Checking out the spec sheet of the new Fender JV Modified ’50s Strat, you may find yourself questioning some of the decisions made by the big F. A basswood body on a guitar of this price might seem more like penny-pinching than premium, while a 50s-style ‘V’ neck feels like a mismatch with the contemporary HSS pickup configuration.
Part of that unique specification lies in the complicated origin story of the JV Modified range. Like the ’60s Custom Telecaster, this guitar is essentially an update on the JV Series of the early 80s – the first ever Japanese-made Fenders.
With companies such as Tokai unashamedly aping its famed Strat and Tele models, and doing a pretty good job of it too, the original Squier-branded ‘Japanese Vintage’ models were the low-cost alternative to US-made instruments that Fender needed to stay competitive. As it turned out, these MIJ guitars were incredibly high-quality, often on a par with – if not better than – the American-made guitars of the same era.
This new model, then, is part Vintage and part Modified. Available in two-colour sunburst only, its most obvious concession to 21st-century demands is a humbucker at the bridge with a push-pull tone pot that turns it into a standard single-coil.
So can the JV Modified 50s Stratocaster HSS do what its forefathers did and hold its own against American-made Strats? Let’s plug it in and find out.
One of the first things that strikes us picking up this guitar is the feel of the neck. If you’re new to a ‘V’ profile, it takes a little getting used to… but this one is softer than others we’ve played, so it’s not a huge hurdle once you’ve sat down with it for a few minutes. In fact, you may find yourself becoming quite enamoured with the unusual profile, which can make certain runs feel absolutely rapid.
Once plugged into a boutique 1×12 combo, the humbucker offers a sweet and warm clean tone typical of a ’buckered-up Fender. When we crank the gain, things quickly hot up – not quite into metal chugging territory, but enough to get some hard rock riffs going.
Pulling up the lower tone control for the coil-split option, we find a cutting voice that’s not as sweet as a true single-coil but will certainly slice through a dense mix or noisy rehearsal… the only issue here being that, when it’s engaged, that knob is quite high off the body. This means you can easily trap the whammy bar between the knob and your cable, leaving you looking a little silly when you go to accentuate that drawn-out note in your latest epic solo.
With the bridge pickup restored to humbucker mode, position two feels slightly less quacky than you might expect from a Strat, while the middle pup on its own is a little disappointing when clean – but switching back to the amp’s overdriven channel soon brings us some tonal character to play with. Position four carries that typical low-end skew, with a sparkly top that never gets harsh, and position five provides the classic smooth Strat neck sound we all know and love.
The whammy takes well to a bit of gentle leaning, allowing for subtle movements of slow-picked chords all the way to those full-on warbles that come from violently shaking the bar. The locking tuners hold their position well, and we find minimal retuning is required between frenzied bouts of bending, picking and waggle-stick abuse.
Despite being a 50s-style Strat based on an 80s Squier, the Fender JV Modified ’50s Stratocaster feels unquestionably modern. The build is top-notch, showing Fender Japan has lost none of its quality control or design ingenuity. Among players looking for something different to a regular S-type, it will undoubtedly find many fans.
- PRICE £1,299 (inc gigbag)
- DESCRIPTION Double-cut solidbody electric guitar, made in Japan
- BUILD Basswood body, bolt-on maple neck with 9.5” radius maple fretboard, 21 medium-jumbo frets, bone nut
- HARDWARE Vintage-style vibrato bridge with six bent steel saddles, Fender vintage-style locking tuners
- ELECTRICS 1x Hot Vintage Alnico Humbucking pickup, 2x Vintage-Style Single-Coil Strat pickups, five-way selector, master volume, 2x tone controls with push-pull on second for humbucker coil-split
- SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
- NECK WIDTH 41.9mm at nut, 51.4mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 21.9mm at 1st fret, 23.3mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35mm at nut, 53.2mm at bridge
- FINISH OPTIONS 2-Colour Sunburst only
- LEFT-HANDERS No
- CONTACT fender.com