are actually somewhat comparable to Fender Mexican-made Standard Jazz Bass guitars. The basic features and appointments are almost identical. It stands to reason that the Chinese-made Squiers are slightly less-nice Alder wood, and the finish paint is thicker and harder on the Squiers. However, the impression of the Squier I bought (and have played for more than a year when this was originally posted) is that it is a solid buy, and an excellent bass. Yes, the Mexican-made Jazz basses have nicer necks to an experienced player – but remember that the point behind the Squier Affinity is low-cost and beginner’s playability. Over time, I found that the Affinity is a good starter bass – consistent in quality and sound. If the player finds that he/she wants to play bass more often and has more budget, the step up to the Mexican-made bass is a good place to go…

Free Shipping and more information about Squier by Fender Jazz basses – The Affinity 4-string Jazz is available again!! Look at zZounds.com for great prices and guarantees!

Playability: The neck is solid, and is nicely tapered. It is physically similar to Fenders costing much more… The maple neck and rosewood fretboard feel excellent and are easy to play. The bass is comparatively light and is fairly well balanced. The excellent Fender-designed double-cutaway body allows easy, full access to the entire fretboard. As a long-scale (34”) bass, the Squier Jazz Bass is extremely playable and is a joy to use.The bolt-on maple neck/rosewood fretboard comes surprisingly well finished. Only two or three of our guitar’s fret ends were a little sharp. The fret height is very consistent throughout the neck. Note that the Mexican-made Standard does have a smoother finish to the back of the neck – and that the Chinese Affinity Squier bass necks tend not to be arrow-straight (there are other manufacturer countries for different models these days – some with substantially better quality that rivals the Mexican-made basses)
For folks with small hands or less-than-average arm lengths, a full-scale bass like this might be a little tough to play (especially during quick, challenging passes). If you’re not comfortable with a long, 34” guitar, I recommend trying out the Squier Bronco, Squier Mustang bass, or, if your budget can accommodate, a Fender Mustang bass.

Features: The appointments and features of the Squier Jazz Bass are good for this guitar’s price. The pickguard is a well-made three-ply plastic guard (white-black-white on our Red Metallic bass). The pickups are two “vintage-style” pickups (bridge and mid). The guitar features two larger volume knobs and one smaller tone knob. The two volume knobs allow you to choose the tonal variety by selecting the volume for a specific pickup. The tone applies to the entire sound output (the Squier Jazz Bass guitars are passive, in that they have no equalization or boost electronics or batteries on board). As with pretty much every Jazz Bass guitar, the Affinity’s neck is bolt-on. In the case of the Squier Jazz Bass, the neck truss rods are adjustable via an allen wrench in the headstock (no need to unbolt the neck and unscrew the pickguard). The chrome tuners are the enclosed variety, and are fairly accurate – I do like the “open gear” variety used on the up-scale Jazz basses better, but these do hold pretty well to normal play styles. The Squier Jazz uses a round string tree in the headstock for the two highest strings.
The Squier Affinity Jazz Bass has top-loaded strings (means that the strings are not fed through the body, but are fed through the end of the chrome bridge).

Sound:The Squier Jazz Bass guitar has a consistent, vintage sound. The pickups are pretty noisy – a bit more so than standard Jazz single coils, and the output isn’t very strong. The quality of the sound that does come out is all Fender, though. With the right amplification and EQ-tweaking, you can get the Squier to growl, rumble, and thumb-slap-“splank” without too much trouble. If I was to make this guitar my full-time bass – I might take the time to upgrade the pickups to Fender SCNs, or some type of high-output noiseless.

Value: This is a $299 guitar in value (not ‘retail’, ‘street’). The sound, quality of make, and appointments are good. Many other low-end guitars have badly twisted/warped necks, poor sound, and extremely cheap parts – the Squier Jazz Bass is very much a cut above the average low-end bass (no pun intended!). You would have to buy a much more expensive Fender bass to get better sound.

Wishes: I really wish these were offered with maple fretboards (a matter of personal preference, yes, but still something that would be good to offer). The pickups really should have more output. I wish these had more consistent necks and more consistent fret-finishing. These should all come with open-gear tuners – I don’t think Fender will lose much (if any) money on using nicer tuners.