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Stratocaster Selection Approach & Philosophy

Choosing the right Stratocaster

If you're here from Electric Guitar Review blog, thanks for dropping by! Otherwise, be sure to visit EGR for great gear reviews. While they're on vacation, a few guitar bloggers, including yours truly are guest blogging at EGR.

Unless you're a collector, investor or an orthodontist, it would benefit you to mostly rely on your ears and hands when shopping Strats.

Visit guitar stores with LOTS of Strats and play LOTS of them. That's right, you heard right. Work the wall, then work the wall some more. Don't even plug 'em in. Try to find the quietest corner possible and play them acoustically.

If you play lots of them, you'll notice differences in loudness, natural sustain, weight and body/neck resonance and vibration. Usually, a lighter Strat will be more resonant, louder and have more sustain. Pick the sweetest acoustic sounding one out of all you've played and plug into a DRY amp. Bear in mind that if the tone isn't so great plugged-in, there may be pick-up or pu adjustment issues, especially if you're holding a lower priced model.

Conversely, more expensive models may have better pickups and pots, but not sound as good acoustically. So, understand that your ideal holy grail Strat is always the tightest integration of high wood resonance with quality electronics and proper set-up. For a person on a budget, finding this integration in an affordable production model is not impossible, you simply have to play lots of guitars to find a sweet one.

Custom builders are supposed to maintain this integration, which in mass production, only occurs at random. The cost of a custom Strat pays for the builder's understanding of wood and how to select, integrate and match the most resonant body grains to the appropriate neck, then installing top quality hardware and setting up the guitar correctly. A custom builder should also consult with the end user about playing style, favorite players, neck shapes and fret size. This helps them to determine the pick-up options, trem set-up, neck relief, etc., that is best for you. The cost of a custom guitar is supposed to eliminate the random factors involved in searching for a sweet production model.

Custom features i.e.: inlay work, binding, ornate maple tops and/or finishes may enhance cosmetics but do not necessarily improve tone and resonance. Though a good builder can integrate a maple cap to good tone results, it's obvious that these tops are primarily a cosmetic enhancement. If you can do without it, you'll be better off and save some $$ as well.

If you don't have a custom budget, but still haven't found a sweet toned production model, you can still get to Mecca by upgrading the pickups, pots and hardware of an affordable Strat that SOUNDS GOOD ACOUSTICALLY. And ONLY if it sounds good unplugged. Otherwise you will have created a money pit; a never-ending cycle of trying to polish a turd...

Check out this previous article about the possibilities you have with a good Mexican Strat.

Below are three key quotes to help you stay focused with your EARS and HANDS, as you search for your special Strat:

"... I think people overemphasize the importance of gear in their search for tone. Your sound comes from how you pick and dampen the strings, and from your attack as much as anything..." - Eric Johnson

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
- H.L. Mencken

"The culture of the country has been hijacked by life-style hotshot pimps who join with consumer fascists in selling you back to yourself."
- Ry Cooder

See related guest post at EGR

Find MIM Strat deals at eBay!

KGC Machined Brass Trem Blocks
(major sustain & tone upgrade for MIM & MIJ Strats)

Pimp Your Strat!
(DIY mod resources & parts suppliers!)

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