A Little Piece of Jimi: The Fender VooDoo Strat

Ever wish you could sound just a little more like Jimi Hendrix? Like-minded tone hounds have long speculated that Jimi's habit of playing right-handed Strats upside down (after reversing the nut and the string order) played a significant role in his tone equation. Right-handed players wishing to experience the coolness of this most-ancient Strat mod have historically had two options -- neither of which is particularly attractive. The most obvious is to flip over a left-handed Strat. But that places the controls, trem arm, and jack plate in a goofy location for most players. And remember, you've got to fork out big bucks for a left-handed Strat.

You could also graft a lefty neck to a righty body. But that only gets you halfway to Electric Ladyland because you don't get the reverse-staggered polepieces or the reverse-angled bridge pickup. And without the right tools and know-how, performing this mod yourself could easily result in a hacked-looking and bad-playing Frankenstein that even your local guitar thief wouldn't want.

To the rescue comes Fender's new VooDoo Strat ($1,300 with case, strap, and white coil cord), which, through a miracle of guitar-design dyslexia, makes it possible for right-handed players to groove on the distinctive sonic elements of a flipped-over Strat -- but without the ergonomic bummers. The VooDoo gives you the reversed headstock, opposite bridge-pickup slant, and reverse-staggered polepieces of an upside-down guitar, but everything else -- contoured body, controls, trem bridge, and string order -- is purely right-handed.

Reversed elements aside, the U.S.-made VooDoo replicates most of the standard features of a '68 Strat, right down to the all-important "transitional" logo (which is right side up). In all regards, this is a very nicely made guitar. The large frets are well shaped and polished, the Olympic White finish is glass-smooth (as is the clear coat on the tinted-maple neck), and the cleanly beveled, three-layer pickguard fits snugly. Departures from stock specs include a laser-engraved image of Hendrix on the chromed neck plate and a 5-way pickup selector. The VooDoo played exceptionally, and it stayed in tune extremely well under heavy trem action. One side benefit of the reversed headstock arrangement is that your left hand is able to access the tuners from a more natural position -- it's something you have to feel in order to fully appreciate.

Sonic Voodoo

The VooDoo definitely sounded quite different from any conventionally set-up Fender Strat we compared it to. The VooDoo's treble strings bend with a Gibson-like silkiness, and they sound richer and more buttery when strummed acoustically. The bass strings feel tighter and snappier, and produce noticeably more acoustic twang. Playing the VooDoo through a variety of amps (including a Matchless Chieftain, a Vox AC15, and a Fender Bassman reissue) also highlighted its superior top-to-bottom string balance. The reversed polepiece stagger is somewhat akin to lowering the bass side of the pickups and raising the treble side (hence the improved string balance), but the effect is far more dramatic.

Obviously, some real sonic magic occurs in the interaction between the VooDoo's pickups and the radical changes in string tension, but what matters is that the VooDoo produces sweeter highs, snappier, more energized upper-mids, and better-defined bass frequencies. You can really hear this on the bridge pickup, but even the phasoidal, "in-between" sounds of selector positions 2 and 4 are astonishingly deeper and cluckier.

Mythic Greatness

Far from being just another commemorative Stratocaster, the VooDoo is a hot-rodded instrument that goes a long way toward providing the "Holy Grail" tone elements of fatter highs, growlier mids, and twangier lows sought by hardcore Strat players. This no-jive guitar is an especially cool tribute to Hendrix, not only because of its enticing sonic flavors, but because it's essentially a custom ax for the price of a production model. Now, if Fender would just make it in a left-handed version . . .

Fender, 7975 N. Hayden Rd., Suite C-100, Scottsdale, AZ 85258; (602) 596-9690; www.fender.com