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Squier Vintage Modified '70s Stratocaster Review

Squier Vintage Modified '70s Stratocaster

This is going to be a roundabout sort of review because my purchase of this guitar has a bit of a story to it. Well... more than just a bit.

Okay, so.. the Squier Affinity Telecaster I bought is gone. Not traded out. Returned, and replaced with a new '70s VM Strat seen above instead.

Was there anything particularly wrong with the Tele? No. My fret hand didn't agree with the neck, and I'll tell you exactly why.

Out of every Squier solid-body electric guitar (as in 6-string guitar and not a bass) made, the Affinity and only the Affinity series has a very skinny nut width of 1.60in/~40mm. Every other Squier solid-body electric has a nut width of 1.65in/~42mm. Being the vast majority of my chording is at the first 3 frets, I pay attention to nut width specifically.

Does just 2 millimeters really make a difference in the way a neck feels? You bet it does. I'll talk about that later.

Did I know the Affinity has a skinnier neck compared to other Squier solid-body electrics before buying one? Yes. I figured I could get along with it. I didn't. My fret hand did not like that skinny width at all. The profile thickness of the neck was just fine; I had no complaints there. But that skinny width... nope. That was not working for me, so back it went.

Why a Squier VM '70s Strat?

What I wanted this time around was a Squier Stratocaster guitar with a maple fretboard that had the 1.65in/~42mm nut width. I was done with the Telecaster because this is the second Squier Tele I've owned and returned in less than a week because I just couldn't get along with it.

Side note: There is nothing wrong with a Telecaster, be it by Squier or Fender. But for whatever reason, whenever I get one, it just doesn't work out. The guitar gods in the heavens above just don't want me playing a Telecaster. So be it.

This is every Squier Strat with a maple fretboard option:

My decision was to go with the '70s Strat. I almost considered the Deluxe because that is one seriously fine guitar, especially considering it has a satin finish on the neck just like the Mexico and American Strat models. But the '70s Strat was cheaper, I really dig the look of the large headstock, and black Strats are just cool guitars in general. At some point I may swap out the pick guard, knobs and plastics to white so I can have an Eric Clapton-esque "blackie" Strat, but for now, I'm keeping it as-is.

Is the '70s VM Strat "truly '70s?"

Answer: Mostly in appearance only.

A true '70s Strat is the Classic Series model made by Fender right now (which I have played personally.) That one is very true to the '70s original in every sense of the term. It has the 3-bolt neck plate, the SSS configuration where the middle pickup is not reverse wound by design, "F" tuners specific to the 1970s, a large-and-in-charge "U" shape neck with tall/skinny frets, "bullet" truss rod cover, the works. It's all there.

The Squier '70s Strat is mostly just an appearance package, and that is a-okay because it's really easy to deal with and a very easy player.

"Mostly?"

The slotted six-in-a-row tuners are vintage style, the 6-screw bridge is vintage-style and the 21-fret neck is vintage-style. Everything else is modern, which for me is very agreeable. The neck has a 9.5-inch fretboard radius, Modern C shape and medium jumbo frets. The pickups are the modern Duncan Designed. The electronics are what I describe as "classic 5-way." Bridge-only pickup setting has no tone control wired to it, all other pickup positions do.

The big deal with the appearance is the large pegboard/headstock with the "swoop" STRATOCASTER logo on it, and it looks cool. It just does. Some don't like it. I really like it.

This is in fact my second Squier VM Strat

The first VM Strat I had was one in Vintage Blonde with a rosewood board. Fantastic looking guitar, but it came from the factory screwed up. And I didn't notice the screw-ups until owning it for about a week, so back it went. Bear in mind this was in 2012.

This VM Strat I have now is a 2015 build (the serial number states so,) and it appears all the issues that my previous 2012 model had are gone now. Tuners are improved, bridge is more solidly installed, screws used are slightly larger, tremolo springs used seem to be just a tad larger, the "wing" string trees used appear to be slightly wider and thicker. Or maybe those are the same, but they do appear to use larger screws now.

"Screw size make a difference?"

Yes, and for a very specific reason. The body is basswood, and basswood is soft, meaning it's easy to strip a screw hole (and that includes more expensive guitars that use basswood as the body material.) Larger screws with larger thread not only more solidly connect things to the wood, but also decreases the chance of stripping screw holes. Maybe not by a great deal, but hey, any little bit helps.

Said another way in plainer English: The Indonesian factory that is building the Squier VM Strats is doing a better job and making better guitars now in 2015 compared to 2012; it is noticeable.

That thing about the 2mm of nut width...

I mentioned above the Affinity series Squier 6-string guitars use a ~40mm nut width while all the others use ~42mm as far as I know, and that I'd talk about it more, so I will now.

Two millimeters sounds like nothing, but it actually counts for a lot.

Imagine for a moment if every single key on your computer keyboard or every menu button on your smartphone was slightly shifted towards or away from each other by 1mm. What would happen? It would drive you nuts. You would feel major frustration to the point of making you want to smash something. Not only that, but it would cause hand strain from having to retrain your hand to figure out where everything is, even with just a 1mm shift in position. That seemingly insignificant shift of just a single millimeter is not only mentally painful, but also physically painful as well.

This is not to say 42mm is "good" and 40mm is "bad." Neither is good nor bad. What I am saying is that 42mm is good for me. My fret hand absolutely did not like the 40mm width...

...but there are some players who in fact greatly prefer the skinny 40mm because it feels the most comfortable for them. For some, only the Affinity feels like "the right Strat." It might be dirt cheap, but it's all about the feel. Sometimes it's just better overall to go with the correct-to-your-hand neck and just upgrade everything else around that neck.

What does the Squier '70s Strat sound like?

Pretty darned good:

The Duncan Designed pickups in the VM Strat have what I call a very "civilized" tonal character to them. They're not overly screechy and have good output without being too overbearing.

In other words, a good overall sound. Not "hot." Just good. If you want hot, there are aftermarket pickups that can do that. I don't typically switch out pickups, but if you want to, be my guest.

I'm fine with the stock pickups that came with my VM Strat. When I say "civilized," that doesn't mean "boring." It means "not barn-burning hot, not screechy as hell, works well with your existing guitar effects." That's the kind of Strat tonal character I like, and I got it.

Conclusion

Very predictable in a good way. No awful surprises (always a plus.) The Squier VM Strat is just a genuinely good Strat guitar and it looks cool. And for me, my fret hand very much agrees with the neck, so I'm a happy guy.

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