Pawn Shop ’72
If there was ever a golden age of irreverent and lawless guitar tinkering, it was the early ’70s. The holy grails of today’s vintage-guitar fetishists were still largely regarded as just used guitars, and dudes and gals with the fever for home craft were a lot less reluctant to attack a ’62 Stratocaster with routers and carving knives. Fender, too, was willing to tinker with what we now regard as perfection. And the modernist minimalism of the Telecaster and Stratocaster were rethought with features like f-holes, au natural finishes, and—in a nod to higher-octane rock of the times—big, burly chrome humbuckers.

In keeping with that vibe, the new Pawn Shop ’72 is a cool, quirky encapsulation of the period’s style. Tele and Strat purists who consider the subtle changes wrought during the ’60s an affront to Leo Fender’s genius need not apply. But if you’re feeling a bit brash, bell bottomed, and/or funky—and you have the GTO gassed and good to go—the Pawn Shop ’72 is your axe.

The ’72 has a clear family resemblance to the ’51, of course, but it’s as if the ’51 left high school as a greaser in 1962, joined a commune after a road trip to the Monterey Pop Festival, journeyed to Woodstock, and then stayed behind to build geodesic domes. The ’72 also looks wired for loud. The Fender Enforcer humbucker in the neck position is inspired by the pickups Fender put in Thinline Telecaster models in the early ’70s. And the same humbucker that propels the nastier persona of the ’51 sits in the bridge position of the ’72.

Fender reveals a cool eye for other period- correct details on the ’72, too. It’s got a 3-bolt neck (the bane of so many pre-CBS purists), a bullet truss rod, ‘F’ tuners that were typical of Strats and Teles of the time, and a hardtail bridge like the ’51’s. The white-bound f-hole is borrowed from the ’69 Thinline Telecaster and, like the ’51, the ’72’s familiar Telecaster-like controls conceal a hidden purpose. In this case, what would traditionally be a tone knob is a very cool pickup blender knob. As on the ’51, it won’t do much for you if you’re looking for mellow jazz tones or burly saxophone honk of the sort you’d normally summon with a Tone-knob tweak, but it does offer a lot of hip tone-shaping possibilities.

The ’72 is a cooker, especially through a potently projecting 4x10 Super Reverb. It kicks hard from the bridge pickup and slings Zep and Paul Kossoff tones whether you’re jamming a big or small amp. The neck-position humbucker—a visual and sonic nod to the ’72 Thinline Telecaster—is predictably darker, but it can be blended with the more slicing bridge humbucker to create a harmonically rich blend that sounds fat, zingy, and jangly under the guitar’s 25 1/2" scale. A little pedal overdrive turned the ’72 into a perfect vehicle for grinding open-tuned Black Crowes- or Faces-style jams—ringing with a whole spectrum of overtones and a string-to-string definition that highlighted funky pull-offs and snap bends. And moving between the two pickups in the middle of a lead created some very cool, almost modulating textures. Unfortunately, the blend knob stopped working (possibly due to a loose solder connection) after a few hours of playing—and before we’d shot the video review. Fender’s Justin Norvell explains, “The model we sent was from a first-production run and had been deconstructed and rebuilt a few times in the inspection and evaluation process. So consider this a mea culpa for possibly rushing the rebuild to get them out fast for this first and exclusive review!”

The ’72 feels super slick under the fingers. While the medium-jumbo frets and C-shaped neck—one of the nicer necks I’ve gripped in a while—enable fast fretwork, they also make slow, lazy bends a joy. Because it was set up with very low action, it took a tweak on the truss rod and a few adjustments to the saddles to get the action where I really felt open notes were ringing in a way that suits this cool, high-output pickup array.

The ’72 may not be everyone’s idea of a looker, but if you dig the guitar equivalent of a mag-wheeled custom van hanging cool and low around your shoulders—and, more importantly, if you crave the tones of that time—the ’72 is great way to break away from the pack.

Buy if...
Southern rock and high-octane blues with a Stratocaster feel just sound and feel right.
Skip if...
you can’t live without that Tone knob or single-coils.

Street $799 - Fender -