If you’re a guitar player (like me) you’re very aware of the Fender Stratocaster, Leo Fender’s iconic guitar introduced in 1954 and since utilized and endorsed by top players around the world. The Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul, SG and Flying V are the most recognizable guitars and coveted by amateur and professional musicians alike. Forget those dorky video games…nothing says Rock Star like one of these guitars running through a nasty big amp with the volume set to 11.
So how can they improve on a design that’s proven the test of time? Electronics of course. Leave the basic guitar as-is but add some amazing electronics to allow musicians to change tone or tuning at the flip of a switch. I purchased one of the first production run Gibson Les Paul Robot guitars a couple of years ago as an investment (I sold it a year later and made about 200 bucks after deciding it wouldn’t increase in value for at least 150 years) and was dismayed how gimmicky the Tronical tuning system appeared to be and how incredibly stupid it was to offer servo-motor driven machine heads to access a number of preset tunings. It was similar to the development of a steam powered bicycle. An interesting idea but who the hell really needs it? Such is the Tronical automated tuning system.
So the Fender guitar company decided to take a stab at automated tuning but took a different and much smarter approach. The result was their Fender Stratocaster VG which does the job nicely. This guitar is a U.S. made American Series Stratocaster with a Roland VG bridge pickup and doesn’t require special cables or patch cords to utilize. Just plug it in and it works.
So what’s so cool about this guitar? It offers 37 output variations based on: five modeling modes (Normal, Modeled Stratocaster, Telecaster, Humbucking Pickups and Acoustic); four alternate tuning choices; and a 12-string modeling option. All this is accessible via two small control knobs beside the Volume and Tone pots and supports a combination of modes and tunings. The preset tunings are standard tuning, open G tuning and D modal (why they included that one is beyond me) and does it all electronically without changing the physical tuning of the strings. This can be a bit disconcerting when using the guitar at very low amp volume as you can hear the actual strings tuning along with the selected electronic tuning. But who the hell doesn’t play LOUD enough to drown that out anyway!
But the big bummer is that Fender discontinued manufacturing these cool guitars in April of 2009 so the only way to get your hands on one is on eBay, Craigslist etc. They were originally offered for around $1700 and have come down substantially in the last year or so. One of the guys at Long & McQuade (Port Coquitlam) told me that they had a Strat VG for over a year before they eventually sold it for below cost (about $1100). This isn’t really surprising because guitar players are notoriously indifferent to modeling guitars, amps or anything that even smells remotely gimmicky. That’s unfortunate because the Strat VG is a spectacular guitar and should have realized a larger audience.
But that just makes it cheaper for the smart musicians like us to get one, right?