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In-Depth & Hands-On

REVIEW: Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster

Disclosure Policy | Fri, Jun 29, 2007 | 590 |

Fender-Eric-Johnson-StratocasterModel Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster

Intro The long awaited Eric Johnson Stratocaster was introduced in January of 2005, and has received accolades across the board ever since. Walk into your local music store, take one off the rack, and you’ll quickly see why. Simply put, the guitar is beautifully built, with all the vintage vibe and traditional Strat-appeal you could ask for.

With a deep-contoured, lightweight Alder body, single-piece quartersawn neck, a set of three “special design” Eric Johnson single-coil pickups, not to mention a host of other customizations, the EJ Strat feels and plays a lot more like a true Custom Shop guitar than a reasonably priced production model––but that’s exactly what it is.

The instrument was apparently designed by Custom Shop builder Michael Frank-Braun, in collaboration with Johnson himself, and the pedigree shows. For a production guitar, this thing has CS written all over it.

If you’re in the market for a truly high-quality Stratocaster with vintage styling and some modern amenities, you’ll definitely want to read on.

Specs

  • Two-piece ’57-style lightweight Alder body
  • One-piece quartersawn Maple neck (soft “V” shape, Nitro finish)
  • Maple fretboard with 12“ Radius and 21 highly polished MJ frets
  • Extra smooth neck-to-headstock volute
  • ’57-style body cavities and taggered vintage style tuners (no need for string tree)
  • Vintage tremolo w/silver painted block and ‘57-style string recess
  • Three special design Eric Johnson Pickups w/countersunk mounting screws

The guitar also sports Fender’s Thin Nitrocellulose Lacquer finish, and is available in two-color Sunburst (shown here,) Black, Candy Apple Red, and White Blonde.

Ships with a deluxe Blonde hardshell case w/black ends, a black interior, strap, and a cable.

What I Liked The big story here is what you get for your money––in the last few months I’ve spent quality time with just about every production Strat model on the market, and in my opinion the Eric Johnson Stratocaster is about as good as it gets in the sub-$2,000 price range.

Period.

Granted, depending on your neck/fretboard preference the EJ still may not be the guitar for you, and there are certainly some fantastic Strats in the $1600 range if and when you can find them––take a look at some of the ”thin-skin“ ’62 Reissues… Mmmmm––but if you’re looking for a guitar that blends old-school Strat style & quality with a number of modern conveniences to boot, the EJ Stratocaster is at the top of the list.

Can you say resonant? Strum a few chords on the EJ Strat before you plug it in and you know you’re in for a treat––the guitar absolutely sings, even without amplification. Now I’m no luthier, but I suppose this is the effect of a top-shelf alder body paired with a true quartersawn maple neck, and perhaps even the complete lack of string trees. Whatever it is, it says loads about the quality of this guitar.

Plug it in and you’ve got a Strat that’s dripping with sustain, and a truly ear-pleasing variety of traditional yet somehow unique singlecoil Stratocaster tones. Between the three modified Custom Shop pickups, and that extra-thin Nitro finish, this thing is a veritable tone machine.

In fact, one of Johnson’s customizations––the re-wiring of the middle pickup tone control over to the bridge pickup––is one of those long-standing mods that really should at least be an option on Strats coming straight from Fender… there is very little downside to this tweak (how many of you spend time fiddling with the tone control of your middle pickup?) and the upside is a truly useable third pickup, with a darker, more punchy tone.

Another highlight of the EJ Strat is its gorgeous, vintage-tinted, Nitro-finished neck––now I’ll come right out and say that I’m not a big personal fan of the EJ’s soft ”V“ shape profile (it simply doesn’t fit right in my hands,) but I know plenty of folks who love it, and my own preference for a vintage ”C“ profile in no way diminishes the high quality and extreme playability of this neck.

I’ve read user reviews that complained of an annoying stickiness to the neck, usually attributed to the Nitrocellulose finish, but I experienced none of this myself. And while Fender’s own specs mention only ”maple“ in describing the neck material, the guitar I played boasted a beautiful flame pattern across the back of the neck and into the headstock.

When it comes to the fretboard, the Eric Johnson Strocaster steps right into modern territory––while the rest of the instrument exudes a thoroughly retro feel, the flat 12” radius fretboard makes for truly fast and accurate bends, and allows for what is arguably the lowest action I’ve come across on an otherwise vintage-style Strat.

Once again, if you’re a fan of Fender’s early, and much rounder 7.25“ neck radius (like me,) you may not take a liking to the EJ Strat’s downright flat fingerboard (we’re squarely into Les Paul territory here,) but it’s really just a matter of preference. This beauty absolutely excels at fast fret work.

Oh yeah, and forget those skinny, finger-eating vintage wires… the EJ is armed with 21 incredibly comfortable Medium Jumbo frets––the kind of modification you will find on the vintage instruments of many a serious player.

Rounding it all out, the Eric Johnson Stratocaster is just plain good to look at. All four of its available finishes––2-color Sunburst, Black, Candy Apple Red, and White Blonde––are lovely, traditional Strat colors. But on top of that, the EJ’s extra-thin Nitrocellulose finish is going to age like a fine bottle of wine––getting more complex, unique, and personal to the player as time goes by.

What I Didn’t Like To be honest, I can’t say there’s a whole lot about the Eric Johnson Stratocaster that really rubbed me the wrong way. My only issues with the guitar are ones of personal preference, and certainly not anything that could be considered a true gripe.

What stops the EJ Strat from being my perfect Strat is simply the fact that I much prefer Fender’s vintage 7.25” neck radius and comfy “C” shaped profile to the flatter 12′ radius and “soft V” profile of the EJ. These are minor issues however, and I have no qualms in stating that for many, many guitarists, the modern conveniences of the Eric Johnson Stratocaster will end up being just what the doctor ordered.

In the end, there’s really not much to dislike about this guitar.

Final Word Custom Shop quality in a production level instrument is kind of the holy grail of guitar buying, and it’s the reason that many of us can spend literally months hunting down, checking out, and madly tossing aside instruments in our search for the perfect guitar––the one that absolutely must go home with us today.

Simply put, Fender’s Eric Johnson Stratocaster is one of those guitars.

Before you blow $1200 on an American Deluxe, before you mortgage your house for that Custom Shop Relic, go out and spend some quality time with an EJ Strat––you won’t be disappointed.