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Fender Deluxe Roadhouse Stratocaster review

Fender Deluxe Roadhouse Stratocaster

There's some nice technical wizardry going on with this Strat, but is that enough for this model to be truly "Deluxe?" Let's find out.

I'm at the guitar store, and I see a Fender Deluxe Roadhouse Stratocaster on the wall in Vintage White (seen above.) I've been meaning to try one of these, and did.

What makes a Roadhouse different?

The only thing that lets you know this Strat is different is by looking at the back of it, where you see a 9-volt battery cover. Why is that there? Because this guitar has a preamp in it.

How is the preamp controlled? By the top tone knob. It looks like a tone knob but isn't, and is actually a notched rotary switch with six settings.

What does that rotary switch do? It "colors" the sound in what I can best describe as "thin" to "thick."

Can the preamp be bypassed? Fortunately, yes. Fender thought this one through. The volume knob has a push-in/out S-1 switch that can completely bypass the preamp.

The good

Has a traditional '70s style look with semi-modern flair

Other than the swap of a white pick guard to pearloid, this guitar keeps a mostly-vintage looking appearance. The only thing not vintage are the modern sealed tuners.

My guess is that this guitar is geared towards country players. Country guys like Strats with shiny bits on it (hence the decision for the pearloid guard,) and the name "Roadhouse" totally says "I'm a country guitar." The color choices of Vintage White w/maple fretboard and Sonic Blue w/rosewood fretboard totally fit the country look, too.

Candy Apple Red and 3TSB are also available, all with the pearloid pick guard.

Predictable neck, with bonus fret

While this is a Mexico-made Strat, it has 22 frets just like the American Standard instead of just 21. While I personally prefer 21, it is proper to see 22 on a model labeled as a Deluxe.

Priced well for a Strat with a preamp

Preamps aren't cheap as it can add a bunch of cost to a guitar. In addition, this Strat design strays outside the traditional build where an extra cavity had to be routed in the back, but yet Fender still kept the price quite reasonable. I would expect this guitar to be priced higher than it is, but it isn't.

My suggestion is that if you like this Strat, buy it before the price goes up, as I'm sure it will.

Weighted correct

Typical Strat weight and not too heavy. Has an alder body with maple neck, just as most Strat players expect.

Passive mode sounds very correct

With the preamp off, you get the passive sound of the Texas Special single-coils loaded into this guitar.

Now although I can't confirm this, I am assuming that this Strat can be played even if the 9-volt battery goes totally dead just from bypassing the preamp.

Does the extra routed cavity affect the tone negatively? Not that I could tell.

The bad

Gloss urethane coated neck

The Fender Standard Stratocaster, also a Mexico build, has a satin finish on the neck. The Roadhouse does not and it's super-shiny, just like most Squier Stratocasters.

I can only assume the only reason Fender decided to do this is because it makes the back of the neck look shinier because some country guys and gals like shiny-everything on a Strat.

Personally, I can get along with satin or urethane. But when I felt that urethane on the Deluxe, I was thinking, "A Strat labeled as a Deluxe model with a urethane finish neck and not satin? Seriously?"

Rotary switch did not feel solid

The #1 feature on this guitar, the notched rotary switch, was two things. Too stiff, and when going from one notched position to the next, it felt flimsy.

While the click-in/out S-1 switch felt perfect, that rotary left a lot to be desired.

Did it work? Yes. But it felt all wrong.

Fender needs to dump whomever is supplying that switch and go with someone else. I'll put it this way: This is the main feature of the guitar. And it's the worst-feeling part of it. Not good.

Wing string trees have no place on a model labeled as Deluxe

These type of string trees are something I'd expect on the Mexico Standard and Squier Strats. But this is a Deluxe model. Fender should have spent the extra 50 cents and put the "T"-roller trees on this, just like the ones on the American Special Stratocaster.

C'mon, Fender. If you're going to label a guitar a "Deluxe," put string trees on it that make it truly deluxe.

The sound

With the preamp bypassed, the Texas Special pickups definitely deliver. I could tell they had higher output from the first chord strummed...

...but does the preamp "color" the sound noticeably when in use?

Well, here's how I describe my experience with it.

Yes, the preamp works and you can hear the subtle differences from one setting to the next. I understand that the change in tone is not supposed to be drastic from use of this preamp, nor should it be.

What struck me as odd at first is how much the preamp "flattens" the sound of the guitar. However, that could in fact be really useful both in the studio and on stage. In the studio, a flat response that's adjustable is actually quite desirable at times. On stage, same thing. You can "tame" the tone of this Strat easily because of that preamp.

Is six settings enough? I think so. However, I did find myself wishing there were two more notches for more treble cutoff. Then again, that is what the tone knob is for.

But again, my biggest knock against this guitar is how flimsy that rotary switch felt going from notch to notch. I wasn't expecting this guitar to be perfect, but again, this is a Deluxe model. And that rotary absolutely did not feel deluxe at all.

Verdict

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