Guitars have been objects of my adoration for as long as I can remember. A guitar player can learn some basic licks in a few days, and spend the rest of their lives mastering the techniques to perfect the tone, timing, and precision it takes to perfect them.
The Stratocaster guitar is an especially wonderful work of art. It was the first guitar designed for ergonomics, and to this very day, it remains one of the best guitars to play. Its unique bell-line tone sits on the forefront of numerous generations of hit music. From The Who to the Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan to John Mayer, the Stratocaster defined their sound and cemented them in history.
It would be unfair of me to say that the Stratocaster (a brand name) is the only guitar to carry its shape and form. Indeed strat-style guitars are made by nearly every major guitar brand out there. The general shape has been tweaked, its pickup positions and neck length adjusted, and its tone remixed and released countless times over the years.
Ibanez, Epiphone, Yamaha, B&L, and numerous other guitar makers have created strat-like guitars that pay homage to the iconic design. While Fender and its child brand Squier are the two brands allowed to stamp their guitars with the Stratocaster name, the offerings made by its competitors are often quite good.
My First Strat
In middle school, I wanted a guitar so badly that I saved and begged my parents to help me buy one. I subscribed to the Musicians Friend catalogue, and spent my time browsing through its guitar selection, drooling over stylish models like the B.C. Rich Warlock and imagining myself playing them in front of a crowd.
Going into high school, my dad took me to a local pawnshop to buy a guitar. Sure, it wasn’t the fancy new instrument I had imagined from the catalog, but I was there to buy an electric guitar! That’s when we spotted it, an Epiphone S-300. The S-300 was a strat copy made by Epiphone between 1986 and 1995. It was by no means a high-quality guitar, but it was mine.
While I was obsessed with having and learning how to play a guitar, I didn’t actually know the fundamentals. For example, tuning a guitar was something I knew nothing about. I also didn’t know anything about care and maintenance of the neck or how to adjust action. I just knew that when I plugged it in to my stereo and turned the volume up to 100%, I could hear faint tones.
I liked it for what it was. Friends later told me that the neck was warped, and getting it into any type of condition where it would be well playable wasn’t going to happen, but it was still my first real electric guitar.
More Guitars, More Practice
Eventually, I got a job in high school and bought myself the B.C. Rich Warlock. I also managed to get a good deal on a used Ibanez RG270DX which I almost immediately flipped and sold to another person for a small profit.
The B.C. Rich Warlock was a monster of a guitar. It was heavy, difficult to play sitting down, and the particular model I bought was the cheapest “bronze” edition which had none of the bells and whistles that its more expensive counterparts had. I even switched out one of the humbuckers for an EMG-81 which I understood to be the pickup of choice for that Metallica sound.
I kept that guitar for quite a while. Even after I moved out of my parent’s house, it went with me. I even kept it after buying a new guitar, an Epiphone Les Paul Studio which was mistakenly marked at a much lower price at the Best Buy store. That Les Paul played like a dream. It sounded every bit as smooth as I could ever hope for.
I learned a few songs and noodled with them for a couple of years before I sold them to make room in my apartment for other pursuits. I never got particularly good at playing. The love of the instrument was mostly in its beauty and how it felt in my hands. The relaxing moments picking away while waiting for something to download on my computer, or killing time before bed.
I’m not entirely sure what sparked my renewed interest in playing. It might have been the birth of my son, Luke, but I felt like I needed to play again. I wanted a hobby that I could enjoy that would satisfy the creative urge without being too crazy expensive.
So, I headed to the music store and picked up a gorgeous Epiphone Les Paul Studio. Only this time, I didn’t like it all after bringing it home. It didn’t sound like I remembered. It didn’t feel like I remembered. It also had an extremely wonky set of frets.
I took it back to the music store and their technician tried to fix the frets, only to declare the unit a lemon and offer me a full refund. Still wanting to play, I grabbed a different guitar off the wall. This one was a Schecter C-1 Platinum. It sounded incredible with a distortion pedal. It absolutely had the sound that I knew and loved when I had put the EMG-81 pickup in the B.C. Rich warlock over a decade before.
To my surprise, I had an extra $150 of refund left over. So, I spent it on a Squier Bullet Stratocaster that came in sea foam. It was a color that Luke loved, so I figured I’d take it home and let him play with it when he got a little older.
To my surprise, I enjoyed playing the Squier Bullet a lot more than the Schecter C-1 Platinum. It felt right in my hands. Like an old friend that I was catching up with after a lifetime of being apart. I found the guitar I had been looking for. My old friend, the Stratocaster.
Fender Player vs. Squier Classic Vibe
Luke finally grew enough to take real interest in music. He walks into my office regularly and starts strumming on the Squier bullet. He told me yesterday that his favorite thing we do together is play guitars. Considering he’s still too young to actually learn how to play, it was a great compliment.
I made the choice, to sell my Schecter and buy another Stratocaster. But, which one? The Fender Player series is renowned for its value and quality. It would have been an impossible fortune in my teens, but the adult me with a career couldn’t resist.
I bought one at the local music store and brought it home. It was perfect. Absolutely, positively, perfect. Too perfect. I was spending not a little money on something that I really only play for fun. I’m not forming a band. Not playing gigs. None of that stuff.
So, I dove into research. I looked up video reviews on every Stratocaster model between the Squier Bullet and the Fender Player I could find. Looking for one model that hit that sweet spot where it played like the Fender Player without the Player’s price tag.
That’s when I saw it. The Squier Classic Vibe ’60s. A Stratocaster made to resemble and pay homage to the classic Stratocaster, featuring vintage-style tuners (which I love more than modern ones) and pickups specially designed to give the same tone of the ones made nearly 60 years ago.
The store had one, and I went to check it out. Just like the Fender Player, it was perfect. Not too perfect. Just the right amount of perfect for me. All the same feeling in the hands and half the price of the higher-end model.
Here it sits in my home office, next to its seafoam brother. A beautiful new guitar with a classic look and sound. I can’t wait to learn more and play alongside Luke as he grows into his.