Our story begins, oddly enough, with Norlin-era Gibson in 1980, where engineer Tim Shaw was tasked with designing a humbucker that would restore the company’s Les Paul and ES-335 reissues to some shade of their former glory. The results are widely considered to be the best vintage-voiced pickups Gibson produced since the early ’60s. Fast forward to 2015 and Shaw is Director of R&D at Fender. So where do they go when it’s time to concoct a great ’bucker for the American Standard Stratocaster? Bingo! The result is the new Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker, a guitar that packs a boatload of history from the two biggest names in electric guitars.
As has its predecessors, the 2015 American Standard differs from vintage-reissue Strats in its incorporation of several modern features: it has a flatter 9.5" fingerboard radius, headstock trussrod adjustment, roller string tree, die-cast tuners with staggered-height posts, a 22-fret neck with extension “lip,” and a two-post synchronized tremolo (albeit now with vintage-style stamped-steel saddles). The neck and middle pickups are the Custom Shop’s respected Fat ’50s, but the real wallop arrives in the aforementioned Shawbucker in the bridge position. To help them play nice together Shaw has also spec’d a custom dual-ganged Volume control with a 250kΩ potentiometer for the two single-coils and a 500kΩ pot for the bridge pickup, avoiding tones that are either too strident from the former or too dull from the latter.
Of his intentions for this pickup, Shaw tells us: “I know what the original [PAF] spec was and I’ve obviously spent time looking at modern variations. This is a case where forensics really weren’t required. This humbucker is definitely wound at the lower end of the output spectrum [it read 7.05kΩ on my meter], and, as a result, there’s a lot of clarity. They have kind of a ‘chest voice’ to them, a breathiness that works real well.” Also, Shaw adds, “These pickups are deliberately not potted, but they’re wound pretty tight to avoid microphonic feedback. That allows a whole lot of expression that you don’t get when you wax the crap out of them.”
The fit, finish, and setup of our test guitar were all superb, and its polyurethane finish achieved a lovely gloss without being glopped on too heavily. The frets were smoothly dressed with nary a sharp end to be found, and if the thin-ish neck profile wasn’t my personal favorite, I had no issues with its smooth playability. Amped through a Two-Rock Studio Pro 35 and a hand-wired Marshall JTM-45 repro, this American Standard sounded sweet and snappy in all neck-to-middle positions, ably hinting at the springy, bitey Derek and the Dominos tones or thicker, bouncier SRV voicings that so many players seek from a Strat. The bridge position definitely cranked up the attitude, but—and this was impressive—without losing the guitar’s essential Stratiness.
There was enough beef from the Shawbucker to push either amp into a sweetly tactile, chewy breakup for classic-rock or snarly rootstwang, and it sang beautifully with an Analogman Prince of Tone overdrive kicked in for more grind—and with no squeal unless I pushed it irresponsibly close to the speaker cab. All in all, it’s a “modern” Strat, yes, but with more vintage-inspired character than many incarnations of American Standards past. A superbly versatile American-made guitar, the Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
AMERICAN STANDARD STRATOCASTER HSS SHAWBUCKER
PRICE $1,299 street
NUT WIDTH 1.685" synthetic bone
NECK Maple, modern “C” profile, 25 ½" scale
FRETBOARD Maple, 9.5" radius
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Fender Deluxe staggered
BRIDGE Two-point synchronized tremolo with bent-steel saddles
PICKUPS Shawbucker bridge, Custom Shop Fat ’50s middle and neck
CONTROLS Master volume (dual 250k/500k pot), Tone for neck pickup, shared Tone for middle and bridge pickups, 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.6 lbs
KUDOS Excellent fit and finish. Added versatility with great humbucker tones. Great deal.