As awesome as the venerable Stratocaster is, there have always been a couple of things about the design that never made sense to me. Like, why does the one pickup that needs a tone control — the bright bridge pickup — not have one? And why, if that pickup is already a little on the bright side, is it angled to add even more highs to the treble side? One guy who mitigated the latter issue, either by default or design, was James Marshall Hendrix. By flipping a righty Strat over and playing it lefty, Jimi benefitted from reversing the bridge pickup, inching the treble poles closer to the neck and nudging the bass side closer to the bridge, for warmer highs and tighter lows.
There was another advantage: The reversed headstock now sported a much longer string length for the low strings, resulting in more tension and a meatier tone on the bass side and easier bending on the high strings.
Guns N’ Roses badass Richard Fortus knows a thing or two about tone, vibe and chops (check out any video of his playing), and he concurs with many of the above points about Strats and Jimi. Those ideas informed the design of his signature Trussart Steel-O-Matic, a super-cool take on the classic design.
Visually, the Fortus model is about as awesome as can be. The metal top plate, pickguard and headstock cap all feature a killer snakeskin finish that looks and feels amazing. The sugar-pine body is beautifully worn in, as is the maple neck. The neck itself has a substantial, beefy profile that I find really comfortable, and the narrow/tall 6105 frets make bends a breeze. Because of their height, the feel was a tad bumpy at first, but they’re perfectly finished and crowned, and it didn’t take long for me to get used to them. A light touch helps, since they’re tall enough that you can squeeze chords sharp if you’re ham handed, but this guitar has a beautiful setup.
The amplified tones do the Stratty thing as you might expect, but there’s a lot more going on with the Steel-O-Matic. The Arcane single-coils are fabulous sounding, with a snappy yet warm presence. The metal plates on top of the pine body add a cool, round resonance to the tonality that is pleasing and musical. The metal on the headstock contributes mass and adds sustain. (Remember the Groove Tubes Fat Head?) Then there’s that angling of the bridge pickup, which really does mitigate the trebly spikiness that bridge single-coils can often suffer from. Blending the bridge and middle pickups delivers that “Sultans”-approved thing, the middle pickup by itself is delicious, and the neck pickup oozes SRV goodness. All the sounds are further supported by sweetly voiced volume and tone controls. It’s trickier to describe what the reversed headstock string lengths are bringing to the sonic party, but you can feel it when you play it. I would say it’s a subtle difference, but one that I dig.
Sooner or later we have to talk about the metal-bodied elephant in the room: This guitar is expensive. For that reason, it will not appeal to all guitarists (said the guy with the super-keen grasp of the obvious). Fair enough. But think about it this way: You’re getting way more than a three-single-coil, double-cutaway instrument here — you’re getting a work of art that sounds and plays amazing and could easily be your signature statement onstage and in the studio, irrespective of the fact that it’s a “signature” model for someone else. If you get the chance, play a Steel-O-Matic. I guarantee you’ll be impressed. You will, however, have to absolutely love it to want to make it part of your life. If you do, you’ll blow minds everywhere you go with this beauty.
Snakeskin Steel-O-Matic Richard Fortus Model
PRICE $7,463 retail
NUT WIDTH 15/8"
FRETBOARD Maple, 25.5" scale, 9.5" radius
FRETS 21 6105 narrow/tall
BODY Sugar pine
BRIDGE Vintage tremolo
PICKUPS Three Arcane single-coils with reversed bridge pickup
CONTROLS Master volume, two tone, 5-way blade selector
FACTORY STRINGS .010–.046
WEIGHT 7.5 lbs
KUDOS Brilliant take on a classic design. Sweet tones. Amazing cosmetics