The 1992 Fender Aged Parts '62 Stratocaster Reissue

Bob Leggitt | Wednesday, 27 May 2020 |


Fender Japan's 1992 Aged Parts '62 Strat reissue in Sonic Blue. It also came in Sunburst, Black, Vintage White, Candy Apply Red, and later, a range of inauthentic finishes based on the Foto-Flame concept.

In 1992, Fender Japan shook up the vintage replica market by offering their '62 Stratocaster reissue with pre-aged plastic parts as standard. It was the first time any manufacturer of vintage Fender replicas had sought to duplicate discoloured plastic and celluloid in a complete, off-the-rack instrument, and it created a buzz of fevered enthusiasm.

The revised reissue made its UK debut at the Northern Music Show in May '92, and the Sonic Blue sample was almost instantly seized for review by Guitarist magazine. The review appeared in the August '92 issue, and was important enough to be reprinted in the June '94 edition as one of ten classic product reviews summing up the first decade of the mag.

Unsurprisingly, the plastic parts took a prominent billing in that review. Perhaps the most telling line in David Mead's appraisal was:

"One of the major problems I've encountered with this review is actually keeping hold of the guitar long enough to form my own opinon. Every time I turn around someone else has run off with it and I've probably walked a good few office miles in its retrieval."

Kudos was subtracted for the backplate, which was still made from pure white plastic on early samples. But the backplates were quickly switched to drabby green as healthy batches of the guitars flooded into the country to feed the demand.

If you're a long-time reader of this blog, there will be little you don't already know about Fender's MIJ '62 Strat reissues. But I haven't looked at the aged parts in depth, so I'm dedicating this post to that purpose.

WHY THE GREEN PLATE?


In 1959, Fender ceased using single-ply white plastic scratchplates on Stratocasters and switched to a 3-ply variant, which was manufactured from celluloid-nitrate. This substance was less rigid and brittle than the plastic of the 1950s, and was probably considered more stable in a laminate format.

Celluloid was supple in its day, but it's also quite different from plastic in the way it reacts to heat and certain cutting methods. Touch a plastic plate with the tip of a soldering iron and it'll just go gooey and stink. Do the same to a celluloid plate and you get a much more dramatic reaction. A lot more smoke, and the substance quickly burns away. The fume smell is very different from that of plastic too.

The Fender website implies (through brevity if not intention) that the post-'59 scratchplates were deliberately "mint green", but this was not the case. Assuming they were plain and not tortoiseshell, Fender's celluloid scratchplates were always meant to be white/black/white. They did not, however, preserve their brightness at all well. Even on new guitars, "white" celluloid plates were not as bright as the previous plastic ones, and with exposure to the elements they progressively darkened to a greenish tint. But to be clear, the green tint was a steady discoloration - not an aesthetic design.

These green-tint-prone celluloid scratchplates survived in production until the mid 1960s. All early '60s Strats had celluloid multi-ply plates, although some had a 4-ply tortoise rather than a 3-ply "white"-going-on-green. And in case you're wondering, yes, the white underside layer on a celluloid tortoise plate goes greenish with age too.

New 3-ply white plastic plates began to appear around the time of the CBS takeover, which took place in January 1965. However, old stocks die hard, and green-tint celluloid scratchplates were still appearing into 1966. The reason cited for their demise was "fire hazard" - probably referring to stocks stored in the factory rather than the danger of someone's actual guitar spontaneously combusting.

AND THE YELLOW PICKUP COVERS?


Meanwhile, through the early 1960s, different batches of plastic pickup covers and knobs, caps, etc, varied wildly in their susceptibility to yellowing with age. Some batches darkened to rich brown, some went yellowy-cream, and some remained essentially white through the years. But heavily discolouring plastics were much more commonly found on early 1960s Strats than they were on 1950s Strats. So it was the combination of green-tinted celluloid scratchplate and browny-yellow plastics that really came to epitomise the '62 model.

THE BIRTH OF THE AGED PARTS MARKET


In the early 'eightes, no one really cared about aged parts. Even in the biggest and best UK guitar shops you would not find celluloid replacement scratchplates or pre-yellowed plastics for sale. DiMarzio did "creme" pickup covers, but virtually no one stocked them separately from the pickups, and they weren't the right colour anyway. They weren't meant to be simulating discoloured whites. They were just a colour option, based on the old Gibson plastic, which was cream from new. DiMarzio's initial idea was almost certainly to visually match a couple of single coils with a double-creme Super Distortion retrofit.

But as interest in vintage guitars widened from a select few models to pretty much everything built in America before 1965, big, general guitar dealers began to see the £ signs, and they started prominently displaying vintage instruments. This fast-growing scene, which really took off in the second half of the 1980s, gave young buyers an increasing, first-hand affinity with real early '60s Stratocasters. The kids couldn't afford real '62 Strats, but they could still see them. And the authentic specimens they were seeing in those displays did not look like their Fender, Tokai or Fernandes reissues.

The most glaringly obvious difference was that by the latter 'eighties, most real, all original '62 Strats came with decidedly green scratchplates and yellowy-brown plastics, whereas the reissues came with the whole set in gleamy white.

It was around that time that real celluloid replacement Strat scratchplates began to appear as regular stock items, in pre-aged green, at a retail price of about £25. For comparison, a regular plastic replacement plate was £8-ish.

These real celluloid replacement plates were intended for people with original '60s Strats whose factory guards had been interfered with. Suddenly those guitars were potentially worth a lot of money, but a hell of a lot of their plates had been cut for humbuckers, coil taps, etc. Some of the original plates had even been binned because the owners could no longer bear the discoloration and would rather have white. By 1987, a replacement green plate could make a huge difference to the amount of interest a real early '60s Strat could attract.

But it wasn't just the actual vintage market that began buying those replacement plates. People with reissues bought them too. In fact, such was the interest in putting those green plates onto Japanese reissues, that dealers began listing MIJ '62 reissues professionally customised with "green guards" already fitted.

DEMAND FOR THE FULL PACKAGE


So as regards the scratchplates, the market was about five years ahead of Fender or any other manufacturer of early '60s Strat replicas. Where the aftermarket lagged behind, was in its failure to complement the scratchplates with convincingly discoloured pickup covers, knob/switch caps, etc.

'62 reissue owners wanted yellowy-brown plastic parts, but even by 1992 there was no solution to that problem short of nicotine-staining a white set with high-tar cigarettes. That was an art in itself, and it also risked melting the parts out of shape if the burning cigarette was held too close. Then the set had to be left for a long time before the nicotine staining dried to a colourfast state. Like a couple of weeks. It wasn't ideal. And your guitar stank for ages.

So when Fender Japan's Aged Parts '62 Strat hit the market as a complete simulation of that sought-after early '60s look, it was a no-brainer for some. Just seeing the effect of everything pre-assembled, on a shop rack, with those elusive yellowed pickup covers and knobs, really was some spectacle. Let's just say I bought more than one of the irresistible little devils and leave it there.

DID THE AGED PARTS AGE WELL?


But what were you actually getting with these MIJ Aged Parts Strats? Was the scratchplate real celluloid? Were the pickup covers colourfast? I can answer both of those questions with one word: no.

The scratchplates were ordinary plastic, pigmented to replicate the hue of discoloured green celluloid. Same goes for the backplates, although I'm sure there are some readers who consider a backplate no more part of a Fender Stratocaster than an "ash tray" bridge cover. The scratchplates and backplates remain roughly the same colour over time, and they don't noticeably darken.

The other plastic parts, however, were made from white plastic, which was then artificially discoloured using a staining process. The bad news is that exposure to light actually fades the staining more than it discolours the plastic. So rather than yellowing and darkening more over time, the parts steadily become whiter. Some of the guitars today actually have almost white parts, with just the scratchplate retaining its original greenish pigment.

Keep the guitar in its case, and the aged parts should not change a great deal. Keep it out in a bright room and the pickup covers and caps will probably lose their discoloured look.

WHY DID THE 'AGED PARTS' STRAT REISSUE TAKE SO LONG TO ARRIVE?


It seems somewhat remarkable today that it took until 1992 for any manufacturer of early '60s Strat reissues to release a model duplicating the discolorations found on an original. But there are some interesting reasons why no one did it earlier...

Discoloration is generally considered undesirable, and manufacturers want their products to sell. The reissue market was extremely competitive in the early '80s, and introducing a model with discoloured parts at a time when many potential buyers had never even seen a real '62 Strat for reference, could have been suicide. Much of the publishing when Fender Japan kicked off in 1982 was still black and white, so even if kids were seeing vintage Strats in books, they wouldn't know their plates were greenish and their parts were yellow. Unless you've been primed to expect it, it's probably not a look you'll accept.

In the early '80s, all reissues were expected by reviewers to represent vintage guitars as they looked when new. There was no precedent for "relicking" then, and some of the reviewers only dealt with new guitars. There was a risk they may not understand why the plasticware was discoloured, and criticise the product. As new, a real '62 Strat would have had white plastic parts and a scratchplate that most observers would pass as white. On that basis the regular white plastic was not only far less risky, but also acceptably accurate.

In the early 1980s a lot of actual early '60s Strats were still only quite mildly discoloured. Many others had been hacked about in the 1970s and so didn't have their original guard or plasticware anyway.

The most famous older Strats came from outside of the "green guard" period. Clapton's was a '50s model, Hendrix's were late '60s... And the Strats that did have "green guards", like Knopfler's red vintage 'partscaster', could easily be interpreted as having white plates under TV or stage lighting.

Another notable in '82 was Dennis Greaves' "green guard" pink Strat, which appeared on the pilot episode of hit UK youth show The Young Ones, in a Nine Below Zero performance of 11 + 11. Once again, you see the plate as green now, but at the time, unless you were expecting it to be green, you'd probably see it as more or less white. It comes down to the same issue of many guitars' parts not having discoloured quite enough by then to really have the instant impact that they were having in the shop displays by the late '80s - where there were no stage or TV lights to dilute the colouring.

And as to why Fender didn't more instantly react to the reissue-modding that was happening in '87? Well, they probably had enough to think about, what with the rebirth of Fender USA. But also, the Fender Japan range was being re-costed and some production was moving to Korea. It may not have been a good idea to draw attention to spec revisions on existing models at a time when the primary goal was to convince everyone that nothing was changing. And of course, it takes time to research how much of the market actually wants artificially discoloured parts. By '88 Fender knew some buyers did, but they didn't know how many.

Looking back, we can regard Fender's 1992 Aged Parts Strat as a line in the sand. The first real step down Fender's road towards the manufacture of fully relicked instruments that are probably more accurate representations of aged vintage guitars than most of the supposed "originals".

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