The last few years have seen Fender work its way through its extensive catalogue, reorganising and revamping at key price points. With the American Performer, Professional, Original and Elite lines now bang up to date, the company’s big launch for Summer 2019 is Vintera – 21 vintage-inspired electric guitars and basses made in the coastal Mexican city of Ensenada, available in a rainbow of vintage hues and priced between £689-999.
If some of the Vintera Series instruments (vintage… era… geddit?) look especially familiar, it’s because Vintera is essentially an amalgam of the old Classic Series and Classic Player Series. Popular models such as the Baja Telecaster and Classic Player Jazzmaster survive here, albeit in updated and rebadged form. In this first look at the 2019 range, we’ve got our hands on the ’50s Telecaster, ’60s Jazzmaster Modified and ’70s Stratocaster.
The Vintera Series can be split broadly into two, based on whether a model has ‘Modified’ in its name, or not. Like their Classic Series forebears, the 15 models that aren’t ‘Modified’ cherry-pick features from a particular decade rather than zeroing in on a specific model year. As you might expect, at this end of the catalogue we’re not talking about forensic vintage recreations and a certain degree of pragmatism has been applied to the specifications on offer.
On our ’50s Telecaster, for example, you’ll find a 7.25-inch fingerboard radius and a fat U-shaped neck with a revamped carve, but the alder body and maple neck are finished in gloss polyester and urethane respectively and the wiring is sensibly the ‘modern’ circuit that’s been standard on Telecasters since late 1967.
The six Modified instruments throw even more modernity into the mix, as evidenced by our review Jazzmaster. Like the 2008 Classic Player guitar from which it evolved, the Vintera ’60s JM Modified shifts the vibrato tailpiece closer to the bridge, increasing the break angle and therefore sustain, while the bridge itself is Fender’s ABR-1-style Adjusto-Matic.
The Modified model’s neck is finished in satin urethane and in combination with medium-jumbo frets, a Modern ‘C’ neck profile and 9.5-inch/241mm fingerboard radius, it offers a less old-school playing experience than its more vintage-faithful sibling, the Vintera ’60s Jazzmaster (£899).
The third guitar of our review trio is a love letter to the 1970s with its ‘bullet’ truss-rod nut and F-stamped tuners adorning a suitably oversized headstock on a three-bolt neck. At a hair under 8lb, our review model sadly doesn’t offer the unadulterated late-70s boat-anchor experience, but that’s almost certainly a good thing.
Once again, we have cause to reminisce about a long-lost and truly wonderful sunburst ’74 Strat with a seemingly never-ending stream of songs in it, but that’s a story for another day. Back here in 2019, like the Jazzmaster, the ’70s Stratocaster’s fingerboard is a CITES-friendly slab of pau ferro, although the offset model’s ’board is slightly redder in hue.
Fender’s new ‘vintage’ tint on the maple necks of its Vintera instruments is a definite improvement – it’s a more tasteful caramel compared to the yellow-orange hues of the Classic Series – while the thin gloss urethane finishes on the Strat and Tele necks have a slight stickiness that’s almost reminiscent of lacquer buffed to a high sheen. The Telecaster’s one-piece neck, with its subtle ripple of flame, is the pick of the bunch.
When it came to Vintera’s electronics, Fender again turned to Tim Shaw, the mastermind behind the pickups on most of its major launches over the last few years. “I voiced the ’50s Tele pickups more like later-50s pickups, with alnico V magnets instead of the alnico III used on the earliest models,” Shaw explains. “Alnico V is a brighter-sounding magnet and that tonality tends to appeal more to modern players and works better with modern equipment.
“The 60s Jazzmasters in general had consistent pickups,” he continues, “so our ’60s Jazzmaster is a pretty typical example of those specs. The Modified version has a bit more wire on each coil and works better with the thinner strings today’s players use on a Jazzmaster.”
“By the 70s, Fender had gone to a flat-stagger magnet set on the Stratocaster, where all six magnets were the same height. These pickups have a more solid sound with thicker mids and less ‘chime’ than the earlier versions. It was very interesting to play the Strats in the Vintera series in historical order, just to hear how those voicings shifted with time!”
After orienting our ears with a very good ash body/maple ’board Custom Shop Strat, we switch to the ’70s Vintera model and find the sonic gap isn’t perhaps as wide as the considerable gulf in price. Sure, the CS model is woodier and more expressive, with more zing into the bargain, but within seconds of wrapping our left hand around the nicely rounded neck (arguably more appealing than that of many 70s originals), we’re enjoying the Vintera’s percussive, funky character.
It’s more nasal, with mellower highs, likely due to the influence of the fingerboard material as well as the pickup voicing. That said, there’s still plenty of harmonic interest and the tones certainly aren’t one-dimensional, although most of the airy treble action lives between 10 and 8.5 on the volume knob – its taper is pretty steep.
Although the factory stringing method does little to reduce friction at the second/first (B/E) string tree, the three-spring vibrato setup floats beautifully and the arm has less unwanted play than our Custom Shop unit. The fret ends have been rounded smoothly and a handful of simple tweaks such as breaking the ’board edges on the bass side and better wrapping of the treble strings around the tuner posts would elevate the playability of this workhorse Strat considerably.
Switching to the Jazzmaster winds the clock forward, at least in terms of the playing experience. The bigger frets, flatter ’board and slim, satin-finished neck mean that runs and bends in higher registers require far less effort from your fretting hand, but the trade-off is that the feel is rather more generic.
Happily, the tones are anything but, and there’s a range of beguiling sounds on offer that are simultaneously classic and contemporary. They may be voiced to work a little harder in deference to modern string gauges, but there’s still plenty of air in these pickups and they don’t sound overcooked.
Once you’ve got past the inevitable spring reverb/tremolo/spy-movie soundtrack tropes, there’s a tonne of compositional inspiration to be found here and don’t discount that rhythm circuit – it’s smooth and moody rather than muddy and hugely enjoyable into ambience as well as fuzz. While the Strat sees us going through the motions somewhat, the Jazzmaster is one of those guitars on which you find yourself composing, rather than noodling.
Our next stop in the Vintera time machine is the 1950s. It’s one of the most overused words in the guitar reviewer’s kitbag, but the alnico V Telecaster pickups deliver tremendous clarity. Whether your Tele tone tastes veer towards Bloomfield or Bakersfield, there’s plenty of cut, but it’s the desirable, musical kind.
The much-maligned Telecaster neck pickup performs superbly here, too, with Bill Frisell-style excursions ringing bell-like with superb articulation and a nicely even decay. The factory 0.009-0.042 strings and glossy fingerboard promote big bends, while the small frets and 7.25-inch ’board radius aren’t the barrier to faux pedal-steel licks that they might be if this guitar was strung with a set of 0.011s.
Stepping on an old Tube Screamer proves fruitful, too, with vocal bridge-pickup lead tones and Black Keys-style raunch at the neck. There’s no getting away from it – three-saddle bridges are a compromise when it comes to intonation, but it isn’t a major issue during the course of day-to-day playing and compensated saddles are a cheap and straightforward upgrade.
Though the ’60s Jazzmaster Modified and ’70s Stratocaster are both fine instruments, it’s the ’50s Telecaster that we’d take home. With the kind of characterfully chunky neck you don’t see too often at this end of the market, plus an addictive combination of power and clarity (there’s that c-word again), it’s every inch a serious guitar.
The prices of Fender’s Mexican-made reissue models may have crept up a little, but Tim Shaw and the rest of the Fender R&D team have delivered improvements where they count.
Vintera ’50s Telecaster: 9/10
- PRICE £749 (inc. gigbag)
- DESCRIPTION Single-cutaway solidbody electric guitar. Made in Mexico
- BUILD Alder body, early 50s U-shaped maple neck with 7.25″ (184.1mm) fingerboard radius and 21 vintage-style frets. Synthetic bone nut
- HARDWARE 3x brass saddle string-through-body bridge, vintage-style machineheads
- ELECTRICS 2x Vintage-Style Single-Coil Tele pickups, master volume, master tone, 3-way blade pickup selector switch
- SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
- NECK WIDTH 42.2mm at nut, 51.6mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 23.3mm at first fret, 25.0mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35.4mm at nut, 54.3mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 7.46lb/3.38kg
- FINISH Fiesta Red (as reviewed), 2-Colour Sunburst, Sonic Blue
- VERDICT: A no-nonsense vintage-style Telecaster with classy tones and a sumptuous neck
Vintera ’60s Jazzmaster Modified: 8/10
- PRICE £899 (inc. gigbag)
- DESCRIPTION Double-cutaway offset solidbody electric guitar. Made in Mexico
- BUILD Alder body, modern C-shaped maple neck with 9.5″ (241mm) radius pau ferro fingerboard and 21 medium-jumbo frets. Synthetic bone nut
- HARDWARE 6-saddle Adjusto-Matic bridge with vintage-style floating vibrato tailpiece, vintage-style machineheads
- ELECTRICS 2x Vintage-Style ’60s Single-Coil Hot Jazzmaster pickups, volume, tone, 3-way toggle pickup selector switch, lead/rhythm circuit slider switch, 2x thumbwheels for rhythm circuit volume and tone
- SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
- NECK WIDTH 41.6mm at nut, 51.6mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 20.8mm at first fret, 22.1mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35.2mm at nut, 51.3mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 8.1lb/3.67kg
- FINISH Surf Green (as reviewed), 3-Colour Sunburst
- VERDICT The Classic Player Jazzmaster returns rebadged with a host of inspirational tones
Vintera ’70s Stratocaster: 8/10
- PRICE £769 (inc. gigbag)
- DESCRIPTION Double-cutaway solidbody electric guitar. Made in Mexico
- BUILD Ash body, early 70s C maple neck with 7.25″ (184.1mm) radius pau ferro fingerboard and 21 vintage-style frets. Synthetic bone nut
- HARDWARE 6-saddle vintage-style synchronised vibrato bridge, Fender Vintage F-stamped machineheads
- ELECTRICS 3x Vintage-Style ’70s Single-Coil Strat pickups, master volume, neck pickup tone, middle pickup tone, 5-way blade selector switch
- SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
- NECK WIDTH 41.9mm at nut, 51.8mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 22.5mm at first fret, 23.7mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35.2mm at nut, 54.6mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 7.96lb/3.61kg
- FINISH Sienna Sunburst (as reviewed), Aged Natural, Mocha
- VERDICT ’70s Strats polarise opinion, but here’s one worth getting to grips with
- CONTACT fender.com
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