Weekend Test Drive: Pro Guitar Shop Edition

Fender 1958 Telecaster Reissue and Fender Total Tone Stratocasters Reviewed

I went to a wedding in Portland this past weekend, with some time to kill between festivities. Unbeknownst to me before I arrived, Portland is home to the Pro Guitar Shop showroom, located in the downtown Pearl District. Readers may be familiar with Pro Guitar Shop’s online presence, including their collection of YouTube demo videos in which drool-worthy boutique gear is put through its paces by Andy, gear exhibitor extraordinaire. Visitors to the Port City should definitely make some time for the showroom; the staff are great and the collection of pro guitars and amps on display is pretty spectacular.

Fender Paradise

Not surprisingly, I was instantly drawn to the shop’s Fender collection, which includes seemingly every standard model in the catalog. That includes the newly revamped American Vintage Reissue series; Fender recently updated these vintage-spec instruments based on close analysis of original specimens. One of the newly available models is the 1958 Reissue Telecaster, in beautiful nitrocellulose white blonde. A couple weeks ago, I blogged about playing one of the new Mexican-made Classic ’50s Teles; the American Vintage is similarly appointed but with considerably more attention to detail, something that was immediately evident in the example I played. The finish was immaculately applied, exhibiting a hint of the “whiteburst” technique seen on many original teles from the era; the more heavily applied finish on the edges is nearly solid, becoming more opaque toward the center of the top and back. The neck had a hint of aged yellow toner, applied more subtly than on the Classic ’50s.

I plugged the ’58 Reissue into a classy sparkle red Princeton Reverb Reissue and was rewarded with classic Tele twang from the repro pickups. They seemed to have a little more girth and hard edge than pickups inspired by early ’50s blackguard Teles, making the ’58 perfect for hot-rodded Bakersfield country tones. The only quibble I have with the model relates to its vintage-faithful specs. The 7.5″ fretboard radius and small frets are true to the era, but can be an acquired taste for players used to flatter radiuses and jumbo wire. It’s not necessarily a knock against a guitar intended to be a reproduction, but definitely a playability detail to be taken into consideration before forking over the cash for this otherwise delightful instrument.

The Total Tone Experience

Without a doubt, the highlight of Pro Guitar Shop’s Fender collection is their wall of Custom Shop instruments. Only a small subset of Fender dealers maintain a stock of these premium hand-built guitars. The folks at Pro Guitar Shop even carry their own unique line of custom spec instruments – the “Total Tone” series, which merge vintage appointments with modern features including modern neck radiuses and bigger frets. I’ve been on a Strat kick since playing a superb Mark Knopfler model at Elderly Instruments last month, and was eager to put a couple Total Tones through their paces.

The first instrument I pulled off the wall was a two-tone sunburst 1957 Reissue. While working in a guitar shop many years ago, I had the opportunity to handle an original 1956 Stratocaster a young customer had inherited from a relative. The period-correct sharper body contours and mildly “reliced” nitro finish of the Total Tone brought that instrument to mind aesthetically. The instrument’s modern setup, however, made it markedly easier to play. The pickups had the distinctly dry airiness of a ’50s Strat, but are wound a tad hot for my tastes, especially by comparison to the Custom Shop Fat ’50s pickups I have retrofitted in my own Standard series guitar.

The employee who was helping me noted he was particularly fond of the pickups in the 1963 Reissue Total Tones. I pulled a sharply appointed black example off the wall and plugged it into the Princeton; I was rewarded by possibly the fullest, warmest, and most articulate tones I’ve experienced from any Strat, hands down. The rosewood board ’63 Total Tone is incredibly responsive to light or heavy picking, and all five positions on the selector seem perfectly calibrated. Even the bridge position, often the Achilles heel of Strats, was full-bodied and snappy. Buyers in the market for a high-end Stratocaster should definitely check out the Total Tone collection at Pro Guitar Shop.

Check it Out

I highly recommended making the trip to Pro Guitar Shop if you happen to be in the Portland area. The electric guitar and amp collection is truly impressive; effects-lovers will also find much to love in the glass cases full of premium stomp-boxes from both big-name and boutique manufacturers. The employees are super-friendly, not the least bit overbearing, and are happy to let you try any piece of gear on the showroom floor. Now I just need to find a second job so I can return with money to burn…

One thought on “Weekend Test Drive: Pro Guitar Shop Edition

  1. You’ve had some real fun going to great guitar stores recently. I’ve seen the ads for their new shop, but haven’t had an opportunity to go to this shop yet. Thanks for sharing. Now I plan to go. Gotta love the pacific northwest!

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