As with the only other full production signature Strat of 1988 (the Eric Clapton model), the Malmsteen was no hare-brained whim. Its origins went right back to the middle of the decade, when talks began between Fender and Yngwie. The Swedish rock legend was given authority regarding the spec, and he’d outlined requirements including light weight, vintage-style (deep) body contouring, and of course his trademark scalloped neck, which retained an even scalloping over the whole length of the fingerboard. Yngwie also stipulated the use of DiMarzio pickups, which was a real departure for Fender.
A brass nut was among Yngwie’s seemingly more subtle specifications, but this initially caused some reluctance within Fender, who considered it too costly. Discussing the issue in the August 1988 edition of Guitarist Magazine, Yngwie said: “With a plastic nut you just mould it, but with a brass nut you have to craft it and file it out by hand, which takes a long time and costs a lot more money.”
Nevertheless, Malmsteen got his way, and prototypes for the guitar were publicly exhibited in 1987. Essentially, the guitar followed the design of a pre-CBS Strat, with a three-ply scratchplate, a contemporary ‘80s two-post ‘fulcrum’ vibrato bridge unit (exactly like the one on the American Standard and Strat Plus), and of course the very heavy modifications to the fingerboard. The instrument was available with either a rosewood fingerboard or a one-piece maple neck.
The pickup arrangement featured DiMarzio HS-3 stacked humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions, and a regular USA Standard Fender single coil (flush poles) in the middle position. The middle unit came factory-set distant from the strings and dropped down basically flush with the scratchplate. If you have one of these instruments, that's how you're supposed to set it up. The HS-3s (set at normal height) were already being endorsed by Yngwie in DiMarzio literature, and were developed with his input. The initial idea had been to fit the HS-3 only in the bridge position, but Yngwie found it suited him well in the neck position too. Despite the then very modern design of pickup, Malmsteen specified vintage 1950s/1960s cloth connection wire rather than 1980s plastic for his Fender signature Strat. And interestingly, the machineheads were DiMarzio vintage (Kluson-style) copies rather than the very similar machines Fender were using on their reissues at the time.
You may have thought, given Malmsteen’s apparently rigorous demands and insistances on the spec, that the endorsement deal was more the desire of Fender than the guitarist, but actually Yngwie was thrilled that Fender chose him as one if its very first commercial signature endorsees. He stated, again in Guitarist: “I am very honoured to have Fender build my guitars and put my name on them. It’s amazing.” It should also be stressed that it didn’t sound from interviews like Malmsteen had tried to lay the law down with Fender. He described the company as “so helpful” in accommodating all of his specifications.
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE FENDER YNGWIE MALMSTEEN SIGNATURE STRATOCASTER
Despite the 1987 release of the prototype examples, the retail model didn’t go on sale until 1988. There is, however, some confusion about the exact date of introduction. Guitar guru Andre Duchossoir asserted towards the end of the ‘80s that the Malmsteen model had not gone into production until summer ’88. However, Malmsteen himself stated in June ‘88 that the guitars were already on sale. The first models to arrive in the UK look to have gone into the shops in the September, so it may be that Yngwie was given some misinformation.
What isn't in any doubt is that Malmsteen was given the first of the ready-for-market signature Strats by Fender's Dan Smith during the recording of the Odyssey album. This would have been well before the guitars hit the shops as the album was released in early April '88. Yngwie confirmed to Making Music (June 1988 issue) that immediately after Smith handed over the instrument at the recording studio, he put it straight into use, without any further attention, on the solo for the track Heaven Tonight.
The production models came in either Vintage White (looking more like blonde, even from new), Sonic Blue (to me looking like a more authentic version of the colour than that on the Fender MIJ Strats), or Candy Apple Red metallic. Shortly before release, however, Yngwie had been suggesting a unique finish for the guitar, citing metallic cream as an example.
At least one of the pre-production Strats Yngwie was using when posing for photos in the first half of 1988 had a different scratchplate from the production models. The pre-production Strat in question was Vintage White and featured the Amercian Standard plate with an upper line screw hole almost above the middle pickup, whereas the production model featured an AVRI ’62 type scratchplate with the same screw hole centered between the neck and middle pickups (as in the pic in this post). Other pre-production guitars, however, had the AVRI plate like the production models.
IN THE MARKET
As an instrument, this Stratocaster was not for everyone, and its price alone excluded a lot of players who might have otherwise been interested. It had an original UK suggested retail price of £1095 (exactly the same as the Eric Clapton model), which was getting on for three times what a guitarist would expect to pay for a new American Standard Strat in 1988. Fender’s official price in dollars was $1,199.99. Inevitably stores discounted on the suggested price (£899 was typical by 1990), but there was no way the Malmsteen Strat was going to fall into the availability ballpark of the average customer. Fender did advertise the guitar, but in England virtually all of the actual promotion was left to dealers and Yngwie himself, and the Strat wasn’t even sent out to the main guitar press for review in the UK, so I doubt the curve of sales would have been very steep early on.
A really interesting guitar though, and a fantastic encapsulation of Yngwie’s preferences during the defining years of his career. If you follow Fender history, you’ll know that there have been big changes to the Malmsteen Strat since the original hit the market, not least a switch in pickups to Seymour Duncan. But much as I generally prefer Seymour Duncan pickups and still like the current model’s design, if I was going to actually have one, I’d want one of these original ‘80s jobs with the DiMarzios, small headstock and spag logo.
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