Buying a new guitar is a considerable investment for most of us. To get the best possible experience, it is therefore important that you’ve done some research and decided on what kind of model you’re looking for. In this feature we’ll look at a handful of models with David Gilmour’s tones in mind.
An instrument is all about inspiration. You are the musician and the guitar is the tool you use to express your feelings and music. It may sound like a cliché but you need to be at one with the guitar for the inspiration to flow.
This has nothing to do with what models you choose or how much they cost. You could very well build the guitar yourself from scrap metal but what’s important is that you’re comfortable with holding the guitar in your hands, playing it and the sound it creates.
Some basic knowledge about the different wood types, neck and body profiles, pickups etc will help you in making the best choice.
There’s little doubt that US Fenders are better than Mexicans. That’s kind of the point too, considering that MIM models are Fender’s budget brand (above Squier). However, over the last decade or so, the MIMs has gotten a considerable face lift and the overall quality is very high. In fact, the reason why they are cheaper, ha sless to do with quality but rather lower labour costs, cheaper type of laquer and apply methods etc.
Japanese Fenders are considered to be above the Mexicans and perhaps even just as good as the US. In the 80s and early 90s, Japanese Fenders were well known for being superior to any other models and the quality is still top notch.
Neck wood and contour plays an important role in how the guitar sounds and how it feels to play. Some like thick necks and some prefer a thinner contour. Some like the vintage glossy nitro finish and some prefer the more modern satin finish.
Depending on the radius, thickness and contour of the neck, maples are generally brighter sounding with a bit more top and less mid range. Rosewood necks (or rosewood fretboard) has a slightly warmer tone with more mid range and perhaps an overall more balanced character.
Like the neck, the wood used for the body, and its quality, plays a role in how the guitar sound. Alder is used in most Fender Strats mainly because of its light weight and it’s easy to finish due to minimal grain lines. Alder is also the most neutral sounding of the commonly used wood types with a full tone, well balanced lower end a hint of mid range.
Swamp ash, or southern ash, is considered as the most musical wood and it’s often preferred by the more demanding players. Its high density makes it a bright sounding wood with a strong punch and rich sustain.
Basswood was often used for Japanese Fenders in the 80s and 90s. Although a soft wood, it has a rich and warm tone with a smooth sustain. Basswood has long been favoured by jazz musicians and it can also help to balance a bright punchy maple neck.
A good tip when you’re trying out new guitars is to focus on how the guitar plays and sound acoustically. Don’t start by plugging it into a loud amp and lots of pedals but listen to the acoustics, the natural resonance and sustain. If this sound and feels right, then it’s a guitar well worth considering.
Pickups can easily be replaced for a more desired tone but you can’t fix a dead resonance. Consider it a bonus if the stock pickups are to your liking.
The string and pickup height and the tremolo action is often set to a so-called factory standardized setup. This can easily be adjusted later on, so don’t dismiss a perfectly good guitar just because the setup isn’t how you normally prefer it. Keep in mind though that there’s a difference between a setup that you don’t like and a bad setup caused by poor assembly and parts.
Squier is Fender’s budget range. Over the last decade, Squire has regained much of its old reputation of producing high quality instruments for even the tightest budgets.
Squier Classic Vibe
The Classic Vibe series captures the essence of the 50s and 60s models with all the characteristics and looks. These are very good beginners instruments that’ll give you a good start and a classic Strat tone.
Neck: modern C-shape maple (50s) and rosewood fretboard (60s)
Pickups: vintage style single coils “based on” respectively 50s and 60s tones
Pros: light weight and easy to play, classic looks and tone
Cons: hardware and electronics are more or less just for show and should be replaced
Considering the Classic Vibe?
The stock tremolo system can be hard to keep in tune and it may also lack some sustain and resonance. Replace it with a Callaham Vintage S system for better stability and more sustain. To take the guitar up to a pro level, replace the pickups with some Fender Custom Shop 69s or Fat 50s.
The Mexican models are Fender’s mid range line. From being the black sheep of the catalogue, the MIMs has gotten a thorough face-lift and are now great alternatives to the much more expensive US counterparts.
Fender MIM Standard
The budget version of the legendary American Standard. This model has gone through many changes during the last decade and the result is a very good guitar with a great tone and feel that suits a wide range of genres and styles.
Neck: modern (thin) C-shape maple and rosewood (fingerboard).
Pickups: Fender Standard (hot)
Pros: an overall good entry level guitar with a versatile tone and easy to play neck
Cons: the tremolo system is very unstable and should be replaced
Fender MIM Classic Series
The Classic Series was originally introduced in Japan as the Collectable Series but the production was moved to Mexico and renamed when Fender in the late 90‘s decided to stop the export of Japanese models. The Classic series includes faithful reissues of the original 50s, 60s and 70s models with the best features and tones from each decade. All in all some very fine instruments that’ll give you lots of value for the buck. With a few upgrades, such as better hardware and pickups, you’ll get a guitar that will stand up to any US model.
Body: alder, ash (70s)
Neck: soft V-shape vintage tinted glossy maple (50s), C-shape rosewood fretboard (60s), U-shape maple and rosewood fretboard (70s)
Pickups: vintage style single coils “based on” respectively 50s, 60s and 70s tones
Pros: classic looks, feel and tone, very easy to play
Cons: the tremolo system is very unstable and should be replaced
Fender MIM Road Worn
The Road Worn series are Fender’s budget versions of their popular US Custom Shop Relic models. The aging process looks very authentic and gives the guitar a warm and balanced tone – not least due to the nitro lacquer finish. The black 50s model in particular makes a great basis for your David Gilmour Black Strat project. The only real drawback of these guitars are the necks, which due to the very little finish, can dry out and leave some nasty fret edges.
Neck: soft V-shape maple (50s), C-shape rosewood fretboard (60s)
Pickups: Fender Tex/Mex
Pros: light weight and easy to play, nitro finish for warmer tone and cool relic look
Cons: dry necks and the tremolo system is very unstable and should be replaced
Considering the Road Worns?
The necks have very little lacquer and the wood can dry out easily. Buy a loaded body off eBay and order a custom neck from Warmoth for the best setup. The bridge system can also be replaced by something a bit more reliable, like the Callaham Vintage S system.
Japanese Fenders is a bit tricky to get but it’s well worth the effort. Considered superior to the US Fenders in the 80s and early 90s, the Japanese instruments still holds a very high quality.
Fender CIJ ST series
The ST series feature a wide range of vintage models, standards and even some signature copies. The attention to details and the quality of the wood is in most cases just as good as the US counterparts – in many cases even better. Most models feature Fender Custom Shop Texas Specials pickups, which are similar to the CS69s with a bit more mid range and bite.
Body: alder (most models)
Neck: soft V-shape maple (’57 reissue), C-shape rosewood fretboard (’62 reissue)
Pickups: Fender CS Texas Specials (most models)
Pros: excellent quality guitars for half the price of a US model
The US Fenders are all made at the factory in California. Common for all the models is the overall high quality of the electronics, hardware and wood. The US rooster feature a wide range of guitars suitable for Gilmour’s tones, including the Standard, Vintage Series and the many artist and signature models.
Fender American Standard
The recently upgraded model feature a combination of a glossy fretboard and satin back (maple) for better tone and grip, two-point mounted bridge for better tuning stability and a bypassed tone circuits. Compared to the Mexican Standard, the US model feels and sounds noticeably better – hence the price.
Neck: modern C-shape maple and rosewood (fretboard), beveled angles for easier action
Pickups: Fender CS Fat 50s
Pros: overall a very versatile and easy to play guitar
Fender American Vintage
The American Vintage series are faithful reissues of the Standards from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Authentic specs and details, high quality wood and parts makes these a dream to play. Fender reintroduced the series in early 2012 with a new range of guitars – all to get as close to the originals as possible.
Body: alder, ash on some transparent finish models
Neck: soft V-shaped maple (’56), slim D-shape rosewood fretboard (’59), C-shape rosewood fretboard (’65)
Pickups: Fender vintage custom wound ’56, ’59, ’65 respectively
Pros: the closest you’ll get to the original era instruments
Cons: limited colour variations for each model
Fender David Gilmour NOS/Relic Signature
This is a faithful replica of David’s legendary Black Strat in it’s present form, including the 1983 C-shaped 57 reissue maple neck, David’s preferred shortened trem arm and the mini toggle pickup blender switch. The Relic model also feature all those little dings and scratches as the original. After a period of tests, David decided on slightly different pickups for the Signature, mainly the Fender CS Fat 50’s in the neck, as opposed to the 1971 in his own guitar.
Neck: C-shape maple with glossy nitro finish
Pickups: Fender Fat 50s (N), Fender Custom Wound (M), S Duncan SSL5 (B)
Pros: great sounding, classic tones with an easy to play neck
If you’re a Les Paul guy but want something that’ll cover David’s tones, then check out some of the P90s or 50s style humbucker (PAF) Les Pauls and SGs for a tone similar to Strats.
Feel free to use the comments field below and share your thoughts on this guide and your experience with other models!