The beautiful and vibrant metallic custom colour finishes established in the pre-CBS era had all been scrapped in favour of visible-wood finishes (plus the hardly spectacular opaque black or white), and this had brought about a change in the body material from classic alder to a more prominently figured ash. The ash bodies were already weightier, but their weight was exaggerated further by evermore lethargic production standards in which far less wood was being removed at the contouring stage. The heavy ash bodies sounded ‘cold’, and the pickups were wound slightly ‘light’, making the tone more clinical and brittle still. Other unpopular features such as the large headstock and the three-bolt neck merely served to compound the gripes. The ‘70s Strats had none of the soul of the pre-CBS models – either tonally, or visually.
The Fernandes RST50 came with either a 1957 feature set (as shown above) or a 1964 feature set, with rosewood fretboard and three-ply scratchplate.
But the ‘what-happened-next’ changed the world of guitar manufacture for good. Noticing how many influential guitarists were going out of their way to find old Strats from the 1950s and early 1960s, a number of Japanese guitar brands realised that reissuing exact copies of these pre-CBS instruments could net them a huge profit. They bought a pool of original vintage Strats, they pulled them apart, and they duplicated every last detail. The result was a wave of third party replicas virtually indistinguishable from the original pre-CBS models, followed by a dilemma for Fender’s lawyers, a rude awakening in the Fender marketing department, and a revolution in new guitar production. It hadn’t come from Fender, but the vintage reissue Strat had been born.
And guitarists couldn’t get enough of them. Tonally attractive, often stunning to look at, and very comfortable to play, these Japanese ‘50s and ‘60s replicas were also easily undercutting the obviously inferior new Fender Strats on price. With legal action no real answer to the problem, Fender’s only option was to compete on level terms with the Far Eastern copyists, and that meant contracting out a wing of production to Japan.
You can read more about Fender’s own line of Japanese Strats in my The Truth About… 1980s Squier Strats and Fender MIJ ’62 Reissues articles, but it’s not Fender or Squier I’m looking at in this retrospective. It’s one of the brands which during the late 1970s stuck a thorn in Fender’s side and prompted the existence of Fender Japan in the first place. I’m looking here at an impressive Fernandes Strat copy. More specifically, a late 1980s, UK market, ‘The Revival’ model RST50 – ’57 Reissue. The RRP for these in the run up to Christmas 1987, was around £325, and even with Fender by this time competing from Japan, that still undercut pretty much every other purveyor of accurate Strat replicas before discounts were taken into account.
I actually remember my first encounter with the Fernandes brand. I was too young to have been prowling the guitar shops in the late 1970s, and I didn’t really start taking a regular interest in the various vendors until summer 1983. Still a teenager, I had enough trouble affording sets of strings, let alone the guitars, so most of my trips into the shops were purely to browse, or to accompany fortunate mates who’d actually managed to get hold of some cash. One such trip, around the spring of 1984, presented me quite unexpectedly with the sight of a small, ‘choreographed’ display of metallic finish Fernandes (Revival model) Strats. I was absolutely mesmerised by these beautiful guitars, and desperately wanted one, but couldn’t afford one, so was forced to forget about them. Of course, in the longer term, I never did forget about those Fernandes Strats. But by the time I finally had some cash, they’d all gone, and I ended up getting a Lake Placid Blue Tokai.
Even though Fernandes had faced strong pressure from Fender prior to this late ‘80s model being produced, on the UK market any potential legal or commercial consequences seemed to have made little impact on the brand. This guitar was still an accurate copy of a late 1950s Fender Stratocaster, with…
- A ‘one-piece’ maple neck with vintage honey finish, and if it’s any different from a Fender neck then I wouldn’t have a clue what the difference is.
- A deep countoured, solid alder body in ‘Burgundy Mist Metallic’ (you’ll see why I’ve used the inverted commas around the colour in a moment).
- Vintage-type hardware.
- A single-ply, pre-1959 type scratchplate with the customary eight fixing screws in exactly the right places.
- VS2 Vintage Staggered pickups with the correct alnico pole-pieces and a generous amount of coil windings.
Fernandes also did a gold hardware option on their Strat copies. I had a metallic gold one with gold-plated parts in the early 1990s, but I don’t know if that option was also offered on the RST50 in the ‘eighties. I didn’t hold onto the gold one more than a few months, by the way. It had flush-poled pickups with ceramic magnets, which didn’t go with the expensive looking appointments at all, and didn’t have a proper Strat sound either. I was just on the verge of changing the pickups when I saw an absolute dream flametop Les Paul Classic in a shop and needed collateral fast. The gold Fernandes ‘Revival’ Strat was one of a number of guitars I traded in to get that Les Paul.
I must admit I’m not an expert on Fernandes Strats, despite falling in love with their physical beauty at such a young age. But for me they were always more erratic than Tokai and Fender Japan Strat reissues in terms of their finer points. The standard of build was in my experience consistently very good. But Fernandes would mess with the authenticity of some of their vintage-based Strats by re-styling the pickups (re-staggering the poles for an unwound G string, for instance), or substituting the machine heads, or making the body out of basswood or whatever. If you really wanted vintage accuracy, you had to be very careful when buying a Fernandes ‘Revival’. At first glance it could look like a perfect copy, then you’d just find one glaringly inaccurate feature and wonder: “Why on earth have they done that?”. The ‘lawsuit’ issue was a consideration, but legal threats wouldn’t be made or broken on the length of a G string pole-piece, surely?…
This late ‘eighties RST50, however, with its (correctly) staggered VS2 pickups and total authenticity in terms of woods and hardware, was a vintage replica through and through. Other than the five-way switch (a real ’57 Strat would have had a three-way), and the modern poly finish as opposed to old-school acrylic or cellulose, there really wasn’t any noticeable deviation from the archetypal vintage look and sound. Naturally, a real late ‘50s Strat would be more mature, and the old, haphazard manufacturing methods would give it some extra personality, but fundamentally, for three hundred quid in 1987, you weren’t gonna get much closer to the original than this.
More Guitar Reviews and Retrospectives