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Fano Stratosphear

April 16, 2012
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Guitars with bodies made from various types of plastics have popped up from time to time throughout electric guitar history, though probably most famously with the Dan Armstrong Plexiglas “see through” model of 1969. Keith Richards’ use of the guitar didn’t exactly bring legions of guitarists into the acrylic camp, but the material seems like a good choice for a solidbody as it’s tough enough to stop bullets, is easily machined, and doesn’t require a finish coat.

Setting aside the questionable “green-ness” of acrylic (it is a petroleum-based product), the main problems with the material from a guitar perspective are its high density and lack of resonance, which are the things Dennis Fano tackled straight on when designing the Stratosphear— which has the body dimensions of a Rickenbacker 330 and f-holes—as well as its companion models, the Retrosphear (double cut, Strat dimensions) and Psonicsphear (single cut, Les Paul dimensions). To reduce weight, Fano first routed chambers into the 1"-thick slab of acrylic that makes up the body core. To improve acoustic resonance, he clad the front and back with anodized aluminum “tone plates,” which are attached with flush-mounted screws and trimmed to expose the clear plastic on the rounded edge of the perimeter. The result is a light and surprisingly resonant body with an outline that recalls some of the futuristic Italian- and Japanese-made electrics of the mid to late ’60s.

To bring the Stratosphear into the 21st century, Fano outfitted it with a pair of Lollar Omni-tron pickups, which, though housed in P-90 covers, are constructed like a DeArmond Dynasonic and feature alnico V polepieces. From there the signal is routed to Volume and Tone controls and a pair of 3-position slider switches that are used to turn the pickups on and off, and also put them out of phase with each other when the switches are set in their opposite extremes.

The strings load from the top and run over a TonePros Tune-o-matic bridge on their way to the chromed Gotoh tuners. The scalpel-shaped headstock is also faced with aluminum and painted to match the glossy, Earth Blue bolton neck (other shades include Saturn Green, Jupiter Orange, Meteor White, Lunar Grey, and Mars Red). The comfy neck has an inviting “C” shape that Fano calls “’50s roundback” and a radius that transitions from 10" at the nut to a flatter 16" at the 22nd fret. This provides a cool vintagelike feel in the neck’s lower range and a more shred-friendly surface at the upper frets, which the beveled heel and angled neck joint facilitate reaching. The polished frets and tuneful intonation also make the Stratosphear a lot of fun to play.

The Stratosphear delivered crisp, lively tones through a bevy of amps that included a Mesa/Boogie Mini Recto, a Dr. Z EZG-50 combo, and a Fender Deluxe Reverb. Pickup selection wasn’t as quick as with a 3- or 5-way toggle, but once I got the hang of it, the switches were easy enough to flick for neck, bridge, and both settings (center is off), or a snarky out-of-phase tone with one switch up and the other down. Sonically, the Stratosphear has its own thing going, which might be described along the lines of Jazzmaster-meets-Junior, with a dollop of ES-335-like acousticity tossed in. It has nice jangle on top, well-defined bottom, and a plump midrange that punches through a mix when you give it the gas. The guitar’s ability to go from warm jazz tones in the neck position to meaty grind with both pickups on to slicing rock rage on the bridge setting when pushing an overdriven amp or pedal makes it suitable for more applications than you might think based on the ’Sphear’s space-age look.

The Stratosphear’s target audience may be the pawnshop-prize set, but given Fano’s background in creating cool vintage Gibson- inspired axes such as the SP6 and PX6, you can rest assured that he hasn’t missed the mark when it comes to imbibing his “AlumAcrylic” wonder with a big dose of classic solidbody soul. And with plenty of things to offer anyone who yearns to break out of a sonic or stylistic rut, the Stratosphear earns an Editors’ Pick Award.

Specifications

CONTACT Fano Guitars, fanoguitars.com

Stratosphear

PRICE $1,999 street
NUT WIDTH 1.687"
SCALE LENGTH 24 3/4" (10"-16" compound radius)
NECK Maple
FRETBOARD Rosewood
FRETS 22 jumbo
TUNERS Gotoh
BODY Chambered clear acrylic core with anodized 6061 aluminum skin
BRIDGE Tone Pros Tune-o-matic
PICKUPS Lollar Omni-tron
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, dual pickup switches for on/off and out-of-phase
FACTORY STRINGS Dark Horse, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.7 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Radical styling. Light and toneful. Plays well.
CONCERNS Pickup switching takes some getting used to.

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