Reading back through reviews of these French masterpieces, they’re peppered with words and phrases such as ‘stupidly well built’ and ‘perfection’.
And while it’s been a couple of years since we last had our hands on one, nothing has changed in that regard. Actually, that’s not quite right. They’ve got even better.
Vigier certainly isn’t the only maker out there creating its own take on the Stratocaster, but marry these quality levels with the prices, and despite a recent price increase - in line with virtually every other brand - we’ve barely got this Expert Classic Rock out of its Hiscox case and we’re already wondering how we can keep it.
On the one hand, the Expert follows the basic Fender blend: alder body with maple bolt-on neck/fingerboard, three single coils and vibrato. But the two-piece French alder body is given a more modern, sleeker outline, especially the horns, while its depth is slightly thinner than Fender at 42mm. It’s beautifully shaped, not a line - or rather curve - out of place.
Strapped on, it says ‘old lightweight Fender’, too. That observation continues to the one-piece neck, except again it’s been through Patrice Vigier’s stylistic mangle. The ‘skunk stripe’ on the back of the subtly flamed quarter-sawn neck is graphite - there’s no truss rod, but this 10/90 construction is well proven.
The face has a 300mm (11.8-inch) camber, flatter than most bolt-ons but virtually identical, of course, to Gibson’s 305mm (12-inch) standard. Frets are classed as medium-gauge stainless steel but edge into the jumbo category at approximately 2.38mm by 1.2mm. Each fret stops just before the curved fingerboard edge and the ends of each slot are filled.
The hardened zero fret is actually six pieces: should any wear occur, which can cause slight ‘pings’ as you heavily bend in lower positions or use the vibrato, you can simply replace the individual piece, not the whole fret.
Behind that is a Teflon ‘nut’ that’s really a string guide, and above that is a furry black ‘caterpillar’ that reduces any dead-string resonance that can cause issues at high gains and volume levels.
Then there are the two string trees - the top two strings loop through what are string ball-ends. Ridiculous ‘Heston Blumenthal’-like detail, to use a recipe analogy. Similar detail is applied to the vibrato, which pivots on two ball-bearing loaded posts. The saddles lock in place once intonated and the break-point under each string is a steel ‘roller’, which doesn’t rotate.
The arm, like a Floyd Rose, pushes in and is screwed in place with a threaded collar. Tuners have dual-height string posts, the low E and A higher than the other four, with over-sized knurled locks on the rear.
A trio of the German boutique Amber single coils replaces the DiMarzios offered on the other Expert models, and these have a contemporary magnet stagger, while the middle-placed pickup is much lower than either the neck or bridge.
Controls are simple - master volume and tone - but the five-way switch (a Schaller Mega switch) differs from the Fender standard by offering neck and bridge pickups in parallel in the centre position, not the usual solo middle pickup. A final detail is the Neutrik locking jack output socket placed on the treble-side base. Whip the scratchplate off and you see another level of detail. The cavity routing is perfect and coated with copper conductive paint. As your grandma would say, “You could eat your dinner off that.”
Plugging in the Expert, there’s little doubt what you’re listening to. There are plenty of highs - it’s a new guitar - although kicking into a driven Vox you can almost hear the sweat dripping off the club walls. It’s anything but modern and the volume alone does a nice job of sweetening the highs as you just pull it back a shade.
We all drive our Strats differently and if you rely on different tone control combinations you don’t get that here - observation, not criticism. To our ears, and in our setup, the high string-response seems a little soft, certainly more than our reference Fender, but it’s not unique in that regard.
The neck pickup is beautifully vocal; the bridge oozes bluesy grind. Back off the gain and plug into a cleaner Fender and we’d happily take this one out.
Of course, if you use your middle single coil solo then you’ll have to get out the soldering iron, but the more Tele-like bridge and middle mix is a very credible voice, although the low placement of the middle pickup does seem to over-egg the bite for that bridge and middle mix and pull down the volume a little on the neck and middle. Great if you’re moving from lead to rhythm, less so if you use the guitar in a perhaps more vintage-y setting.
Ask a group of top chefs to create a classic recipe and each would add their own taste and spice. We might prefer one dish over another; your taste may differ. And then there’s the cost of that dish: it might taste amazing, but it also might be a once-in-a-lifetime supper rather than an everyday experience.
Well, super-chef Patrice Vigier can certainly cook. Yes, his Expert is his most Strat-like dish - it uses the same ingredients - but its taste, while richly imbued with classic references, has a note of modernism, perfect function and intonation, and some slightly different sonic flavours. Chez Vigier definitely deserves a visit!