2012 Fender Stratocaster

Review: 2012 Fender American Standard Stratocaster Up Close

Guitar reviews – they’re a dime a dozen. I thought about what I could possibly add to everything that has been written or recorded about what is arguably the most iconic electric guitar in history. Everyone has pretty much weighed in on it – luthiers, master players, wannabes, down to the people who really don’t know what they’re talking about. But interestingly enough, I realized that I still had questions about the guitar left unanswered until after I actually bought one.

I’m not going to talk all that much about tone or how the sound of this thing blows everything else out of the water. If that’s what you’re looking for, I heartily suggest going to Youtube or your favourite guitar gear forum. I’ve seen and heard all that I want from those places. I don’t have the inclination to do the same. But if you want to read about things not often touched on by the other reviewers, please read on!

In case you missed it, my subject for this blog is the 2012 edition of the Fender American Standard Stratocaster. Yes, it’s 2014, but the specifications haven’t really changed. And more importantly, it’s what I have. A deal that was way too good to pass up came along, so I bit.

The American Standard comes in a number of colors. I would have wanted one in Jade Pearl Metallic, but the store didn’t have any. I was tempted to go for Mystic Blue, but the guitar that I was drawn to the most was this one in Olympic White. It was the first one I tested. Then I put it back on the shelf, quietly slapping one of the “Reserved” signs lying around, just in case. After trying a bunch of other Strats, I went back to it. And before you knew it, it was card swiping time at the cashier!

With everything else happening at home, it took a while before I finally had the time to sit down and take a real close look at this guitar. And now, I share to you my thoughts on what I saw.

The Neck

I can work with a vintage-style Fender neck. But it doesn’t mean I like it at all. The 1 5/8” nut width, soft V profile and 7.25” fretboard radius isn’t particularly comfortable for my hands. Even if I’m no shredder, 21 frets seem a bit inadequate, as well. I went through two vintage-spec’d Japanese made Strats (one of which is also a Fender which I still have, as of this writing). And it takes significantly more effort for me to play cleanly. This is why, prior to this subject guitar, I have been opting for custom-made necks.

The American Standard is thankfully a lot friendlier to my hands. The slightly wider nut makes a significant difference when I play chords on the lower frets. And even though I hardly play that high up, having that 22nd fret is really nice in those rare times I’m called upon to do some guitar solo. Before I intently studied it, I was unsure if the fretboard radius going from 7.25” to 9.5” is enough. I’ve always thought that my ideal radius was somewhere between 10” to 12”. It turned out to be quite sufficient. I can now honestly say that I love these American Fender necks.

Production Fender necks come with either a maple or rosewood fretboard. The American all maple necks are curiously glossy at the fretboard, but with a satin back. They’ve obviously listened to their customers who rave over the non-sticky feel of bare or oiled wood. Satin poly is probably the best compromise between feel and protection there is.

I, however, went for a rosewood fretboard. It was actually the first thing that drew me to this particular guitar. It had the most striking grain among all the guitars in the Fender section, and that included the American Deluxes and the Custom Shop models.

The thing that I didn’t find much about was the rolled or rounded fretboard edges of the American series. I like it a lot – very comfortable. This probably made the Corona factory more particular with the frets themselves. There are hardly any sharp metal fret edges to lacerate your palm. The fretwork is still far from perfect, though. Some parts still need some smoothing and polishing.

You get the Fender-stamped non-locking tuners here. Personally, I prefer the locking or slotted variety. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad. They’re smooth and solidly built. And strung up properly, these do get the job done, even with the tremolo bridge set to float. I have a mind to keep them there forever, but I do have a set of Sperzels lying around here and going nowhere else. So, I might as well swap them out at some point.

Perhaps the weakest link in the neck construction is the nut. Fender calls it synthetic bone. To me, it only looks marginally better than cheap plastic. Heck, a lot of people are pretty sure it IS cheap plastic. Considering the retail price, why they didn’t just go ahead and use real bone is beyond me. Close inspection also revealed that, at least as far as this guitar is concerned, the slots are far from perfectly cut. The nut will definitely be the first thing that will be replaced in the neck.

The Body

This model is armed with a standard two-point tremolo bridge, but with vintage style bent steel saddles — a compromise between contemporary and vintage sensibilities. I don’t lose sleep at night thinking about it, but I do know a lot of people mind this modern versus vintage thing. American Standard Stratocasters are shipped out of the factory with the bridge set to float. That’s all well and good. Someone apparently tightened the springs of this particular guitar and set the bridge flush to the body for dive-only whammy action. It’s fine with me, as well. But what I do mind is the slot of the trem cavity cover being aligned for a floating bridge, which I find tedious. Unless you take that cover off, you have to change the strings one at a time. The whammy bar also seems to be bent for a floating bridge.

Speaking of the bridge, at first I thought that the trem cavity being partially exposed up front was a defect. But all the copies I saw were the same. This is something I would understand if the guitar had an aftermarket assembly. But this is a stock Fender American Standard tremolo bridge. I don’t think this is supposed to be the case. Furthermore, it is a good thing that the intonation is already good, if not close to being perfect. If there was a need for the first saddle to be moved closer to the neck, there might be a problem. There is already very little space left for it to move forward, as it’s almost touching the trem post. I also worry that the saddle is already scraping and bumping into the post whenever the trem goes for a dive. And again, all the copies in the store were set up like this.

The finish work on the body is consistent with the neck – impeccable, at least from the outside. Taking off the pickguard and covers reveals how it is a bit rough on the edges. It’s no big deal, but I do believe the workmanship along the control cavities is a sign of a builder’s level of attention to detail.

What I do find a big deal is that the routs weren’t precise. It’s fine for the stock pickguard assembly. But I hit a stone wall when I realized the fat Strat-configured assembly I was going to use didn’t fit. The bridge humbucker is a bit bulkier than usual, and its corners wouldn’t fit in the cavity. At first, I blamed the pickup’s size. But upon closer inspection, I realized that the bridge pickup rout on the body wasn’t straight. Otherwise, the assembly would have snugly fit. So, after a pang of frustration on my part, back in the stock electronics went. Should I find a different bridge pickup? Should I have the rout enlarged? Should I get a new body? This is a dilemma I did not expect to face.

I would like to clarify that I have nothing bad to say about the stock pickguard assembly, though. It’s a bunch of high quality components neatly put together. The Custom Shop Fat 50’s pickups aren’t bad sounding either. I certainly liked what I was hearing when I was testing all those Strats in the store. It just so happens that I have options on hand which I like better.

Despite its flaws, the Fender American Standard Stratocaster is a fine guitar. It’s not the best at anything in particular, mind you. In fact, I already have a list of things I will be doing with it to completely suit my tastes. But it does achieve what its name might suggest – become a measuring stick, a standard, for which other guitars can be held to.

Fender American Standard Stratocaster
Regular Local Retail Price: PHP74,950 (Yupangco/Perfect Pitch)

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pitchclip1

Review: Korg Pitchclip PC-1

Last month, I thought I lost my clip-on guitar tuner. And of course, like the rational person that I am, instead of exerting a little more effort to find it, I thought it would be better to go to the mall and get myself a new one. So, I went to the nearest Audiophile store to look for the Pitchclip. These things sell REALLY fast. The first time I saw one in the store, there was a huge pile on display. That pile didn’t last long and took a while before the stocks got replenished. I felt lucky to find one when I actually needed. And it was green!

It’s not hard to understand why these little things are popular. Korg has always been a trusted brand when it comes to reasonably priced musical instrument tuners. But when reasonably priced turns to crazy cheap (relative to the competition, at least), you potentially have a winning formula.

So I took my new green Pitchclip home and wasted no time testing it in one of my guitars. The excitement gradually faded when the thing started struggling to track certain strings. I mean, it’s not that bad, really. But I started to think if it was a good idea for Korg to risk a bit of a dip in their reputation here.

Tracking can get erratic at times.

Maybe a week after I bought the Pitchclip, I was surprised to find my old tuner buried deep in one of my backpack’s pockets. In hindsight, spending an extra 5 minutes to search that bag in the first place would have saved me 600 Pesos. But that would have been no fun, no? And it wouldn’t have made the ensuing comparison test possible. I can now determine if the Pitchclip is actually any better (or worse) than my older tuner.

The other tuner is a Musedo T-40C, which I bought nearly two years ago from Lyric for somewhere between 700-800 Pesos. I know nothing about the brand and have to keep reading the tuner’s label to remember the model. But I bought it because my first choice at the time, which was, surprise surprise, the Pitchclip, was unavailable. So, I went to another store to look for my second choice, the Snark SN-1/SN-2. They didn’t have it on stock either. So I was resigned to browsing through their display shelf and hope I saw something decent. It was there that I found the Musedo.

The Musedo T-40C has a rather fancy colored LCD display and can be set for tuning various instruments. The tuning modes don’t interest me much as the tuner is always set to chromatic. What I want to test the accuracy and tracking of my tuners. In the end, these are all that matter, really.

A few things struck me in this particular test. It is no longer apparent in the video as the strings were already in tune (well, for the most part, at least). But while you’re actually tuning, the Pitchclip is the one which has the most difficulty in tracking pitch, especially with the wounded strings (you can see it somewhat when I plucked the 6th string). Of course, one can say that it’s expected. But having those LED’s doing a Cylon impression is something I rarely see from my previous Korg tuners. The next thing that I noticed was that after it settles down, the Pitchclip is fairly consistent with the Pitchblack’s own readings. I can’t gauge actual accuracy, but both tuners do allude to the same ballpark area of sharpness or flatness. You’re certainly getting that Korg accuracy with the Pitchclip.

The Musedo T-40C doesn’t seem to be as sensitive as both Korg units. The reading also seems to lock in a certain range of whatever note is being tuned. Obviously, this could compromise accuracy. But I wonder if that is such a bad thing. If you look at the video clip, the readings are really close to each other. A hyper accurate tuner, at first glance, will always seem to be the best thing to have. But when the reality of your practical needs sets in, you start to think twice about it. That fancy strobe tuner is great of setting up your guitar. But for most purposes, personally, I’d rather spend 15 seconds for adequate tuning rather than 5 minutes for perfect tuning. Why bother? Pitch is never going to be perfect as you play up and down the fretboard, anyway.

I still like the Musedo a bit more and it will remain my go-to tuner. But after this test, I realized that the Pitchclip is actually better than I first thought. It held its own against its bigger brother, the Pitchblack. It takes longer to stabilize, but it gets there. When the green LED in the middle lights up, I can always trust the Korg Pitchclip.

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lenar-1

Review: Lenar Gigbag

Review: Lenar Gigbag Made to Order Gig Bags
Price: Varies

Made to order services for musical instrument bags and cases are aplenty, if you know where to look. I’ve seen and owned a few. They’re not the best make ever, but the bags serve their purpose well. The people who make these bags make a killing in supplying cheap but fairly reliable merchandise. But there are also those who dare ask for an added premium for their work, in exchange for a significantly higher level of quality – something they claim can hold its own against well-known ready-made and imported brands.

It’s been a few years since Lenar (formerly Bumbum) Gigbags started building a reputation over at the PhilMusic Forums. They got regularly showered by compliments from clients who seemed very happy with what they got. I’d always thought about ordering a bag to see the workmanship for myself. But I’d just end up changing my mind and buy a Gator bag or something. Once again, I found myself in the same quandary after buying a Line 6 POD HD500. I was told at the store that they didn’t have a Gator bag available that would be a good fit for the effects unit. A few days later, I was told that it actually wasn’t the case and they had just the thing. But this was only after I sent an inquiry to Lenar about having a bag custom made. The Gator was more expensive (around PHP2,500), but I’d have to wait for the Lenar (PHP2,000 including shipping with a two week waiting period). I live outside Manila, and since at the time I had no planned trips within the next two weeks, I figured this was a good time to go custom!

Fast forward to the day the bag arrived…

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I wasn’t high on the available colors, so I stuck with the ever-popular black. I asked for his standard design following the dimensions of the HD500 – one main compartment and two side pockets. The bag itself is lined with a heavy duty nylon fabric that’s noticeably glossier than what I’m used to with Gators. I had never been particular with zippers. That was until I came into possession of two cheap semi-hard cases whose pull tabs broke off after only a handful of tugs. At least the sliders didn’t jam. Otherwise, I’d have been frantically ripping the case apart as this happened just before a very rare gig, but I digress. Needless to say, just seeing the sturdy-looking black zippers allayed any lingering concern of mine.

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Flipping the bag over reveals a compartment for the shoulder straps (in case one wants to carry it as a backpack). It’s a nice touch, but the obsessive-compulsive might have an issue with it as the bag will not be able to lie completely flat on a floor or table.

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What I am not a fan of, however, was the set of plastic boots. Of course, I probably should be happy that the bag has those (not all bag makers include them) whenever I lay it on the floor upright. But wide rubber skid pads would have provided a nicer touch.

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Opening the bag reveals an interior lined with a thinner and softer light grey fabric covering the padding. It won’t scratch all but the flimsiest plastic, so it serves its purpose well. But I wished the bag had a plush-type interior instead. One thing I really like about the inside, however, is the internal flap for added protection. I was a little disappointed because the side pockets cannot fit a folder where I usually put chords and lyric sheets (not Lenar’s fault – the size of the bag was dictated by the HD500, after all). But with the flap, aside from providing additional padding, it also acts as a divider which provides more than enough space for my folder).

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Another important thing to consider about this sort of bags is the fit. Bags not intended for any specific item, and even some custom made bags have varying degrees of allowances. For my order, I just specified what the bag was going to be for, and the HD500 fit snugly right in. Sometimes I do like more slack. But for this particular bag, a snug fit is ideal for me. The interior flap can also be fastened tightly in place for good measure. Very nice.

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Overall, the only other thing I could think about picking on are the stray strands of thread sticking out of the seams, some of which you will clearly see in the pictures here. It’s not a deal breaker and I know that the case is the same in many other bags. But still, attention to this tiny detail does mean something.

I’ve seen so many glowing feedback on Lenar bags. But my point in bothering to write this review is to provide an honest perspective. I’ve already patronized them with my money. I don’t need to patronize them with empty compliments. Come on people, Lenar bags aren’t the best. I’ve certainly seen better stuff out there.

But…

Even they realize that’s not what they’re about. Even though they’re no Mono, you are going to be hard-pressed to find anything better for the money that you would spend for a Lenar Gigbag. In case that is not enough, you also have customization options otherwise not available in ready-made counterparts (like, when was the last time you saw after-market bags for a Flying V or an Explorer readily available?). And, you will enjoy the benefit of dealing with a proprietor who always seem to go put in the effort to keep their lines of communication open to their clients. Thank you, Arnel!

I love bags. I can probably rival my wife in that regard. But by no means am I an authority. While I do not know if my word carries any weight if I say that I heartily recommend getting a bag from Lenar to all musicians looking for reasonably priced well-made and rugged gig bags, one thing is for sure – I know for sure I will do just that whenever the need arises.

Lenar Gigbags on Facebook

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Mini-reviews: Wampler SLOstortion, Fender Mustang II, Joyo UD

I got to try out a few pieces of guitar gear this week and got some fairly interesting results.

1. Wampler SLOstortion

The worth of this distortion pedal is undeniable. Even though it looks pricey at first glance (around US$240 around the Web, and PHP10,700 from Jef at www.nelldenmusic.com), two things more than make up for it with its a) ridiculously wide range of tone and gain and b) independent clean boost circuit). I’ve actually had this pedal for more than four months now. But taming the mids has always been a challenge. It can sound messy, especially with the pedal in the Overdrive channel. I’ve always suspected that the inherent tone of my Vox AC30CC1 amplifier had a lot to do with it, but never bothered to investigate further, until now.

The first step was to test it intently with my small Roland MicroCube. With the amp model set to Brit Combo (the Vox emulation), it sounded pretty much the way it does with my bigger amp. Setting it to Black Panel (Fender Twin Reverb emulation) made a huge difference. Suddenly, the pedal sounded more focused even as you crank the gain.

Now, now… I know that some people might think that testing through an amp modeller for comparison is a horrible move. So, for the first time ever, I brought my guitar along with the SLOstortion to the Yupangco showroom to test it on an actual Fender tube amp (I was buying something anyway, so I wasn’t going to be shy about it, lol). Needless to say, the SLOstortion sounded awesome. It was actually difficult to make it sound bad (something I don’t say often). I wanted to take the amp home with me!

I suppose this is one of the reasons why some users at PhilMusic are starting to accuse the pedal of being full of hype with little substance, complaining about how dark and muddy it sounds. I’m guessing a lot of them are using British-voiced amps.

I’m not giving up on the SLOstortion+Vox combo just yet, but I’m definitely not going to let go of the pedal within the foreseeable future.

2. Fender Mustang II

I’ve been tempted to buy one (PHP12,950 at Yupangco/Perfect Pitch) for the past several months. I like the concept and its cost effectiveness. This week, I finally had the chance to test drive one. If I didn’t already have a Roland, I’d have bought it already. It sounds pretty good and there are more sounds you can work with than a Roland Cube. I wish I brought my laptop to test its USB connectivity (which isn’t available in competing brands and models). I seriously believe that the Mustang I and II are a great choice as a practice or jam amplifier. I just don’t know if the 40-watt II can convincingly keep up with a loud drummer. For that, one would probably need the Mustang III or IV.

3. Joyo California Sound and Ultimate Drive

Joyo has been making a name for itself all over the place. These things are pretty cheap. But they’re reportedly so good that a few so-called boutique builders have been caught rebadging them, rubbing off the Joyo markings from the circuit board and then selling them for like six times the original price.

I tried out the California Sound (PHP1,950 at Lazer Music) and thought it was pretty good — definitely built for high gain, but can be respectable even if you go to its lower registers. But the one I was really interested in was the Ultimate Drive (PHP1,800 at Lazer Music). It’s rumored to be a clone of the Fulltone OCD and the model that was reportedly rebadged by the boutique builders I mentioned about.

I used to own an OCD, so I already had certain presumptions regarding the sound. Those presumptions were seriously obliterated from the first strum with the pedal on. First of all, I thought it had a lot more gain than the OCD, or at least the sweep of the gain knob was very different. It also sounded brighter than I expected. Downside is that it gets a bit fizzy at higher gain settings. Yes, the Ultimate Drive is very much reminiscent of the OCD. But it should sound different enough to be its own pedal.

Good stuff across the board. It really is a great time to be a guitar gearhead now. Hopefully, I get the chance to try out some more of these from time to time.

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Copyright 2018 Al Francis D. Librero © All Rights Reserved.

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