Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fender Custom Shop Nocaster Guitar Review

Good day!

Today we are looking at a Fender 1951 reissue Nocaster that is a real peach. It is finished in Honey Blonde nitrocellulose lacquer over an ash body, and it was built by the Fender Custom Shop.

I had better start with a short lesson on what a Nocaster is in case you have not heard of them.

Fender originally called this model the Broadcaster, but in early 1951 Gretsch let them know that they had already registered a name very similar to this, so Fender made a production change. The change being that Fender started cutting the Broadcaster name off the headstock decals. These guitars with only the spaghetti Fender logo on the headstock are referred to as Nocasters.

Fender renamed the guitar as the Telecaster, but used up all of the old modified Broadcaster decals first, so the last Nocaster was built in August of 1951. It is estimated that about 200 of these guitars were built, so your chances of getting your grubby mitts on one are pretty slim.

Fender re-issued the Nocasters in the mid 2000s via their Custom Shop, and it is a very faithful reproduction of the original. Subsequent re-issues have more modern features and do not capture the spirit of the 1951 model.

The guitar we are looking at today is an original re-issue Nocaster Relic that was built in 2005. This would be model 015-0302-867, in Fender-speak.

The neck does not have a normal Telecaster profile, with more of a chunky “U” feel to it. The profile is consistent down the length of the neck, making for a more Les Paul-like experience. There is not much of a radius to the fretboard, and there are 21 skinny frets seated into it. The truss rod adjusts at the heel, so the single-ply pickguard has to be removed to adjust it.

The hardware is also faithful to the original. This Nocaster has nickel/chrome hardware with Fender/Gotoh vintage style tuners with small knobs to imitate the 1950’s Kluson Deluxe units. These tuners have slots across the capstans instead of holes, so they really capture the look. The bridge has 3 brass saddles, and it strings though the body. Of course there are flat head screws everywhere, with not a Phillips head in sight.

The pickups are low-output compared to other modern Telecasters I have played. This is apparently how they are supposed to be. Stay tuned, as the electronics get weirder.

Weirder, as in I have not seen a guitar wired this way before. There are two knobs and a three-way switch, but here is how it is wired:

In position 1, the volume control works normally, and the bridge pickup is selected. The “tone” knob blends in the neck pickup as it is turned up.

In position 2, the volume control works normally and the “tone” knob is disabled. Only the neck pickup is selected and it has a very bright tone.

In position 3, the volume control works normally and the “tone” knob is disabled. Only the neck pickup is selected, and there is a very dark and bassy tone.

Apparently, this is how the guitars were wired in 1951, and they were changed to a more conventional set-up in 1952. The newer reissue Nocasters also lost this goofy wiring and are now wired more normally too. Hmmm.

As far as the appearance of this Nocaster, it has been factory reliced, so there are scratches, lacquer checking and finish wear all over it. But it is tastefully worn and not over the top, as some their later relics are.

Overall, it is very well made. The frets are well done and the action is very low and playable, which is a great complement to the fatter neck profile.

And, despite the goofy wiring, I like the way it sounds. I mostly use position 1, and I like being able to blend the two pickups without changing the tone setting. I think this provides a lot more character than rolling off the highs with a tone potentiometer. Position 2 provide a nice harder rock and blues tone, but I miss having the tone knob a bit as it can get harsh. Position 3 is unusable in my book, being muddy and weird.

But the goofiness makes it more authentic, and I appreciate the trouble the guys at the Custom Shop went through to recreate this guitar. And these guitars did not come cheap. This Fender Custom Shop ’51 Nocaster Relic had a list price of $3579.99 back in 2005, but you can pick an original re-issues for $2000 to $2500 nowadays.

It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

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