Price paid: £ 330
Purchased from: eBay
Features — 9
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the model, here is a little background information:
During the first year of Korean production in 1987, in addition to Squier branded guitars the Young Chang factory was also commissioned to build a special run of "Fender" branded Stratocasters. These were marketed as the Fender "Special Series" Standard Stratocaster and were more expensive than their Squier counterparts. Unlike the Squier Standard Stratocaster which used cast saddles and had a plywood body, the "Special Series" used authentic Fender pressed steel saddles and featured a solid alder body. Unfortunately the run was restricted to 1987-1988 only due to confusion with the Korean made Squier models. What makes these guitars so unique historically from a collector's perspective is the fact that this was the very first budget range Fender model and is the predecessor of the now Mexican made Standard series.
Due to the popularity of Fender Japan's Vintage Reissue series in the early 1980s, the guitar returns to the original '50s contoured body design, one piece maple neck with gloss finish and small headstock profile. Also like the vintage reissues, the guitar features an 8 screw single-ply white plastic pickguard, aged plastic pickup covers, aged control knobs and vintage-style synchronized tremolo bridge with Fender stamped pressed steel saddles. It also had a few modern features for the contemporary musician such as a 5-way pickup selection switch and modern-style Gotoh tuners. These guitars were offered in four colours options: Black, White, Torino Red and Lake Placid Blue. My guitar is a beautiful Torino Red model.
Sound — 9
I play various different genres of music, especially when teaching, but I confess that my guilty pleasure when I get a bit of time to play for myself is mostly classic rock bands like Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Cream, Pink Floyd, Queen and blues. I also love to play a bit of Hank Marvin and The Shadows now and again as my Dad brought me up on it and I largely taught myself to play the electric guitar trying to imitate Hank Marvin.
This guitar is so versatile that it's great for many different types of music, especially rock and blues - plugged straight into my Marshall MG100DFX with the overdrive turned on I was able to recreate that lovely classic rock sound. Alternatively, I get that classic warm "British" guitar sound when I plugged the guitar into my Vox AC30VR. Pairing either amp with my old Zoom 606 Multi-FX unit the guitar sounds great with a variety of different effects such as chorus, echo, delay, reverb, phaser, flanger and wah. I wouldn't say that this guitar is particularly suitable for heavy metal as it's far more in its comfort zone with a warm classic rock/bluesy overdriven sound than modern high-gain distortion.
If I was to compare the Korean-made "Special Series" Standard Stratocaster to my Mexican-made Standard Stratocaster then I would have to say that the Korean guitar has a lighter, more "vintage" sound; less dense in the low end and a little more trebly in the higher register with a more balanced midrange. Played clean, the single-coil pickups sing with lovely clarity, especially in the middle and neck positions and have just the right amount of "twang" in the bridge position. The stock pickups are less powerful than those in a USA-made Fender but considering that this was Fender's first attempt at a budget-range instrument, this Korean Stratocaster's still more than capable of producing a quality, resonant tone with plenty of character and decent sustain!
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
Considering the fact the guitar is now approximately 27+ years old and that I purchased the guitar second-hand I am really not in a position to comment on the guitar's original factory set-up. The first thing I did after purchasing was to have the guitar professionally set-up by my local guitar tech. I do this with all my guitars, so this is no reflection on the guitar's action when purchased. The guitar has been set up with a nice low action for 9-42 gauge strings as I use it for both lead and rhythm, is free of fret buzz or choking and the frets feel well finished allowing for smooth playability during string bends. The finish is in almost immaculate condition considering its age with only a small mark near the bridge on the front of the guitar which is impossible to see in photographs or at a normal distance - you really need to know where to look! There is quite a bit of "buckle rash" on the back but again this is almost invisible against the lovely Torino Red finish and you really have to hold the back of the guitar at the right angle in the light to really see the extent of the "buckle rash." The Gotoh tuners do their job admirably and hold the tuning surprisingly well, even after heavy tremolo use.
Reliability & Durability — 9
Reliability plays a huge factor for me as I both teach and perform on a regular basis. The Fender "Special Series" Standard Stratocaster is considerably lighter in comparison to the weight of my Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster and usual Gibson Les Pauls but it is solid in construction and is likely to withstand the rigours of regular use. Any serious guitarist knows that you should always carry a back-up guitar when performing as one can never predict when a string is going to break, however having said that, I feel confident that I could rely on this guitar without the need for a back-up. The build quality and finish is of a very high standard and it easily out-shines other Strat-type models by other brands or Squier models. The only modification I have made is to replace the strap buttons. The guitar came equipped with non-original strap-lock type buttons that didn't fit any of my straplocks, so I replaced these with original Fender vintage-style strap buttons. I haven't used the guitar in a performance setting yet but have plans to take it with me the next time a performance opportunity reveals itself. I have used the guitar for a few recording sessions where it really exceeded all my expectations!
Overall Impression — 9
I have been playing the guitar for 20+ years in a variety of styles; classical, rock, jazz, blues, metal and other contemporary formats and have been teaching the instrument for half of that. During that time I have experimented with a large number of different guitars. Growing up in the 1980s, I have always loved the Torino Red colour of '80s Stratocasters. At only four years old I heard Eric Clapton perform his classic "Layla" on TV for the first time - played on a Torino Red Stratocaster. This was an image that stayed with me for years to follow and every birthday and Xmas all I asked for was a red Stratocaster with a maple neck. Unfortunately, by the time I got my first Stratocaster for my 15th birthday, a Squier model in Candy Apple Red with Rosewood fretboard, Fender no longer made guitars in Torino Red with the exception of the Eric Clapton Artist Series Stratocaster, which understandably, was far beyond what my parents were willing to pay. It would take another 15 years before I finally got my hands on that elusive Torino Red Stratocaster!
Whilst I appreciate that some will view the Fender "Special Series" Standard Stratocaster as little more than a "improved-spec vintage Korean Squier Stratocaster," I have to disagree. The guitar shares much more in common with earlier Japanese Fenders and the authentic Fender hardware and solid Alder body makes this guitar so much more playable than any vintage Korean Squier I have played and I have come across a few over the years. More importantly, this is NOT a Squier instrument but a genuine Fender model on which the Mexican Standard Stratocaster was later modelled on. The guitar is a little piece of Fender's history but more importantly, it is a joy to play and not a museum piece!
If it were lost or stolen I would be forced to hunt down the culprit to the ends of the earth if that's what it took to retrieve it! The guitar has quickly taken a special place in my collection and is beginning to become something of a favourite of mine - although nothing could eclipse my beloved Gibson Les Paul Classic (except maybe a Gibson Les Paul Custom)! I confess due to the age of the guitar it doesn't leave the house as regularly as my Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster but that is not a reflection on the quality of the guitar, rather me being protective because of its age. My overall impression... the Fender "Special Series" Standard Stratocaster is a fantastic instrument and, if you can find one, I would highly recommend it!