Fen­der Eric John­son Thin­line Stra­to­caster

ERIC JOHN­SON’S EARS ARE LEGENDARILY SEN­SI­TIVE, SO OF COURSE IT TOOK THREE YEARS OF DE­VEL­OP­MENT BE­FORE HE LET FEN­DER PUT HIS NAME ON A NEW STRA­TO­CASTER.

Australian Guitar - - Contents - BY PETER HODG­SON

Fen­der’s Eric John­son Stra­to­caster has been on the mar­ket for about ten years now, and it’s the ul­ti­mate dis­til­la­tion of ev­ery­thing the iconic Texan gui­tarist has learned from a life­time of play­ing and col­lect­ing Strats. But John­son isn’t just a Strat guy – he’s also closely as­so­ci­ated with the Gib­son ES-335. So now, in 2018, there’s a new Thin­line ver­sion of John­son’s Strat which takes into ac­count his love of semi-hol­low­bod­ies too.

THE WAIT IS OVER

This model has been in the works since 2015. If you’ve heard about John­son’s leg­endary ear for tone and his drive for per­fec­tion, you’ll know that he and Fen­der have put a lot of R&D into this in­stru­ment. The body is made of alder (as with his orig­i­nal Strat model), with a quar­ter-sawn maple neck and a ni­tro­cel­lu­lose lac­quer fin­ish. A ’57-style parch­ment scratch plate, three sin­gle coil pick­ups and a tra­di­tional Stra­to­caster vi­brato all give this a very ‘50s Strat vibe, although it’s not sim­ply a ‘50s-style model with John­son’s name chucked on it and an F-hole cut in. Great care has been placed in the se­lec­tion of the tremolo block, the num­ber of trem springs, the neck shape, the fret type and the elec­tron­ics. In fact, John­son and Fen­der worked on a few pro­to­type pick­ups de­signed to fully take ad­van­tage of the Thin­line tonal­ity, be­fore they re­alised that his ex­ist­ing pick­ups al­ready did a great job of cap­tur­ing this gui­tar’s unique tone.

Look­ing a lit­tle closer at those fine tweaks, the pick­ups are mounted to the semi-hol­low, two-piece alder body with coun­ter­sunk screws for more ef­fi­cient vi­bra­tion trans­fer, and the neck is carved to a com­fort­able ’57 Soft V shape. The fin­ger­board is a 12-inch ra­dius (the same as an ES-335, in­stead of a vin­tage Stra­to­caster’s rounder 7.25-inch ra­dius), and the 21 frets are all medium-jumbo. The tremolo block is painted sil­ver, and Fen­der uses ’57-style string re­cesses, a thin head­stock with vin­tage-style stag­gered tun­ing ma­chines, and an ‘ash­tray’ bridge cover if you wish to use it. I per­son­ally dig these, but they’re not for ev­ery­one.

‘F’-ED UP

“But wait,” you say, “I’ve seen Fen­der Cus­tom Shop Stra­to­cast­ers with F-holes be­fore! What’s the big deal?” Well, smart guy, the big deal is that every pre­vi­ous ver­sion of a semi-hol­low, F-hole Strat that Fen­der has made has had an altered body shape in terms of con­tour­ing or body depth, whereas this one is de­signed to have the tra­di­tional Strat belly cut and edge con­tours. It took a lot of en­gi­neer­ing to get that right and to nail the per­fect size, shape and place­ment of the F-hole. The re­sult is truly a Thin­line Stra­to­caster and not a Thin­line Tele with Strat ap­point­ments, which you could tech­ni­cally say about some pre­vi­ous at­tempts.

TIME FOR A WARM-UP

The semi-hol­low body gives this gui­tar a louder unplugged sound, nat­u­rally, but it also re­sults in more mids, less bass and a sweeter high-end com­pared to a solid Stra­to­caster. It’s a very lively, warm and rich sound, much more vo­cal and less zippy or bitey than tra­di­tional Strat tones.

Chords seem to knit to­gether a lit­tle more tightly com­pared to the ex­treme note sep­a­ra­tion of John­son’s solid-body mod­els. Sure, it’ll still do that ul­tra-clean Strat quack in the 2 and 4 po­si­tions, but the in­di­vid­ual pick­ups each have their own mid-heavy, sonorous char­ac­ter. Watch­ing John­son play this gui­tar at the NAMM Fen­der VIP party, it was very re­veal­ing to see how much he op­er­ated the pickup se­lec­tor while play­ing: at times, he would use it just to add more bite or warmth to just a hand­ful of notes be­fore flip­ping it back again. That re­quires tremen­dous bal­ance be­tween the out­puts of the three pick­ups, but it also dis­plays how per­fectly fine-tuned this in­stru­ment is from an acoustic per­spec­tive.

THE REAL DEAL

It goes with­out say­ing that the playa­bil­ity with this model is ex­cep­tional. This is a gui­tar that ex­pects you to roam all about the neck, and it never fights back too hard nor makes things too easy for you. What’s re­ally unique, though, is that if you bend a string, you can feel the body res­onat­ing and re­ver­ber­at­ing in a re­ally tac­tile, in­ter­ac­tive way. It just makes notes feel more... Real. It’s hard to de­scribe, but you’ll know it when you feel it.

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