Jazz Guitar Today contributor Brad Jeter provides an in-depth review of the Fender JV Modified ’60s Stratocaster.
I bought my first Made In Japan (MIJ) Fender in 1985. It was a pink paisley Tele and there was substantial buzz about it. The quality was simply outstanding especially given the price which, if I vaguely recall being around $500 street.
The fit and finish were meticulous and you really couldn’t find a fault in that department. They looked fantastic and are still sought after today.
Having said that, they were certainly not perfect and there were things about them that left many players wanting. I’ll name a few things that I wish had been different. It had a smallish C neck that had just a bit too much poly applied. It was not exactly sticky but it was noticeable. It had a 7-1/4” radius and vintage style frets. Now this really isn’t a flaw per se, and it was an attempt at historical accuracy which you can’t argue with. However, combining the shiny newness and a smallish neck profile and vintage frets, it was not the easiest playing neck in the world.
By this time, in the mid 80s, companies were coming around to the realization that players still wanted the vintage vibe but they also wanted better playing instruments. This was a time when “super” Strats were becoming a thing. Many players loved these MIJ guitars (including myself) but one of the first orders of business–if it were to be played regularly and not just cowboy chords–a refret was almost necessary. I personally have refretted every MIJ I have owned from this vintage.
The pickups made sound when you plucked the strings. That is about the only thing that could be said of these pickups. Although players, by this time, were opting for better after market pickups in droves–this trend really began in the mid 70s with the introduction of the DiMarzio Super Distortion.
I am going to digress for a moment here. Unless you were there, you have no idea how much of a game changer these pickups were. I remember it well. I don’t think many younger players (and maybe not so young players) realize that a very healthy percentage of coveted 57-60 Les Paul Std’s had their pickups pulled and Super Distortions installed. Any vintage humbucker Gibson during this time were often “upgraded” to Super Distortions.
Many a music store had a box of “old Gibson” pickups sitting in a box somewhere collecting dust. Of course there were many players that did indeed know and wanted PAFs and you could easily find sets for less than $200. I paid a “premium” of $300 for a pair of double cream (some call them double white) PAFs that were pulled out of a guitar from a famous band’s player in the early 80s.
Digression over. The pickups in the 1985 MIJ Paisley Tele, and MIJ’s in general were lackluster sounding at best and, in my estimation, were on the thin and glassy side of balance. To paraphrase a line from a famous Wendy’s commercial from that time, Where’s the Beef? One of the favorites, at that time, were the Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounders. It was my goto Tele pickup (for the record, I never did that to a vintage 50s Tele).
The hardware was adequate and got the job done, so, no real complaints there.
So, overall, this era of MIJ guitars were excellent values but certainly left room for upgrades that were unquestionable improvements.
Enter the JV Modified ’60s Stratocaster which I’ll just refer to as the JV. If you just need a one word review, here it is: Fantastic!
Now, for those of you who would like a bit more detail, let me enlighten you on what I believe to be a guitar that gets almost everything right.
As you can see, it is a Stratocaster based upon the classic, late 60s 4-bolt neck which are without question, highly collectible, large headstock Strats. The Olympic white finish just teases you to get your Jimi on (personally, although I love the white I have always preferred my Strats in black. Of the possible three 1968 Strats used up until his passing (one black and possibly two white ones, Jimi’s purported favorite was the black one).
As usual, I am not going to parrot and list specs that can be easily viewed with a few clicks on the Fender webpage. I would rather spend my time and yours going over the playability, feel and sounds this guitar is capable of.
The body is basswood which has a long tradition of the wood of choice for Japanese Fenders. I have always liked basswood in general–it is relatively light, resonant and a stable wood. I have always found basswood to be fairly well balanced tonally with a defined midrange and good sustain overall. The belly carve is deep and comfortable and the forearm relief cut in accurate as well. I think you will have no problem finding a JV in the mid 7 pound range which most would agree is a nice place to be for a Strat.
The finish work is top-shelf which is no surprise. Japanese attention to detail and fastidious application is evident from all angles.
A good check is always the neck pocket. This is the most difficult area to achieving an even and consistent finish thickness–the JV is flawless and the actual neck pocket/neck joint is a joy to behold. The alignment is spot-on with not a hint of gap whatsoever. It is no secret that the better the neck to body mating, the better chance of maximizing the overall sustain and tonality potential of a bolt-on instrument.
The large headstock immediately identifies the JV as a late 60s. Another indiction was the truss-rod adjustment moved from the body end of the neck to the headstock. The JV departs from the traditional bullet style adjustment to a recessed hex head. This really shouldn’t raise anyone’s hackles in objection.
Tuners are vintage in appearance (fortunately not the dreaded “F” tuners as Fender moved into the 70s). They are smooth and accurate and, as a bonus, are self locking but not staggered height for maintaining string tension at the nut break angle. A traditional string tree is applied to keep tension on the B and E string passing through the nut slots.
The neck finish is a thin, satin poly that feels great right out of the box. A nice touch is that the headstock face is a gloss finish which gives it a touch of class.
The neck carve is a soft V–in my opinion a VERY soft V. It is not pronounced (like a late 56 or early 57 Strat which are very hard Vs–another of my personal preferences). It is exceedingly comfortable in the hand up and down the neck. It is a slab-capped neck but you have to look very close to see it. Another feature–one that I think is very important and was certainly lacking with the original MIJs–is the slightly rounded fretboard sides. I absolutely cannot stand those razor sharp edges found on so many necks, especially in mass produced guitars. The early MIJs had very sharp edges and it was always somewhat of a turnoff for me. No such issue on the JV. Another advantageous modification is the 9.5” radius. Combined with the medium-jumbo frets–which are beautifully installed and finished–this neck is a pleasure to play. It is comfortable, fast and capable of low-action without fretting out above the 12th fret on wide bends.
Moving now to the body components we start with the bridge. The plate and saddles seem to be very good quality and it is a five spring, traditional trem. I will say that the trem block is not in keeping with vintage specs. It is is not as thick but rather, thinner and tapered along its back side. Two things I can think of: it can facility a greater travel for extreme dive-bombing or it is simply a less expensive option. I won’t step on the landmine of trem blocks– there are plenty of forums you can visit to argue endlessly about it.
As will any trem set-up, don’t expect it to not require some work to get it to work the way you want. The locking tuners are a major upgrade as far as maintaining pitch with trem use and you should realistically be able to obtain excellent performance. Eeveryone has different expectations and so many variables come into play that an entire book could be written about trem set-up–I’m pretty sure those books have been written. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that the JV trem cannot be set-up for satisfying performance.
The pickups really surprised me – a lot. They are not good…they are really good. Balanced and refined is how I would succinctly characterize them.
No ice-pick, no shrillness. Unless you are going for a specific tone and output, these pickups will not only get the job done, but with aplomb. The traditional throw-away Japanese pickup is a thing of the past. These are keepers and should satisfy just about anyone and this is coming from a pickup snob.
I didn’t pull the pickguard so I cannot say what the pots or 5-way switch installed are. The pots have a smooth feel and lean towards the “fast” side. There is not a lot of physical resistance when turning them, but, again, they are smooth in operation and and have a traditional taper. A “stealth” mod on the JV is the pull-to-engage lower tone pot. It engages the neck pickup in combination with the bridge or middle pickup. Who can argue with additional tone possibilities especially when it doesn’t detract from the vintage appearance.
At $1299, I have absolutely no reservations recommending this guitar.
I would go further and say you would be hard pressed to find anything near this quality and playability at this price. If you could only have one Strat and like the styling of the era this is based on, I just don’t think you will find many choices that offer this much overall value. Yes, it’s just that good. Check one out and see if you concur!
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