The 20-something blues phenom shows off his old-soul approach to tone.
For these new recreations, Fender focuses on the little things that make original golden-era Fenders objects of obsession.
If there’s one thing players love more than new guitars, it’s old guitars—the unique feel, the design idiosyncrasies, the quirks in finish that all came from the pre-CNC era of instrument manufacturing. These characteristics become the stuff of legend, passed on through the years via rumors and anecdotes in shops, forums, and community networks.
It’s a little difficult to separate fact from fiction given these guitars aren’t easy to get your hands on. Fender Telecasters manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s sell for upwards of $20,000. But old is about to become new again. Fender’s American Vintage II series features 12 year-specific electric guitar and bass models from over two decades, spanning 1951 to 1977, that replicate most specs on their original counterparts, but are produced with modern technologies that ensure uniform build and feel.
Chronologically, the series begins and ends, fittingly, with the Telecaster—starting with the butterscotch blonde, blackguard 1951 Telecaster (built with an ash body, one-piece U-shaped maple neck, and 7.25" radius fretboard) and ending with the 1977 Telecaster Custom, which features a C-shaped neck, a CuNiFe magnet-based Wide Range humbucker in the neck position, and a single-coil at the bridge. The rest of the series spans the highlights of Fender’s repertoire: the 1954 Precision Bass, 1957 Stratocaster in ash or alder, 1960 Precision Bass, 1961 Stratocaster, 1963 Telecaster, 1966 Jazz Bass, 1966 Jazzmaster, 1972 Tele Thinline, 1973 Strat, and 1975 Telecaster Deluxe. The 1951 Telecaster, 1957 Strat, 1961 Strat, and 1966 Jazz Bass will also be offered as left-handed models. Street prices run from $2,099 to $2,399.
Every guitar in the series sports the era’s 7.25" radius fretboard, a mostly abandoned spec found on Custom Shop instruments—Mexico-made Vintera models, and Fender’s Artist Series guitars like the Jimmy Page, Jason Isbell, and Albert Hammond Jr. models. Most modern Fenders feature a 9.5" radius, while radii on Gibsons reach upwards of 12". Videos experimenting with the 7.25" radius’ playability pull in tens of thousands of viewers, suggesting both a modern fascination with and a lack of exposure to the radius among some younger and less experienced players.
T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne picks an American Vintage II 1966 Jazzmaster in Dakota red.
Bringing back the polarizing 7.25" radius across the entire series is a gamble, and it’s been nearly five years since Fender released year-specific models. But Fender executive vice president Justin Norvell says that two years ago when the Fender brain trust was conceptualizing the American Vintage II line, they decided the time was right to “go back to the well.”
“We’ve been doing the same [models], the same years, over and over again for 30 years,” says Norvell. “We really wanted to change the line and expand it into some new things that we hadn’t done before and pick some different years that we thought were cool.”
“It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”—Steve Thomas, Fender
To decide on which years to produce, Fender drew from what Norvell calls a “huge cauldron of information” from Custom Shop master builders to collectors with vintage models to former employees from the 1950s and 1960s. The hands-on manufacturing of Fender’s golden years meant guitars produced within the same year would have marked differences in design and finish. So, the team had to procure multiple versions of the same year’s guitar to decide which models to replicate. Norvell says some purists would advocate for the “cleanest, most down-the-middle kind of variant,” while others would push for more esoteric and rare versions. Norvell says that ultimately, the team picked the models that they felt best represented “the throughline of history on our platforms.”
Simple and agile, the Fender Precision Bass—here in its new American Vintage II ’54 incarnation—earned its reputation in the hands of Bill Black, James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and other foundational players.
Norvell says the American Vintage II series was developed, in part, in response to calls to reproduce vintage guitars. Just like with classic cars, he says, people are passionate about year-specific guitars. Plus, American Vintage II fits perfectly with the pandemic-stoked yearning for bygone times. “For some people, these specific years are representative of experiences they had when they were first playing guitar, or a favorite artist that played guitars from these eras,” says Norvell. “These are touchstones for those stories, and that makes them very desirable.”
Fender’s electric guitar research and design team, led by director Steve Thomas, dug through the company’s archive of original drawings and designs—dating all the way back to Leo Fender’s original shop in Fullerton, California. They found detailed notes, including some documenting body woods that changed mid-year on certain models. Halfway through 1956, for example, Stratocaster bodies switched from ash to alder. That meant the American Vintage II 1957 Stratocaster needed to be alder, too. That, in turn, meant ensuring enough alder was on hand to fulfill production needs.
Among the series’ Stratocaster recreations is this 1973-style instrument, with an ash body, maple C-profile neck, rosewood fretboard, and the company’s Pure Vintage single-coils.
Thomas and his team discovered another piece of the production puzzle when researching how pickups for that same 1957 Strat were made. “We realized that if we incorporated a little bit more pinch control on the winders, we could more effectively mimic the way pickups would have been hand-wound in the ’50s,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”
Thomas proudly calls the guitars “some of the best instruments we’ve ever made here in the Fender plant,” pointing to the level of detail put into design features, including more delicate lacquer finishes which take longer to cure and dry, and vintage-correct tweed cases for some guitars. New pickups were incorporated in the series, like a reworking of Seth Lover’s famed CuNiFe Wide Range humbuckers, which were discontinued around 1981. Even more minute details, like the width of 12th fret dots and the material used for them, were labored over. Three different models in the line feature clay dot inlays at unique, year-specific spacings.
Ironically, modern CNC manufacturing now makes these design quirks consistent features in mass-produced instruments. While the hand-crafted guitars from the ’50s and ’60s varied a lot from instrument to instrument. “Everything needs to be located perfectly, and it wasn’t necessarily back in the day,” says Norvell. “Now, it can be.”
With this new series so firmly planted in the rose-tinted past, Fender does run the risk of netting only vintage-obsessed players. But Norvell says the team, despite being sticklers for period-correct detail, sought to strike a balance between vintage specs, practicality, and playability. The 1957 Stratocaster, for example, has a 5-way switch rather than the original’s 3-way switch. Norvell also asserts that the “ergonomic” old-school radius feels great when chording. “It might not be [right for] a shred machine, but it feels great and effortless.”
The 1966 Jazz Bass is also represented, shown here in a left-handed version.
Norvell also pushes back on the notion that Fender is playing it safe by indulging nostalgia and leaning on their past successes. He says that while the vintage models are some of the most desirable on the market, the team “purposely did not stick to the safe bets,” citing unusual year models like the 1954 P Bass and the 1973 Stratocaster.There’s a good reason why anything that hails back to “the good ol’ days” hits home with every generation. We’re constantly plagued by a belief that what came before is better than what we’ve got now. But with the American Vintage II series, Fender makes the case that guitars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s can very easily be a relevant part of the 2020s.
Building on the success of the 2021 BMG 'Two Tone' Arielle model, Brian May Guitars announces Antique Cherry finish for their guitar styled after American singer-songwriter Arielle.
Striking Body Design
The flamboyant, asymmetric angles of the Arielle's Indonesian Mahogany body, at once timeless and forward-thinking, clearly pay homage to radical American automotive and electric guitar designs of the 1950s and '60s, with a distinctive raised center strip increasing the body mass for enhanced sustain and resonance, a split, 3-ply parchment pickguard and a classic gloss finish completing the cool, vintage look.
24" Scale Mahogany Neck
Employing the short 24" scale favored by Brian May on the original Red Special, the one-piece mahogany neck, in perfect balance with the lightweight body, has been engineered with a decidedly contemporary feel, featuring a generous 45mm nut width, comfortably spacious profile, and wonderfully smooth 24 fret ebony fingerboard with Arielle's choice of abalone diamond snowflake inlays in the traditional BM pattern.
BMG Tri-Sonic Style Pickups
Like the best-selling BMG Special, the Arielle features three BM branded 'Tri-Sonic' style single coil pickups, modern replicas of the vintage '60s units so fundamental to the Red Special's powerful and distinctive sonic character with the same series wiring, retro-styling, and magnet alignment as the originals.
BM Switching System
The unique Brian May designed electronics system is provided by six black DPDT switches featuring high-quality contacts mounted on a contrasting 3-ply black control plate. Engaging each pickup individually as well as providing dedicated phase reversal, this familiar configuration gives the BMG Arielle the same astonishing tonal agility as the original Red Special itself.
Wilkinson WVP Tremolo Bridge
Continuing BMG's long association with veteran British engineer Trevor Wilkinson, the Arielle is fitted with his acclaimed WVP 2-point tremolo, a vintage-styled variant of the unit used on the BMG Special. With a modern, friction-free design offering one of the smoothest actions of any fulcrum vibrato currently available coupled with a sleek, low-profile surround to eliminate lateral saddle movement, the WVP offers superior comfort, stability, and performance.
Thumbwheel Locking Tuners
The distinctive BM style headstock sports 3-a-side locking tuners with an 18:1 gear ratio for precise tuning and a thumbwheel locking mechanism that clamps the string securely. These superb quality machine heads allow for quick and easy string changes, requiring fewer string wraps and maintaining rock-solid tuning stability and more accurate return-to-pitch, even with lots of vibrato and string bends.
BMG Gig Bag Included
A premium quality, padded gig-bag, made from durable showerproof material, with twin rucksack-style shoulder straps, side and front grab handles, dual front pockets, and stitched BMG logo, is supplied as standard.
Versatile and bold, the heart of the Arielle's sound is round, wide, warm, and rich, with clean, clear highs and crisp note articulation, even when overdriven. Eminently capable of authentically delivering the hardest of rock or the most intimate dream-pop shimmer, the Arielle has clearly been engineered to be a brilliant, one-stop stage and studio workhorse. For blues and roots styles, there is a pleasing presence and a tight, focused bass response whilst jazz players and country pickers will love the chiming clarity, especially on out-of-phase settings, and the smooth, hollow twang of the neck pickup. Cranking up the gain, combining two or more pickups in phase, the broad Tri-Sonic response and resonant body give crunch chords ample room to breathe and allow lead licks and solos to project clearly and powerfully.
UK RRP £945.00 (Inc. VAT) — Available now for £845.00 from the official Brian May Guitars online store for a limited time. For more information, please visit BrianMayGuitars.co.uk.
Boutique custom shop Messiah Guitars has introduced their first two guitar effects pedals: the Dandelion fuzz drive and Quiggly octofuzz.
The “Dandelion” fuzz drive pedal is a three-knob, high-gain dirt pedal that spans tones from a heavy fuzz to a beefy overdrive, brutalizing all the notes while keeping them decipherable even while strumming the most complicated chord. The wide range tone knob is highly interactive with the other controls to bring you a vast variety of sound quality. Its retro goldenrod color, purple knobs, and stylish dandelion graphics add to the joy – and the purple light-up foot switch replaces the need for a boring LED display light.
“We wanted to make a fuzz drive pedal where you can hear the individual notes in a chord even when they’re heavily distorted,” says Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “Most pedals just squash the notes into a big mess, so you don’t get the complex sound you’re looking for. We found a way to do it differently.
”Messiah’s “Quiggly” octofuzz pedal dares to perfect the Tycho Brahe Octavia pedal made famous by Jimi Hendrix. With a quirky octopus-in-a-sweater design on a vintage robin’s egg blue face, its 3 knobs are bright pink and the light-up foot switches glow red and – in a nod to Hendrix – purple. The innovative pedal preserves the ‘wooliness’ of the Octavia, adding a couple of useful features. The ‘Choke’ knob cleans up the input signal to tame fuzziness when desired, and a second footswitch kicks in the octave on demand.
Dandelion and Quiggly retail for $199.00 each. For more information, please visit messiah-guitars.myshopify.com.
A software recreation of Strymon's best-selling BigSky hardware reverb.
The plugin features 12 custom reverb algorithms, with traditional physical spaces like rooms and halls joining unique filtered and pitched ambient machines. With Infinite hold/Freezefunctionality, jaw-dropping sound quality, and industry-leading flexibility, the new BigSky plugin offers DAW users a powerful new tool for creating ambient textures.
Multidimensional Reverb Plugin: The new BigSky plugin from Strymon is a direct port of Strymon's best-selling hardware pedal, bringing all of the functionality, uniqueness, and pristine sound quality of the original to your favorite DAW. Now you can use as many instances of Big Sky in your session as you’d like, using it to add simple Room ambiance to a drum kit while wholly transforming a string pad with the Shimmer or Chorale machines. With 12 custom-tuned reverb algorithms that cover everything from traditional acoustic spaces to wildly creative ambient machines, Infinite/Freeze functionality, and a dynamically simple user interface, the BigSky plugin is destined to become your new secret weapon in the studio.
The new BigSky plugin comes in AAX, AU, and VST3 formats, and is available directly from Strymon and at select retailers worldwide, for $199 US. For more information, please visit strymon.net.