Rift Sawn 1-piece Maple Neck
Soft V Neck Shape with 9.5” Radius
2-piece Select Ash Body
3 Vintage Noiseless Pickups
Tone 1: Master TBX Tone Control
Tone 2: Master Active 25dB Mid Boost
The Journeyman Relic Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster is the latest offering from Fender to feature Eric Clapton’s signature on the headstock. This instrument joins the Fender Eric Clapton Signature Strat ($1,599.99 MAP) and the Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster ($4,500 MAP) as the third Clapton Strat currently available from Fender.
While this instrument shares a common set of wiring features with its siblings, the Journeyman finishes (especially the two-tone sunburst) add that element of vintage vibe that is key to the artistic signature of the Fender Custom Shop. While some may find the $5,100 price tag a bit rich for their taste, the craftsmanship and soul that went into building this instrument are sure to satisfy die hard Strat and Custom Shop fans alike. To add some additional depth of field to this story we reached out to Mike Lewis, the VP of Product Development at the Fender Custom Shop for his insights on this iconic instrument.
[GTR] Mike, what was your role in the development of this guitar?
[Mike Lewis] I’m the one who reached out to Clapton’s group through our Artist Relations rep. The Eric Clapton signature model is one of our most popular guitars, and the Journeyman Relic is our most popular relic finish. Why not consider putting the two most popular things together, especially considering that the name Journeyman has been used in various ways in relation to Eric Clapton. We asked what colors they would like and they came back with those two colors. I asked Todd Krauss, the Master Builder who builds all of Eric’s guitars to make a couple of samples. We sent them and Eric loved them, so we went from there!
I love signature models because they tend to be a distillation of the instruments and feature sets that iconic players used to craft their sound. Per Mike’s comments, these guitars are crafted in the same shop that makes the instruments that Clapton actually plays. Noting that Eric is back on the concert stage, it is important to remember that part of Clapton’s “gig” includes sitting in with the world’s most iconic guitar players, which means his guitars have to be able to deliver in a live setting.
[GTR] All the Clapton Strats feature two of Fender’s coolest tone tweaks that are also available as aftermarket kits. Tell us about them.
[Mike] The mid-boost is a 25db gain boost with some accentuation on the mid-range frequencies. We developed it for Clapton back in ’87 when we started working on this guitar. He wanted a knob that did this and we created the circuit based on what he described.
The TBX is a stacked pot. There’s a 250k pot and a 1Meg pot. From the detent in the middle down it acts like a regular 250k tone pot. As you turn it up past the middle, you are engaging the other pot which is allowing much more frequencies through. More bass, more treble, more everything, so it gets much more full ranged in tone.
[GTR] What do you think are the elements that really give this guitar its sonic fingerprint?
[Mike] Well, I would say that with any Fender guitar it’s never one thing, it’s the whole thing. It’s a system, and it all works together. The essence of this guitar is that it’s like a 50’s style vintage Stratocaster, with a few modern features that Eric wanted for playability. I would say that the difference between the standard version that we’ve been making for years and the Journeyman Relic is the fact that it’s a lacquer Journeyman finish. All the goodness that already exists in the Clapton Strat is just accentuated by the thinner finish. It allows the guitar to resonate more, so you just get more of everything that you already had.
THE GEEKY STUFF
[GTR] As I was playing this thing I could really hear the sound of the one-ply pickguard coming back up from the cavity beneath the pickguard and the way the guitar was interacting with it. It’s not just the feel to the touch, the one-ply pickguard responded and sounded differently than a three-ply guard. What’s your take on that?
[Mike] Oh yeah, totally. Here’s the thing, anything that is mounted on the guitar will affect the sound because it all vibrates. I’m like you. I can hear the difference between a single-ply and a triple-ply. I can hear the difference between tortoise shell and anodized aluminum. It’s all there. It all contributes to the sound in the way the guitar vibrates and resonates. I prefer, personally as a player, the single-ply for the exact reason you just described.
[GTR] In terms of the tremolo, it’s fairly easy to unblock, is that correct?
[Mike] Yes. Just be aware that it’s going to sound different.
[GTR] Who in the marketplace did you really design this for? It’s not a cheap guitar, but yet at the same time it’s a player’s instrument – it’s got the best of modern and vintage wrapped together. Is there a group of players that you specifically designed this instrument for?
[Mike] With all of our guitars, they’re really for everybody. We’ve got collectors. We’ve got professional musicians, as well as professional individuals who are just guitar fanatics and one is never enough. In the case of the Clapton, that guitar is used by so many working guitar players because it’s just a darn good guitar. It sounds great and it plays great, just like you were saying, and they all have the same reaction that you do. It’s so useable in so many ways. So it’s really for anybody who is into Fender guitars and has the wherewithal to own one.
First and foremost I’d like to thank the good people at Fender for sending me one of these fine instruments to play. It’s not cheap and I appreciated their letting me spend some serious time with this guitar.
Looks: I will have to admit that that the aesthetics of the instrument are pretty seductive. While the white Journeyman Relic finish is cool, I was very happy when I opened up the case and saw the 2-tone sunburst. Let’s face it people, nobody can do a 50’s Fender sunburst better than the Custom Shop.
Feel: The Journeyman Relic thing really does feel like a vintage guitar that has been played for decades by someone who knew which notes to play and how to play them. I’m not kidding, you can feel these things in an instrument. While I might be inclined to tune this guitar down a half step, it is nice and fat at A440.
Features: Having a neck that feels that vintage but also has 22-frets is truly a dream come true for people like myself who have been playing Strats for decades. As you will (hopefully) hear in my play through video, the TBX Tone Circuit really does gives you that “more” I’m always looking for in the #4 pickup selection. Similarly, the 25dB Mid Boost took the bridge pickup into a whole other universe running into the second channel of my Marshall JVM.
If you love the look and feel of a vintage Strat, but also want the same modern amenities that Eric Clapton relies upon, this instrument was made for you!
Price: $5,100 MAP
More Info: FenderCustomShop.com