Price paid: £ 2849
Purchased from: Guitar Guitar - Edinburgh
Features — 8
Rory Gallagher tribute Fender USA Custom Shop Stratocaster (2014). This is the ultimate relic'd Strat. 2 piece alder body with a 1 piece maple neck and rosewood fretboard. There are 21 jumbo frets on the custom profile neck with a custom 9.5 inch radius to match Rory's neck that was re-fretted a few times. What little paint there is left on the guitar would have been 3 colour sunburst. There's a 3 ply mint green scratch plate housing 3 custom wound '60s single coil pickups, a 3-way selector switch (which I might replace for a 5-way which I hear Rory did later in his career) and 2 tones and one volume control. The bridge is a very aged American vintage tremolo with curved saddles and vintage tremolo arm.
There are 5 Sperzel tuners and 1 locking Gotoh tuner to mimick Rory's guitar (I really don't like the Gotoh tuner and may get another Sperzel, I don't think it's a coincidence that there's only one Gotoh on this guitar, hence the deduction of a few points for the tuner and the 3 way). It also comes with a G&G custom case, Custom Shop strap, lead, cloth, and Cruz tools kit, tremolo cover and certificate of authenticity. This is the best lot of case candy I have ever come across.
Sound — 10
This is the best sounding guitar that I have ever owned or played. I actually look forward to getting home from work to play it. It doesn't even have to be plugged in! It is the most resonant, and loudest of my guitars (Dean USA Hardtail, Charvel Custom Shop San Dimas NAMM 2008, and ESP Horizon, previously owned PRS Custom 24 and Jackson Soloist) when unplugged and equals all of my Seymour Duncan humbucker equipped guitars for volume and betters them for tone when plugged in. I don't consider myself a Strat fan, and bought the guitar for some covers that really need that strat sound, but would quite happily do most of the songs my band does with it. We play rock, punk, pop-rock, alternative, funk etc.
I would say that it is a really warm sounding Strat with the best nuanced articulation of all my guitars. You can get the quietest finger picked single notes out of it or really full on rock tones on the same amp setting. The volume and tone controls are amazing, and you can get the "in between" sounds using the gaps in the 3 way selector (I just haven't worked out how to get the tone controls to work properly individually on this though).
I don't think it's just the 10 gauge strings that make the difference either as I have the same on my Dean. The only thing it doesn't do so well is really high gain stuff, but I don't play that much, so it isn't an issue, but I won't deduct a point for this and the selector as it's a tribute to a '61 Strat.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
The guitar is flawlessly put together. The relicing is done really well and it plays and feels so well worn in that you swear you'd owned it years the day you pick it up. The exposed wood feels great and it's my current favourite neck of all time for feel, comfort and playability (and there was me thinking I wanted something shreddy, I must be getting old).
The action was a bit high for my playing style (although perfect for slide as Rory would have had it) and the trem unit was about 40 degrees from the body so I got the shop to alter the string height and the bridge so I just had a full tone up pull on the G string. Cosmetically it's as rusty and knocked about as the original, but the build quality is superb. A bit of the paint was flaking off but I was told this was to be expected due to the exposed wood of the body.
Reliability & Durability — 8
I have played 2 gigs already with this guitar. There were tuning issues at the first gig as it was only 2 weeks from being purchased. I changed strings before the 2nd gig the day after and applied Nut Sauce to the saddles, nut and string trees and it's much better now. The Custom Shop strap supplied with the guitar fell off the rear strap button after about 3 songs but I luckily caught the guitar and was able to play on. I usually put Schaller Straplocks on all my guitars but didn't want to swap out the relic'd strap buttons provided. Grolsch bottle cap washers have been suggested!
The other major pain is the Gotoh tuning peg. I didn't have any prior knowledge of this system, so spent 2 hours of YouTube and phone calls when the short piece of string left in the peg wouldn't come out even with the peg removed from the guitar. Brute force eventually prevailed but the wire badly cut the thumb on my fretting hand as I pulled it out, 4 hours before a gig. I can see why it looks like Rory was changing to Sperzels on his guitar. Having said all that, I think USA Custom Shop guitars are the best built and it will be reliable. I never gig without a spare.
Overall Impression — 10
I have been playing on and off for 27 years and mainly play rock, blues, pop, punk and alternative. I'm not a major Rory Gallagher fan, and am not mad for Strats in general, but this is the coolest looking and sounding Strat available in my opinion. I used to think Relics were stupid, but as I gig a lot these days I'm starting to shy away from "furniture guitars." I practice on an Orange Tiny Terror and gig using a Soldano Hot Rod 50 Plus. The guitar sounds amazing through either. It also sounds as loud as my humbucker equipped guitars. It works well with delay, chorus, compression, wah, OD9 and probably anything else you put it through.
I wish I'd asked about the tuners when I bought it. I love the super relic'd looks, the tone, and the playability of this guitar. I think it's actually improving me as a musician. I compared it with other CS Strats and this blew them all away, although I wish it had a 5-way selector and strap locks. I'm going to get it insured because if it was lost or stolen I'd have to get another one.