One look Fender’s latest Frontline catalog and you’ll see a huge array of models – Custom Shop N.O.S., Closet Classic, and Relics, artist signature models, American Strats, Mexican-made Strats, vintage reissues, Deluxe, Squires… the list goes on.
To some this may seem unnecessary or even a bit over the top, but as a self-proclaimed Stratocaster nut, I love it – the more the merrier. Fender has done a remarkable job of taking a 50-year-old model and turning it into an industry in and of itself. Offering the customer virtually any combination of woods, neck shapes, pickups, electronics, finishes, hardware, and even “vibe” you can think of. Anyone looking for a Strat with specific features at a particular price will likely find one.
We recently checked out the newly revamped American Deluxe Stratocaster V-Neck model, from the upper end of Fender’s USA series.
Introduced in 2004, the guitar has a definite “vintage” look and vibe to it, with a one-piece tinted maple neck, alder body with a flawless Candy Apple Red finish, aged knobs and covers, and a single-ply beveled vinyl pickguard reminiscent of vintage anodized gold. The vintage motif ends there, though, as everything else about this guitar has a modern vibe, from the three Samarium Cobalt Noiseless (SCN) pickups and S-1 switching system to the staggered locking tuners and two-point synchronized tremolo with a pop-in arm.
The Samarium Cobalt Noiseless pickups are Fender’s latest noiseless stacked single-coils, designed with the help of pickup guru Bill Lawrence, who insisted there be no internal flaws in materials or construction, so each pickup was consistent in tone. Inspired by Lawrence’s desire to try unconventional pickup materials, Fender thought outside the box with the SCN design, using miniature samarium cobalt magnets which, in conjunction with the moderator bars, produce a wider, softer magnetic field. This, they say, makes for a better vintage sound. The S-1 switch is a neatly hidden push/push unit inset in the volume knob. It adds five more tones to the Strat’s five standard pickup combinations. The switch being recessed in the master volume control eradicates the need for a mini-toggle, and helps maintain a clean look. Other deluxe features include abalone dot inlays, polished chrome steel saddles, and a nicely finished nut. The only thing about the instrument that doesn’t feel deluxe is the poly hardshell case; a guitar of this caliber deserves tolex, or at least an upgraded poly case.
Playability on our American Deluxe Strat was very good right out of the box. The neck was true, and action on the 9.5″-radius fretboard was comfortably low. We experienced no note checking, even on deep bends. The guitar’s soft-V neck profile, slightly rounded fretboard edges, and satin polyurethane finish give it a very comfortable, broken-in feel. The neck profile is pronounced enough to keep the neck from feeling “chunky,” but soft enough that it doesn’t feel rigid, or like it’s jabbing at your hand. Even if you’re more into a standard C-shape profile, this softer V should be an easy adjustment. The vibrato felt good, as well, and the guitar stayed in tune even with repeated use of the vibrato, thanks to the locking tuners and the clean nut. The pop-in vibrato arm is a nice change from the older screw-in type, and does a good job of staying put.
To test the V Neck, we plugged into a Fender Vibro-King 3×10″ combo and, for overdriven tones, an all-tube Crate BV120 head paired with an Eminence-loaded 4×12″ cabinet.
Clean tones with the S-1 switching system in the up position are classic vintage Fender single-coil with a little more gain and slightly less sparkle than you’d find with traditional single-coils. The new Samarium Cobalt noiseless pickups sound a bit more refined than the “noiseless” pickups we’ve tried in the past; previous noiseless pickups had a harsh high-end, these do not. Instead, they’re smoother and rounder, but still twangy, with more bell-like tone. The five positions of the pickup selector switch are the familiar single-pickup/parallel combinations for which the Strat is famous. With the S-1 switch engaged (in the down position), we had a combination of pickups in series; some with a special capacitor in parallel, as well as one with all three pickups. Notably absent is a setting to run the neck and bridge pickups in parallel, for a bit of Tele sound.
Tones with the switch engaged are fatter, with less twang, adding a new element to the guitar’s tone arsenal. This option saved us from going back to the amp if we wanted a fatter sound because it was right at our fingertips. We also plugged into the Crate and piled on some overdrive, with good results. With the switch out, we got solid Strat tones with little or no noise or hum – everything from Hendrix to Blackmore. The smoothness and definition give the pickups a consistent “matched set” quality. The S-1 system’s sounds through the Crate’s overdrive channel were a little muddy, but still usable.
This V Neck Strat is a new benchmark for Fender’s American Deluxe series, with top-notch workmanship, good playability, and variety of tones and features. The S-1 system adds a new dimension, and the SCN pickups offer good vintage tones and noiseless operation that can be especially appreciated by gigging and studio players.
Fender American Standard Deluxe V-Neck
Features Alder body, tinted one-piece maple neck with soft V profile, aged knobs and pickup covers, staggered locking tuners, relieved neck heal, Samarium Cobalt pickups, S-1 switching system, chrome steel saddles.
Contact Fender Musical Instruments Corp., 8860 E. Chaparral Road, Suite 100, Scottsdale, AZ 85258; phone (480) 596-9690; fender.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.