If anyone is worthy of putting a 2023 spin on the de facto classic design that is the Fender Stratocaster, it’s Gen-Z guitar hero Steve Lacy.
Before shooting to stardom as a chart-topping, Grammy-winning solo artist with Gemini Rights, Lacy’s talents caught worldwide attention thanks to his work in alt-R&B band, The Internet. He hadn’t even left high school when he landed his first Grammy nomination with the group, and his homespun lo-fi sound – combined with a natural knack for great melodies – spoke to a whole generation of bedroom players, songwriters and listeners alike.
Ever since, there’s been a long queue of top tier artists lining up to collaborate with the young guitarist-come-producer.
He’s worked with the likes of J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Solange, Vampire Weekend and Tyler, The Creator. Now, one of the global giants of guitar manufacturing joins the collaborators club with the release of the Fender Steve Lacy People Pleaser Stratocaster.
Lacy’s approach to the project, he tells us, was primarily “to mix the old with the new'' to deliver an exciting update on the nearly 70-year-old design blueprint, while retaining its broad appeal.
Appointed with three Player Plus Noiseless single-coils, a deep 'C' neck profile, alder body and vintage-style tremolo and tuning machines, there’s a base of tried and true Strat staples. But the fun really starts in the areas where Lacy’s creativity and aptitude for out-of-the-box thinking has been granted a little more free reign.
Most notably, the Mexican-made People Pleaser boasts a custom onboard Steve Lacy Chaos Fuzz circuit for instant dirt at the push of a button that’s handily been loaded into the guitar’s second tone pot.
Then there’s the pink-tinged Chaos Burst finish – a subtle yet striking twist on classic ‘60s sunburst aesthetics – as well as a smattering of other eye-catching details like Steve’s “little swirly face” neck plate engraving, a bright green and blue chequered backplate and custom double dice inlay at the 12th fret.
Artist signature models are always interesting because they give us an insight into the imaginations, tastes and playing preferences of the guitarists we look to for inspiration. If a first look at this new release told us anything about its creator, it’s that he’s stylish, an innovator and cooler than most of us could ever hope to be. But then, we probably knew that already, didn’t we?
Granted just 15 minutes of interview time with one of the most in demand men in contemporary guitar music, here’s everything else we learned about Steve Lacy’s latest creative endeavour in our quickfire Strat chat…
Before we dive into the specifics of the People Pleaser, what is it that you love about Fender Strats in general?
"My favourite thing about the Strat is, for one, the history and the look, and two, the versatility of the guitar. You can play rock, you can play RnB, you can play country or funk. You know, you can play all styles of music with a Strat. It’s comfortable as well."
What did you most want to achieve when you got the chance to put your own spin on this classic Fender design?
"I kind of wanted to mix the old with the new – I think I always like that in everything that I do. You know, [the] dapping of history with new ideas is always fun."
How did the opportunity to work with Fender on the People Pleaser Strat come about?
"I’ve been working with them for a couple of years and getting different guitars from them. I was with Tim Hinshaw [of Fender’s Artist Marketing team] at first and then I was working with Jason Klein [also of Fender’s Artist Marketing team]. Jason presented this idea – I think, a year or two ago – and it’s funny because I keep saying that this is pure alignment because this guitar was planned before all of this stuff popped off. So, when I first got the opportunity, I was like, 'What? Me?' It was really cool and I appreciated that.
"Now, everything is kind of lining up on its own: this guitar is about to come out and I’m about to go on tour. Gemini Rights happened and it’s a really beautiful thing for all these things to come together and naturally create moments. So shouts out to Jason for that and Fender!"
It must feel like the ultimate compliment as a guitar player to get the chance to work on a signature instrument, especially with a brand like Fender…
"I know. I want to keep making them! It was a really fun process. I love design in general, but it’s a cool opportunity and I’m super stoked for people to have it and see what people make with it. It’s special."
One of the really exciting things about this Strat is the in-built fuzz circuit. What was the main inspiration for adding this feature and what will people be able to do with it?
"I think I just wanted to be able to have a guitar where you can have that. I think I was listening to a lot of Jack White at the time. I kind of referenced Jack White and the fuzzes from Scott Pilgrim, and I just wanted to have a fuzz where I could still hear my chords and stuff as well.
"You know, Fender executed that for me pretty good and I’m happy with the way it’s come out. It’s cool to mix with other distortion pedals too."
How do you engage and disengage the fuzz circuit? Is it built into one of the pots?
"Yeah, it’s a button. It’s dope!"
In terms of gear in general, you have a history of keeping things quite minimal and portable. So, does the fuzz circuit actually reduce the need for at least some pedals?
"Yeah, I am pretty minimal. I still use my Boss ME-80 pedal. I know I should have a collection of pedals and I do, but I still kind of stick with that kind of thing. I always believe less is more. Even in my production, I probably have three – or three-to-four – layers on my beats, you know? I don’t have a lot of things going on. I just like for everything to have its own place and to be focussed. So, yeah, it is kind of like a way to Marie Kondo your set-up a little bit!"
Other than a recording device of some sort and some ideas of their own, would you say this Strat gives people everything they need to get started with those lo-fi bedroom pop tones that you’re so well known for?
"Right. I mean, sure. That tone comes from whatever interface you’re using, you know? The lo-fi guitar tones are more about what gear you’re putting your guitar through. So, by default, yes – but it’s up to the producer to figure out how they want to do it."
What can you tell us about the personal touches the guitar has going on as far as looks are concerned, and what do all these little details mean to you?
"I think they’re just little bits of my personality in it. I always loved the ‘60s Strats – so I wanted to use the sunburst and I wanted to reference that. You know, the ‘65. I just got a ‘66 recently and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been making stuff with it. But, I couldn’t ever get this guitar so I wanted to design my own version of that – hence the old with the new.
"The initial idea was that I wanted it to look like an old ‘60s Strat, and then I wanted the whole entire back of the guitar to be bright ass pink, so when I turned around, you’d just see pink on the whole behind! But, they thought it was a weird shape for it to be like that, so we came to a middle ground where it was like a pink sunburst.
"I’m still trying to get that one made for myself. I spray painted one at home and it did look kind of crazy, but I think if it was done professionally it would look a lot better!
"Then, the blue and green plate on the back was inspired by Dots And Loops by Stereolab, which is one of my favourite records.
"Then, the little swirly face is just something that I made. I love the dice and I figured out it would be cool if we could add something like that to it, just for a little touch and just so you know it’s a different thing. The pink sunburst is a super cool touch. I think it’s the first pink sunburst Fender has ever made."
It really is a nice twist on that classic burst look…
"I think people will either love it a lot or hate it a lot. So, I’m curious to see how it’s received in the guitar world. I know guitar people are – you know – specific in what they like!"
Whether it’s looks, sound or playability, what aspects of the guitar are you most proud of and most excited to share with people?
"I think it’s how comfortable it is. I wanted the new technology but I don’t be knowing what I’m playing. I just pick it up and it’s just comfortable! I should be a little more nerdy about these things as a guitarist, but with the new Strat, .
"I wanted to use that technology on the guitar, but I think that comfort is something that I’m definitely proud of – to give people a guitar that they can just get off real quick and feel good."
You say you should be “more nerdy,” but in all seriousness, comfort and playability is what people connect with when they go into a guitar shop and choose to take home one guitar over another, right?
"Yeah, exactly. It’s just something that feels good to them. I think that’s all I wanted."
When and where do you think we’ll first get to see you perform with one of these guitars in your hands?
"Well, funnily enough, I’ve been playing it on the road already. So, people will probably already have seen me with it and didn’t know what it was. I toured with it as my main guitar. Coachella was, I think, the first time I played with it. So, I’ve been secretly running it, but no one knows what it is, or I think no one’s been paying attention to my rig! But yeah, it’s been out there!"
Do you have any other projects with Fender or otherwise that you can tell us about at the moment?
"No, that’s it! We’ve got some roll-out stuff: cool commercials, cool photos. But, hopefully, there will be more to talk about. I would love to continue to design instruments with them if they’d let me because this was really fun.
"Hopefully, we can get a signature every two or three years. Fender’s probably like, 'Boy, if you don’t be quiet…!' But I don’t care!
In a wildest dreams/money no object/no holds barred type of situation, what features would you put in your next Fender signature model, if there was to be one?
"I don’t even know! I think it’s more so the design things because it’s kind of limited with the things you can do with it, right? I don’t want to [add] too many things. I think it’d overwhelm me. The fuzz was one of my favourites.
"I think it would be more different materials that I would use. I’d probably use some obscure stone or something! [laughs]"
- Steve Lacy’s Fender “People Pleaser” Stratocaster retails at £1,299 / $1,399 and is available to order now at: www.fender.com