Squier Paranormal Strat-O-Sonic Review – the ultimate Gibson/Fender hybrid?
A Gibson-meets-Fender curio from the early 2000s gets new life as part of Squier’s Paranormal series – but should it have stayed in the past?
Image: Adam Gasson
If the Sonic series flexes Fender’s ability to offer maximum bang for buck when it comes to the company’s classic designs, the Paranormal range takes things is a much weirder direction – allowing the brand to experiment with all manner of leftfield designs and revivals of oft-forgotten models at a price point where a more seasoned guitar player might be prepared to take a risk on something eccentric.
- READ MORE: Squier updates the Paranormal range with a slab-bodied Strat, 12-string Jazzmaster and more
The Strat-O-Sonic is the latest obscure chapter of Fender’s recent past to arrive in the Paranormal range, joining the likes of the Toronado and the Super-Sonic in returning to us from the turn of the Millennium.
The original Strat-O-Sonic was part of the American Special range, and had a short and unspectacular life between 2003 and 2007, and much of the original’s unique features have been retained here – which is to say it’s effectively a Gibson Les Paul Special in Fender clothes.
There’s no mahogany in the body at this price point of course, you get an okume body instead, plus a gloss maple neck that’s extremely smooth, paired with a laurel fingerboard. Squier describes the pickups as ‘Alnico Soapbar Single-Coils’ but let’s just call them P-90s for the sake of ease, and finish options are ‘Vintage Blonde’ or ‘Crimson Red Transparent’ – TV Yellow and Cherry Red to you and me.
Now, before we get into the guts of this, the elephant in the room… you may have seen reports online of these guitars shipping with wrapover bridges that not only look very Gibson-y, but actually have Epiphone stamped on them. Fender has said this was caused by a third-party parts supplier’s error and that the issue would be corrected for future production runs, but the question is how many made it out with the Epiphone bridge? Well, at least one more, as removing this guitar’s wrapover reveals an Epiphone stamp.
It all gives the vibe of Superman popping in to Wayne Manor to ask Batman if he can borrow a few batarangs to be honest, but I suppose if you’re a company like Fender who doesn’t necessarily make a lot of guitars with this kind of tailpiece, you’re gonna have to get them from a third party. Chances are the people who make them for Epiphone – who need loads of them don’t forget – make pretty good ones, so it’s perhaps an endorsement of Fender’s search for quality, rather than anything that should put you off.
Picking it up, and it’s not just the look and components that make the Strat-O-Sonic feel more like a Gibson than your average Fender-style instrument – thanks to a shorter 24.75” scale length, it plays like one too. And when you’ve alloyed that with the usual high standard of finish and playability that we expect from the more expensive Squier guitars, you have yourself a very fun package.
Plugging in, you do get the expected lively response of a Les Paul Junior or Special, but there’s more here than just Gibson-apeing. There’s a definite sheen of jangle to go with the raunch that’s very Fender, while the control layout offers plenty of versatility you won’t have found in the 1950s. With the selector switch in the middle position, the shared volume and tone controls reveal themselves to be push/pull knobs that allow you to choose series/parallel wiring and in/out of phase respectively. It adds a variety of tonal options to the palette, and the woody, hollow out-of-phase tones are particularly fun if you really want to get wacky with it.
It adds a variety of tonal options to the palette, and the woody, hollow out of phase tones are particularly fun if you really want to get wacky with it.
This might not be a guitar for Fender purisists, but that’s very much the point – if you want a profound Strat experience for not a lot of money, then the Sonic range has plenty of options. If you’re looking for something a little bit outside of the norm – a third way that straddles both Fender and Gibson styles – then the Strat-O-Sonic is a welcome revival.