The Classic Player '50s Stratocaster was announced at this year's Summer NAMM show, and at first seemed like the latest in semi-interesting Strat ideas concocted by Fender to squeeze every last bit of market share out of the old girl. Seriously, how many versions of the venerable Strat do we need? Last time I counted, Fender listed over 100 different variants, so my lack of enthusiasm would be excusable. Not surprisingly, my lack of open-mindedness might otherwise have kept me from one of the best Stratocasters Fender has offered up in ages.
The CP '50s Strat, along with a few other models, is a joint effort between the U.S. Custom Shop and Fender's Mexico factory. A Custom Shop Master Builder, in this case, Dennis Galuszka, specs out body woods, neck dimensions, finishes, pickups and hardware, and the guitars are then built in Fender's Ensenada plant. Unique to this model is the American Standard two-pivot bridge with vintage-style saddles, giving a stable trem system with more of a vintage tone. It also sports vintage-style locking Gotoh tuners, which at first glance appear to be slotted Klusons; the locking mechanism is cleverly placed on top of the post, giving them that old, familiar look.
Overall assembly is good, with the fretwork and a two-tone 'burst poly finish being close to perfect. Fender sometimes seems to allow the Mexican-made stuff to leave the factory with sub-par setups and fretwork, but not here. The Classic Player '50s Stratocaster also sports one of the best out-of-the-box setups I've ever encountered. Smiley face and a gold star for that. Besides the specs and setup, this thing plays and sounds sweet - sweeter than washing down Oreos with a Coke. The lightweight alder body and American Vintage pickups are a perfect combination, giving this guitar a nice, dry attack with just the right amount of Strat-y bloom.
The wood, pickups and maple fretboard invoke a nice, warm, three-dimensional sound, but not in a clinical, active sort of way. Just sort of beautiful. And old. It was really easy to dial in the quintessential Mark Knopfler out-of-phase sounds; with the middle pickup being reverse-wound, it was also dead quiet. Raucous Ronnie Wood-type tones were even easier to coax. It can do the Ike Turner thing all day long, but wouldn't be my first pick for a Hendrix tribute band. But the real star here is the soft V-shaped maple neck. The back of the neck is shaped like it came out of Fullerton around 1956 or '57, but the maple fingerboard radius is 9.5", like more modern necks. The benefit of this yin-yang approach is one of the nicest necks coming out of Fender these days. If you like the necks on the recent Clapton Blackies or Tex-Mex Strats, you'll feel right at home with this; it is truly amazing. It sports jumbo fret wire, and benefited by the flatter radius, bends with ease. I know, I'm gushing, but if you have ever had even a fleeting feeling of attraction toward V-necks at any point in your life, go play one of these. Now. I think the only thing that could disappoint would be if huge necks are a priority, as this lands more on the medium end of the neck-size spectrum. At the end of the day, I really love this guitar. The only negative thing that can be leveled at it is the price, which is true of much of the music gear these days. If this guitar was built in the U.S., it would easily fetch $2000, so a list price of $1142.84 ($799 street with gigbag) doesn't seem quite so bad. Another gripe would be the lack of a lacquer finish, but then I reckon it would cost even more, wouldn't it?
Fender Classic Player '50s Stratocaster
Stay gold, pony-boy. Stay Gold
James Egolf has worked in the music industry for the past decade, and has played in bands since the Reagan administration. He currently likes staying home and mangling fiddle tunes on his flattop.