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Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster guitar review

Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster Electric Guitar, Natural, Maple Fretboard

Yesterday I had to go out and buy some guitar strings at Sam Ash in Tampa, and while there tried out two guitars, the above being one of them, a Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster in natural finish with the maple neck/maple fingerboard.

And yes, the exact guitar above is the one I tried out. When I saw it, I had to try it because there are several things about this particular Strat that are different compared to normal Strats.

Is it a proper 70s Strat?

Absolutely. This Strat is without question the same as a real-deal 1970s Stratocaster, with one exception: It's a lot lighter. But in this case, that's a good thing because real-deal 1970s Stratocasters are "boat-anchor" heavy. This one isn't and is a lot more civilized.

As for every other part of the guitar, it's all 70s. In fact, it's so 70s that this could easily qualify as a reissue.

What makes the guitar not a reissue is the fact there is a micro-tilt adjustment on the 3-bolt neck plate and the fact it's not boat-anchor heavy.

A bit "too 70s" for my liking

Fender made this thing so 70s that for most players - including myself - it is a little too period-correct.

Let's find out why.

Neck

Definitely a thick-and-chunky U shape. I believe it's the fattest neck Fender ever made, and yes, it's on the 70s Strat. Not only is the neck fat but the frets are the tall/skinny kind. This takes some getting used to.

I was surprised to discover it was not a fret-buzzy mess to play. However, the neck fretted out real easy when bending notes, but I know exactly why. Fat neck, skinny frets and a 7.25-inch radius fingerboard.

I'm not saying bending notes is an impossible thing, because you can certainly do it without a problem. The problem is that when you have a 7.25-inch radius fingerboard and skinny frets, yeah, you fret out a lot and that's just the way it is.

Pegboard and tuners

Big CBS-era style headstock with bullet truss rod cover and "F" tuners. Looks exactly like a 70s Strat should and is well done.

I'll address here the #1 complaint most people have about the 70s Strat, the "F" tuners.

Okay. "F" tuners are a very specific type of tuner with a very specific spacing that only appears on the 70s Strat and no other. Most players think these tuners suck (I personally think they're fine), however, they are the exact type of tuners Fender did use in their cost-cutter years of the 70s and are absolutely period-correct.

Buyers of the 70s Strat get really ticked off when they discover that in order to change out "F" tuners, you must get a set that is "F" spaced, because 70s "F" spacing is unique to that decade. Kluson or Kluson-style tuners do not fit the 70s headstock, and it's not because of the screw holes, it's because of the spacing of the pegboard holes.

In other words, with "F" style tuners and spacing, you're basically stuck with Fender part number 099-0822 tuners unless you want to do some modification to the pegboard to fit alternate tuners.

To those who get ticked off when discovering the whole "F" spacing thing, all I can say is that you should've researched the guitar more before buying it.

Again, I am 100% OK with "F" spaced tuners and their style. But if you're not, well... there's not much you can really do about it unless you hack up the pegboard.

Pickups

True to a 70s Strat, the middle pickup is not reverse wound, so every one of the 5 pickups positions has 60-cycle hum. It is absolutely mandatory to use a noise gate pedal with one of these Strats if you put any overdrive through it.

Also true to a 70s Strat, the pickups were weak, "thin" sounding and didn't have very good treble response to them. But again, this is true-to-70s and that's what it's supposed to sound like.

For me, this is one of the reasons I can't stand real-deal 70s Strats. But of course, since this guitar is true-to-70s, you get a true-to-70s pickup set.

Ordinarily I can deal with stock pickups, even on Squier guitars. But not the 70s Fender Strat. If I owned the 70s Strat, I would go ahead and buy a Tex-Mex pickup set and install those replacement pickups. I get my reverse-wound middle pickup (meaning hum canceling on positions 2 and 4) and the pickups are a higher output that would much better agree with me.

Body

The body felt like it had that less-contoured 70s shape, although I can't be certain. Maybe that was just me thinking the body was like that, but didn't know for sure. Felt comfy enough.

One thing I do know however is that yes, it has that total 70s "looks like a coffee table" look to it.

What both Fender and Gibson did in the 70s to cut costs was offer a ton of guitars in "natural" finish. And the only reason they did this was to save money because at the time it was cheaper to spray clear sealant on a guitar body rather than paint it.

The ash body on the 70s Strat looks... like ash. I guess the question is whether or not the guitar looked unfinished, as in not-complete. I can say with certainly that the guitar looks and feels completed. This is not the same cost-cutter crapola Fender did in the 1970s. You do get a properly-made, 100% completed guitar...

...but the natural finish does totally look like a coffee table. Maybe that's something you'd like. If it isn't, there's also Black, Sunburst and Olympic White. If you want a Ritchie Blackmore look, get black. If you want a Hendrix look, get Olympic White. If you want a really great sunburst (ash does take to a sunburst very nicely), get the sunburst.

I'm not kidding when I say the sunburst 70s Stratocaster is really a looker:

Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster, Maple Fretboard - 3-Color Sunburst

Looks great in a rosewood-board version too:

Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster, Rosewood Fretboard - 3-Color Sunburst

It is the ash body that makes the sunburst look so good on the 70s Strat model. The ash grain lines really pop out at you. You will notice however that the above two guitars have totally different grain lines to them; the reason for this is because ash isn't consistent from log to log.

Even with ash grain inconsistency, what you get will look good. And there's another perk as well. No two sunburst 70s Strats look the same. What you get will be unique to your guitar only.

Feel

I found myself fighting with the 70s Strat for a few minutes before I got used to it. And yeah, "fighting" is the appropriate word for it.

The feel of the body was fine. No complaints there.

The feel of the controls was fine. No complaints there either.

It was the neck I had to get used to. Like I said above, it has that big-ass U shape on the back to it.

Once I did get used to the neck however, I got along fine with the large-and-in-charge U.

Yeah, I know I make it sound like the U is this ungodly-large thing. No, it's not obscenely thick or anything like that, but bear in mind I'm totally used to "Modern C" slimmer Fender necks with a 9.5-inch radius fingerboard and medium jumbo fret wire. When you go from a Modern C flat-oval shape to the 70s U, yeah, there's a big difference in feel. But again, I was able to get along with it fine after playing on it for a few minutes.

Conclusion

Looks-wise, this guitar totally nails it.

Feel-wise, it takes getting used to, but after adjusting to it, it feels great.

Sound-wise, it sucks. It is true-to-70s spec, but that's a sound I personally do not like at all. And the fact there's no reverse-wound in the middle position... yeah, bad. It's like I said above, dump the set for a Tex-Mex set and the guitar's sound would spring to life immediately.

To note: No, it is not the fact the neck has a 3-bolt plate that makes it sound so thin. There are so many idiot guitar players that think the amount of bolts at the neck plate actually matter here. They do not, so stop drinking that Kool-Aid. It's the pickups that make it sound thin and not that frickin' bolt plate. Change over to a Tex-Mex set and she'll sound A-OK.

Verdict: Good guitar, bad pickup set.

Alternative to the 70s Strat

Fender Deluxe Roadhouse Stratocaster, MN, Vintage White

You buy a 70s Strat for either one of two reasons. Either you want it for the look or for the feel.

If you only wanted it for the look, a good alternative is the guitar above, the Deluxe Roadhouse Stratocaster. Looks 70s, but is totally modernized. And it costs a lot less.

Alder body, Modern C-shape neck with medium jumbo frets, 22-fret instead of 21, Texas Special pickups, and some special control trickery where there's a master volume, 6-position "rotary tone" switch (kind of like a vari-tone) and a master tone. And yes, you'll like that rotary tone thing. Different, but very usable.

No bullet truss rod cover on this one, but there are standard tuners on it with standard pegboard hole spacing.

The neck is mildly tinted; that's a good thing, else that maple board would be way too white-ish in look.

Roadhouse is a hot-rodded Strat that has a 70s look to it. If you like a 70s look but want a modern guitar, a Roadhouse Strat is the guitar you want.

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