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I love '70s Stratocasters (but I'd never own one)

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Love the way they look, but that's it.

I make it no secret that I have a thing for the big, goofy headstocks from CBS-era Fender Stratocasters, specifically from years 1968 to 1979. My favorites in particular are '68, '69, '73, '74, '75, some of '76, '78 and some of '79...

...and I would never actually own any of these guitars. Bear in mind I have been in the presence of, held and strummed an actual '69.

If I wanted truly wanted one of these, Fender makes one new right now that fits the bill very nicely, the American Vintage II '73. It's better than the original not just because it's new with warranty but because it has a 5-way switch instead of the 3-way. There is absolutely no question I would get one of these if I wanted it badly enough.

Instead, I own the "cheap '69", the current Squier Affinity Strat. Good colors, has the big goofy headstock, correct font, SSS, HH or HSS available, and yeah, good. True, it's a slim profile body with modern 2-point bridge, but it all works. I play mine regularly.

Why I don't like about '70s Stratocasters

I'm talking actual real-deal ones and not the new one Fender makes.

Simply put, the majority of them are boat-anchor heavy, almost everything before '77 is a 3-way and not a 5-way, it has a thick neck (which I like) with really tiny frets (which I don't like), 7.25" fretboard radius, chunky body with less-defined contours, 3-screw bolt plate with an arguably useless micro-tilt, and a vibrato system in which there were several years where it was almost too easy to snap the arm right off with normal play.

The funniest thing I've ever heard from actual owners of these is the claim that the boat-anchor weight makes it a "man's guitar". That's nothing more than a rather pitiful excuse for owning a guitar where the wood used for construction was just too damned heavy. A Strat at absolute heaviest should be no more than 8.5 pounds, and you're saying your 9.5 to 10 pound Strat is more "manly". Yeah, sure pal. Last time I checked, shoulder pain wasn't considered manly at all. Enjoy your boat anchor and having to pop two ibuprofen after playing it for 15 minutes, sir. You sure showed me!

As for the sound, insert any descriptor here for "not full" and it applies. Tinny, thin, brittle, weak, quiet, whatever. The tone is just not good...

...but I do not buy into the belief that the 3-screw plate is the sole reason why most '70s Strats sound bad. My belief is it's the electronics more than anything else.

Were it true the 3-screw plate was so awful, the new American Vintage II '73 would sound terrible. Guess what? It doesn't, and there's a 3-screw plate on that guitar.

Then there's the whole Worst Finish Ever thing going on with some '70s Strats. I don't know the exact year range this applies to, but when painted Strats of this era start doing that poly peel thing, it's sharp enough to draw blood. I'm not kidding.

Ordinarily, most people see refinishing a vintage Fender as a really bad idea. If a '70s Strat does the poly peel thing, TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE to refin that because otherwise you're literally risking legitimate injury just playing the thing.

I'll try to put this in perspective for you. Have you ever dealt with a guitar that had fret sprout where a few frets stick out and it's SHARP? Yeah, that. Imagine feeling that on the body right where your arm rests. That would be bad, because it is bad.

It's no wonder to me why the "natural" finish Strats stayed as-is whereas a whole ton of the painted ones got a refin.

If you have your heart set on acquiring a 1971-1977 Stratocaster and are absolutely intent on keeping it 100% original, get one that has a factory natural or Mocha finish.

I know some owners of these that have a painted model will say, "I have one with factory paint and the finish never peeled or flaked!" If that's you, you got lucky. A lot of others had a much worse fate.

But that headstock...

...is what makes me love certain CBS-era Strats. Specifically, darker ones that have a bit of wear and some wood grain lines can be seen. It's like a combination of very old-timey 1800s and vintage American Western style going on. Very unique. It's functional art. Love it...

...but I know the rest of the guitar is nothing I would ever get along with, hence why if I were absolutely intent on getting one, I'd just get the new Am Vin II '73.

Nothing I say here will stop anybody from going after a real '70s Strat if they're set on getting one. And if you do, again, go for a natural or Mocha finish. Thank me later.

Published 2024 Apr 9

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