Old Fender Vs New Fender

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

Taking advantage of the fact that we are celebrating the birthday of Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of the greatest legends in the history of the electric guitar, more specifically the Fender Stratocaster model, and one of the main people responsible for the revaluation of the Strats in the 1960s, we are going to try to throw a little light for the uninitiated on what is true and what is not of the legendary and venerated sound of those guitars built so many years ago and that today cost so much money.  


Is a 1963 Fender Stratocaster better than a Fender Stratocaster completed in the Custom Shop this morning? The answer for us, simplifying it a lot, is no.

And then we imagine that your next question would be: and so why does one cost 20,000 euros and the other 2,500? Well simply because crazy speculation has come to the world of electric guitars, as today they are treated as collectibles and not as musical instruments and, as we have pointed out many times before, many times they remain hanging from the walls of collectors and do not end up in the hands of the guitarists that they were designed for.    


Is there any significant difference between a new and a vintage? Well, yes, there are some. For example the Strat of the 60s did not come with a five position selector as all do today but, like its sister Telecaster, they only come with a three selector. This could be a clear point in favor of the modern, if it were not for the fact that this is something very simply modifiable in the vintage, that is, it is very easy and almost mandatory to make that change if you buy a vintage. It is also a reversible modification without collateral damage: neither for the furniture nor for the original electric guitar.
On the other hand if you are lucky enough to grab a 60, and touch it for hours, and make it a little warm and it moves you a little, you will notice that some paint will be left on your hands and on your arm ... and then it will gradually have that wonderful natural old worn look that we visually all fall in love with. Just as happened with your denim jeans in the '90s, you bought new ones and you used to wear them until you loved them a lot more; well the same thing happens with these guitars; not like the modern Fender relic that comes absurdly worn from the factory with years artificially… and then they overcharge you for it (Greetings to all fans of the relic).  


Let's continue with the doubts: If a new one is not worse than the vintage, then do they sound just as good? Well this is the key question friends and our answer is: Yes, they sound just as good. But that is far from meaning that they sound the same; and here we enter headfirst into the world of cheap literature on the Fender Stratocaster. You will be able to find trillions of forums online with eternal discussions about the different tone of both. Many attribute that difference to the different types of wood used, especially the Brazilian rosewood used in the vintage that are no longer used to assemble the new ones - and they will partly be right. Others will put the focus on the hand- instead of machine - wound pickups and they will also be partly right. Others will say that over the years the wood has been drying and acquiring resonance properties that improve the final sound of the instrument - and neither are we going to go against that.  

In addition, the mystique of these guitars every year degenerates as the rhythm of the prices of these guitars increase and soon there will be someone who says that the key was that Leo Fender himself read some words from the Necronomicon while finishing each Stratocaster in his workshop and that gave magic powers to each instrument, converting its possessor automatically into an excellent lover and a rock star ... and at Guitars Exchange we will also agree with it.


But really we want to focus this debate about the greater or lesser quality of the sound not on the instrument or its manufacture, but on your own ear and how you have educated it. If you educated yourself musically in the music of the 80s, 90s or the 21st century and want to avoid noise problems, worn out components, very old pickups, which are very prone to the string breaking; in short if you want a Strat sound with all the guarantees of an instrument made with all the perfection that 60 years of experience of making the same toy brings, without a doubt your choice should be a modern Fender Stratocaster. That guitar is going to give you everything and probably much more than a vintage.  


If, on the contrary, you are a child of the sounds of the 60s and 70s and you educated your ear with Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Clapton, Blackmore or our current birthday boy, SRV ... then the specific tone that you're looking for you can only get from a Fender Stratocaster from the 60s and until you have one in your hands and you touch it you probably do not understand what we're talking about. But it's as simple as that, your ear wants to hear what you have spent all your life savoring on those albums that you like so much, and that's really why many guitarists end up craving a Stratocaster from the 60s in the same way that Ulysses longed to get to Ithaca.


In sum, one is not better than another; they are different. And the price difference has nothing to do with a difference of quality in the construction or sound but responds to the criteria of ‘pure and hard collecting’. Therefore the quality / price ratio is much better in modern guitars... but if you are in love with the music of the 60s and 70s, like Stevie Ray Vaughan, you are lost and you will end up with a vintage in your hands sooner or later and whatever it costs.