Fender Custom Shop: Yngwie Malmsteen Tribute Stratocaster

WE’VE ALL SEEN THE IMAGE: A MANIACAL Yngwie J. Malmsteen onstage, with one knee bent, one leg outstretched, rocking bitchin’ Blackmore-style boots while shredding his absolute brains out. The instrument upon which Malmsteen unleashed his neo-classical fury? A beat-up, 1971 Olympic White Fender Stratocaster with a brass nut, bullet trussrod, scalloped fretboard, and the awesome, outsized, ’70s-era headstock. Now, thanks to the efforts of the artists in the Fender Custom Shop, you too can channel your inner Viking, because they have created a spot-on, anatomically correct version of Malmsteen’s classic Strat, a.k.a. the “Play Loud” guitar.

The guitar arrived in a huge flight case emblazoned with the maestro’s name in a killer heavy metal font. Also accompanying the instrument is an autographed picture and an Yngwie pick. Opening the case, it’s clear that Fender spared no effort to get the cosmetics completely perfect. Fender Custom Shop master builder John Cruz has nailed every last detail of Yngwie’s favorite instrument: Every scratch, ding, and bite mark is there, as well as the iconic “Play Loud” sticker that Malmsteen allegedly found at the Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles back in 1984.

There’s only one thing to do when you get a guitar like this: shred. And that’s what we did, acoustically at first. This thing is so comfy to play, with its well-worn neck, lightly scalloped fretboard, and light strings tuned down to Eb, that it’s hard not to shred on it. We experienced some fretting out on big bends on the high-E string in the upper register, which was a bit of a buzz-kill, but bends and vibrato everywhere else were a delight. The huge Dunlop frets make the neck feel even more scalloped than it is, but I didn’t find myself squeezing chords out of tune. The setup definitely favors a light touch, though—all the better to burn with.

We plugged into a Budda Twinmaster, a Dr. Z EZG 50, a Fender Princeton Reverb, and a Hughes & Kettner zenTera to do what the sticker on the upper horn commands. The most striking thing about the amplified Yngwie Tribute has to be the unbelievable neck pickup tone. The DiMarzio HS-3 in the neck produces a sound that is straight off of a Hendrix (or Yngwie) record, with super-full low end and an incredibly sweet top. Some Strats are just Strattier than others, and this is the Strattiest Strat I’ve heard in a long time. Bluesy trills, clangolicious funk chords, and sweep-picked arpeggios were all a total blast and sounded amazing. I hit the 3- position pickup selector to check out the bridge pickup. It’s not easy to get both killer neck pickup and bridge pickup tone on even the best Strats, but this one pulls it off with aplomb. The the bridge position HS-3 is big and fat, with great clarity, and it could handle heavy power chords with ease. The middle pickup (the only true single-coil) sounds fine, but with such delicious neck and bridge flavors (and no way to combine the middle with either of them), I didn’t spend much time in the middle position. No matter how much gain I ran on any of the rigs, the MalmStrat remained wonderfully dynamic, cleaning up easily by turning down or using a lighter attack. As per Yngwie’s original ’71 Strat, the tone controls on the Tribute model are disconnected.

So, this thing certainly delivers the sonic goods, plays like a shredder’s dream, and looks like a great old Strat should look. At more than 12 large, though, it’ll be tough to find anyone other than Yngwie who can afford it. The target market is clearly well-heeled Malmsteen maniacs, but anyone in the market for a vintage Strat (or heck, even a new Strat) should seek out an Yngwie Malmsteen Tribute and plug it in, because it’s the sound and feel that every Stratocaster aspires to.