California, beaches, surfboards, The Beach Boys, Jazz, Rock, Funk, Fusion, Blues… All of these people, places and things come to mind when we think of the Fender Stratocaster. You can’t help but know the sound, the feel, and the artists who created their bodies of work around the sound of a Stratocaster. Face it – the Stratocaster is a standards-bearer for defining a specific sound.
The Fender Artist Series Jeff Beck Stratocaster provides all the classic attributes that make the Stratocaster one of the most popular guitars in existence. As playing styles changed over the years since the Strat’s late-fifties introduction, and as guitar luthiers became more advanced with their craftsmanship, so too did the guitars themselves evolve.
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|OVERALL RATING = 3.6, which earns it a WIHO Award.
3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award
3 stars or better: Worth considering
2 stars or better: Suited to specific needs
1 star or less: Not recommended
The Jeff Beck Stratocaster provides a melting pot of vintage and modern technology, making this guitar extremely attractive – not to mention the way cool Surf Green color option. If there ever was an equivalent to a “tall blonde” in guitar color scheme, this just may be it. The Surf Green color lured us in like a kid in a candy shop (err… make that guitar store), but it was the guitar’s great playability and tone that kept us there.
Many of the features of the Jeff Beck Stratocaster will seem familiar to players of Deluxe Strat models:
- Body: two to three piece Alder
- Neck: Maple C-shape neck with a satin polyurethane finish
- Rosewood fingerboard
- 22 medium jumbo frets
- 9.5” neck radius,1.69” at the nut
- LSR roller nut
- Fender/Schaller locking tuners
- “Micro-Tilt” neck angle adjustment
- Pickups: Three Fender Special Design dual-coil Ceramic Noiseless pickups
- Bridge: American two-point synchronized tremolo
- Chrome hardware with three-ply white pickguard, aged to give it a vintage look
- Schaller strap locks
- Case: vintage tweed case
As an option, Fender also offers the Artist Series Jeff Beck Stratocaster “Custom Shop” version which includes some manufacturing differences including: two-piece body, same routing as Jeff’s personal instrument (ran on the same machine), Custom Classic bridge with milled steel bridge pieces and steel block, Custom Shop neck fabrication, fret finishing and set-up process.
But before you race out to buy the “deluxe” version of this already quite deluxe Strat, note that Micro-Tilt neck adjustment feature, accessed through the neck bolt plate on the back of the guitar, is not present on the more costly Custom Shop version.
In addition to neck adjustments through the truss rod, the Micro Tilt function allows the user to adjust the angle of the neck to ensure the best action possible. In the past, the neck would have to be removed and have shims inserted to make this adjustment. With the Micro-Tilt adjustment, all that is needed is to loosen the two neck bolt screws connecting the outer edge of the neck to the body, tighten or loosen the adjustment screw to increase/decrease the angle of the neck, and then re-tighten the neck bolt screws.
Unlike early traditional Stratocasters, the Artist Series Jeff Beck Stratocaster updates a classic with new technology making this guitar a contender for today’s musician. We found the enhancements on this Stratocaster to be complimentary in a variety of playing styles.
An added feature to the already comfortably contoured body of the Jeff Beck Strat is the contoured heel where the neck meets the body. With so many contours, you’ll be sure to get in even more trouble with your significant other – you won’t want to put this guitar down! The contoured heel was extremely comfortable when reaching for notes at the high register of the neck.
Guitar makers in general have experimented with all sorts of neck configurations and options (what better way to put the finishing touches on a guitar than to consult the artist to see what is comfortable and what compliments their individual playing style.) The Jeff Beck Stratocaster provides many cool features affecting the usability of the instrument – most all pertaining to some aspect of the neck of the guitar.
We found the thinner C-shape neck to be extremely comfortable. It really enhanced the playability of this guitar, enabling us to play fast shred lines that we love so much. Also of note – the satin polyurethane finish of the neck. This also adds a definite comfort factor compared to a high-gloss, varnished necks.
Many guitar players make use of tremolo systems, and Stratocasters have featured a basic tremolo for years. We used to shy away from them due to the daunting problem of keeping the guitar in tune – unless you wanted to deal with the complexity of double-locking systems, it was very hard to use a tremolo and keep your guitar in tune.
The Jeff Beck Strat addresses this issue in the same was as Stratocaster Deluxe models – with its LSR roller nut (strings rest on ball bearings instead of bone or other materials), locking tuners, and an upgraded two-point synchronized tremolo bridge that improves upon the basic version found on standard Strats. We had excellent results using this tremolo – it providing endless playability without any tuning issues. Even the most aggressive whammy bar enthusiasts should find comfort in extreme string bending with this guitar.
In the world of guitar, there is no way for a Stratocaster to sound like anything but a Stratocaster – just ask those who buy them and try to get them to sound like something else! Of course your choice of amplifier will ultimately influence your final tone, and we put this beauty to the task through a variety of amplifiers including a Fender SuperSonic, Mesa/Boogie Lone Star, and a late-Seventies Marshall Super Lead 100.
The most noticeable difference that we heard with the Jeff Beck Strat was what we didn’t hear – thanks to the Noiseless-series pickups, there was no significant noise, hum or buzz typically associated with single coil pickups. In a studio environment where clean matters most, this guitar provided phenomenal clarity without any loss of tone or sustain.
In our effort to really understand the sonic differences between this Stratocaster and other Fender models, we compared the Jeff Beck Stratocaster to both an Eric Johnson Strat (that featured Fender Special Design Eric Johnson pickups) and a Deluxe Player’s Stratocaster (that featured standard Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups).
We found the results to be sonically quite different between models, which reinforced the importance of playing different models before deciding which one is right for your particular style.
The most noticeable difference in sound produced by each Strat was in sonic character especially in overdrive mode. The standard Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups in the Deluxe Player’s Strat produced the most traditional Strat tones for which the guitar is typically revered (minus any hum or buzz, of course) – clean, twangy at times, and bluesy. They didn’t provide a very overdriven sound and weren’t particularly effective at driving our amps to get heavy rock tone, even at high gain settings.
By contrast, the Jeff Beck Strat contains Custom Shop modified Vintage Noiseless pickups, and these provided a hotter sound, making this guitar more applicable for hard rock/overdriven tones while still maintaining that clean Stratocaster squish. Using clean channels in our amps, the differences in tone between the two guitars were much less distinct, though the Jeff Beck Strat’s modified pickups had both additional depth as well as a slightly brighter top end.
The Eric Johnson Stratocaster has a significantly different tone from the other guitars starting with the fact that its Custom Shop pickups are not of the noiseless variety. This guitar provided an even hotter signal from its pickups, which are specifically wound to Eric Johnson’s specifications. [You can read our in-depth review of the Eric Johnson Stratocaster here].
The Jeff Beck Strat lived up to all expectations and then some. It provided the classic Strat tone we are all familiar with – great highs from the bridge pickup, excellent mellow lows from the neck pickup, and everything in-between with the middle pickup in play, and its slight gain boost gives it the edge over standard strats when it comes to overdriving a tube amp directly (as opposed to getting your distortion from a pedal in front of the amp). This is truly a great sounding Stratocaster.
Documentation and Product Support
Fender provides a generic Owners Manual with all their guitars and basses. Though not specific to each individual model, the manual provides a basic explanation of all features and controls found on most of their instruments including care and maintenance suggestions, technical adjustment tips/instruction, and warranty information. In addition, the Owners Manual also directs the user to Fender’s website for additional information specific to each individual model regarding switching and control functions, wiring diagrams and spec sheets.
The Fender Artist Series Jeff Beck Stratocaster ($2,142.84 MSRP) can be found for approximately $1,500.00 at retail, a good value. For only a few hundred dollars more than an American Deluxe Stratocaster, the Jeff Beck signature Stratocaster ups the ante with some cool Custom Shop features and standard switching controls (vs. the S-1 switching that some users may not desire). Oh, and did we mention that groovy Surf Green color?
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