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JGT REVIEW: Fender Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Thinline

Bill Hart

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After years of collaboration with one of today’s most respected guitarists, Fender has introduced the Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Thinline.

With a new and unique design,this signature guitar is a marriage between a semi-hollow body and a traditional Stratocaster.  The quality and tone – and the attention to detail of this guitar make it perfect for any musical style – especially today’s jazz.

Jazz Guitar Today reached out to TWO well-respected players for their opinions of this new signature model.  As guitarists that make their livings with Strats (tours, sessions, instruction, etc.), we thought they could provide a unique and detailed perspective.  So… we gave the Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Thinline to Bill Hart and Carl Culpepper to check out, take to gigs and to give it a thorough ‘Stratoxamination’.

Review by Bill Hart & Carl Culpepper

For highlights of video review

Eric Johnson Signature Series models

Carl Culpepper:  The Eric Johnson models are like the highest development of the 50’s type of design. I feel like Eric sought out all the modifications I always wanted to make to a 50’s style Strat… Then, of course, the pickups are specially designed to Eric standards and everything else in there – it’s fantastic.

For the basics, original JGT Press Release

F-hole with Custom Chambers

Bill Hart:  Personally, I feel the F-hole gives the guitar a bit of a warmer tone. Alder wood is commonly used on Stratocasters which in itself has a very nice tone but I feel like the chamber rounds out the tone.

Carl Culpepper:  I had the Eric Johnson Signature solid body, the one that looks like a 54, and that was a fantastic guitar!  This new thinline signature guitar is very similar to that guitar and it feels very much the same.  It has a lot of the attributes that make that guitar really great – but it does have the hollow chamber which does add something to the tone.

Eric Johnson Single coil pickups

Bill Hart: Stratocasters are common for three single coil pickups – neck, middle and bridge with a five-way selector switch. Which positions 1, 3 and 5 are choosing just a single coil which causes a sixty cycle hum very common for the Stratocaster. Position 2 and 4 cancel out the sixty cycle hum. I feel like Eric would pretty much use traditional sounding Stratocaster pickups. One of the interesting things that we have learned, as guitar players, from Eric Johnson is that many years ago he wired the bottom tone knob to the bridge pickup and bypassed the tone on the middle pickup which in combination gave the Strat five distinct sounds that are characteristic to a Stratocaster. Wiring the tone to the bridge pickup allows you to roll off some of the brightness for a warmer sound.

Regarding the electronics, when I was playing the guitar it felt like the output of the potentiometers, commonly known as ‘pots’, felt like 250k rather than a 500k or a 1mg. The difference is less output with the 250k somewhat creates more tone coming from the guitar.

“As guitar players, we really invest a lot of time into ALL the different characteristics…”   Carl Culpepper

Carl Culpepper:  Something unique about Eric Johnson – not many players were known for omitting the tone knob on the middle.  The strategy seems to be that you tend to always want brightness out of that pickup.  I realize, like Eric Johnson, I never really need to roll the tone off of the middle pick up because I’m usually going for real bright tone.  When you don’t put the tone control in the circuitry to that pick up, you get even a brighter tone  – because you’re not loading that pickup down.

Custom quarter sawn “’57 Soft V”-shaped one-piece maple neck; 12”-radius maple fingerboard; 21 medium-jumbo frets:

Bill Hart: A maple neck tends to be a little brighter by nature. But from my experience, it really feels like it comes from the player’s hands. Also,the headstock is tilted back a little compared to the normal Strats, as well as the tuning pegs being staggered. In theory, this omits the string trees and helps with the tremolo staying in tune.

Carl Culpepper:  The neck on this EJ Thinline guitar is reminiscent of older Stratocasters that has a soft V toward the headstock –  but it really gets kind of worked out as they go up.  It’s a pretty beefy neck. I think definitely a lot more wood to that neck than my American Standard – a little deeper, little rounder and I think that contributes a lot to the tone of those guitars.

Five springs and no rear tremolo cover:

Bill Hart: My theory is knowing the way Eric plays and the way I play sometimes by hitting a lower string open and then bending a higher string will cause the lower string to go out of tune with less springs. Conversely I like to use three springs and adjust my tension so when I pull up on the tremolo it goes up a minor third.

Final thoughts:

Bill Hart:  It’s great, nothing you would really have to do to this guitar.  Take it out of the box and straight to the gig – and play!

Carl Culpepper:  If you ask me, this Erik Johnson Thinline model and the EJ signature solid body version are possibly the best deal in the entire Fender line.  Bang for the buck –  a remarkable level of quality.

Bill Hart (right) & Carl Culpepper (left)

Bill Hart is among the most versatile guitarist, composer and music educator on the jazz-rock instrumental scene today. Bill taught guitar at the Atlanta Institute of Music & Media for over 25 years and performed in seminars and clinics with contemporary guitar greats as Mike Stern, Steve Khan and Scott Henderson. He has released six albums of jazz-fusion instrumental music and tours throughout the world.  www.BillHartMusic.com

Carl Culpepper has been a professional musician since 1985.  Since then, he has been involved in various styles of music, including jazz.  However, his personal style has remained rooted in the high-energy, guitar-driven rock. In addition to his career as a performing artist, Culpepper is a longstanding faculty member and co-Head of Guitar at the Atlanta Institute of Music & Media.  To learn more, visit CarlCulpepper.com

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