Friday, September 11, 2009

A Stratocaster Bargain

Through a most generous trade from Billy Ray, I acquired a Fender Lite Ash Stratocaster. It's made in Korea, but with very nice Seymour Duncan pickups. It sports a lite ash body (3 piece body) with a birdseye maple neck. Mine is natural finish with the black pickguard, knobs and pickups.

Billy Ray picked it up on a mega-sale a couple of years ago at GC. Billy Ray has a longtime friend who worked then and the friend alerted him him to this super sale and he picked it up for just over $300 smackers. They sell normally for twice that for the street price.

Billy Ray is sort of a high end Gibson and Rickenbacker man these and truth be told, has never been much of a Fender man. True, he did recently go buy a Nashville Tele model with the hip piezo pickup, but in the near 30 years we've been running around together, I've seen more Gibsons and other brands than I have Fenders. I suppose the Nuno Bettancourt model he sported for much of the 1990's qualifies as a strat derivative, but up until he bought the lite ash strat, he'd never owned one.

Billy Ray owned a Les Paul when we first met, along with a Rickenbacker bass, and I suppose the die was cast way back then.

So Billy Ray was far more enamored recently with my early 1980's Fender Musicmaster Bass Amp with the nice eminence guitar speaker. It was the last of the handwired, Class A tube amps, and I've owned a couple. This one was totally rehabbed and retubed by an amp guru in Houston, so I had about $500 total into it. Although designed as a bass practice amp that was made in the 1970's and 1980's, it's true calling is as a guitar tube amp. It screams and gets that break up blues sound at a lower volume and it's a great recording amp. Because the enclosure is twice as big as the similar but lesser powered blackface and silverface Champ amps and the Musicmaster sports a 12" speaker, it gets that same classic sound but at about 2 to 3 times the volume and without that "boxey" sound smaller tube amps often exhibit. Excellent recording amp.

So Billy Ray had to have the Musicmaster Bass Amp and threw the Lite Ash Strat and another guitar at me in trade.

Each of us think we got the best end of the trade out of this one. I think this guitar is fab.

As noted in the numerous reviews at Harmony Central, it's a fantastic value. In fact, I'd compare it with the other mid-priced excellent Fender value, the Jimmy Vaughn Strat. I think both the Lite Ash and the Jimmy Vaughn Strats sound better than any of the American strats.

I'm impressed with the build quality. Although much of the hardware components could be easily replaced with higher end stuff for very little money, I'm so happy with the sound of it that I don't want to mess with changing the parts out since it's working so well.

Many of the reviewers at Harmony Central recommend the same standard replacements for this guitar as for other import guitars. Replace the tuners. Replace the plastic nut. The five way switch apparently is a stinker with a plastic box and needs to go, and the pots should be reduced from 500k pots to 250k pots. Some commenters indicate a better sound was also received by replacing the wiring harness with higher quality wire and adding 2 tremelo springs to the stock 3 for a firmer tremelo.

A few of the commenters said they had wired the bridge pickup to the lower tone control as well. But like me, most of the commenters are plenty happy with the stock gear. Chances are, unless you are an absolute tonehead with the ears of a dog, you won't be able to hear the difference between the stock model and the modified one.

I love the bluesy sound the SD pickups put out. Playing through a small Fender tube amp, it was easy to get the breakup tone that so many blues and rock players cherish with the Lite Ash. I'll say more in a later review of playing this guitar through a Fender Super Champ XD, but every now and then a player finds a guitar that just speaks to him and fits him just right. For me, that is this guitar. I've been looking for it for a long time, and through circumstance, lucked into it.

The V neck fits my medium sized hand better than ANY guitar I have ever played, and that includes some PRS, Fender and Gibson Custom shop issues. This neck was literally made for me and according to the reviews, lots of others like it too. I wish the back was lacquered with some vintage lacquer to match the natural finish, but that's something I could get done fairly easily and cheaply.

I have not weighed it but it seems a tad lighter than some of the other strats I have played over the years. I favor the straps made with the slightly stretchy neophrene shoulder pad that allows a wee bit of movement and strech on the strap but a major increase in comfort. For me, it prevents "guitar shoulder".

It's probably, imho, one of the best guitar values out there right now. Several of my working musician friends in Austin and one in LA use one of these as their working axes.

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