Tested By Art Thompson
Owning a Fender Stratocaster from its first year of production is a nice thing to fantasize about if you have $20,000 or so burning a hole in your wallet, or a generous credit limit on your Guitar Player Visa card. But if you’re neither wealthy nor inclined to go way into hock for a vintage guitar, you’re a prime candidate for the 50th Anniversary “Limited Release” 1954 Stratocaster from the Fender Custom Shop. And while you’re calculating all the beans you’ll save by purchasing this accurate replica of a first-year Strat, you might want to budget a little extra for the ideal thing to plug it into: the new ’57 Twin Amp.
50th Anniversary “Limited Release” 1954 Stratocaster
With the goal of producing an authentic replica of this revolutionary guitar, the Custom Shop addressed all of the key elements that made the original Strat so unique. Topping the list are its parts, and the 1954 Strat features period-correct knobs, pickguard, back plate, bridge saddles, and pickup covers. The pickups are made using the original-size magnets, and all of the internal pieces (i.e. wire, polepieces, bobbins, etc.) have been reproduced using the same formulations as the originals. Most of the parts on the 1954 Strat have also been “aged” to replicate the dull patina you’d see on the hardware of a 50 year-old guitar.
The wooden components of the 1954 Strat have also been made to original specification, including the two-piece ash body with its off-center seam—the lacquer finish has been given a “checking” treatment that creates zillions of little hairline cracks like you typically see on vintage-guitar finishes— and the U-shaped maple neck, with its integral fingerboard and small, lightly polished frets.
The case included with the 1954 Strat is the original-style “form-fit,” and the guitar comes with a natural-color leather strap of the type Fender sold in the 1950s.
Beautifully set up with crisp action and a smooth-working floating vibrato (fitted with three springs), the 1954 Strat is inviting to the touch, and it sounds lively and resonant when strummed acoustically. The pickups are strong, bright, and ballsy, and they combine with the guitar’s top-notch woods to deliver exceptionally clear and detailed tones.
I wasn’t too surprised to discover the 1954 is louder and more complex sounding than my Japanese-made ’50s Reissue Strat (which is equipped with Fender Fat ’50s pickups). In fact, playing the 1954 through both the new Fender Twin Amp and my ’64 Super Reverb yielded some of the coolest tones I’ve ever heard from a repro Strat. And if you’re really into old-school, you won’t mind a bit having to “notch” the
3-way switch to get those chiming, clucky in-between sounds.
Anniversary Gold. It’s hard to image what it must have been like to play a Strat for the first time back in the Eisenhower era, but if the 1954 Strat is any measure, it must have been a pretty mind-bending experience. The Custom Shop has done an incredible job of reproducing this ultra- classic instrument in all its glory, and anyone with a lust for a truly primordial Stratocaster experience should try to hunt down one of these guitars before the year-long production ends this New Year’s Eve.
’57 Twin Amp
Fender’s ’50s-era tweed amps have long been praised for their tone and simplicity. In fact, it’s their very lack of tone-sucking reverb and tremolo circuitry that helps make the tweeds such enduring icons of vintage guitar-amp technology.
Though probably the most distinguished member of the tweed family is the model 5F6-A Bassman from 1959, a close runner-up is the 5E8-A Twin. According to Fender, the ’57 Twin Amp is patterned on a particularly hip-sounding version from 1957 that they borrowed from a collector.
The new amp features a neat handwired circuit on a black fiber-board, a solid-pine finger-jointed cabinet, and alnico speakers—not Jensens as per original spec, but, rather, Eminence-made units designed by Weber to replicate the sonic characteristics and appearance of the original amp’s speakers.
The Twin Amp does have a bias pot—a handy update that allows you to adjust the current draw through the output tubes—but other than that, it’s practically identical to the original amp.
Twin Tones. I initially tested the Twin Amp with the 50th Anniversary 1954 Strat. Plugging into the Bright channel with its Volume at 7 and the Tone knobs near their mid settings, yields bold, explosive tones that glisten with corpulent tube grind. The amp has gobs of bottom, sparkling highs, and a midrange complexity that embellishes everything you play with rich, stringy harmonics. The Twin’s frothy distortion is ideal for blues and rockabilly players who like to get their grind straight from the amp, and its volume is perfect for small to medium stages. A Les Paul pushes the Twin into pretty heavy distortion at amp-volume settings above 5, and if you mostly play humbuckers—or simply desire a cleaner, more authentic sound—you can easily replace the first two 12AX7s with lower-gain, original spec, 12AY7 preamp tubes. Another option for humbucker players is to use the #2 input on either channel, which is slightly attenuated.
Speakers play a big role in any amp’s sound, and a lot of credit goes to Weber and Eminence for creating an excellent alnico design that features a cone thin enough to replicate that shimmering vintage sound, yet strong enough to stand up to the pounding it receives from this punchy amp. That’s an important aspect, as these speakers really jump when you hammer down on your guitar—especially when using humbuckers.
Towering Twin. As the first handwired tweed amp that Fender has produced in modern history, the ’57 Twin is a powerful tone machine that offers boutique sound and quality at a price that compares favorably with other boutique brands. Being a genuine Fender product certainly enhances the Twin’s allure for all the cats who revel in Buddy Holly-era rock, and it’s likely that a lot of players will want to own this amp simply because it embodies so many of the foundational qualities that Fender developed in the 1950s—qualities that still make the ’57 Twin Amp a serious ass-kicker.