Purchased from: Pawn Shop
Features: If you were looking for a guitar in the 2000s in Canada (and maybe elsewhere), chances are you would come across a Stratocaster-looking guitar hanging on the wall of your local used music store or pawn shop with a price tag that made you look twice. $120? $100? $80? ($25 from the dude in the apartment next to you who needs beer money?) For an electric guitar? Hot damn! Then, you'd sit down, noodle around for a little bit, and realize why. But sometimes... sometimes it would call out to you, and you'd drop the chump change for that beater. And chances are, that beater was a Barracuda knockoff - either the Stratocaster or the "Fat Strat" model.
Materials and their beauty varied, but here's what mine came with: Nice, thick, D-profile maple neck with 22 frets on a rosewood fretboard, a body of indeterminate wood (probably alder) that weighs enough to anchor a boat, nice, deep cutaways on both sides, an aggressive-looking headstock that belies the "Barracuda" name, cheap fiddly tuners, an angled sidejack, a spring-mounted vibrato bar, five-way pickup selector, HSS setup with two single coils (neck and middle) and a humbucker at the bridge, all cheap. One volume control, and two tone controls (one for each single-coil - for some reason the humbucker has no tone knob) each with their purpose stamped into the plastic. Strap buttons that are just a hair too small for security. // 5
Sound: This is a garage-rocker for sure. The 5-way pickup selector gives you five unique tones, all of which have character and presence, but it does lack a lot of bottom end. After playing in standard tuning, I've dropped it down two full steps to my usual C standard, and it still has plenty of cut but not a lot of bass - and one of the amps in my rig is a bass combo, so I'd know! Lots of flexibility for tone here, in any case.
The neck pickup has a nice round sound that I'd almost call country or rockabilly, the middle pickup is good for standard clean tones, and the humbucker is aggressive, balls-to-the-wall, revved-up-chainsaw treble tones - think of the most unchained White Stripes guitar sound ("Fell in Love With a Girl" etc.) and then take it up a notch - and it pairs well with high-gain, Marshall-type amps.
This is a cheap guitar, so be prepared for hiss on the individual pickups, but blended there is a surprisingly low amount of extraneous noise. Keep in mind that cheap guitars don't have a solid quality control, so I may have gotten lucky: YMMV, but I really like this one. The body is heavy as hell (I use a luggage strap pad on my guitar strap to save my shoulder a little) but that just means that you get sustain for days. Because it's so bright-sounding, feedback is easy to achieve at low volumes - tastes may vary on that, but I love it, especially for bedroom recording. // 7
Action, Fit & Finish: Let's just say that I learned how to set up a guitar with this model. I think every guitar needs a little bit of tinkering, but this thing needed a LOT. All the fret edges needed to be filed down due to the neck drying out, the action was awful (I ended up having to put some stiff card between the neck and body joint to give it the proper relief), the pickups were muddy or faint, the pickguard was cracked. When I first opened it up, sawdust and paint flakes came out of the body cavity.
But, after fussing around with it, it's become a solid player. Intonation is spot-on after adjusting the vibrato bar saddles, and I've been able to set up the vibrato so that it can raise up exactly a full step and drop exactly an octave when maxed out. The vibrato bar stripped itself at one point so I got a machinist friend to rethread it. I replaced the tuners, which made a huge difference in tuning stability. The neck is still straight as an arrow, with no warping. The body is somehow still in perfect condition.
Bottom line: If you're willing to put in the time and like to tinker, this guitar will make for a nice player. // 5
Reliability & Durability: I don't know what the body is made of or what kind of finish it has, but I have literally dropped, kicked, bent, twisted, thrown and stepped on this guitar (with varying degrees of intentionality) and I still can't find a dent on it. I can almost guarantee that it would withstand the rigors of even the most violent performances. You'll want to replace the strap buttons with strap locks, but you should do that on any guitar. I've heard reports of dodgy wiring in other models, but I haven't experienced any problems yet. Once again, cheap guitars vary wildly in quality, so YMMV, but I completely trust mine. // 9
Overall Impression: I just had this guitar come back to me after a four year journey through various non-profits (I donated it to a kids program and ended up randomly getting it back from a friend who worked at a homeless shelter - the tales it could tell!) It was my first electric, and I had many fond memories and a few regrets after I donated it, and was excited to have it come full circle, but my first impression on its return was that it looked like a really ugly, crappy guitar. I'd done an "okay" paint job on the headstock and pickups that had weathered a lot, and I now own guitars worth ten or more times the value, so I know what quality looks like, and this wasn't it.
However... plug it in, tune down, turn up, fool around a bit to figure out the settings, and BAM! Heaven. Absolute bliss. My old setup still held true, and one of the biggest benefits of a cheap guitar is that you can play the heck out of it and not care about wear and tear. I'd like a bit more low-end response, but as a lead guitar, or for putting down extra layers of sound/feedback/mayhem, this guitar will deliver for me.
So sure, it's ugly, it's noisy, it needed a ton of work, it's still not worth anything, but once you find that sweet spot, it's one of the greatest feelings in the world. Some guitars just have that mystical "vibe" or "mojo" that makes you want to pick it up and play, and mine has it in spades. I missed this machine, and I'm so happy to have it back. Keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground - you never know if you're going to come across a cheap Barracuda that has magical potential.
Now, to track down my old buddy's Barracuda Strat that squealed when you flipped the pickup selector... // 10