From his blistering British Invasion beginnings through his amazingly varied solo career and right up to today, Jeff Beck’s Stratocaster guitar has been an integral part of his signature sound.
Features: I am reviewing a 2006 Jeff Beck Artist Series Stratocaster made in the USA. It’s Olympic White with an alder body, 22 medium jumbo frets (0.103 inches wide and 0.046 inches high), soft-C maple neck with a rose wood fret board, Fender special design dual-coil ceramic Noiseless pickups and straight-ahead five-way switching. It features Fender/Schaller Deluxe Cast/Sealed Locking Tuning Machines, American 2-Point Synchronized Tremolo with 6 Stainless Steel Saddles, a thinner â€œCâ€ Shape Maple Neck, a contoured Heel for Easier Access to upper frets, LSR Roller Nut, aged knobs and pickup covers. And it comes with a very nice tweed case from G&G and all the usual case candy. It has a neck radius of 9.5″ and the neck is slightly wider which helps keep the high E on the fret board.
Sound: I need to be able to play anything from Deep Purple to Walter Trout to Elvis Presley to country and Fender Strats have always been able to deliver. This guitar has that Stratocaster sound but with it’s own set of unique characteristics, it’s a little darker sounding than usual, but at the same time, the bridge pickup can really scream. Unlike a conventional Stratocaster, the bridge pickup has it’s own tone control and this is necessary at times to “tone” it down. What sets it apart are the noiseless ceramic pickups. Through the clean channel of my Marshall JCM 2000, it is easy to dial in that old Strat twang like through an old Fender Twin, but kick the Marshall into overdrive on the crunch or lead channel, and it’s slightly higher output (I am comparing it to a 1979 Statocaster) lets it Drive the Marshall very nicely. However, it is not the same as my Les Paul with P-90s, which will produce a creamier overdrive sound due to the higher output of the Gibson pickups. But even though the Fender pickups are not as hot, they got the tone, and lots of it. And best of all, this guitar is quiet! Venues where the Les Paul would be almost unplayable are simply not an issue for this Stratocaster. Even with the JCM 2000, I usually boost the signal level of the guitar through a tubescreamer, then turn the volume on the guitar down to.
Action, Fit & Finish: When the guitar was ordered, I was informed that there would a waiting period as they were no models currently in production. Then, out of the blue, a “brand new” Jeff Beck Strat arrived. As soon as I looked at it I knew Olypic White was the right color. Photos do not do justice to this colour! The creamy white poly finish was absolute perfection, beautiful workmanship and finish on the body, the neck and the frets. The satin finish on the back of the neck is smooth and fast. Very few guitars come from the factory set up just right. I immediately changed the strings from the stock 9-42s to a heavier set of 10-52s. This is personal preference and not a set-up issue. While adjusting the neck I noticed the truss rod was very stiff, so rather than force it I made arrangements to have the dealer look at it after the next gig. In the meantime I decided to change the neck tilt (this guitar has the micro-tilt adjustmment which I find to be very useful in getting the action just right)and adjust the action at the nut. On this particular guitar the LSR roller nut was slightly high for my tastes, but unfortunately, the nut was already set as low as it could go. Normally there would be thin metal shims that could be removed to lower the nut in.005″ increments, but this nut had no shims at all. That could end up being a real problem at some point down the road when the frets are leveled and recrowned. Action at the nut would be even worse. I new this was going to be a big problem for me.
So I took it back to the dealer and pointed out the truss rod and nut problems. When they tried to adjust the neck the allen wrench just slipped in the truss rod nut, almost like the wrench was too small or the nut too big. Then I noticed that the string angle off the nut to the machines was almost flat on the E string, consequently there was not enough pressure exerted on the nut and that effected the clarity of the open E string (this guitar does not use string trees but rather controls string angle by lowering the sring at the tuning peg). That should have worked but upon closer inspection of the peg head I noticed that it was out of it’s plane slightly. It started at 6.35mm away from the strings at the nut and by the high E it was only 4.76mm away, basically defeating the purpose of the using staggered machine heads.
I knew the action could be better and that I would never be happy with the neck, so after discussing the issue with the dealer, a replacement neck was ordered under warranty. When the new neck came quite a few weeks later, I ran into a different problem, the nut slot was cut too low on the new neck so now the roller nut sat so low on the high E side that there was no relief at the first fret. So back to the dealer to order shims which should have been sent out with the neck in the first place. OK, shims installed, neck tilt adjusted, truss rod much, much better, the wrench actually fit right, everything else adjusted to Fender specifications except there was still too much relief in the neck and the truss rod was getting too tight. So I loosened the srings, lossened the truss rod, has someone firmly hold the guitar down while I manually pulled the neck into a back bend and tightend the truss rod. Presto! Problem solved. Action is now better than Fender specs and the guitar feels great! I have played a number of gigs in a wide range of temperature/humidity conditions and the neck has only needed very minor tweaks, which is normal. As anyone should do with a new Strat, I smoothed out every point of sring contact on the guitar, except of course the roller nut, and lubricated every point of contact.
Reliability & Durability: This guitar will easily withstand Live playing. It is a rock solid guitar now that I have the new neck on it, cheerfully provided under warranty by Fender. The strap buttons are the locking type which is a thoughtful feature, almost everybody removes the conventional strap buttons, like I did after dropping my ’79 Strat on my sax player’s horn back in the 80’s. The poly finish on this guitar looks so good it is beyond words, you have to see one in person to appreciate it. The poly finish seems very durable. Time will tell. Poly does not wear off easy like the old nitro finishes and really has little to no impact on tone that can’t be compensated for in some other way (my opinion). I always have a backup on stage. Strings can and do break from time to time, although attention to the string contact points goes a long way to eliminating any problems. I also find certain sting brands to be more durable than others.
Impression: I love this guitar and will keep it for a long time. It is a versatile instrument. I have been playing for 37 years and I am not a collector. My guitars need to work for me and I don’t need more than three or four. I have a Gibson Les Paul Special with P-90s, A 1979 Fender Statocaster with several modifications and the new Jeff Beck Strat. I plan to add a Tele soon. I mostly use the Marshall half stack for gigs and a mini Marshall for really small venues. I also have a 1964-5 Fender Tremolux which has not seen the Jeff Beck Strat yet, and I use an old Peavey Chorus 130 for rehearsing which sounds great with every guitar but has no botton end. And I have a three foot wide pedal board hand wired with high quality cable and connectors to various pedals. I would defintely buy another one of these guitars if it were stolen. In my opinion nothing represents rock’n’roll more than a white Fender Stratocaster. My second choice would be a Fender Deluxe Strat with two-tone sunburst and noiseless pickups.