Ever heard of a muscle car? If you were an American teenager during the 1960s, your bedroom walls would have been covered with posters of these awesome looking beasts.
With names like Plymouth Fury, Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Camaro, muscle cars were gas-guzzling hot rods with whopping engines and a convertible roof that could be lowered when making out with your girl at the drive-in. They were also the inspiration behind this new guitar.
Clearly, the Fender Toronado GT HH doesn’t share many similarities with actual GT muscle cars. You can’t hotwire it when your folks are out of town and cruise down to the diner for root beer; you can’t furnish it with a set of leopardskin seats, and it takes forever to get from 0-60.
What Fender’s latest guitar does offer is a white racing stripe of the kind that adorned the flank of many original muscle cars. It also boasts a whole load of retro attitude to boot.
It looks pretty damn cool!
There’s no denying the primitive appeal of the Toronado design. In its various forms, the Toronado has been around for several years and we love its uncomplicated machismo. The curves of the original Toronado were loosely based on the Jaguar and Jazzmaster, but some would argue that this design looks cooler than either of those.
If you were to strip away the Toronado’s paint job, you’d find a solid slab of mahogany – not a tonewood normally associated with Fender. It suggests that you should be able to coax a bit more warmth from the Toronado than its Strat or Tele-shaped brothers (which tend to be made from ash and alder).
Bolted to the body via a contoured heel is a maple neck, with a modern C-profile and tasty rosewood fingerboard, while molluscs everywhere will be shaking in their shells when they clock the mother-of-pearl-style inlays. Neurotic? Then you’ll be pleased to see the trusted combination of Adjusto-Matic bridge and anchored tailpiece.
When it comes to electronics, the Toronado continues to rip up the Fender rulebook. We’ve seen Fender guitars with humbuckers before, of course. It’s just that, thanks to the continued dominance of the Strat, we’ve come to associate the company with the twang of two or three singlecoil pickups. By contrast, the Toronado offers a choice of two Seymour Duncan humbuckers, with a decidedly Gibson-esque pickup selector clunking you between settings.
There are four tone and volume controls, positioned in the familiar ‘cluster’ formation you’ve seen on a thousand Les Paul guitars. Frankly, it’s amazing just how far this guitar strays from the Fender blueprint without losing its identity. The Jazzmaster-style headstock, adorned with Leo Fender’s signature, will also help you to pick it out in a crowd.
There’s real evidence of attention to detail throughout the Toronado’s build, and it would take some serious abuse to make this axe turn up at band practice with a sick note. The Toronado is a bit of a slab. When you sit down to practise, it can prove a bit of a bind. The Toronado isn’t uncomfortable, but it’s just not as streamlined or sympathetic to the human body as the Strat.
That said, the fact that it has a rib contour round the back does give it a distinct advantage over the Tele, and at least the positioning of the volume pots stops you nudging them with your strumming hand. Strapped on, the Toronado has a good weight behind it. It’s not a back-breaker like some Les Pauls, but there’s a real sense of chunkiness that begs you to hit it hard.
That’s not to say this guitar deals solely in powerchords. With an inviting neck profile and a super-smooth fingerboard, you’ll soon be dancing across the 22 frets like a graceful ballerina. The two cutaways aren’t quite deep enough to allow Strat-style access to the very top frets, but access isn't as hindered as some twin-humbucker electrics.
If the Toronado looks unusual on the shelf, that’s nothing compared to the noise it makes. Fender guitars aren’t supposed to sound like this. They’re meant to be snappy, insistent and full of twang. Right from the first strum, the Toronado reminded us of its mahogany construction and humbucking pickups.
Played clean through a Marshall, we find that this guitar had serious depth to its tone. There’s decent potential for tweaking the sound, though, and the two pickups can be blended using the dedicated volume pots. But thick and fat is where the Toronado delivers the goods.
The Toronado has a real clean voice but, like the muscle cars it was inspired by, we can’t resist the temptation to thrash it. The beef of the neck humbucker is considerable, lending a real swagger to our down-picked chugs, but it is the bridge that really does the business, supplying a tonality that we’ve never heard from a Fender before. Imagine the bonkers outro from Paradise City (Guns N’ Roses), and you’re quite close.
Best of all, the humbucking nature of the pickups means that you don’t get the 60-cycle hum that usually identifies a singlecoil being spanked hard.