Pawn Shop ’51
The Pawn Shop ’51 is clearly inspired by Fender’s first three and most important solidbody designs. But this particular synthesis of visual elements—which most resembles a shrunken ’51 P-bass—first saw the light in the form of the much-adored Squier ’51. Although the Squier ’51 sold well, got favorable reviews, and inspired a rabid (and still flourishing) cult of hot-rodders who dug its pickup-switching options, its combination of classic Fender design cues, and, above all, its rock-bottom price, Fender pulled the plug on it before long.

The Fender ’51 changes little of the basic configuration of the Squier ’51, but there are refinements aplenty that make it a smooth and nasty player—not to mention a perfect embodiment of the Pawn Shop Series ethos. Fenders of the 1950s were no-frills machines, and that same design austerity informs the look of the ’51: The glossy butterscotch body and single-ply black pickguard are sharp and startlingly simple, and the beautifully yellowed maple neck, topped with a Telecaster headstock with a “spaghetti logo,” is a perfect fit for the guitar’s minimalist visual identity. It’s a guitar that looks rock-steady, ready to play, and able to take a beating.

There isn’t much hardware on the ’51. Kluson-style tuners keep things looking period authentic, and the hardtail bridge with six individually adjustable saddles is pure simplicity. The Tele-esque control set looks about as simple as they come, too—and it’s key to the guitar’s more Frankenstein-ian nature. The Volume knob is also a push/pull pot that splits the coils of the humbucker in the bridge position. Where there would ordinarily be a Tone knob on a Telecaster, there’s a 3-position pickup selector.

Rippin’ and Roarin’
The lack of a Tone knob obviously makes the ’51 a little less flexible in terms of tone, but the sounds you get in trade with the splittable humbucker are cool and plentiful. With both coils in action, the humbucker is all fangs and sting. But when you’re so inclined, a nimble finger on the Volume knob can keep the ’51’s more slashing personality traits in check. Gunning full throttle with the humbucker puts a lot of biting high-mid tone at your fingertips—especially through a wide-open 6L6 amp. If you’re comfortable in that range and sharp with your pick attack, the ’51 can give you a positively Jimmy Page-like authority that makes bluesy jabs sound fresh and totally nasty. Roll off the Volume a notch or two, and you’re in a sweet spot for rootsy jangle tones. Splitting the humbucker’s coil gives you a distinctly less girthy tone and lower output but remains quite cutting, with an almost Tele-like kick and a brightness that probably gets an assist from the maple fretboard.

The ’51’s neck pickup is a Fender Texas Special, which is a beautiful match for the guitar’s architecture. It’s both a little rounder and hotter than what you’d typically hear in a Stratocaster, with exceptional definition and a sweet responsiveness to pick attack that, again, makes even the simplest blues bends sing and beckons you to slow down and let each note linger a bit.

The ’51’s substantial-yet-slinky feel didn’t make me want to speed up my playing, either. It has medium-jumbo frets, and the C-shaped neck profile is neither too wide nor too flat, inviting languid bends and slow, wobbling finger vibrato. In all, the ’51 is a beautifully simple, comfortable, intuitive, and inviting guitar that can gnash, purr, and sing. If you’re accustomed to really working your Tone knob, the lack of one here may get under your skin, but if you’re comfortable finding tonal nuances in your fingertips or tend to play on the more aggressive end of the tone spectrum anyway, you may never miss it. There are plenty of sounds in this guitar to go around.

Buy if...
blues and hard-rocking tones—peppered with some ’50s snap—are your flavors of choice.
Skip if...
your bread and butter is working the Tone knob.

Street $799 - Fender -