Fender Stratocaster Manual
By Paul Balmer
Haynes Publishing – £21.99
In more ways than one, this really is a cracking book – I only wish I’d stumbled upon it years ago. For having played guitar since I was a teenager, I could well have done with a (terrific) manual such as this then – but I always thought Haynes published books about cars and nothing else.
Wrong. Paul Balmer’s Fender Stratocaster Manual covers every possible aspect of said great guitar, in a tight, crisp, highly readable and comprehensive manner. With a Forward by Hank Marvin (‘’The first recording using the Strat was on Cliff’s second album. By that time I had my Vox (Meazzi) Echo Box […] a Vox AC 30 amp and my sound and style was beginning to take shape. A sound and style that would not have developed with any other guitar but the Stratocaster), there are numerous sections amid these 200 pages; each and every one of which is inviting as well as a pleasure to read. Reason being, they’re both practical and exceedingly helpful with regards application – especially when it comes to guitar maintenance.
But before reaching this chapter, there are sections on ‘Buying a Fender Stratocaster,’ ‘Know your ‘American Standard,’’ ‘Setting Up and Tuning’ and ‘Know your Vintage Strat’ – all of which are insightful; the piece on ‘Micro adjustable bridge’ within the latter in particular: ‘’The Stratocaster set a standard with its introduction of a bridge mechanism that allowed individual adjustment of both the height and the length of each string. Ironically the precise clarity of the sound Leo achieved with his single-coil pickups made this innovation a necessity.’’
In this day and (relative overkill) age of veritable guitar meltdown, it’s far too easy to overlook the importance of said innovation; especially with the hundreds and hundreds of different makes of guitar, not to mention guitars used in advertising and purveyors of the wretched air-guitar.
As such, it’s worth bearing the initial innocence of the instrument in mind, most notably the actual Stratocaster, as Balmer himself writes in the book’s Introduction: ‘’It’s been great fun re-examining the science of Leo’s masterwork for this new edition. However, the genius of the Stratocaster is that rare blend of art and science that creates sheer magic. Every time I glanced at the guitar for a measurement or technical detail all I really wanted to do was play it! The Strat is a magnetic siren. They come in blonde, brunette and fiery red, and remain untamed after more than 50 years of carousing abuse.’’
As mentioned above, the most helpful aspect of the Fender Stratocaster Manual are the fifty-four pages on ‘Repairs, maintenance & adjustments.’ From ‘Tools and working facilities’ to ‘Truss rod adjustment,’ from ‘Earthing and RF induction issues’ to ‘Paint and lacquer repairs,’ from ‘Pickup replacement’ to ‘Three-monthly checks,’ this chapter is an almost A to Z of what one needs to know in relation to taking care of ones’ pride and joy.
Furthermore, there are two chapters called ‘Specific case studies’ and ‘Key Strat players and their guitars,’ the second of which sheds yet more (and rather enjoyable) light on renowned Strat players – The Beatles among them.
As a major Beatles fan, I thought I knew most of what there was to know about their use of instrumentation; but upon reading the section on The Beatles on page 178, one has to re-subscribe to the idiom of learning something new everyday: ‘’Though The Beatles visual image is closely associated with Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars, George Harrison had always admired the distinctive Fender Sratocaster sound. When Strats were rare in the UK in the early ‘60s, he had come tantalisingly close to acquiring one from a German source. However, he was pipped at the post by another Liverpool guitarist also working the Hamburg scene and had to make do with a Gretsch Duo Jet […].
In 1965 however, George and John Lennon acquired two ‘Sonic Blue’ Stratocasters. The Beatles were obviously too famous to shop themselves at this point and dispatched their roadie Mal Evans to fetch a couple. It’s interesting that the wealthy Beatles bought two ‘second-hand’ Strats. George’s no. 83840 has a neck dated as 1961. Ironically, by the mid sixties Strats were very unfashionable in England so new ones may have been hard to find.
The Strats were used extensively on The Beatles ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver’ albums. The song ‘Nowhere Man’ features a particularly classic Strat sound, ‘clean’ with a bit of edge derived from a slightly overdriven valve amplifier probably a Vox AC 30 […]. According to George the solo on ‘Nowhere Man’ features the two Strats played in unison, the second lead guitarist being John.’’
Food for thought? Thought for food? Either way, as written in Guitar Buyer: ‘’Those brilliant people at Haynes, famous for their superb car manuals, have done the same for the Fender Sratocaster! It’s essential reading […]., it’s FAN-STRATING-TASTIC.’’
Fan-strating-tastic indeed, for not only is this a great book for Strat owners like myself, it’s a great book for guitar players, period.