Fender EOB Sustainer Stratocaster Review
Radiohead star Ed O’Brien’s collaboration with Fender is an intriguing mix of old and new. We find out if playing it makes you fitter, happier, more productive…
By colouring outside the lines, Radiohead have spent three decades creating works of desolate beauty more ambitious in scope than anything produced by their peers. Though it happens rarely these days, when the band’s three nominal guitarists revert to type, their individual roles can be characterised thusly: Thom Yorke supplies the intricate rhythm parts, Jonny Greenwood the angular pyrotechnics and Ed O’Brien the widescreen ambience.
When it came to working with Fender to design the EOB Sustainer Stratocaster, O’Brien opted for a guitar that would play nicely with pedals and include an onboard Fernandes Sustainer circuit like the modified Clapton Strat that’s been a live and studio staple in recent years.
Guitars with onboard sustainers are nothing new, of course, but the clever thing here is that Fender and O’Brien have taken the vast creative potential it offers and stuffed it into that most familiar of platforms – the Stratocaster. The Sustainer circuit is powered by a 9V battery and controlled by an on/off mini-toggle switch, while an additional three-way mini-toggle offers fundamental, harmonic and blend modes.
The more traditional aspects of the instrument are worthy of note, too. The satin urethane-finished 10/56 ‘V’ neck offers a slice of high-end luxury rarely seen at this price point. The soft V rounds into a C shape en route to its upper reaches and it makes a nonsense of the notion that big necks are uncomfortable – it’s addictive stuff and in combination with the 9.5-inch fingerboard radius and 21 Narrow Tall frets, playability is just about perfect.
Before we engage the Sustainer, despite the non-standard pickup arrangement, there’s an inherent ‘Stratiness’ through all five pickup positions. Head to the middle setting for the most authentic-sounding, vintage-style tones – if you are looking for Nile Rodgers and Little Wing, you can find them here. The JB Jr and Sustainer Driver are loud and clear and, along with the snap of a maple board, this helps ensure that parts retain definition amidst washes of delay and reverb.
The temptation when using a Sustainer is to gravitate towards Ebow-style single-note lines and while this works very well indeed, even more interesting stuff starts to happen with chords and arpeggios. Try using a soft pick attack (the bloom of the sustaining notes creates a spacey reverse-style effect), volume swells, varying the intensity, stepping on a tremolo pedal to chop up the signal, adding crunchy tape echo repeats, using a looper to create synth-style pads… things can get as far out as you want them to.
How many of us are guilty of noodling around in the same old boxes every time we pick up the guitar? This instrument really can change the way you play and inspire you to take a fresh approach.
As O’Brien himself says, “I want to be able to get one off the shelf and be able to play it and do a gig and stuff like that, but it’s for other people – it’s for them to do extraordinary things with, that’s what I’m excited about. I think people are going to have a lot of fun with this.” We couldn’t agree more…
Fender EOB Sustainer Stratocaster
• PRICE £979 (inc gigbag)
• DESCRIPTION Solidbody double-cutaway electric guitar. Made in Mexico
• BUILD Alder body, bolt on 10/56 V-shaped maple neck, 9.5-inch fingerboard radius with 21 Narrow Tall frets. Synthetic bone nut
• HARDWARE 6-saddle vintage-style vibrato bridge, vintage-style tuners
• ELECTRICS Seymour Duncan JB Jr humbucker (bridge), Fender Texas Special single-coil (middle) and Fernandes Sustainer Driver (neck) pickups, 5-position blade selector switch, master volume, master tone, intensity control, Sustainer on/off mini toggle switch, 3-way Sustainer mode mini toggle switch (fundamental, harmonic, blend)
• SCALE LENGTH 25.5”/648mm
• NECK WIDTH 41.6mm at nut, 51.7mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 23.0mm at first fret, 24.5mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 34.7mm at nut, 54.9mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 7.6lbs/3.4kg
• FINISH Olympic White gloss polyurethane (body), satin urethane (neck) with gloss headstock fascia