The sonic versatility of guitars with both single coil and humbucking pickups appeals to tone hunters. Moving from the clean slice of the former to the warm growl of the latter is a quick and easy way to make amps and pedals speak in different dialects.
Enter the American Standard Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker, a formidable beast with a bridge humbucker and two single-coils. Fender pickup guru Tim Shaw designed the humbucker with an ear toward bold vintage tones, and there’s plenty of bite and bark in this zebra-colored critter.
Although Shaw’s been at Fender for 20 year—and is comfortable in every facet of the guitar-building business—he started out as an apprentice to famed pickup designer Bill Lawrence before working at Gibson R&D. His Shawbucker is inspired by Seth Lover’s original PAF—and it kicks butt. Like ’50s originals, it’s unpotted—that is, not dipped in wax like most modern ’buckers. It’s also relatively low-output, like original PAFs.
But Shaw adds a cool non-historic detail: an automatic dual-pot volume control. Kick in the Shawbucker and the pot runs at a bright 500K for full spank and breathy articulation. But when the humbucker is switched off, the control operates at Fender’s traditional 250k value.
Wood and Mettle
The HSS Shawbucker delivers pretty much what you’d expect from a well-made American Standard Strat: the classic contoured looks, a vintage-feeling neck, and durable hardware. Our test model has a comfortably thin C-profile maple neck, a 9.5" fretboard, and medium jumbo frets. The light, comfy body is ash.
Our test guitar arrived in dapper black, though the model is available in five polyurethane finishes. It includes Fender’s newly upgraded tremolo bridge featuring bent-steel saddles and a copper-infused block that allegedly provides greater sustain and more fluid bar action. I couldn’t tell whether it accomplishes those missions, but at first, using the bar—even slightly—consistently knocked the guitar out of tune, though tightening the two screws that secure the bridge assembly to the body cured that pronto.
Another nice touch: staggered tuning posts. They descend in height from the low E to high E, increasing the strings’ break angle over the nut. This supposedly improves performance and eliminates buzz, though it won’t counter a poor set-up. The guitar’s strings were so close to the fretboard when it arrived that the low E and A strings buzzed slightly along most of the neck. That’s no deal-breaker though—a pro setup could quickly cure this problem.
Since Shaw’s mission was vintage tones, I plugged into vintage amps: a 1966 Fender Twin, a 1972 Marshall Super Lead, and a mid-’90s Mesa-Boogie Dual Rectifier Tremo-Verb. Buzzing strings aside, I was smitten, especially by the ultra-responsive Shawbucker.
In the bridge-only position, chords and notes seemed to jump from the Twin’s speakers before relaxing into a rich, airy bloom. Unlike most conventional Strats with single-coil bridge pickups, there was no ear-stabbing shrillness, even at bright settings. Tones were rich, powerful, and cutting. Meanwhile, the single-coil sounds provided traditional Strat-thenticity.
Through the Mesa driving a 12-inch Eminence Private Jack 50-watt speaker with all controls straight up, tones were warmer, with increased sustain and power. The overall sound was more harmonically generous than that from the Twin, with nicely developing sonic trails.
But the biggest thrill was the Super Lead pumping into a 1x12 Ted Weber 60-watt speaker cabinet. The warm amp tone complemented the Shawbucker’s bright top end and emphasized its beautiful midrange. There was a wonderful palette of overtones and absolutely killer sustain. Talk about vintage tone! This was the Wayback Machine set to 1969 for a perfect mating of Marshall and humbucker—it’s a marriage the Shawbucker seems meant for.
The American Standard Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker is more than your average Strat. It’s versatile, articulate, and highly playable. Notes and chords come through loud and clear, with a sweet harmonic profile. The Tim Shaw humbucker is a classy-sounding pickup with full-bodied midrange and enough brightness to cut through in any band, minus the potential knife-edge tones that bridge single-coils can produce. This guitar rocks!
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