Fender’s Classic Player Strat HH
Price: $949.99 (list)
One of the great guitar myths is that pro Fender players always use single-coil pickups. Many do, of course, but many have replaced those singles with noise-free humbuckers, whether full-sized units or others shrunk to fit Strat or Tele routs. Next time you’re at a gig, get as close as you can to the guitar picker – you might be surprised how many times his or her Fender plank is sporting a set of ’buckers. This leads us to the new Classic Player Strat HH, a Fender that wears its humbuckers proudly. But can it still quack like a Strat?
The Classic Player Strat HH is Fender’s version of a custom-modded Stratocaster. It has a maple neck in Fender’s traditional 25.5″ scale, a rare bound rosewood fingerboard with a radius of 9.5″, 22 medium jumbo frets, and pearloid dot inlays. At the neck’s head end is a synthetic bone nut with a width of 1.65″ and an uncovered truss-rod access pocket. At the other end, the heel sports a four-bolt plate. Hardware is chrome with a standard vibrato bridge. The guitar is finished in Mercedes Blue with a matching face on its large/CBS-era headstock, and has a black three-ply pickguard. Look more closely and you’ll see the word “Stratocaster” silkscreened in black (for some mysterious reason) on the headstock’s dark-blue finish.
This Classic Player Strat’s body is alder and has quite a bit of heft – we compared it to an ash-bodied ’70s Classic Strat also made at Fender’s Mexico facility, and the HH’s alder checked in clearly heavier. Electronics include a pair of Wide Range Special Humbuckers, master Volume knob, two Tone knobs, and a five-way selector (position one: full bridge pickup; position two: inside coil of bridge pickup; three: both full pickups; four: inner coil of neck pickup; and five: full neck pickup). This array gives the player a bucketful of options and the ability to cover everything from jazz to country to heavy rock to blues. To our hands, the neck’s ’60s-C profile felt more like a larger, flatter D shape. Either way, it’s a substantial neck that’s good for players who like a beefier vintage profile or have larger hands. Nevertheless, it’s quite comfy and, furthermore, the guitar came with a super-low setup, which added to the bound-fingerboard perception of inherent speed and agility.
But what about the guitar’s tone and the paradox of putting humbuckers in a Strat? Unlike Fender’s original ’70s Wide Range humbuckers, which had a completely different construction, these Specials are actually Fender’s medium-output Twin Head Vintage humbuckers under reduced-size Wide Range covers. Still, they offer a demonstrably different sound than, say, humbuckers in a mahogany-body Les Paul or SG. Although they’re humbuckers and extra quiet, as we rolled the Strat through our tests, it was wonderful to hear that they do produce a remarkably Fenderesque tone thanks to the alder body and maple neck, among other factors. Sure, we got some blistering metal tones from them (think Yngwie Malmsteen or Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers from Iron Maiden – all Strat guys known to use full- or mini-sized humbuckers in their axes). But we also dialed in great country, funk, blues, jazz, and vintage styles. This “humbucker in a Fender” idea shines through on the Classic Player and delivers big, clean articulation, no matter if you’re playing clean or crunchy. If you’ve never played an alder- or ash-bodied Strat or Tele with medium-output pickups, try the Classic Player Strat HH; you may become one of the converted.
As for the whole package, it’s hard not to like this mid-price Fender offering. The Classic Player Strat HH plays and sounds great, and looks sexy as hell. We’ll again raise a flag about its weight, but that’s the nature of some alder bodies. Otherwise, it’s a fine, nontraditional Strat – one that will handle anything you throw at it.
This article originally appeared in VG February 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.