Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by KLB, Apr 30, 2005.


  1. KLB

    KLB Member

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    I have been enjoying an Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster since Wednesday April 27th. I’d like to share my subjective opinions and give you some objective measurements.

    I have been a big EJ fan since first seeing him in April 1979. I didn’t expect to get an EJ Strat quite this soon after it was announced, however, the anticipation got the better of me, and I was fortunate to find a Black one in stock at Musician’s Friend the previous Saturday when the G.A.S. attack struck.

    Knowing the EJ tone, it came as no surprise that this guitar would be capable of producing a brite tone with harmonic sparkle. Given sufficient skill – and I’m still working on that! – it is easy to create the cascading harmonics, simulated Koto and other tones EJ is known for when using this guitar. Pinch harmonics are very easy. Yet, this guitar isn’t thin or harsh. I would say it has a medium body with good, but not overpowering bass -- just the way I like it. I look forward to the nitro finish curing and hardening as these desirable properties will only get better.

    It came with what appear to be 10-46 nickel plated steel strings. (The specs call for 10-52, but there’s no way these strings are that big on the bottom.) The bridge was setup to be floating 3/32”, with 5 springs. However, I prefer the bridge down to the body, so I immediately adjusted the setup and intonation. Action height was low, just under 4/64”, without buzzing when picking moderately. I raised it slightly, more so toward the 6th string as I play fingerstyle sometimes.

    PICKUPS
    The ’54 style AL3 neck pickup has relatively weaker magnets than the AL5 middle and bridge. It measures 5.9K resistance. Whether clean or distorted, it rings with clarity. Yes, the pole pieces are slightly larger than the other two, .21” vs. .195 to be exact. I had always wondered how EJ got that certain lightly distorted rhythm tone with his Fender amps. This neck pickup is probably a big part of the equation.

    I rarely use the middle pickup by itself. In combination with the neck or bridge, it helps produce an excellent “quack” that has more top end presence than I’m used to with most other pickup sets. I like that, since it will mean I don’t have to fidget with the tone control when switching from the neck to #4 position. The middle PU measures 6.5K.

    The bridge pickup is clear and articulate, and even with it’s dedicated tone control full up, it isn’t harsh. It measures 6.4K. I usually roll off some treble on a Strat bridge pickup, so having the guitar already wired for this was a pleasure. I got some of the best tones yet from a Germino Club 40. This guitar and bridge pickup mated well with a Cornish G2 for that plexi meltdown tone at a reasonable volume through the Club 40. Again, it is capable of getting easier pinch harmonics than I’m used to.

    All pickups were adjusted around 7.5/64” from the 1st string side pole piece and 9/64” on the 6th. This was measured with the string pressed at the 12th fret.

    When I change the strings, I’ll pull the pickguard to confirm if these are special 375K pots as I’ve seen mentioned in another review.

    NECK
    The neck measures .860” behind the 1st fret and .960” behind the 12th. Nut width at the 1st fret is 1.675” (closer to 1-11/16” than 1-5/8”) and the neck is 2.03” at the 12th fret. It has a very slight “V” that becomes a “C” around the 8th fret. I found the neck shape comfortable, though I would actually prefer a bit more “V” and overall neck thickness. As many have mentioned, the finish is quite sticky. I plan to go over it with a bit of Naptha on an old rag, which is supposed to quickly get rid of the sticky feel. Later, I might give it the MicroMesh treatment to create a satin finish.

    The frets are not as tall as I would like! They measure about .042” high and .105” wide. This was one of the surprises of this guitar. While they aren’t as short as vintage frets, they certainly aren’t as tall as new 6105 or 6100, which are about .055” high. The medium fret height in combination with the sticky finish means the playability isn’t as good as it can be. The frets are crowned and polished very well, especially for a production guitar. By the way, several of the boxes on the QC hang tag are marked “CS”, which implies the Custom Shop, for what that’s worth.

    The neck wood is sturdy. It takes a LOT of effort to get any pitch change by bending the neck. The maple is about as perfectly straight grained as I’ve ever seen, and though lacking any figure, the fingerboard surface has a sheen resembling tiny fish scales from the all the little facets in the wood. I like it!

    BODY
    The tummy and forearm cuts aren’t as deep as I expected based on the stated specs for this guitar. I’d say they are just average. The black finish is mirror smooth and I could see no flaws. After comparing with another S-guitar that weighs 7.2 lbs, I estimate the weight on the EJ Strat at 7.25 to 7.5 pounds. (The next time I go to Fedex I’ll take it and weight it on their scale.) The neck pocket is tight.

    TUNERS
    I like these tuners. Besides the staggered height, the string slots get progressively smaller going from the 6th to the 1st strings. The ferrules around each tuner post are very tightly pressed into the headstock and fit the post snugly. They are smooth and backlash free.

    BRIDGE
    The string ball ends actually stick out a little bit on the steel block. I’ve not seen this before. With the Callaham trem block, for example, the ball end inserts deep enough that it is flush with the end of the block. The saddles have the typical Fender trait that the slots the strings pass through aren’t long enough to clear the string, causing a break angle and potential breakage point. The Callaham saddles are better, imo. Fortunately, the intonation screw lengths are all matched to the target action height such that they are flush, or barely stick up above the saddles.

    CONCLUSIONS
    This guitar is pleasing in a number of ways. It has fabulous pickups that help produce the EJ tone if you’ve got the amps (and CHOPS!) to go with them. The weight is comfortable. The tuners, bridge, controls and other tweaks are just what you’d do to make your reissue ’57 Strat a better guitar. Intonation and tuning stability are first class. I wish the frets were taller, and I can’t wait for the finish to cure. It is an excellent Alder/Maple Strat, even if you aren’t into Eric Johnson. I’d say the quality represents a great value in the Fender line. You’ll have to spend a lot more money on a new boutique guitar to equal or exceed the quality, and you still won’t get those fine pickups.

    By comparison, it doesn’t have the MOJO of a Morgaine ’57 that I was fortunate to find used recently. The Morgaine has a satin finished neck that goes from .980 to 1”, with a 1.63” nut and more pronounced “V” gradually going to a “C” taper. I love this neck! The body has deep tummy and forearm cuts. The tuners are locking vintage-style staggered Gotoh Kluson. The previous owner put in some Alan Hamel ’54 pickups and NOS tone controls and caps. The bridge has a Callaham block and Allparts titanium saddles. The fretwork was PLEK’d by Joe Glaser. OK, so this is a hand-made guitar with hours and hours of extra TLC applied to it. Of course it is better than the EJ Strat. But honestly, not that much better! Bought new, the Morgaine ‘57 and all the tweaks would cost more than twice the EJ Strat, and be hard to get.

    The EJ is readily available with only a short wait. I think Fender has a winner with this guitar. I give many thanks to EJ and his tone-partners at Fender for laboring to bring it to the market. I wish they’d done it sooner. This is the guitar that I tried unsuccessfully to make my ’89 reissue ’57 become.

    EJ… You ‘da Man!
     
  2. sanhozay

    sanhozay klon free since 2009

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    Benchmark review!

    Can you post some pics?
     
  3. Kappy

    Kappy Member

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    Nice review, KLB. Thanks for posting. I've had a passing interest in this guitar since I heard about it. It's not likely I'll buy one any time soon, but I will definitely look forward to the GAS turnaround when these start showing up in the emporium and on ebay. If I see one at the right price I may just go for it.

    Cheers,

    Dave
     
  4. Mark Kane

    Mark Kane Silver Supporting Member

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    How does it do staying in tune using the wang bar?
     
  5. KLB

    KLB Member

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    Mark. Hello. It is good for an out of the box Fender...but it wasn't Tyler good. When I want to whammy, that is what I grab.
    (You know which one!)

    With some TLC at the nut, and some sort of lube, it could be even better.

    How is the Baton Rouge Railway Construction project coming along? I've heard good things...

    Cheers,
    Ken
     
  6. KLB

    KLB Member

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    Thank you. I could have gushed with more subjectives, but that is just what it would have been. More Subjective.

    I don't have a digital camera or a means to post pictures.

    It is a shiny black strat with white pickguard, off-white pickup covers and knobs, and a dark tint neck. The case is gorgeous.

    One thing I really like about it is that the EJ Signature part is on the neck plate, out of sight.

    The guitar is "Austin-tatious" without being ostentatious.
    (Sorry, I couldn't resist) :D
     
  7. lv

    lv Supporting Member

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    Ken, great review. You should write for magazines man.

    :dude
     
  8. KLB

    KLB Member

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    Lou, thanks!

    Who needs magazines when we have the Gear Page?

    I've been leaving it on a music stand since it arrived. It is less sticky today. I am liking the frets better now. The top note resonance is fuller today. I think this may be because the finish in the neck pocket is hardening and settling in.

    I forgot to mention, the rectangular part of the heel of the neck extends out about 1/2" before the neck carve begins. At the same time, the body seems more rounded in the heel area than usual. While not as slick as those boutique guitars having contoured neck joints, it is plenty comfortable for playing high up the neck. The 12" radius is just right for me.

    Also, the back plane of the headstock (parallel to the neck line) is perhaps 1/8" below the back of the neck. That, and the headstock being a tad thinner than usual give some extra down pressure on the strings. There are many subtleties on this guitar that make it different, yet within the Stratocaster formula.

    The neck pickup magnet stagger is different than the middle and bridge, which look to be about the same.

    - Ken
     
  9. Improviser

    Improviser Supporting Member

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    Excellent review, thank you.

    Looking forward to the followup with further descriptions of routing and electronics 'under the pickguard'.

    Geoff
     
  10. ToneKing

    ToneKing Member

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    Great review, looking forward to my local dealer getting one in. It should be soon.
     
  11. tonemandan

    tonemandan Member

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    Hey Ken. Couldn't you be a little more specific?....

    Just yankin your chain bro. Great review by a true tone connoisseur.

    By the way you are right about the Morgaine. That axe has been haunting me ever since I played it. I don't see how a strat could get any better.

    Dan
     
  12. Ayan

    Ayan Member

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    I was reading Ken's review again -- great job! -- and I agree 100% with his description of the guitar, although I'd say that the neck on mine is on the large side (the largest now out of all my guitars) and I can definitely tell it has a "V" shape to it. I received my EJ Strat yesterday from MF after some lost soul had returned it, so I got it another 10% cheaper for being an open box item.

    Everything about the guitar seems very nice, with the possible exception of the fret height. Like Ken, I wish it had taller fretwire. All my other guitars have been refretted with either 6100 or 6105, so it is a bit of a workout to go to the EJ and try to do wild bends, especially considering the feel of the thick finish on the fretboard.

    While I am not afraid of having guitars refretted, I wonder how a refret would look on the EJ, since it has that very dark tinted finish on the neck. It would probably be hard to not make the refret show, I suspect. Maybe we'll see.

    Cheers,

    Gil
     
  13. KLB

    KLB Member

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    Gil,
    Hello, and welcome to the thread!

    I was just playing the EJ Strat this morning.
    As the finish cures, it gets better and better!

    It takes patience to allow a new nitro-lacquer guitar to open up, and not everyone wants to wait. Good score on the EJ at 10% off. What color did you get?

    I'm getting used to the fret height. It is easier to do slides and chord work with the medium height.

    The frets were installed before the neck was sprayed. After the level, crown and polish, there is still lacquer on the sides of the frets. I can accept this from a production instrument as it is, but not a custom shop or boutique guitar.

    When I change strings, I'm going to remove the lacquer from the sides of each fret. This contributes to extra friction when doing bends since the lacquer is sticky, especially compared to the metal. I'll report back here when I'm done with that.

    Also, apparently the pots are standard 250K, not special 375K. I'll confirm that. I'm going to mod mine so the middle pickup is on the neck tone control too. By itself, it can be too brite.

    - Ken
     
  14. Ayan

    Ayan Member

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    Hi Ken,

    I am sure the finish will cure, but what I am also sure is that -- provided the guitar is a keeper, which it looks like it will be, but I have 44 days before I need to decide -- the back of a kitchen sponge will do wonders to "help the neck." :D I have done that before and it works like a charm.

    Yes, you can definitely tell the finish is applied after the frets and nut were installed -- I had seen that during the NAMM show, the frets had that golden glitter to them. However, they did a good job of getting the finish off the top of the frets. Other production Strats, or I should say at least my now gone 1982 "Dan Smith" Strat had finish all over the frets. I too may just score the finish off the sides, it will only help I think. Let me know how it works out for you.

    I agree that you can adjust to playing lower frets, but if I had it my way, the frets would be 10 mills taller. :)

    Color? Black, of course! To me, black is the coolest color with a maple board Strat, bar none. My first Strat was black with maple, because I was a huge Eric Clapton fan during the 70s, so I've come home again. I put some pictures of mine here:

    http://photobucket.com/albums/y52/ayanphotobucket/EJ Strat/

    I liked your "fish scale" reference. My guitar has marine ancestors too -- I think you can see some of that in the pictures -- and while it doesn't have a flamed neck, there are some pretty patterns there. I wouldn't mind if the neck were completely plain though, what I like is its "viagara vibe" (i.e., the stiffness of it :dude).

    Cheers,

    Gil
     
  15. KLB

    KLB Member

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    There are many types of kitchen sponges. Thin and rough. Spongy with a rougher cleaning side, which I assume you mean.

    Will the spongy side make a difference?

    Or, I could just take the neck off and put it in the dishwasher? :p

    - Ken
     
  16. Ayan

    Ayan Member

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    Ken, I am talking about these generic type of sponges that are yellow on one side, and have a thin green layer on the back, so that sounds like "spongy with a rough side to it." :D All I know is that I buy like two in a pack at Ralph's for maybe a buck or two...

    Don't know whether the sponge side would make a difference, maybe if you put some Ajax on it? :) Seriously though, the green side works reall quickly, so you want to be gentle with it and work slowly. An alternative is to use automotive rubbing compound, but that stuff works slowly and leaves a mess behind.

    In the case of the EJ guitar, because it has the decals over the finish, I would probably just do the back of the neck and the fretboard. In a Tele I have that has the decal under the finish, however, I took the neck off, took the tuners off and did the whole thing. Originally, it was almost as glossy as the EJ Strat, but 5 minutes after I'd started on it, it looked just like an American Series satin finished neck.

    Gil

    The dishwasher method is...

    PS: .... not recommended!
     
  17. Joe Boy

    Joe Boy Member

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    Great review, and loved all the positive remarks. Although I missed seeing it at the Namn, your write up and the pics I have seen give me a great idea of what one would expect the EJ to actually sound and play like in a real world situation.

    Very informative, and articulate. I can tell you love guitars..:)
    Although for me...and a mate for my Paul...

    ....it still comes down to either the EJ, or a 61re. S.G.....???
     
  18. KLB

    KLB Member

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    After months of procrastination, I finally removed the lacquer from the sides of the frets on the EJ Strat. It plays easier now, especially bending and vibrato.

    The fret height is no longer an issue. I may be a convert to med/low fret height now based on other playability improvements such as chording intonation accuracy and ease of sliding fingers across frets, etc..

    Here's how I did it. It took 2.5 hours while listening to a couple of CDs.

    First, I used an X-acto knife at a low angle nearly parallel with the fretboard to cut the lacquer where it meets the fret at the base. Then, I used a small flatblade screwdriver to scrape the lacquer away. If you try this, be aware that you can easily slip and scratch the fret surface and/or fingerboard. Next, I polished the frets on all surfaces with 0000 steel wool. I did not bother to protect the lacquer on the fretboard as I planned to buff that with steel wool, too, along with the back of the neck. Last, after vacuuming the steel wool dust, I used a small bit of Naptha on a cloth to rub the neck finish/frets and remove any residual gunk.
    I restrung with Snake Oil Vintage 10-46 strings.

    I am very pleased with this guitar! I don't recall if I mentioned the total guitar weight before. It is exactly 7.5 lbs. It stays in tune better than any Strat I've owned, and the various tones are appealing.

    For those concerned about the high "E" string not having enough down pressure and causing a buzz on the open note, it is important (as always) to check if the neck is too straight, or even back bowed slightly. It's been humid in Georgia, and my EJ neck needed a little bit of relief. Once I did that, the open high E tone improved, along with the "D" string. I don' think a string tree is necessary.

    This EJ Strat is a keeper and is going to age VERY well.

    Cheers,
    Ken
     
  19. Lamont

    Lamont Member

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    KLB ,looks like ya got to it before i mentioned it --A cpl generous wipeings with naptha on the neck and body will remove that tackness that comes on these .Got that tip indirectly from Allan Hamal,,I am digging the EJ ,very good out of the box playability and intonation ,,and VERY consistent,which is real nice .And yes, the case is the coolest !!Love the headstock and the tuners.
     

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