Fender American Standard Stratocaster
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The Fender Stratocaster is arguably the most iconic electric guitar the world over, though the name Tim Shaw is not quite as ubiquitous. For those who don’t know that part of Fender history, longtime Fender employee, Tim Shaw, got his start learning about guitar and pickup wiring while working for legendary pickup designer, Bill Lawrence, and then he eventually worked for Gibson, where he helped to design the pickups for the classic 80 and 80 Elite model guitars. Rarely does Fender single out members of their design/build team by name, but they felt that the quality of this pickup and the 35+ years legacy behind its creator warranted some special attention.
This isn’t the first time that Fender has built a Stratocaster with a humbucking pickup in the bridge, but what makes the Shawbucker model so special is just how well it provides a thicker, higher-gain output from the bridge position while preserving all of the other sonic qualities that are the hallmarks of Strat tone.
The Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker is Fender’s latest variation on the legendary American Standard line, which features a newly designed bridge pickup and, of course, the latest Fender hardware. This HSS (Humbucker/Single/Single) Strat is what Fender is calling the “purest and most powerful HSS sound” due to the Tim Shaw-designed bridge pick up that is being hailed a “new landmark” for pickup design.
Beyond the Shawbucker pickup, you’ll find a Fender Custom Shop Fat ‘50s single coil in the middle and neck positions—the same pickup found in the current American standard models.
The Shawbucker Strat uses Dual 250K/500K Volume Potentiometers with a five-position selection switch with Fender’s standard pickup selection. Also familiar: one volume knob and two tone knobs, with aged, white knobs (like the rest of the plastic on the guitar).
At the tip of the neck you will find Fender deluxe staggered, cast/sealed, tuning machines as well as your “controversial” B and E string tree, which are nickel chrome like the rest of the hardware.
The Shawbucker Stratocaster features a Fender two-point synchronized tremolo with bent steel saddles that accepts your normal Fender style tremolo bar, which is included with the guitar.
The guitar ships in what Fender calls their TSA case, which is an extremely rugged, molded case that has plenty of space for a strap and accessories. The case also features a TSA approved locking system for all your fly date gigs.
The Fender Stratocaster design is among the first of American solid body guitar designs, and as such was a bit experimental in its time. The classic design continues to be produced for good reason: the guitar works well, and it exudes a vibe that goes to the very heart of playing rock and roll. Naturally, though, being as experimental as it was, it lent itself to a few questionable design choices. One of those issues we have is the location of the five-way pickup selector switch. During sound testing, we repeatedly hit the switch because its placed directly in our right hand’s airspace for even moderately spirited picking. Of course, the more you play a Strat, the more you train yourself to be aware of the switch location (so as to not hit it), but once you get accustomed to playing guitars that have sensibly relocated the selector switch and then come back to a Strat, it can throw you off for a bit.
Something we find interesting is the use of two tone knobs and one volume knob. Tone knob 1 adjusts the tone of only the bridge pickup, while tone knob 2 adjusts the frequency attenuation of the two single coil pickups. Historically, we have found this to be a waste of duplicity on single-coil Strats, but in the HSS configuration, we found it convenient to have separate tone control over the humbucker.
The setup on the guitar as shipped was excellent. It played well and we had no issues maneuvering around the neck. Fender set up the guitar with .09 gauge strings, which enhanced our speedier playability.
We find the neck profile to be very comfortable and slick feeling, though it’s a bit on the chunky side compared with other modern Strats. Fender calls this neck a modern C shape, and we found it superior to the Fender V shapes of the past. Les Paul players will find this neck falls somewhere in between a ‘50s and ‘60s neck profile; well manageable for most players. The satin finish on the back of the neck was welcomed, and the high gloss finish of the fingerboard posed no discernable trouble at all to play. The two-point Fender tremolo functioned as expected. It’s not a whammy bar for the dive-bomb obsessed, but even with half- to whole-step bends, the guitar held reasonable pitch for a non-locking setup.
The ash body/maple neck results in a very well balanced instrument. The guitar felt solid in our hands, just the way an American Standard Strat should. The medium jumbo frets were a pleasure to play, and the fret edges were even and smooth. We don’t know if the fingerboard has rolled edges, specifically, but this Strat plays with a broken-in feel. If you find yourself “at home” with a Strat in your hands, the Shawbucker will give you that loving feeling.
Position 1, the Shawbucker, was obviously a premium pickup choice when put to the test. It wasn’t our favorite tone from this guitar, though, but we were happy to have it come stock on the guitar. It did sound like an improvement over previous Fender humbuckers. In position one, the guitar never sounded shrill, and had well-controlled highs, punchy mids, and plenty of presence. It was an open sound in frequency content, albeit a bit compressed (as humbuckers tend to be).
Position 2, the bottom coil of the Shawbucker and the middle Fat ‘50s single coil combined, gave that unmistakable, in-between, plucky Strat sound these guitars are renowned for. It wasn’t quite as chimey as a single-coil pickup might be on its own, but the sound and feel was definitely there. This is a Strat that single-coil lovers won’t mind happens to include a humbucker.
The middle position was single coil, SRV-type bliss on our amp’s clean channel. We came to appreciate that the Fat ‘50s single coils were perfectly balanced with the Shawbucker for this instrument, and an excellent choice as a package. The volume was even and the tones complimented each other nicely. Position 4 was a combination of the two Fat ‘50s single coils and was an improvement over the humbucker/single coil combination found in position 2. Even with less high-end content and what seemed like a roll off in the 2kHz range, we felt this was the sweet spot of the guitar.
Position 5, the neck single coil, returned the punch and growl to the guitar in spades. It had warmth and articulation we were quite pleased with.
On to the dirty channel, of course we checked out the Shawbucker first. We felt it sounded quite good, delivering a meatier tone than any single-coil Strat bridge pickup would typically provide. We do have a list of humbuckers that we prefer when taken on their own, but we don’t think they’d mate so evenly in this instrument with its two ‘50s single coils. This is a guitar on which to enjoy the Fender tone as delivered or replace the entire pickup set with something else.
We couldn’t find specs on the output rating on this pickup, but we’d like to believe it’s middle of the pack in terms of volume. It gave a little extra hair to our Supersonic amp, but nothing overly compressed, hot, or over the top. It’s a fine choice for the classic rock and blues player, and of course pop and country Strat lovers will be right at home, but the Shawbucker is still not hot enough for the modern metal player who might otherwise prefer a hot-rodded “Super Strat.” The middle and neck pickups had similar sounds, of course with the neck pickup being the creamier one in the tone department. We really liked the neck position for smooth, singing lead work, and the guitar sustained nicely throughout its pickup range.
The most important thing we felt about the sound of this guitar was that it was quite musical. In our most general terms, this is a nice, warm sounding Strat. The notes played were always very dynamic sounding, probably because the Shawbucker’s design isn’t too hot and thus not as compressed sounding as other humbuckers.
The Shawbucker Strat manual is not model-specific, and has general information regarding set up and maintenance of Fender electric guitars, truss rod adjustments, etc. Fender’s website has a forum for product owners to congregate and get Stratty about things.
The Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker sells for $1,299.99 in most colors; $1,499 for the Sienna Sunburst finish, and it also includes a Fender guitar strap and instrument cable. We feel this was a good value for an American made guitar with a premium, boutique-like, bridge pickup.
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