After years of fruitless searching to help my son find the perfect guitar – (One that wakes him up in the middle of the night thinking “I have to experience ‘that sound’ just one more time.”) – I took it upon myself to study the science of electric guitar design to develop exactly the tones, dynamics and playability that would enable him to create the music he needed to make.
After visiting countless music stores, trying out every conceivable model of off the shelf instruments, we came to the conclusion that the essential design elements of the Fender Stratocaster™ was the instrument that best suited his sense of what how an instrument should feel. Finding the right combination of options that made up “the complete instrument” with the the sound he wanted was another question all together.
I am the son of an accomplished pianist and grew up in a home with music everywhere during my childhood years. My sister was blessed with my father’s gift and has a country band in West Virginia. Somehow that “magic gene” that grants a few lucky people the gift of music that pours out of their fingertips skipped me but it was passed on to my son.
In my early adult years my father’s 1929 Steinway Model D was shipped back to the factory in Queens New York for a complete restoration. My father and I went to Steinway’s production house to tour the facilities and play his new – old piano for the first time. It was in that small room with my dad at the keyboard and a man called a “Regulator” that I found out how that magical musical gene had been passed on to me. I had listened to the music my father made my whole life and I instinctively knew what he needed, in that room I discovered that I instinctively knew what needed to be done to the instrument to match the style or sounds my father needed to make. I do not mean to say here that I learned the craft of piano regulation in an afternoon but I knew then that that was my “musical calling”.
Check out Piano Mania on Netflix when you have an afternoon to learn about the job of a Regulator and the amazing world of Steinway Pianos.
Flash forward 10 years, as my son’s skills and aspirations exceeded the limits of the guitars I was buying him, I committed myself to making sure that his musical journey would never be limited by his equipment and the search was on. What we found was that every guitar we tried, no matter what the price, was too generic – made to appeal to the widest possible spectrum of musical styles.
In fairness to Stratocaster™ and their typical customer the sounds we were searching for resided in the spectrum of warm, full, round, bass and mid biased tones with a lot of character and presence; not exactly traditional StratocasterTM territory. But in my son’s mind the need for a high quality modern Stratocaster™ Instrument was not negotiable.
Having established that the fundamental Stratocaster™ architecture was my starting point I spent hundreds of hours researching every element of this particular genera of guitar. The first conclusion I came to was that for the money the Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster™ was a superb value with very little, if any room, for improvement in material selection and construction quality. The more I study the quality and consistency in manufacture of the bodies and necks made at the Corona, CA factory in the last 10 -15 years, the more I became convinced that these are guitars anyone could live with and enjoy for an entire lifetime with no regrets. I will publish other pages discussing the differences between the variations in some of the other body and neck options fender offers but for our specific purposes and budget the American Deluxe was, hands down, the best place to start.
Makes your soul light up
With that much established I moved on to the hardware or what I consider the heart of the tonal potential of an eclectic guitar. Hundreds of more hours of research and a dozen prototypes later I completed the first of several guitars I would make for my son. You can view these guitars and their special features on the next page. To summarize the key elements of all of these projects: I have found that Bourn Potentiometers make the smoothest operating and electrically exact potentiometer. I have selected Schaller locking and staggered tuners for their feel, quality and clean installation. I have developed a list of pick ups made by Fender™ and Seymour Duncan™ that provide a glorious array of great sounding high quality pick ups. I have chosen to use Wooden Pick Guards for the simple (and obvious reason when you think about it) that when so much work has been done to select the best tone woods in every other part of the guitar it just doesn’t make sense to mount the primary tone magnifying devices (pick ups) on a plastic plate. In addition I think it adds a unique beauty to guitar and my son says it feels “really nice” when he plays it. I have found that once you find the pick-ups you want that the key to “real magic” in the pursuit of tone in a Stratocaster™ is in the selection of capacitors and bridge components. I have developed a list of a 20 or so different capacitors each with very specific characteristics that allow a person to really refine the sound and adds a special dimension that makes the guitar very special. I have developed a relationship with a company that custom makes saddles, bridge plates and tremolo blocks from a range of different materials. I have found that the brass bridge plates and tremolo blocks made from his specially formulated brass for musical instruments combined with synthetic ivory saddles produces a smooth warm character to the sound of the instrument.
In My Opinion
I am convinced that the American Made Standard and Deluxe Stratocaster™ are extremely well made and are the best value and quality electric guitars available; period. Of course Fender Custom Shop and Master Built Stratocasters™ are in a completely different class of quality especially when evaluating the quality of the wood used, the hand craftsmanship and finishes in these models, but “in my opinion” there is very little difference in the quality of manufacture of these instruments in terms of the shaping, machining and hardware selection that are used to make the Fender, American Made Series of guitars. Again, “in my opinion”; any artist could spend a lifetime with one of these instruments and not be disappointed.