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  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

Fender Road Worn Player Stratocaster Review

Fender Road Worn Player Stratocaster Review

One of the most significant guitar fashion trends in the last decade had undoubtedly been relic guitars. Although the trend's momentum has diminished compared to last decade, it still retains a certain level of popularity. Fender has undoubtedly been the primary force behind the emergence and direction of this trend. According to what I followed in the "Frontline" publications from those years, they had been doing controlled aging work since the 90s. Of course, back then, the process was limited to the Custom Shop level and remained so for a long time. However, the massive interest in these aged beauties, with demand not only from those who could afford the price of a Custom Shop guitar but also from a broader audience seeking more affordable options, naturally led Fender to produce a more accessible series. The result, as many of us know, was the Fender Road Worn series. I had the opportunity to try out the 50s and 60s Strats from that series and found them quite impressive, so I admittedly had a certain fondness for this guitar as well. This Road Worn Player series guitar references a guitar from much later years than the 50s and 60s. Frankly, I sense a nod to the 80s when old Strats were hot rodded with humbuckers in the bridge. There are some distinctly contemporary aspects where it significantly differs from the series' earlier models. Let's start examining the guitar together:

Fender Road Worn Player Stratocaster HSS

Body Wood: Alder

Neck/Body Joint: Bolt-on

Neck Wood: Maple (plain sawn)

Fingerboard Wood: Indian Rosewood

Scale Length: 25.5 inches

Neck Radius: 9.5 inches

Nut Width: 42 mm

Frets: Medium Jumbo

Bridge: Vintage-style 6-point tremolo

Electronics: Standard Strat; 1 volume, 2 tone, 5-way selector

Neck Pickup: Fender Texas Special

Middle Pickup: Fender Texas Special

Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Plus

Finish: Aged & Worn Nitrocellulose

Color: Candy Apple Red

First and foremost, I don't see the need to describe the guitar at length in general terms. It's a Stratocaster. Since its initial release in 1954, it has remained virtually unchanged, making it one of the few commercial products to achieve this. Whether it's a Fender or not, I'm sure you've played a Strat before, so you know what I mean. My goal is to describe what kind of Strat this is and discuss its pros and cons.

One of the first things that caught my attention in a positive way was the paint job. The light relic effects in certain areas are very well executed and tasteful. In some spots, you can see the underlying gold/bronze undercoat (note: Candy Apple Red is not a single application color; a metallic undercoat is applied underneath, similar to the goldtop LPs, to achieve the metallic red appearance). Additionally, the guitar still looks neat because the relicing hasn't been overdone. The final coat tinting (yellowing) stage (this process replicates the natural yellowing of nitrocellulose lacquer topcoats due to UV exposure and other wear), has also been done well. Some builders turns guitars in the yellow/brown mud. The relicing scenario is quite convincing.

Another aspect of the paint job that earned my respect is the overall thinness of the paint layers, including the filler, primer, paint coat, and clear (refer to the photos above). I can confidently label it as "thin skin." However, the subtlety of the relicing on the neck doesn't quite match the finesse on the body. It's not bad at all—it's actually quite good and satisfying—but it's not at the same level as the body. On the other hand, as I have mentioned in previous writings, unfinished maple appeals to me greatly, and this guitar's neck features a substantial amount of unfinished areas. The feel is fantastic, with a satin-like smoothness.

Neck of Fender Road Worn Player Stratocaster

Turning our focus to the neck, it features what Fender describes as a contemporary "C" profile. It feels slightly thin to me, but it's a neck that won't be frowned upon by fans of both thin and thick profiles. The rosewood fingerboard falls into the "not bad" category in terms of appearance. However, it lacks the rounded/rolled edges on the fret ends that its American cousins have, which would have made the guitar even more comfortable. Is this a significant loss? Not necessarily for a neck of this thinness. The neck radius is the typical modern Fender radii of 9.5 inches, which I personally appreciate. I find both 7.25 inches (too round) and 12 or 16 inches (too flat) have their pros and cons, so 9.5 inches works well for me.

The frets are typical Fender medium jumbos. I haven't had any major issues with them, but I can't help thinking it would have been nice if they had used Dunlop 6105 (tall&narrow) frets like they did on the Road Worn '50s models. As for the nut craftsmanship, I would describe it as standard—neither perfect nor poor. Still better than some Gibson LEs Pauls with >$2700 price tag. And how i wished it had 22 frets.

When discussing the natural tones of the guitar, it's important to first mention the typical 60s Strat formulation: alder body with a rosewood fingerboard and a plainsawn maple neck. This combination has been a favorite among musicians of all styles for many years, proving its success over time with its distinctive mids, tight bass, and sweet highs—although, like any generalization, there can be significant exceptions. On paper, the alder body and maple neck promise a lot, but in practice, they can sometimes fall short of expectations.

However, this guitar is not one of those disappointments. I can honestly say that this guitar, which I recently encountered, satisfied me more than almost all the American (alder-bodied) Strats I've come across in that period. Whether this is representative of the entire series or if the sample I received is exceptional, I can't say for sure. But in guitars like Strats and Teles, which are played with an clean/cleaner sound, tone quality doesn't always correlate perfectly with price. Sometimes, like in this Mexican lady here, it can surpass its American cousin. Just like Frank Zappa says: "Wire & Wood".

The tighter tones on the wound strings of this guitar is truly sweet. Moreover, it's a very articulate instrument. The highs are brilliant, and the mids pleasantly stand out without being harsh. I really love this Strat. However, there is one area where its natural tone characteristics are lacking: sustain after the 12th fret. I attribute this partly to the neck and the tone block. But it's not an insurmountable issue. You could address this with a tool like Groove Tubes' Fat Finger, which I've discussed in my previous article "Modifications on Strats Part I - 12 Ways to Enhance the Natural Tone of a Strat". And thick brass tone block always opens the tone of the guitars like that one.

In terms of hardware, I can use the term "standard" again. After all, this is a guitar produced by Fender, and they maintain a level of confidence in the parts they use, even in their Mexican models. This alone earns more favor in my heart compared to Gibson from the same time period. However, I wasn't particularly fond of the tremolo system and tuning pegs. I won't evaluate the tremolo system functionally because the tremolo arm's attachment point was closed with a security label/sticker, and I found it more appropriate for the guitar's "first" owner to do this. However, in terms of the materials used, I think they are somewhat different from their American counterparts, albeit leaning towards the negative side. As for the tuning pegs, if this were my guitar, they would likely be the first thing I'd change with locking tuners. They are not bad at all but this guitar deserves locking tuners with quality like Sperzels. This guitar impressed me so much that I believe it deserves better.

Fender Road Worn Player Stratocaster HSS

The pickups on this guitar are configured wonderfully. They've taken a page from the old Lonestar Strats: Fender Texas Specials in the neck and middle positions, and at the bridge, Seymour Duncan's excellent PG Plus—a version of the Pearly Gates pickup with Alnico 5 magnets. The neck pickup measures 5.97K Ohms, the middle pickup 6.25K Ohms, and the Duncan bridge pickup reads 7.86K Ohms. Very strange. It falls higher than PG neck, lower than bridge. I am curious because once Evan Skopp from Seymour Duncan introduced PG+ like this;

Actually, the pickup is a Pearly Gates Plus, not a Pearly Gates. Mike Lewis, who was then head of Fender's guitar marketing (he's now running Gretsch) and I were the ones who worked out the pickups on that pickup. Mike had a background in retail sales knew what the Pearly Gates sounded like and he wanted that tone for this Strat. But, he wanted around 6dB of boost over and above a regular Pearly Gates for the bridge pickup. According to Mike, "When you go into the bridge position, I want a noticeable boost. And the Texas Specials are already on the hot side." So we took a stock Pearly Gates, changed the magnet from an Alnico 2 to an Alnico 5, and added a few hundred more turns. And viola! The Pearly Gates Plus was born.

Moreover i know that PG+ humbucker from the year 2000. LoneStar Strats and Big Apple Strats have it and they were around 8.5K DCR. Strange. Anyway.

Spending hours in the neck is a pleasure; Texas Specials are among my favorite Fender Strat pickups. They deliver a tight, powerful and dark yet clear Strat neck tone. Delicious :) The neck and middle pickups together produce a crystal-clear tone, perfect for playing accompaniment. When the bridge and middle pickups are together (in parallel), it's quite twangy—I'd say it gets closest to a Tele. It's clear but a bit sharp. The PG Plus pickup, it's wierd with that DCR number but under the influence of Alnico 5, adds a bit more sparkle, sharpness, and strengthens the bass and treble. Of course, there's still a bit of that sizzle, you know, it's still the Pearly Gates...

As for any major shortcomings, that's up for debate, but I would add that I wish the second position split the humbucker coils separately to work in parallel with the middle pickup. In my opinion, that second position is crucial for a Strat, and I know many guitarists who miss it. However, fixing this is a small soldering job that would take about 10 minutes, so it's not a big deal.

Now, to the point... Despite some of the shortcomings I mentioned earlier in detail, this guitar was one of the best Strats I've played in that period of times. It even impressed me more than a Select Series Tele that had been sent to me for my test drive. My expectations for the Select Tele were high, and it largely met them. This guitar, however, struck me unexpectedly from a different angle. With its lightweight alder body, beautiful paint job, pretty neat fretwork, tone, and resonance, I encountered a better guitar than I had anticipated. In this respect, I actually want to try out other guitars from this model if I come across them. I'm genuinely curious whether it's unique to this individual guitar or if this is how these models generally perform.

Who would I recommend it to? Anyone looking to get a good Strat without wanting to modify its pickups, anyone wanting a versatile Strat, and anyone interested in relic guitars—I would confidently recommend it to all of them. It's an instrument I can vouch for, no doubt about it...

Guitar Pickup Reviews


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