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When I got my drivers license, I did two things—cruised to the beach and burned rubber between every used record and guitar store from Santa Cruz to San Francisco. There were a lot of rare gems in those shops. But the guitars that fascinated me most were the oddballs and ugly ducklings that enterprising players threw together in search of some elusive sound buzzing around in their heads. Some were abominations, of course. But others were inspired—mad, monstrous collisions of borrowed, stolen, traded, aftermarket, and dumpster-dive-sourced pickups, tremolos, and tuners. All were customized with six bucks’ worth of Krylon spray paint.
Fender’s elegantly simple solidbodies were always a target for these ambitious garage-guitar surgeons. If you needed the higher output of an aftermarket humbucker or some newfangled locking tremolo, you could do a lot with a router, a drill, and a couple of screwdrivers (not to mention undo the damage with a little wood filler, bondo, and spray paint). The funny thing is that many of those Fenders became icons—from David Gilmour’s black Stratocaster to Kurt Cobain’s Jaguar. And while you could argue that the results were either beautiful or sacrilege, the most important thing is that they enabled their players to make extraordinary, unique, and deeply personal music.
With their unusual, mutated features and configurations, Fender’s new Pawn Shop Series guitars—the ’51, ’72, and Mustang Special—pay homage to the spirit that made those guitars and thousands like them. They’re also a tribute to the experiments and oddball guitars—like the Swinger, Marauder, and Maverick—that sometimes leaked from Fender’s Fullerton, California, factory way back when. Each of these new guitars looks, feels, and sounds familiar, and yet each also conceals surprises that can prompt new musical directions or lend fire to the most tired licks.
I explored each of the Pawn Shop Series guitars though a 1964 Fender Tremolux, a Fender ’63 Vibroverb reissue, and a 1966 Fender Super Reverb. Running through every tone possibility on each of the guitars made for a lot of fun at the jam space, exploring everything from dirty Southern rock to fuzzed-out garage punk, open-tuned droning, and strange points in between (Click here to watch the video review).