Price paid: $ 112
Purchased from: www.indianaguitarman.com
Features: Okay, to start off, I'm giving the disclaimer in advance that scores I give this guitar are WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE PRICE POINT. In other word, bang for the buck and comparison to other guitars in it's price range. I'm not comparing this to a MIM or MIA Fender, unless specified.
Well, this is an Indiana IE1 made in November 2010. Chinese made, but I bought it from www.indianaguitarman.com where he claims to do a comprehensive professional setup on every guitar he ships (more on this later.)
Neck is a maple/maple fretboard with 22 frets, a little larger than Vintage size. (Gilmour, among others, plays Vintage frets, so this is neither a plus nor minus, just a preference).
Body is alder, looks like 3 or 4 pieces on inspection. Cavity is HSS routed, but comes with SSS pickups.
Die cast tuners, no name brand.
Plastic nut, good quality plastic. Not soft plastic. It's a Strat copy. You know the rest. // 7
Sound: I play mostly classic rock/80s metal, blues, a little jazz. Amp is a Peavey Ultra.
Stock pickups actually were pretty good for a cheap guitar. Definitely on the HOT side. Similar in output to Texas Specials. I found the Bridge pickup to be brittle sounding. All the other positions were very useable. Definitely noisier than a lot of pickups though. That's why I swapped in my HSS Dragonfire set. With the swap this guitar sounds very good. It really does. Although, sustain is not where it should be. New saddles and a trem block should fix that.
All in all, it sounds like a Strat should sound. The oil finished neck brightens up the sound a bit, allowing the maple wood to resonate more freely.
I took a scientific approach to tuning stability. I tuned each string dead on. I then played for about an hour.. lots of blues and classic rock = lots of bending. After that I checked each string on my tuner and had the following results:
Low E: 3 cents flat
D: 2 cents sharp
G: 6 cents flat
B: 1 cent flat
High E: 4 cents flat.
Not bad at all! Certainly not off by enough to worry about playing live, with exception of maybe the G string. Much better than I expected with the plastic nut and cheap string trees. // 8
Action, Fit & Finish: I can't speak to this guitar's setup from the factory. All I can give you is the setup and finish after the setup from the guy at indianaguitarman.com.
When you look at his website he professes to include a 28-point setup and inspection, including the typical truss, nut, saddle adjustments. Not only that, he will level and recrown the frets, if necessary, shim the neck, if necessary. Checks electronic for cold solders, scratchy controls, etc. Inspection for any cosmetic flaws. ALL FOR NO ADDITIONAL COST.
So how did he do? In a word, WOW! He did an amazing job setting the action on this guitar. He has this guitar playing with a good, low action just under 1/8" at the 12th fret with a flat relief and absolutely ZERO fret buzz, even when bending notes. This is literally about the best setup I've ever seen on ANY guitar. I've never seen an action this low on a flat relief without at least a little fret buzz somewhere and on this guitar, there isn't even a HINT of buzz. Neck alignment is spot on, the strings are centered properly over the fretboard. If you buy an Indiana IE1, buy from this dealer. The setup he does for free is absolutely top-notch. The only complaint about the fit and finish was that the tuners weren't properly tightened down from the top-side. The ferrules were literally loose enough to turn by hand. A ratchet and socket fixed that.
Cosmetically, the only flaw I could find was a half inch long scratch in the neck screw plate. It was shallow enough that I was able to rub it out with automotive polishing compound in about 5 minutes. That's it, and that's being pretty picky.
If the tuners had been properly tighened down, I would have given this category a 10. // 9
Reliability & Durability: Haven't had it long enough to determine its durability, so I can only go off the features. Body is solid alder, so it should have similar durability to any Strat. The tuners are solid and I see no durability issues there.
The neck is a single piece of maple. Single piece necks tend to be a little weaker at the headstock, so that's a strike against. But at the end of the day, hey... it's a Strat(copy)! It's a time-tested design. // 8
Overall Impression: I've been playing for 25 years and have owned a lot of different guitars over the years, including a couple MIM Fender Strats an SX Hawk, a Squier, and a couple other Strat copies. In terms of construction and finish as I received it, it might be the best of the bunch. Definitely better than the Squier Affinity.
Electronics were okay, but not good enough to avoid replacement. Pickups sounded better than the Affinity pickups, probably as good as the MIM pickups I've played, but noticeably noisier, even with similar shielding measures.
The playability is beyond any of the prior Strat's I've owned. With the setup he did, it's right there with every MIA Strat I've ever had the pleasure to play.
Now you'll probably find a lot of posts by people who said they found an Indiana Strat at a pawn shop years ago and it played like shit. They're absolutely right. I was one of them. The first Indiana guitar I ever saw had a horrible setup. We're talking half and inch at the 12th fret. It was unplayable. But I'm telling you, after looking at the newer ones for a long time and finally taking the plunge to give it a shot, these guitars have come a LOOOOONG ways in the last 8 years.
As I said to start, I'm comparing this to other guitars in the same price range (under $250), including SX, Xaviere, Squier, AXL, etc. and this beats all of them (mind you, from www.indianaguitarman.com). I'm a little worried that this is starting to look a little like an advertisement with the references to a single dealer, but he was the only one I could find that claimed to do a full professional setup for free, which is why I bought from him, and he did a great job.
If I was comparing it to a Fender MIA Strat, I would give it a solid 7 for an overall score, with deductions for pickups, multi-piece body, weaker neck, and budget electronics. Areas where it holds its own against an MIA Strat are the playability and tuning stability. AGAINST OTHER GUITARS IN ITS PRICE RANGE, it's a... // 10