By now, you’ve probably heard about Fender’s recently released Blacktop series of guitars. This series features Stratocasters, Telecasters, Jaguars, and Jazzmasters with humbuckers replacing the single coil pickups typically found in these guitars. (The Blacktop Jazzmaster actually has one P90-style pickup in addition to one humbucker. The rest of the guitars have two humbuckers.) Fender has stated that they created this series to appeal to modern rock guitarists who want a hotter sound than what single coils provide. The most intriguing aspect of these guitars to me is the $449.99 street price. As you might expect at this price point, the guitars are not made in America, but are made in Mexico. Even so, this is a great price point as it’s actually cheaper than many of Fender’s other MIM guitars. I was curious to see how well they played and sounded.
My local Guitar Center had a few Stratocaster and Telecaster models in stock, but none of the Jaguar or Jazzmasters. I was especially interested in playing the Telecaster model since I’m a big fan of Rosewood necks and most Telecasters do not have them, but these do. Additionally, I was thinking about picking up a Telecaster when these guitars came out. The Stratocasters and Telecasters are also available with Maple necks.
I was very impressed with the neck on these guitars. The neck felt great on each of the Blacktop guitars I played. However, the skunk stripe that covers the truss rod on one of the Telecasters was slightly raised to the point where I could feel it when I played the guitar. This only occurred on one of the guitars I played, but I thought it was worth noting since it affected the overall playability of the guitar.
In place of the typical control knobs used on Fender guitars, these guitars feature amp knobs. Some people don’t like the amp knobs, but I think they look fine on the guitars. My Muddy Waters Telecaster has amp knobs as the controls, so maybe I’m just used to them.
I played the Telecaster model through a couple of different amps. I felt like the pickups sounded OK, but were a little muddy. I think if I were to pick up one of these guitars, I would probably end up replacing the pickups. That being said, at $449 you can forgive a little muddiness in the pickups. Based on other reviews and comments I’ve seen, other people like the pickups, so maybe it’s just that I’m used to a different sound.
The Stratocaster features a slightly different control set from the Telecasters. Even through the Stratocaster has two humbuckers, it features a five-way switch with a couple of coil-splitting options. This is a nice way to give a little bit of the typical Strat quack along with the bite of humbuckers.
Overall, based on the Blacktop guitars I played, I think Fender has a big hit on their hands with these guitars. They appear to be a great value and, aside from the finish issue I mentioned above, appear to be solid, well-made guitars. I’ve only played a few of the Telecaster and Stratocaster models, so I can’t comment on the Jaguar or Jazzmaster models. I am especially interested in hearing people’s comments about the Jazzmaster since this is the cheapest Jazzmaster produced under the Fender brand and I can see it appealing to a lot of people.