Are '79 strats as bad as their reputations suggests?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by coyoteblue, Jan 2, 2006.

  1. coyoteblue

    coyoteblue Member

    Feb 26, 2005
    Peterborough, ON
    I love the look of the late 70's strats but hesitate to buy one because I've heard they're inferior guitars, that they're too heavy, lacking in tone. Is this an earned reputation?
  2. juniorspecial

    juniorspecial Member

    Mar 2, 2004
    Ann Arbor

    People can argue about it all day, and do.

    But, the three-bolt necks that were used on 1970s Strats caused tuning and stability problems. The neck on my 1972 would wiggle in the pocket when I did finger vibrato.

    Think about buying a 70s Strat as you would think about buying a 1970s General Motors product, or a 1970s video deck, and you get the picture.

    Don't spend your money chasing a mirage. Get a more recent Strat.

  3. monstermike

    monstermike Member

    May 31, 2005
    Some of them are. Concrete bodies, no contours, tweezily tone, and horrible neck pockets.

    The 79 I had was beautiful - not too heavy, with a sweet, liquid tone. The neck did shift, but drilling it out for four bolts and careful filling of the gaps in the neck pocket (sawdust and epoxy? I'm not sure what the repairman used) made it as stable as any Strat I've played, and increased the sustain substantially. I wish I still had it.

    I would personally think about buying a 70's Strat like I would about buying a silverface amp - there are great ones out there, but even the great ones might need some tweaking to maximize their potential.
  4. OldSchool

    OldSchool Senior Member

    Sep 19, 2004
    United States of America

    Maybe back when they were bargains.........I remember when you could buy and sell 75-79 strats all day long for $400-500 not that long ago. For the going price now you can get a nice Eric Johnson Strat or even something like a Grosh............
  5. DonW

    DonW Velocity Town Angel Silver Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2005
    Ottawa but not Canada
    I learned the hard way. In the 70's not only were stock guitars a victim of poor design & quality(for the most part), everybody screwed with them. There may be some cherries out there but I'd bet they're in the minority.
  6. johnnyguitar

    johnnyguitar Long in the tooth Silver Supporting Member

    Jan 4, 2002
    Golden Colo
    It's not just the necks and bodies.the pickups have to be considered too..I had a 79 that I had the neck radius compounded and fretted with jumbos..and new pups and it was great...hope the thief that pinched her either has developed warts on their playing hand or found a nice home for her..most are so heavy it hurts but some of the ash natural ones had great tone..especially the non tremelo models....
  7. Axemeister

    Axemeister Member

    Jan 27, 2003
    La La Land, CA.
    I have owned several CBS era Strats, and I still have a great '79 hard tail. It is probably my favorite Strat, and I own a whole bunch of them.

    The negatives are obvious. The era was not notable for overall quality, but I think that stereotyping all of them this way is not totally valid. You need to be able to accept the fact that they feel a bit different and have their own wierd mojo....Yes, most are heavy, with a thick finish, and the body contours are not well defined on most of them. However, IMO, there are more than a few nice ones too. They seemed to vary quite a bit. The hand finishing and inconsistent quality control resulted in some being much better than others.

    The nice neck on my '79 are great and it plays like a dream. The body is a bit oversized on the contours compared to a vintage strat, but I am a big guy and I find it very comfy. It is a great player.

    The three bolt neck is not loved by most. If you work the neck hard, pull it, or throw your guitar around, they are not as stable, but I have really never had any trouble. I really do find the micro tilt and bullet truss easy to use on a set up. By the way, one trick that I have used on all of my 70's three bolt strats is to put a small drop of white glue in the joint before doing a set up. I also always put a bit of toothpick in the three bolt holes with some glue every time that I had to remove and reattach the neck. (Yeah, I just went overboard in a preventative way due to the reputation of the three bolt joint).

    So, I would not rule all of the 79's Strats out, but it really depends on the price point...This is the big issue.

    IMO, they are grossly overpriced right now. I bought my last '79 about 15 years ago for about $350. These days I have seen them selling for as much as $900 or more. At that price, they do not make much sense. There are too many great Strats and other guitars that you can find at that price level.
  8. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Member

    Nov 14, 2005
    Atlanta, GA
    '79 Strats used to be crap. Now that they're over 20 years old they have acquired mysterious 'Fender vintage mojo'. A '79 Strat that was worth $300 in '85 or '95 is now selling for $3000 because of this. :NUTS

    And I agree with what Hamertoe said. Just about every one of them I've seen has been modded to some degree either from people chasing an elusive SRV tone with them or people Van Halen-ing them in the 80's. They were popular for modding back then before Ibanez, Charvel, Kramer, and others hit the market with metalized SuperStrats.
  9. Unburst

    Unburst Member

    Jan 19, 2004
    Portland, OR
    Don't believe the hype, there are no absolutes in the guitar world.

    I grew up playing a late '70s Strat and never had a problem with it.

    Ditto for Norlin era Gibson, I had an '81 LP Deluxe that was great in every way.
  10. RickC

    RickC Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    Boston, MA
    although the late 70's Strats have a justifiable reputation for tending towards heavy, I *have* played several that were absolute feathers.

  11. Karmateria

    Karmateria Member

    Nov 27, 2005
    The crux of the matter is exactly this: there were so many of them made, and made so quickly, that it is inevitable that some were great. Of course, the flip side is that a large number were not so great.

    When I heard Jol Dantzig speak at a clinic recently, he related a story about going to the Fender factory in the 70s, and standing in a room with a thousand or more strats in process... they were making 1500 each day!

  12. cmatthes

    cmatthes Member

    Feb 24, 2003
    DC Metro 'Burbs
    If that's what you want, look long and hard, and you CAN find a good(even a GREAT) one. I have played a number of fine Strats from that era - a fair number of boat anchor dogs, too, but really - if they made THAT many guitars, there are going to be a large number of nice ones in the mix. They are going to be hit or miss, but that's part of the satisfaction when you do find a good one.

    Honestly, in my opinion (and this is my opinion!) the new production stuff is a lot better overall, and you could get a far better CS 70s reissue made for the price the originals are going for. I agree that the late '70s stuff has risen in price more than I'd expected or feel it's truly worth recently, but that's largely a factor of the guys/gals from my generation who remember seeing them hanging on music store walls and in the hands of many players back then when they were new.

    I'd recommend looking locally so that you can get your hands on as many as possible - I'm fortunate enough to live in a decent-sized city and have a number of large cities within a short drive, so there is a plethora of vintage, used and pawn shops nearby. If you're not, the internet is a good resource too, but you won't have the advantage of playing first. Sight unseen can be risky, but if you are buying from a reputable seller/dealer with an up-front understanding about your expectations, good communication and clear understanding of any return policies/review period, you may make out just fine.

    Good luck with whatever road you choose, but as with many things, maybe the only way to cure your jones for a late 70's vintage Strat may be to actually own one!

    ** Also - wanted to add that two of the best LPs I've owned (and I've owned CShops, RIs, 50s LPs, etc) were Norlin-era "dogs": a '78 Deluxe and an '81 Custom. Oddly enough, both were stamped "Second" for finish flaws I never found...
  13. lhallam

    lhallam Member

    Mar 4, 2004
    Had a '70's strat.

    Playability was good
    Intonation was good
    Stayed in tune very well unless you hit the whammy which would cause it to go sharp
    Tone was so-so. Nothing remarkable about it, didn't shimmer, didn't quack, no piano tones.
    Pups were underpowered.
    OK gtr, but if you are looking for a vintage strat sound, mine certainly didn't have it.
  14. sundaypunch

    sundaypunch Member

    Sep 12, 2004
    A pleasant peninsula
    Exactly. You are more likely to get a nice one in a '65 than a '75. They still made some exceptional guitars in the 70's. If you plan on buying one blindly from ebay w/o playing it first then you probably shouldn't expect an amazing guitar. I have owned a bunch of them and didn't buy the boat anchors. In general I like the 3-bolt stuff up until about 1974 w/ staggered pole pickups. I usually have avoided the later stuff only because of the affordability of the earlier 70's models (yes, they are climbing now).

    Any competent luthier should be able to set up a 3-bolt Strat and get it to play great if it's not in disrepair. The 3-bolt necks are plenty stable if you put a piece of sandpaper at the heel. I like jumbo frets so a good refret and nut can work wonders as well.

    I'm all about a good 70's Les Paul as well. I'd just never buy one without playing it first.
  15. sundaypunch

    sundaypunch Member

    Sep 12, 2004
    A pleasant peninsula
    I'd also agree that there are plenty of great new production guitars. As for whether they are better or worse than vintage guitars, I leave that argument for others. It's hard to argue about what will appreciate and what will depreciate though.

    I prefer to buy vintage in general. With $3000 so spend you can have something that will be worth $2000 in a few years or $4000. That makes it a simple choice for me.
  16. exodus

    exodus Member

    Sep 7, 2003
    Sweet Home Chicago
    I had a '77 that was ok, actually i liked the neck on it. But, I'd consider this:

    - IMO, they are waaayyy overpriced.
    - Consider resale. It might be harder to move a 70's strat given its bad rap.
    - From the 70's strats I've played, it might take a while to find a good one (like anything else I guess).

    My suggestion is to take the money you were going to spend on the '70s strat and custom build one just the way you want. There are so many part builders out there that you could put together an "ultimate" 70's strat with a nice neck profile, custom radius and a nice thin finish. You might even have a few bucks left over.
  17. Smokehouse

    Smokehouse Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Fort Worth, Texas
    I bought a brand new Strat in '73', what a crap guitar! It was lite, but the 3 bolt neck just plain sux. Anyone one paying "vintage" prices for these is just throwing money away....spend 3K on something a whole lot better !!! JMO
  18. alguit

    alguit Guest

    My first decent electric was a '79 Strat. Yes, I've come across better guitars since then, and I think that GC's charging a couple of thousand for these is beyond ridiculous, however, I've also heard some old recordings I did with that guitar, and it's sound really good! The pickups are among the glassiest sounding I've played, and that translated into sweet cleans; then, with a fuzz, the tones were fat and cutting at the same time.

    The neck on mine has never shifted, and I agree that the Micro-tilt and the bullet truss rod adjustment work very well.

    On the downside, it is a heavy guitar, the finish feels too thick, and even back then as a fat little kid, I thought the headstock was too big (and when I saw photos of vintage Strats I was tempted to cut mine down to size!).

    Ultimately, as others have pointed out, for the money these are commanding now, one can get a much better guitar.

    BTW, heavy guitars does not always equal a dead-sounding guitar, and on stage, that heaviness can translate into a more substantial tone. Again, on stage, this strat always had major impact, whereas my '52 RI Tele, a swamp ash beauty which weighs in at six pounds and nine ounces, is a delight to wear around my neck but does not have the bottom end to cut it on stage for many of my playing situations. Putting on Jay Monterose's compensated saddles helped, but the guitar is just too light for most of my stagework.
  19. smalahove

    smalahove Member

    Nov 1, 2005
    I owned a black 79 strat with rosewood fingerboard. I bought it mainly because it looked the part. The previous owner had changed the pickguard, which was orig. black, to a Fender CS white one. I fell immediately in love :-D
    But even if it looked good, it didn't get much playing time as it was way too heavy, the mics were to loud (in a bad way) and playability was so-so. I bought it for about the same price as a "new" AmSe would go for on the secondhand market, but today I'd definitaly would choose the latter.

    Lesson learned: guitars aren't *just* about looks ;-)
  20. michael30

    michael30 Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2005
    Veikkola, Finland
    The best thing about the '79 strat is the neck profile. The worst thing is the weight. Most of them are really heavy.

    You might want to look for a '79 neck on ebay and use newer parts for the rest.


    Here's my '79 (refinished, refretted with jumbos)


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