Instead of launching the umpteenth reissue of a catalog instrument, Fender decided to innovate by mounting high-output passive humbuckers on a new series called Black Top. This new product range includes a Telecaster, a Jaguar and a Stratocaster equipped with the same pickup combination based on two humbuckers. The Jazzmaster gets a more original pickup combination with one humbucker (Hot Vintage Alnico Bridge Humbucking Pickup) and one P-90 in the neck position.
The Sonic Boom!
Originally, the humbucker pickup was invented by Gibson’s engineers to suppress unwanted noise by electrically and magnetically linking two single-coil pickups in series and out of phase. From the “practical” standpoint, guitar players know the properties of such pickups: a powerful, round and warm sound. As a consequence, humbucker pickups are the best solution for distortion sounds. Fender has a strong personality due to its single-coil pickups that provide a crystal-clear sound (they can be heard on many legendary rock albums). However, they could never really take the lead in the humbucker market — controlled by Gibson since the 1950’s.
The series is entirely produced in Fender’s factory in Mexico. All bodies are made out of alder with bolt-on maple necks with 9.5″ fingerboards and 22 medium-jumbo frets (except for the Jazzmaster). By standardizing the design and finish Fender can actually lower the price to a MSRP of $450! Most models are available with two different fretboards: maple or rosewood. The latter gives a warmer, rounder and more precise tone. Considering the price, we guess that the bodies are not made out of premium-quality wood but rather out of two or three glued pieces of wood. Just being realistic: with such prices, you cannot expect to get the same resonance as from a massive-wood, one-piece body. All guitars have a perfect skin: a polyurethane varnish with a faultless glossy finish. The neck finish is the same as on the Classic Reissue Series. It is very thick and protects the wood perfectly, providing excellent grip and optimal playing comfort while allowing to quickly access every point of the neck. The truss rod adjustment is accessible on the top of the neck, which is a modern and very convenient feature. The nickel/chrome hardware and the tone and volume knobs on all models recall the look of Fender amps. We must admit that this is a very original idea but it won’t be everybody’s taste.
You’re In the Army Now!
Let’s take a look at all new recruits of the Black Top Series.
The look and sound of the Stratocaster is pretty well accomplished. The combination of the Candy Apple Red finish and the three-ply Mind Green pickguard looks wonderful and make the guitar a real eye-catcher. Two other finishes are available: Sonic Blue or Black with rosewood or maple fingerboard. The guitar has two Hot Vintage Alnico Humbucking pickups with chrome covers, a volume control, a tone control, a vintage-style tremolo, and a five-way toggle switch.
Position 1: full bridge pickup The sound is powerful and rich. It’s perfect for aggressive but precise rhythm parts.
Position 2: inside coils of the the two humbuckers. The response is hollow in the mid frequencies, the sound is lusty but not too wide.
Position 3: bridge and neck pickups in series. The low-frequency band is softened so that the mid range seems to be boosted, resulting in a flat and massive character.
Position 4: outer neck pickup. The most interesting sound among the five available. You get that unique Stratocaster sound without the sharpness.
Position 5: full neck pickup This setting produces too many lows, which results in a very heavy timbre. The tone is too heavy for rhythm parts but interesting for lead guitar.
Now let’s have a closer listen…
With the Black Top Series, Fender offers a very wide range of sound variations and finishes. The four different guitars use surprising pickup combinations! And their playability is almost perfect! The jewel of the family is the Jazzmaster, which is a really nice guitar aesthetically speaking but also provides a spicy expressive sound. The price in stores ($450) is very appealing and will surely attract guitar players who want a Fender without going broke.
- Finish quality
- Unbeatable value for money!
- The Jazzmaster is especially appealing
- Versatility of the Stratocaster
- No gig bag
- The Telecaster is a bit disappointing
- Jaguar without a tremolo bridge
To read the full detailed article of the series with all sound samples see: Fender Blacktop Series Review