Squier Con­tem­po­rary Ac­tive Stra­to­caster HH

HOW MUCH GUI­TAR CAN YOU GET FOR A GRAND WHEN IT SAYS SQUIER ON THE HEAD­STOCK? QUITE A LOT, IT TURNS OUT! WORDS

Australian Guitar - - Contents - BY PETER HODG­SON.

Back in the ‘80s, Fen­der of­fered a re­ally fun gui­tar line called the Con­tem­po­rary Stra­to­caster, pro­duced in Ja­pan and of­fer­ing hum­buck­ers and lock­ing tremo­los. They were crazy amounts of fun (al­though some of the bridges of­fered were bet­ter than oth­ers), and they helped to keep Fen­der rel­e­vant in a chang­ing mar­ket where ev­ery­one wanted ‘Su­per­strats’ with names like Ibanez, Jackson and Kramer on the head­stock.

Now, the Con­tem­po­rary name is back on a range of high-qual­ity Squier Stra­to­cast­ers and Tele­cast­ers, most of which re­tail at $899 and fea­ture fixed (in the case of the Tele) or non­lock­ing (Strat) bridges, with the ex­cep­tion of the Con­tem­po­rary Ac­tive Stra­to­caster HH, which has a Floyd Rose tremolo and a pair of spe­cially de­signed ac­tive hum­buck­ers and comes in at an RRP of $999.

This isn’t just a Squier-ized re­tread of the ‘80s Con­tem­po­rary Stra­to­cast­ers, though – that wouldn’t be very con­tem­po­rary, would it? This model has a re­versed ‘70s-style head­stock with a slim C-shaped neck pro­file, 12-inch fin­ger­board ra­dius and nar­row-tall frets. In short, it takes ev­ery­thing we’ve learned about shred gui­tars since the ‘80s and ap­plies it to a truly ca­pa­ble and classy lookin’ rock and metal gui­tar.

BE ONE OF THE PO­PLAR KIDS

The body is made of po­plar – not the most ob­vi­ous choice for a Stra­to­caster, but a good piece of po­plar can be a great gui­tar wood. I have a Buddy Blaze seven-string pro­to­type made of po­plar, which has a re­ally unique har­monic pro­file: tight bass, crisp highs and prom­i­nent, vo­cal up­per mids. It re­minds me of when you add a thick maple top to bass­wood, like on a Mu­sic Man Axis or EVH Wolf­gang. I im­me­di­ately no­ticed the same kind of snap and sing from this Squier, al­though in this case, we’ve got a rose­wood fin­ger­board in­stead of the ebony of my Blaze.

The body and neck are fin­ished in satin polyurethane, giv­ing the gui­tar a more metal-es­que look, and the neck fin­ish is nat­u­ral satin too for a smooth feel. There are 22 frets in­stead of the tra­di­tional Stra­to­caster 21, and the hard­ware is black chrome-plated. The pick­ups are ac­tive ce­ramic hum­buck­ers, some­what EMG-like with a stan­dard three-po­si­tion blade switch and Mas­ter Vol­ume and Mas­ter Tone con­trols. There’s no coil-split­ting op­tion, though I feel like this gui­tar is made for dis­tor­tion, not clean tones. Any clean tones you do find your­self us­ing with this axe are likely to be of the Slayer, “Some­thing evil is about to hap­pen” va­ri­ety, rather than a coun­try twang or bluesy spank. If you want those tones, you shouldn’t be look­ing at this gui­tar.

It’s also worth not­ing that in the ear­li­est day days of Squier, the brand was known for great, high-qual­ity in­stru­ments. Over the years, the brand has been known for more af­ford­able, en­try-level gui­tars, but over the last decade or so, Squier has re­ally moved back into pro-qual­ity in­stru­ments. Proof of that is in the use of an ac­tual Floyd Rose tremolo in this model in­stead of a li­censed unit – but hard­ware choice alone doesn’t tell the full story. Squier has stepped up its game as gui­tar-mak­ing tech­nol­ogy has pro­gressed, and the brand is worth a se­ri­ous sec­ond look if you haven’t played one in a while.

STRATUS RE­PORT

It’s eerie how much this gui­tar feels like a Fen­der rather than a Squier in­stru­ment. The neck is su­per com­fort­able, as is the setup. A sculpted neck joint would have been nice for those re­ally wid­dly notes, but that’s a mi­nor nig­gle. Son­i­cally, the bridge pickup is quite sharp and crunchy – cer­tainly not as dark as I might have ex­pected from an ‘own-brand’ pickup. It has some re­ally great pick at­tack that cuts through even in­sane lev­els of gain, and it has a nice edge to it when played clean too, if that’s your thing.

Flip to the neck pickup, and the gui­tar takes on a noodly char­ac­ter that’s es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive for sweep pick­ing or other su­per fast tech­niques. There are ac­tu­ally some pretty sweet, dy­namic clean tones avail­able when both pick­ups are used to­gether – it’s not quite an in­die jan­gle, but you’ll get plenty of mileage out of ‘em if needed. Th­ese pick­ups re­spond well to pick­ing strength and fret­ting-hand phras­ing, but the down­side is that if your play­ing is a lit­tle less fancy, this gui­tar might sound a lit­tle more dull with the stock pick­ups. I can imag­ine a lot of play­ers up­grad­ing th­ese pick­ups to EMG or Fish­man ac­tives – not nec­es­sar­ily be­cause the stock pick­ups them­selves lack any­thing, but be­cause it’s al­ready such a solid gui­tar that a lit­tle in­vest­ment in new pick­ups would push it into some re­ally unique ter­ri­tory.

The Floyd Rose holds its tun­ing as re­li­ably as ever. If you’ve never used a Floyd (and it’s 2018, so what’s the hold-up!? The days of ‘90s Floyd hate are over, man), there’s a lit­tle bit of a learn­ing curve to chang­ing strings. But just re­mem­ber: if you break a string with a Floyd, you can just un­wind a lit­tle more string from the head­stock and lock it back into the bridge. Try that with a Les Paul!

THE BOT­TOM LINE

It’s clear that this is a re­ally well-made, great­play­ing gui­tar with per­fectly us­able pick­ups: a lit­tle bit of an up­grade down the line would re­ally push this gui­tar up an­other level, but it’s not ex­actly a slouch as it is. And it re­ally does tap into the spirit of those orig­i­nal Con­tem­po­rary Stra­to­cast­ers, while learn­ing from where those gui­tars didn’t quite get it right.

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