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John Page Classic Ashburn HSS review

Snapping at Fender’s heels

  • £1,649

Our Verdict

The HSS seems voiced for the journeyman player who needs to cover extra rock-edged ground.

Pros

  • Numerous ‘boutique’ twists.
  • Great-sounding bridge humbucker.
  • Everyman price.

Cons

  • A great HSS bolt-on, but there’s plenty of choice from other makers.

It’s little surprise that Fender’s classic bolt-on designs are the platform for considerably more than half the new guitars made today. 

There are plenty of pretty direct copies, aided by a parts business that seems to be growing yearly, often aged and relic’d to look like vintage pieces: all ‘better’ (so we’re told!) than the originals. What there is much less of, though, are more forward-looking, modern designs that might be based on those originals, but are clearly far from copies. John Page’s Classic range falls nicely into that latter category. 

Read more: Xotic California Classic XSC-2

No prizes for guessing where this guitar originates, but no-one is going to think you’re playing a Fender. The now eight-strong range centres on the original Strat-inspired Ashburn, of which we now have six versions, including one left-hander and a limited-edition model, and a pair of AJs. These include the 2017 additions: our Ashburn HSS and Special, while the second AJ comes in a similar Special makeover. 

Outwardly, like 2016’s Ashburn HH, the HSS is simply a pickup configuration change utilising a Bloodline by John Page vintage-style humbucker in the bridge position combined with a pair of JP-1 single coils. 

This model features a body shape that reduces the treble horn and opens out the cutaway a little, but otherwise the geometry is pretty similar to a Strat and, strapped-on, it feels like one, too. The number of subtle tweaks, however, give these Classic guitars their own feel. 

First, there’s that biggish, quite full-shouldered neck shape and flatter fingerboard radius. The heel is rounded and the neck bolts to the body, each bolt connecting to a nut inset in the neck. 

The Rivals

Fender’s 2017 American Professional range includes the standard three-single-coil Stratocaster, the Strat HSS Shawbucker and the Strat HH Shawbucker (all £1,399 with maple fingerboard; £1,429 with rosewood including a lightweight moulded case) with a raft of upgrades including new V-Mod pickups. Music Man’s three-single-coil Cutlass is its take on the Strat, while the Stingray features a similar platform with dual humbuckers. Expect to pay £1,779. While PRS is yet to take the wraps off its rumoured three-single-coil bolt-on, the twin humbucking (with coil-splits) CE 24 Satin kicks of its bolt-on range with street prices around £1,500. Vigier is another home for modern-style bolt-ons such as the Expert Classic Rock (£1,649).

The HSS uses a two-post Gotoh 510 vibrato with steel block saddles and rear-lock vintage-style tuners with staggered height posts. The HSS uses 500k pots, a .022 microfarad cap plus a cap and resistor treble bleed circuit, and there’s a pull/push switch on the tone control that splits the humbucker voicing its slug coil. It also ditches the dished output jack plate of the Strat for a thick metal side-mounted plate.  

Sounds

Of course, the HSS’s bridge ’bucker laps up the crunch on show here. It’s quite old-school, lightly potted and with a DC resistance of 8.18kohms, and excels at those modded late 70s rock sounds. For many players, it’ll be a perfect combo without touching the coil-split or the single coils. Further subtlety comes with the HSS’s treble bleed circuit, which is nicely chosen, retaining the crisp highs and losing a little mud as you turn down.

It doesn’t feel like the HSS is just a standard Ashburn with a bridge humbucker, for example: the guitar has its own character and voice. As we concluded in our most recent review of the AJ, the Classics have a serious ‘working guitar’ pro spec and feel about them.