With Kenny Wayne Shepherd's stunning new Fender Stratocaster now officially released today, MusicRadar caught up with the blues-rock superstar to find out why this deluxe signature Strat (opens in new tab) has everything he looks for in an electric guitar (opens in new tab).
This is not Shepherd's first rodeo when it comes to spec'ing up a Strat. But the 2020 KWS Strat is quite different from the race-car inspired stylings and flatter compound radius fingerboards of his previous model.
Here we've got a chambered ash body, finished in Trans Faded Sonic Blue, with a matching headstock to boot. The rosewood fingerboard is bound and replete with pearloid block inlays and jumbo frets.
It also reverts to a vintage 7.25" radius, something that gets Shepherd a little closer to the feel of his prized '61 Strat, which, to this day, is his number one. The neck profile is a 60s C profile, so it should fill the palm quite nicely. But vintage feel or not, this Strat was designed to be something different.
"Ultimately, I wanted to create a new guitar," says Shepherd. "I didn’t want to just create a continuation of the previous guitar. As players, we have a certain set of things that we like in our instruments but I don’t think that we are confined to one set of specs."
Shepherd wanted an ash body so the transparent finish would reveal the grain. With ash on the heavier side of tonewoods, the body was chambered to take some weight off and ultimately make for a more comfortable instrument to play onstage.
"There are a lot of elements about this guitar that affected other decisions," says Shepherd. "One of them was the custom colour. I had this beautiful blue colour in mind, but I didn’t want it to just be a standard colour, so we took an off-the-shelf colour and turned it into a custom colour with the translucent Sonic Blue."
"In order to do a real translucent finish, to do it justice, you need to be able to see the wood grain pop through, so we did a couple of different prototypes with different woods, and initially went with alder because that is generally what I have on a lot of my guitars. But you couldn’t see the grain. Ash provides that wood grain."
As for pickups, Shepherd worked with Fender in developing a new signature single-coil that featured Alnico III magnets and pole-pieces. As with the finish's looks vs the weight of the tonewood, it was give and take, starting with Shepherd's original signature single-coils and tweaking until they found the sweet spot between output and articulation.
"They are wound a little bit hotter than the pickups on my previous Signature Series but the goal was to make them hotter but not dirtier," explains Shepherd. "I like the pickups to be a little bit hotter because then you are more able to get feedback and the certain types of responses from the amplifier. The key is not to make them so hot that it muddies up the sound of the guitar."
"We really just increased output and responsiveness across the board, maybe a little more midrange, not too much top end – just a little bit more across the entire spectrum of sound, a little more output to give it a real responsiveness to the player’s touch.
"I think the result is some really great-sounding pickups. I mean, I was really happy with the last ones and I am really happy with these ones – and these are quieter than the previous pickups. We made ‘em hotter and more responsive but they are actually quieter.”
Of course, all this is immaterial because you're going to buy one on the strength of that matching body and headstock, right?
Elsewhere, you'll find some trademark KWS features. He is a grizzly bear when it comes to string bends so his six-point tremolo is fitted with Graph Tech saddles to keep things in order. The frets are jumbo-sized, the nut is bone, and the whole thing is finished in nitro.
The Fender Artist Series Kenny Wayne Shepherd Stratocaster is priced £1,899/$1,999.99.
See Fender (opens in new tab) for more details.