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Fender's Ron Thorn builds two Custom Shop Stratocasters for prog-guitar trailblazer Adrian Belew

Fender Custom Shop Adrian Belew
(Image credit: Adrian Belew / Instagram)

Adrian Belew and Fender's Custom Shop director and Principal Master Builder Ron Thorn have collaborated on a pair of stunning Stratocasters. Sadly, these are not for sale, but maybe Fender should look into it – these are quite special

One red, one blue, with matching switch tips, plus silver pickguards, knobs and pickup covers, these future-forward Strats are positively ripe with musical possibilities.

Where do you start with a spec like this? As shared on Belew's Instagram account, these Custom Strats have basswood bodies, contoured as per the American Ultra Strats. To this, he has a quarter-sawn bolt-on maple neck that's carved into a Modern C profile with a flatter-than-typical 12" radius maple fingerboard, topped with 22 medium-jumbo stainless steel frets.

The hardware is top-quality, too, with a set of locking Sperzel tuners, a floating Vega tremolo system, and a Fender roller nut – or LSR nut – installed so that the tuning holds up to the best that Belew can throw at it. That's about £400's worth of after-market hardware mods, but if you look at the picture shared below by Thorn, it is worth it, as Belew can dish out a bit of punishment to the instrument when performing. 

But the electronics is where these Belew's custom builds get really interesting. Here we've got a DiMarzio The Tone Zone humbucker at the bridge position – a hot pickup with superb dynamics and low-end – a Texas Special Strat single-coil in the middle position and a Fernandes Sustainer at the neck, with the Strat's wired up as per the Ed O'Brien Strat. 

Putting the finishing touches on all this are the aluminium cupcake control knobs and once more the matching dot inlays on the red Strat look very cool.

That these builds are quite different to any of the HSS Strats offered by Fender should come as no surprise. Belew always likes to do something different. When speaking to MusicRadar back in 2017, his best advice for guitar players was to find their own style, explaining that sometimes it was good to switch things up and embrace the art of noise.

“I’d be playing a guitar solo in a bar band somewhere and at the top of the solo I’d put in some seagulls or I’d throw in a car horn at the end,“ he said. “That seemed to get a chuckle and everyone liked that. No one else seemed to be trying to go in that direction, so I was going to try and see what I could do, sound-wise, with the guitar - and that became the beginning of having something different. It was just about the time that I got to be on the world stage; the world of effects began to come alive and I loved all that stuff. I couldn’t wait for the next Fuzz‑Tone to arrive!”

Perhaps that's all that is missing from Belew's new Strats – onboard fuzz. For that he might want to speak to Hugh Manson for his ideas on what worked best for Matt Bellamy's custom-built Mansons. An onboard Z.Vex Fuzz Factory circuit and a Fernandes Sustainer, on a master-built Strat from Ron Thorn? That would be living the dream.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.