Fender’s Signature line of Strats and Teles have always been of great interest to guitar players, and are now even more so since they’ve updated the Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck signature Stratocasters.
What’s different, you ask? The Clapton Strat is fitted a trio of Fender’s new Vintage Noiseless pickups, which complement its powerful active-tone controls. The Beck axe also sports new pickups, but also a new neck shape and a contoured heel. Let’s dive into greater detail and see what each guitar has to offer.
The basic materials on the Eric Clapton include an alder body, a maple neck with a soft “V” shape, and a 22-fret maple fingerboard with a 9.5″ (241mm) radius. Its chrome hardware includes Fender/Gotoh locking tuners and a “blocked” American Vintage tremolo. (It’s blocked because Clapton doesn’t actually use the tremolo, but simply prefers this style of bridge. Hey, he’s Eric Clapton – he can do whatever the heck he wants.)
For electronics, this Strat has three Vintage Noiseless pickups with a 5-way selector and active electronics. The top tone knob is a Master TBX Tone Control. The TBX stands for T (treble) B (bass) X (Cut) and it is a 500K-1M ohm control with a center-notched knob. When the control is in the center, the circuit is not on. If you turn the control one way, the bass is increased (treble cut) and the other way boosts the treble (bass cut). In plain English, the TBX invokes a dramatic tone shift: super-muted and bassy like a jazz guitar when turned one way, and bright and crystal-clear the other. It’s very impressive.
The bottom tone control is the Master Active Mid Boost (0-25 dB), which is simply a midrange booster. This can be useful for solos when you want a little extra oomph to get you over the top. More on this later. Finally, in the groovy color department, Slowhand has chosen Olympic White, Black, Pewter, Torino Red, and Candy Green.
Over to El Becko. The guitar of this fabled Stratmeister is also laden with new features. One of the biggest is its new neck shape. The original Beck guitar had a big ol’ “C” shape neck that was intimidating to some, feeling more like a Louisville Slugger bat than a guitar neck. Available in Olympic White or sexy Surf Green, the new Beck Signature has a smaller “C” profile that is more user-friendly. It’s not tiny by any means, but considerably more diminutive than its predecessor. Other neck features are 22-fret rosewood fingerboard (also 9.5″ in radius) and a contoured heel for easier access to the upper frets.
For pickups, the Beck has dual-coil Ceramic Noiseless models and passive electronics with a master volume and two tones. It also features an American 2-point synchronized tremolo with an LSR Roller Nut on the other end of the neck. The result is one of the most flexible whammies around – indeed, you can safely say the tremolo plays like buttah.
So enough gabbing about specs – how do these Strats sound and play? I always think of Eric Clapton as a more traditional rock player than Jeff Beck, but ironically, the Clapton Strat is clearly the more hi-tech instrument of the two. Tonally, you can get a fine array of Strat tones, from bell-like to the down and dirty. The TBX and Mid Boost controls can really beef up the tone to the point where the Vintage Noiseless pickups sound more like humbuckers. I ladled on the distortion and, coupled with the Mid Boost, evoked some ‘bucker tones not too from those of Carlos Santana, a player who tone is synonymous with humbuckers. Essentially, you can think of the new Clapton Strat as two guitars in one – dial in a Stratocaster tone for some parts and then use the active tone controls to bring in some fat humbucker colors.
As for playability, the Clapton’s “V” neck is also very comfortable, as the V profile really sits snugly in the palm of your fretting hand. The excellent fretwork also allows for super-low action, if that’s your cup of tea.
The Jeff Beck guitar is more of a straight-ahead Strat, with passive tone controls on its dual-coil pickups. You can get a bevy of classic Stratocaster sounds, and really crank it up with distortion. The alder-bodied guitar sounds very bright and should be able to cut through just about any playing situation. And again, I was really impressed by the premium hardware: a great tremolo system, roller nut, and locking tuners.
While the neck is slimmer than the original Beck Strat, it’s still substantial, particularly around the lower frets – in short, this neck is a handful. But I got used to it after a while and it’s hard to deny the tone that a fat, resonant neck can help produce. If you put a skinnier neck on this guitar, it likely wouldn’t sound as full and meaty. Such is the reality of guitar physics.
Wrapping up, Fender has done a great job in updating these two Stratocasters. If I was in the position to choose one versus the other, I’d opt for the Beck, due to its chunky Strat tones and truly wicked whammy. But I could see another player going for the Clapton due to its wide range of sounds and that very comfortable “V” neck. Either way, you can’t lose. These are both excellent Stratocasters and definitely worth a test drive at your local guitar shop.
Fender Jeff Beck Artist Signature Series Stratocaster
Type of Guitar: Electric solidbody.
Features: Alder body, maple C-shaped neck, rosewood finger-board, medium jumbo frets, 25.5″ scale length, chrome Fender/Schaller Deluxe locking mach-ine heads, 2-point synchronized tremolo with stainless steel saddles, three dual-coil ceramic Vintage Noise-less pickups, 5-position switch, mast-er- volume, TBX tone circuit, aged knobs and pickup covers.
Contact: Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, (480) 596-9690, www.fender.com.
Fender Eric Clapton Artist Signature Series Stratocaster
Type of Guitar: Electric solidbody.
Features: Alder body, maple “soft V”-shaped neck, maple fingerboard, Vintage Style frets, 25.5″ scale length, chrome Fender/Gotoh Vintage Style tuning machines, “Blocked” American Vintage Syn-chronized Tremolo, three Vintage Noiseless pickups, 5-position switch, master vol-ume, TBX tone circuit with active midrange boost.
Contact: Fender Musical Instru-ments Corporation, (480) 596-9690, www. fender.com.
CS1 electric 6-string courtesy of Citron.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.