Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mamimaster is here! The Stratomaster reviewed

I mentioned previously that I ordered all three of SCANDAL's signature Squier guitars. Because of the vagaries of ordering things in Japan, I ended up having to leave two there to pick up later... but my Stratomaster arrived today!

This was the first of these three guitars that I remember actually pointing out in real life. I have a vivid memory of being at Budokan and saying to my wife, "hey, look, there's a white Jazzmaster sitting there." I'm a Jazzmaster fan so that was a big deal to me. That was right before the band launched into "Pride."

This is not Budokan. But check out the obvious differences in Mami's prototype vs. mine.

So this is a bit of an unboxing mixed with a hands-on review-ish thing.

This guitar came from the Kitty Web Shop, which means it includes a bonus SCANDAL guitar strap (the same one they actually use) and SCANDAL gig bag. According to Ishibashi, every store gets the gig bag but I'm not convinced after seeing how this was packaged.

This is the outer box. Unlike other guitars I've bought online, this one came with an outer box that held the gig bag and strap separately, then the guitar itself in its own box. That makes me think these were packaged that way by Kitty.

Officially, this is the "Mami Jazzmaster". It's odd that they call this color "PWT" - that usually means "pewter". In this case it probably means "Pearl White".

The inner box.

It came packaged in a light foam bag with cardboard inserts.

Only accessories in the guitar box were the tremolo bar and Allen wrenches (for neck and bridge adjustments).

The gig bag is a definite step up from the practically useless Fender Japan gig bag that I got with my regular Japanese Jazzmaster. Nice padding, if you're the kind of person who likes to walk around with a guitar as a backpack. Has the SCANDAL "S" for collectors!

The strap on top of the gig bag. I'm not sure I'll ever open it. We'll see. I've bought this same strap (without the "S") in the US before, and it didn't come packaged nicely as a collector's item like this. That plastic wrap is tempting me to just leave it in there. That's the same strap on my American Jazzmaster a bit below (again, no "S").

The guitar again, in all its glory. The color is not plain white, despite what some photos show. It's more of an "Olympic White".

Mami's signature and other stuff on the back of the headstock. Interesting that her signature actually looks really real - it's got imperfections that look like the marker slipped and everything. But it isn't real. I've seen other pics of these and it looks exactly the same on all of them.

D'awwwwww, the newest member of the family! American Jazzmaster on the left, Japanese on the right.

So how's it feel and play?

tl;dr: like a Squier. Go in with the right expectations and you'll be happy. It looks good - the finish is close to perfect from what I can tell, and it has pearlescent paint that's unique and actually unexpected. (It doesn't really show up in pictures.) My fretboard has one little spot of weirdness where the stain didn't "take" and the wood is even a little cracked - just a cheap piece of rosewood that Fender themselves would have thrown out. My knobs also seem to have been scrounged out of the dustbin and are scratched up and dirty from the factory, but they're standard parts and cost about a buck if I want to change them. The guitar does sound really good, at least as far as how it's supposed to sound. More on that in a minute.

It feels a little like a toy compare to a real Fender Jazzmaster, though. I don't mind the polyurethane coating on my Japanese JM so much, but when you add in a basswood body and what feels like even chintzier pots and hardware, it definitely starts to scream "starter guitar". I've never owned a basswood guitar before and it does sound and feel hollow compared to alder. It's almost like balsa wood, the stuff they make toy airplanes out of (or did when I was a kid).

I'm a little disappointed that it came with a standard Jazzmaster bridge - that's probably because it's really just a more modified Vintage Modified Jazzmaster, and they didn't want to spend the money to put in Mami's preferred Adjust-o-Matic that's on her real Stratomaster. My bridge is mounted very low and the action's still kinda high - I don't want to do too much to a limited edition guitar, but one reversible mod I might do is add a neck shim. It could use one.

If you want a more Mami-authentic bridge than the one this comes with but you don't want to fill and drill, supposedly a Gotoh Nashville bridge with tape wrapped around the posts should work - though I'll have to get back to you on the measurements for string and post spacing.

The tailpiece is the standard Squier VMJM tailpiece, without the Trem-loc button. The spring feels much weaker than either the Japanese or American JM I have - we'll see how well it holds tuning. Another reversible mod I might recommend is adding a US Jazzmaster tremolo unit - assuming it'd fit (but it probably would).

One of these days I'll get a decent camera to record guitar videos, but sound-wise I've always thought Squier single coils were underrated and this guitar is no exception. The two single coil pickups sound just like my Squier Strat, and that's not a bad thing. I wouldn't change them - they sound full and warm and surprisingly great.

The "Duncan Designed" Hot Rails bridge pickup, though, is one of the really unique things about this guitar. Mami originally had her Stratomaster delivered like an SSS Strat (I saw her play it in this config at Budokan), but she quickly changed the bridge pickup to a Hot Rails for extra cutting power on leads. I'm not sure how this Squier pickup compares to a "real" Hot Rails (like the one she presumably has), but by itself, it sounds shrill and kind of "ganky". That's the word that comes to mind: ganky. It does sound basically Mami-like, but she always has Haruna playing rhythm underneath with those fat Gibson-style humbuckers. You need that in order to sound good with this pickup - it has basically zero bottom end.

Let's be honest - I didn't buy this because I wanted a gigging guitar. I bought it because I wanted the guitar Mami plays. In that sense, the only real disappointments are the little spot on my fretboard and the standard JM bridge. Overall, I'm happy just to own a guitar that reminds me of that night at Budokan every time I look at it. And I can't wait to see it on my wall with Skullsilver and Bluetus.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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