Fender describes the new Custom Deluxe Strat as being "designed for the working musician". What the company means by that is that its taken the vintage blueprint of this stalwart model and added some modern improvements – in the pickup, bridge, fret and tuner departments – to create instruments that at a casual glance look like regular Fender Stratocasters but which perform like highly-tuned thoroughbreds.
The Custom Deluxe Stratocaster comes in selected finishes that have been chosen for the woods used. All colours are available with rosewood fingerboards or lightly figured one-piece maple necks, but only two-colour sunburst and vintage cherry sunburst come with ash bodies.
"It's such a great tone that you hardly need any overdrive to make the notes sing out."
At around the two grand mark this guitar isn't what you'd call cheap, but we've become used to Anderson and PRS-type quality on even some regular production Fenders, so the relatively limited nature and that Custom Shop branding should appeal to the lucky folk able to afford it.
Custom Deluxe Strat
How strange it is that, even after all these years, and having seen hundreds of new Strats emerging from their cases, it's still a lovely sight to behold. There's just something about that shape, the curves and the fact that it looks incredible from any conceivable angle that gets every guitarist's pulse racing.
Our Custom Deluxe is the perfect combination of vintage white, mint green pickguard and dark rosewood fingerboard (so many people don't like the 'gingery' rosewood so often seen nowadays that Fender selects the darkest East Indian variety for these guitars).
Other plastic parts are aged white, adding to the 'new but not new' vibe. The Custom Deluxe also features the deep contoured forearm and belly scoop so beloved of vintage Strat lovers, and the perfectly applied thin-skin nitro-cellulose finish is buffed to a high gloss too, helping to accentuate the guitar's slinky lines. Relic-haters, these are for you!
The 'modern player' twists that Fender has built-in include the company's two-point floating vibrato, which has been around for some years and has proved a hassle-free successor to Leo's original. Its solid stainless steel saddles and rear block provide plenty of twang and sustain and its usability goes without saying, given that it's whammy abuser Jeff Beck's system of choice.
Fender has got its manufacturing quality down to a fine art these days and so it's no surprise to find flawless construction, perfect fit and finish of all components, and a general feeling that care has gone into every last detail on this guitar. Lovers of class will enjoy the Custom Deluxe's lightly-figured maple neck, the aforementioned dark 'board with 'clay'-style dot markers and the modern script headstock logo. When a guitar looks this good you just want to pick it up and play.
Nicely weighted and balanced, the Strat is still the most comfortable guitar of all to play, whether sitting down or on a strap. And those updates do make all the difference from a player's point of view. Taking a 1965 neck as inspiration the Custom Deluxe's is a slim 'C'-section that feels like you've known it all your life.
With that in mind Fender has fitted Custom '69 pickups in neck and middle position (the middle one reverse-wound for hum-free tones in positions two and four), and a Texas Special at the bridge. This is perhaps a surprising combination, as Texas Specials are regarded in some quarters as harsh, some might say raspy sounding.
Settings two and four are very sweet and vocal sounding, again full of definition for all those funky rhythm licks, soulful blues lines or Knopfler-style country leads.
Easy as it might be to deride Fender for milking the life out of a relatively small range of designs, the fact that they manage to constantly come up with something so worthwhile with just a tweak here and there is pretty amazing.
Yes, it's quite expensive, but it's a brilliant guitar in its own right. The modern twists on traditional themes bring a half-century-old design right up to date and the pickup choices are simply inspired.