Ah, the much maligned Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster. The Strat with the baseball bat for a neck… I remember when I first encountered the Fender Jeff Beck Stratocaster. It was 1992, and the local music dealer had one in stock. It was a gaudy purple colour, which went well with the era of pointy, fluorescent guitars. It also sported what appeared to be a humbucker in the bridge position, de rigueur for poufy-haired shredders of the day. However, this is where the similarities between the Jeff Beck Strat and the other, lesser axes ended.
To my surprise, this guitar had a massive neck. The fey colour led me to expect a shredder’s special. The other reviewers that compared the neck to a baseball bat are not far off. Instead of the flat, thin, “fast action” necks I was used to, there seemed to be no taper to this one whatsoever – it was as if they just planed a tree trunk and stuck some frets on it!
Several minutes after picking it up, the neck was strangely comfortable. It was night and day compared to the toothpick-like necks my guitars at the time sported. The guitar itself was also quite heavy.
A further curiosity was the tremolo system. Instead of a Floyd Rose, Kahler or some other locking-nut contraption, the Jeff Beck had some strange looking roller nut, locking tuners and a newer, knife-edge pivot bridge.
To say that this guitar intrigued me would be an understatement. Definitely not your father’s Stratocaster.
However, as it was 1992 and I was a starving musician, I was in no situation to buy the mighty Jeff Beck Strat new. The asking price was well over $1500 and I was dirt poor. I optimistically put it on layaway, but someone with a real job soon came along and snapped it up. Years would pass, and I would come across one every now and then, but it was never the right moment. Then Fender went and changed the specs… Due to public complaints, the massive neck of yesteryear is gone, replaced with something more acceptable to the masses. Same with the Lace Sensors, Wilkinson nut and questionable colours. Oh well… Maybe someday…
Fast forward to my birthday, 2005. My wonderful wife got me a mint condition 1992 Jeff Beck Strat off of eBay, the same colour as the one that first caught my eye! Although this guitar was used, it was in as-new condition. The original strings and hang tags were still attached, as well as the protective film on the pickguard!
Now that this beast of a guitar is mine, I can give a more informed opinion on it.
This guitar is kitted out with Fender Lace Sensor Gold pickups, 2 single coils and a “dually” in the bridge. They are white, with covered pole pieces, á la EMG. The single coils are not bad. They are quiet and provide a rather low output. I have read in numerous forums that one must bring the pickups quite close to the strings for the best performance, however I am constantly hitting them with my pick – not an ideal situation. I envision I will eventually change them out for something more traditional.
While the single coils are acceptable, the double-coil in the bridge is naff. The coolest thing about it is that there is a coil tap button that switches between single and humbucker modes. As a humbucker, it is rather weak sounding. Not like a low-output PAF but like a emasculated DiMarzio Super Distortion. Being a double-coil, it does not really do the single-coil Strat thing convincingly. It also must be brought quite close to the strings for the best tones.
To be honest, the Fender Texas Specials that I acquired back in the early ninties toast these. I am not really a fan per say of humbuckers in Strat type guitars (shred-era burnout on them), so I will eventually replace the pickguard with a traditional 3 single-coil model.
On my guitar the 5-way switch is a bit stiff. This could be due to lack of use or because the guitar is “new”. There is also a mid-boost or something on the bridge tone pot. Not too thrilled about that (it is on my other Strat as well), but I can live with it.
Another strange thing I noticed is that the tremolo bar itself is bent at a funny angle, much different than other Strats I have had. The initial bend in the bar as it leaves the tremolo block occurs much higher than expected. I have been told that this is in fact what Jeff Beck does to his bars. As I am not Jeff Beck, nor do I wish to cop his sound, I simply swapped it with the bar of another Strat. Problem solved.
The thick neck is as cool as I remember it. I experience less hand fatigue due to the added support of the fat neck. It is not as hard as it seems to play this neck profile.
This added mass definitely has an impact on the tone. Compared to my maple neck Am. Std. Strat from the same period, this guitar has more presence and sustain. Fender’s choice of rosewood is impeccable on my model – not too dark where it resembles ebony, not too light either.
The Wilkinson roller nut included on this model accepts only up to .010 gauge sets of strings. Anything bigger and the strings will not physically fit into the unit! The jury is out on this nut. My other Strat has an aftermarket LSR nut, which accepts all sorts of different gauges, and generally gives trouble-free performance. I am still getting used to the Wilkinson nut. Granted, I am not doing any freaky things with the t-bar, so it generally stays in tune quite well, thanks to the nut and the massive locking tuners.
I am not sure who manufactures the tuners. They have a cool anodised finish and turn smoothly. The locking mechanism is easy to use as well.
One of the nicer touches on this Fender (and I think most of the newer models as well) is that Straplock-compatible strap studs are included on this guitar. This is a thoughtful feature that I wish Gibson would adopt. This meant no extra drilling in order to use this with my existing Straplock set-up.
Last but not least, this guitar came with a vintage-looking tweed case. Methinks this an odd choice for a decidedly modern guitar. It is a nice case, but rather large. I would have gone for the smaller, molded plastic model, but perhaps good ol’ Jeff specified this case as well?
Aside from the dodgy pickups, I am very, very happy with my Fender Jeff Beck Stratocaster. I recommend the big boat of a neck to anyone who is looking for a fresh approach to the guitar. The fit, finish and tone of the guitar are flawless, and after waiting 13 years to get one I believe that it was worth the wait!
*** Update: I recently swapped out the Lace Sensor pickups for a set of 3 Texas Specials. This entailed a new pickguard as well.
The guitar sounds like a true Stratocaster now. Not only is it a joy to play, but it sounds lovely as well.
I am also used to the quirks of the Wilkinson nut. It is roughly on a par with the LSR nut.