Stratosonic Guitar Player July 2003
There’s no arguing that the Fender Stratocaster is one of the most perfectly realized electric guitars of all time. But since its introduction in 1954, many guitarists—and even Fender itself—have explored various means of fattening-up the Strat’s tones. Installing humbuckers and active electronics have yielded good results in that quest, but little has been done since the Cold War to make the Strat a fundamentally meatier-sounding instrument. That has all changed with Fender’s rollout of the Stratosonic ($1,434 retail/$999 street; the DVI single-pickup version retails for $1,134), a radically new kind of Strat that features a mahogany body with five internal chambers and a pair of P-90-sized Fender Black Dove single-coil pickups (with alnico magnets). The Tech-Tonic wraparound-style bridge is also totally new, offering six adjustable saddles (height and into-nation) along with a pair of small hex screws that lock the bridge solidly to its mounting studs to optimize string resonance. By loosening the screws a quarter turn, you can use the studs to make coarse height adjustments to the bridge. About the only things here that remain faithful to the original Strat formula are the body con-tours and the bolt-on maple neck.
The U.S.-made Stratosonic assumes a kind of Strat-meets-Les Paul Junior vibe with its perfectly applied, transparent red finish and stylish, 5-ply pickguard. Semi-conical knobs (which are made a little easier to grab via rubber 0-rings) and a 3-way pickup selector switch further distance this guitar from any other Strat model to date. The satin-finished neck joins the body in a razor-tight joint, and it features a rosewood board with abalone dots and 22 carefully installed, lightly polished jumbo frets. Cool extras include a gloss-black peg head facing and a nicely finished bone nut.
Playability and Tones
With its wide, C-shaped neck and 12″ fret board radius, the Stratosonic offers a superb playing feel. The big frets and low action make for smooth, supple bending—although the .009 string set on the test guitar felt overly light. A fair amount of buzzing was noticeable when fingering above the 12th fret, and though the Stratosonic is intonated spot-on when comparing open strings and their 12-fret octaves, chords played in the tenth and higher positions sounded a bit less sweet than their first-position counterparts. The Stratosonic has a lively acoustic sound and excellent sustain – which is partly due to its rock-solid hardware. Plugged into a Fender Vi-bro-King and a Matchless Chieftain combo, the guitar delivered bright, muscular tones that could be morphed between clear and crunchy with a sweep of the volume knob. The neck pickup packs a deep, crisp voice that works beautifully for everything from smoky jazz (with the tone knob rolled down) to clanky rhythms and throaty leads. Combined with the bridge pickup, you get a big, dimensional sound that blends the snappy attack you expect from a 25 1/2″-scale guitar with the ballsiness of an old slab-bodied Gibson. What a great hybrid sound! You also get the advantage of hum-cancellation in the dual-pickup setting (the solo pickup settings can be rather buzzy). Feeding the Stratosonic’s bridge pickup into a mid-’70s Marshall yielded explosive tones that packed tight bottom and clear, detailed highs. The upper-midrange emphasis of the single-coils puts serious burn in these rock tones, yet even when using high presence settings on the Mar-shall to enhance sustain, it was still possible to keep things on the brown side with subtle tweaks of the Stratosonic’s nicely voiced tone control. Super Sonic Though some players will probably look at the Stratosonic and wonder why Fender would waste its time fixing something that wasn’t broken, this guitar definitely gives those in search of maximum tonal fatness from a Strat something to cheer about. An ideal all-around blues/ rock guitar, the Stratosonic—with its unique, chambered construction—is a perfect vehicle for the P-90-sized single-coils. Its vibey, prismatic tones go well beyond what a humbucker equipped Strat has to offer, and if Fender’s goal was to preserve the Strat’s inherent complexity while upping its chunk factor, they’ve to-tally succeeded. Building a better mousetrap isn’t easy, and a lot of Strat variants have come and gone over the years. However, as a guitar designed to satisfy different tastes—as well as lure players who normally wouldn’t use a Strat—the Stratosonic stands a very good chance of landing a permanent place in Fender history.
Pros: bigger, fatter, tones than provided by a standard Strat
Cons: no familiar Strat tones, No vibrato
Stratosonic Vintage Guitar February 2004
Mahogany body, P-90 style wraparound tailpiece, 243/4″ scale? Sounds like a Gibson Les Paul special. But alas; the instrument bearing these features looks like a Fender Stratocaster. Recently launched as part of Fender’s American Special series, Sonic DVI and DVII (single and double-pickup; respectively) offer a unique, twist on an old favorite. Scale length aside, the neck of the Stratosonic – is pure Fender – modern polyurethane finished C-shaped bolt-on maple with a 9’/2″ radius rosewood fret board and a larger-profile black headstock. And from outward appearances, the body is standard Fender Strat, but made of Honduran mahogany with five tone chambers and not solid alder or solid ash. The overall appearance of the Stratosonic is very pleasing and well- conceived. The brown sunburst finish over the mahogany body, along with the black headstock and plastic parts, give the guitar a real vintage look and vibe.
Fender definitely borrowed some styling concepts from Gibson when it came to the wraparound bridge, but with marked improvements from the one-size-fits-all unit on older Les Paul Specials. Fender’s new Tech -Tonic bridge is made of chrome-plated brass, and is fully adjustable — each saddle can be adjusted for height and intonation, and the tailpiece can be raised, lowered, and locked in place. Other hardware includes chrome Fender/Schaller cast/sealed tuners, Schaller strap lock buttons, and a tree for the B and E strings. Arguably the most striking aesthetic element on the Strat- o -Sonic DVII we tested is the DE-9000 Blackdove single-coil pickup combination, and three-position toggle. Rounding out the list of features is a small black/white/black pick guard, abalone dot inlays on the fret board, master volume and tone knobs, and Fender Super 250 (.010 to .046) strings. The one other feature that made this “Strat” unique was that it was 24 3/4″ scale like a Gibson and not 25 1/2″ like most other Strats (yes, Fender has produced some “short-scale” Strats). Though very reminiscent of Gibson P-90s, Blackdoves are true single-coils, not stacked hum buckers. We checked out their sound with the help of a late-’70s Fender Twin Reverb, a Line 6 POD, and a Crate V5212 tube combo. Playability was good, right out of the case, action and string radius were set correctly, and only a slight adjustment was needed to straighten the neck. It was very apparently that the .010s were a good choice. Fender typically ships guitars with .009s, but because of the shorter scale, the strings are under less tension. So, larger strings put back some of the stiffness to which Strat players are accustomed. The guitar isn’t stiff-feeling, but rather, it feels like you’re getting a bit more “feedback” from the strings as you play — not a trace or slinky, mushy . And the set action meant the strings didn’t buzz or choke on bends. Also, the chambered body is light — especially for mahogany— and the contours felt comfortable. From the first strum, it’s evident Fender spent time matching the pickups to this guitar. The clean tones from the Twin and the Crate were fat, like you’d expect from a P-90, but they retained a lot of the high-end shimmer often lost on over wound single-coils. The middle position (both pickups on) proved to be my favorite because of its lush, thick tone and clear note separation. It had that out- of-phase Strat sound, but with a little more low-end mids. The bridge position had a fat “Tele” kind of sound, with a little less twang, and good thump to the low-end and snap to the highs. Using the overdrive channel of the Crate and adding the Line 6 POD, the guitar offered tones more in the Gibson P-90 neighborhood, but again with better note separation. Because the Blackdoves don’t sound as heavily wound, they sport a little less output. But if you need the higher output, chances are your amp can deliver. The combination of the chambered mahogany body and Blackdove pickups give the guitar a balanced and smooth overall sound. The Stratosonic is available in Brown Sunburst, Crimson Transparent, and Butterscotch Blond. With great useable tones, a cool vintage vibe, and good playability, it’s a welcome twist on an industry standard.