Vintage guitar players often times struggle with loving their instruments for the same reasons they may dislike them. In some cases, this dilemma has led to the sacrilegious idea of customization or modification – we say “Don’t do it!” Fortunately, Fender has spared you the need to surgically alter a classic instrument by doing the “chop shop” work for you with their new line of vintage hot rod models.
|Documentation & Support||10%|
|OVERALL RATING = 3.0
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
Blues, Country, Funk, Pop, Rock… now add Metal and Shred to the list of styles you can play with a Stratocaster. The Fender Vintage Hot Rod ’57 guitar covers all musical styles and preferences to suit any of your Strat-playing needs.
The Vintage Hot Rod ’57 showcases an excellent example of original Fender craftsmanship (era specific) combined with some of today’s most popular modifications to accommodate the needs, styles, and preferences of today’s high gain enthusiasts.
One of the most noticeable hot rod modifications to this guitar is the replacement of the era-specific single coil pick-ups with a DiMarzio Tone Zone humbucking pickup in the bridge position and Fender Somarium Cobalt Noiseless (SCN) pickups in the neck and bridge positions. With pickups being the heart and soul generator of the instrument, this modification enables the Vintage Hot Rod ’57 to compete in today’s high-gain sound arena while still possessing much of the playability and style that endears it to Stratocaster fans. Whammy bar users should take note, though – as this is a ’57 reissue at heart, string trees and a lack of locking tuners may render this guitar less suitable to your style of playing compared to some of the modern American Deluxe models.
The Fender Vintage Hot Rod ’57 Stratocaster preserves the original vintage Fender feel and tone while adding a modern hot rod modification in the form of a high-output DiMarzio Tone Zone to achieve humbucking crunch and sustain necessary for today’s aggressive rock sounds.
There’s nothing new to speak about when looking at the contoured body as it’s a recreation of the 1957 one-piece Alder body. But the next difference you’ll notice is a slight modification of the neck compared to the original ’57 Strat. The Hot Rod ’57 features a modified one-piece maple neck and fingerboard measuring a 9.5” radius providing a flatter/softer V-shape, a satin finish on the back of the neck, and uninhibited movement across the twenty-one medium jumbo frets.
As with other highly beloved Stratocasters (like our Eric Johnson Strat), Fender chose to use a “Thin-Skin” Nitrocellulose finish to provide that vintage worn look attainable quickly through use, and this finish has also been found to provide improved sound quality opposed to a thicker lacquer finish.
The benefits of a thin nitro finish sonically are due to a thinner barrier between the bridge and actual wood body of the guitar resulting in improved transmission of sound vibrations, resulting in improved sustain and tone. The drawback? This type of finish will show wear and tear quickly due to its less-durable composition. This is great if you want to sport an aged-looking instrument, but for players who like to keep their instruments bright and shiny, we’d stick with a Strat that has a more traditional finish (like the amazing Jeff Beck Strat we looked at last month, for example).
Our review Stratocaster was painted in Candy Apple Red – yet another great, deep color offered by Fender.
Fender created the Hot Rod ‘57 according to many of the vintage instrument’s specs. The chrome hardware-equipped guitar is fitted with Fender/Gotoh vintage style tuners, a one-ply white pickguard, and an American vintage synchronized tremolo unit.
The highlight of the Vintage Hot Rod ’57 Stratocaster is found within the pickups of the guitar. The dual coil (single coil dimension) DiMarzio Tone Zone located in the bridge position provides all the gain and sustain characteristics of a humbucker pickup while the middle and neck positions contain Fender Somarium Cobalt Noiseless pickups that maintain the tonal characteristics of an original Stratocaster – without that annoying hum.
An additional custom shop modification relates to the wiring of the Volume and Tone controls. The Volume control acts as master volume in all five positions – you do not have the ability to blend separate volumes between pickups. The first Tone control is dedicated to the neck pickup and the second Tone control is dedicated to the bridge pickup.
To keep the Vintage Hot Rod ’57 safe and clean, it comes with a vintage tweed case, strap, cable and Meguiar’s Mist and Wipe polishing kit.
At what point in the modification of an original instrument is it considered a rebuild or a “Frankenstein creation” opposed to a “Vintage Hot Rod” modification? In this particular case, Fender did an excellent job in maintaining that vintage ’57 vibe while only modifying a minimal amount of the original specs. However, there are some areas where we would have preferred a little bit of additional slicing and dicing.
The Vintage Hot Rod ‘57 Stratocaster was a very comfortable guitar to play. Notable attributes include the classic body contour and manageable weight of the guitar. We found this Strat to provide the same balance and feel we’ve become accustomed to in Fender’s instruments.
The neck of the Vintage Hot Rod ’57 was a welcome improvement over the classic model. With its slimmer soft V shape and satin finish on the back of the neck, playability was improved by enabling us to move more quickly up and down the neck opposed to a thicker, lacquered neck.
The only place we think Fender went wrong with this instrument was in choosing to maintain the vintage synchronized tremolo unit – it won’t satisfy the whammy bar enthusiast wanting to take on aggressive vibrato or pitch bending dive bombs. And while most Strat players don’t go for these sorts of wild string Olympics, the hot rodded nature of the Tone Zone bridge pickup (more on this in the Sound section) lends the guitar to more aggressive styles of playing.
As a result of the non-locking vintage style tuners and vintage style string tree (notable for string binding), significant use of the tremolo unit on this guitar remains a serious challenge. Our aggressive tremolo demonstration resulted in unsatisfactory tuning issues, and it was possible to make the high E or B string become unseated from beneath the string tree. A locking tremolo or, at the very least, locking tuners, would have made a significant difference on this otherwise outstanding instrument.
For those of us who play more aggressive rock and who lust for infinite sustain, drive, and gain, we used to shy away from Stratocasters in favor of other humbucker-endowed instruments (though of course humbucker-equipped Strats have been available for many years). The Fender Vintage Hot Rod ’57 Stratocaster definitely changes our personal opinion of these beloved guitars.
The DiMarzio Tone Zone bridge pickup is the highlight and main focus of this hot rod modification. With the addition of the Tone Zone pickup in the bridge position, the Vintage Hot Rod ’57 provides all the gain necessary for attaining the levels of crunch and sustain needed for playing modern hard rock and metal. By comparison to a typical single coil bridge pickup, the Tone Zone provides a high output attack, adding clarity and definition in both dirty and clean applications, that was typically lacking. The distorted, overdriven tone is tighter than what you would get from a regular single coil pickup.
Using the middle and neck position single coil pickups (or any combination thereof) gave us the ability to get those funky, traditional, clean, strat tones, and (when preferred), that loose, slightly overdriven classic blues sound as heard in standard Stratocasters.
In running the Tone Zone through the overdrive channel on our Fender Super-Sonic amp and a Mesa/Boogie Road King II, we were able to obtain that humbucker sustain and high gain not typically heard in a Stratocaster. We found the Fender Vintage Hot Rod ’57 Stratocaster to be very satisfying in providing long sustaining, overdriven tones with a clean percussive attack.
This guitar is sure to satisfy both traditional Stratocaster enthusiasts as well as the aggressive guitarists who crave instruments with a hotter output.
Documentation and Product Support
Fender provides a generic Owners Manual with all of 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 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 Vintage Hot Rod ‘57 Stratocaster (MSRP $2,335.70) can be found for approximately $1,600.00 at retail, a good value for an upgraded re-issue with a nitro finish. For only a few hundred dollars more than an American Deluxe Stratocaster, the Vintage Hot Rod ‘57 Stratocaster provides the feel of a vintage Stratocaster combined with high-output gain, but if you’re a big tremolo user, you might do better adding the DiMarzio Tone Zone to an American Deluxe, which features locking tuners, no string trees, SCN pickups, and a modern synchronized tremolo unit.
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