For an artist who is as picky about his sound as Eric Johnson, the development of a new Strat with his name on it must have been quite a process. On the face of it, taking the standard EJ model and giving it a semi-hollow body with an f hole seems relatively straightforward, but the new Thinline took some time to develop due to Johnson’s penchant for getting it right—and he and Fender experimented with such things as the size of the chamber and the position of the f hole on the prototype guitars until EJ was satisfied with the end result.
Anyone familiar with the standard signature model will feel right at home here, as the neck carries the same moderately thick, soft V shape, the single-coil pickups are identical (with Tone controls for the bridge and neck units), and the trem is seated on the body with the five springs tensioned so that no downward motion is possible. Johnson apparently favors a locked-down trem so that he can do pedal-steel-like bends without pitch warbles (he does have a floating-trem setup on at least one Strat that he uses for Hendrix stuff), so you’ll either be fine with this aspect of the factory setup (along with having no screw holes on the back to attach a cover over the spring bay), or you’ll need to adjust the trem to suit your own preferences. The attention to detail on this guitar is excellent. The frets are expertly finished, the paintwork flawless, and the “vintage” tint on the neck looks righteous.
The Thinline is lighter than a solidbody Strat, and when played acoustically, you can hear how the chambered construction enhances low-midrange girth, and makes everything sound and feel more lively and expressive. These qualities translated into the electric realm when playing the Thinline though all sorts of stompboxes during the testing for the “Pedalmania” roundup in this issue. This fat-sounding guitar roared supremely on the bridge pickup, kicking down sweet, buttery tones when driving various fuzz and distortion pedals (all fed into an Alessandro-handwired Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue or a Dr. Z Z-Plus combo), and the dedicated Tone control made it easy to get just the right balance of bite. Switching to the neck pickup produced deep, glassy sounds that sounded awesome when running into lower-gain/high-output pedals of the Tube Screamer ilk, and between those settings are juicy rhythm/lead flavors via the middle pickup and beautifully chiming sounds in positions 2 and 4.
The Eric Johnson Signature Thinline impresses on a lot of levels, and with its chambered body, superb playability, and excellent build quality, it is certainly a welcome new model in Fender’s Stratocaster line. Its enhanced resonant qualities definitely give it an edge in the girth department compared to solidbody Strats, and for that reason alone it deserves an Editors’ Pick Award. Kudos to Eric Johnson and Fender for all that was involved in coming up with the first semi-hollow Stratocaster since it debuted in 1954.
MODEL Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Thinline
PRICE $1,999 street, with hardshell case
NUT WIDTH 1.650" bone
NECK Maple, ’57 soft V shape
FRETBOARD Maple, 25.5" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 21 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Fender vintage-style staggered
BODY Alder semi-hollow
BRIDGE Vintage-style Synchronized Tremolo
PICKUPS Specially voiced Eric Johnson single-coils
CONTROLS Volume, Tone (neck), Tone (bridge), 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.68 lbs
KUDOS Semi-hollow body enhances girth and resonance. Ballsy bridge-pickup tones. Excellent playability.
CONCERNS Firmly seated bridge will need to be re-adjusted if you plan on using the trem.