Hands-On Review:Fender American Vintage Hot Rod Series Guitars

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The fine art of messing with perfection

By Jimmy Nichols


Fender American Vintage Hot Rod Series Guitars

I was caught between the proverbial rock and its constant companion—a hard place. The rock was my sweet, completely stock, three-tone sunburst ’59 Telecaster Custom with rosewood fretboard. The neck was perfectly played in, the hardware was in great shape, and the old-school nitro finish was clean. Mee-yow. The hard place? My overwhelming desire to gut the electronics and replace them with something more modern and noiseless. My baby looked and played fantastic but she hummed like a tone-deaf barbershop quartet and describing the output of the 50-year-old pickups as "anemic" was generous. If I changed out the pickups, though, I’d completely ruin the value.


Major dilemma, huh? It’s a double-edged sword I’ll bet lots of guitar owners have faced. You can buy a "new" vintage Strat or Tele from the Fender American Vintage series, but that’s a lot of cash to shell out for an axe you’re immediately going to ship off to the guitar shop for a triple bypass-plastic surgery special. So for all the guitarists who’ve wanted to take the blowtorch or spray gun to their vintage baby, Fender has a few guitars for you. The American Vintage Hot Rod Series combines Fender’s American Vintage series with some of the most popular mods from four decades of tone-driven customizations. The Hot Rod ’57 Stratocaster, Hot Rod ’62 Stratocaster, and Hot Rod ’52 Telecaster still look like a vintage reissue, but have been customized for high-powered performance.


Into the chop shop


Existing somewhere between an American Vintage guitar and a Custom Shop instrument, the Vintage Hot Rods share some features. The first is a thin-skin nitrocellulose finish like a vintage Fender has and similar to the finish applied to the Eric Johnson Stratocaster. It’s also one of the most-requested Custom Shop options. The nitrocellulose finish gracefully transitions to an aged appearance as you play your guitar. The thin lacquer also allows the natural tonality of the premium woods used in these guitars to shine. Unlike the Highway One instruments, the Hot Rod guitars are buffed and polished to a full shine and include a Meguiar’s care kit for maintaining the finish.


All Vintage Hot Rods feature very special necks with a number of modifications designed to make them easier to play, most of them based on Custom Shop requests as well. I think everyone can agree that previously played necks feel better and play easier than shiny brand-new ones. To achieve that broken-in feel, Fender gave the back of each neck a satin finish by removing some of the lacquer. The fretboard also received attention with a flatter radius—9.5" versus 7.5"—and medium-jumbo frets. Together these modifications make the Hot Rod necks among the fastest Fender has ever produced. Fender also souped up the electronics to match the tone to the screaming playability imparted by the neck modifications.


Fine ’52


The 1952 Telecaster looms large in guitar history. Its simple, iconic appearance—transparent blonde paint, single-ply black pickguard, chrome hardware, maple neck and fingerboard—is beautifully replicated for the Hot Rod ’52. This descendent boasts much more powerful tones with a Seymour Duncan Vintage Mini Humbucker at the neck, a custom-wound Fender bridge pickup, and modern three-way switching. As a Tele player, the American Vintage Hot Rod ’52 Telecaster obviously hit my sweet spot. The Seymour Duncan gives the neck position a much brawnier, deeper voice while the bridge pickup is a lot punchier than a stock Tele pickup. With the versatility and playability imparted by these upgrades I think even people who wouldn’t normally play a Tele will find this one a keeper and Tele fans will fall for it hard.



’57 Heaven


If you’re ready for a Strat that’s seriously hopped up, the Hot Rod ’57 Stratocaster should satiate your need for speed. It achieves a new state of Strat-hood by blending modifications old, new, borrowed, and blues. The pickup selection includes two Samarium Cobalt Noiseless pickups for the neck and middle while a hot DiMarzio Tone Zone takes up the bridge spot. Like the ’62, the ’57 also has the second tone control wired to the bridge pickup. I loved the noiseless extra-vintage soul of the SCN pickups and the Tone Zone was a blistering delight for ripping out sweltering leads.


Sexy ’62


For players who like the collection of subtle modifications that are standard on a modern Strat but still want the vibe—and most importantly the feel—of a vintage axe, the Hot Rod ’62 is for you. The slightly larger C profile neck is a sweet vintage touch, but no ’62 ever came with a reverse-wound, reverse-phase middle pickup or the second tone control wired to bridge pickup. The set of Fender American Vintage pickups give up the sparkly, bell-like harmonic response that have made the Strat so beloved. Plugged into a 30W, 2-12" tube combo, it was blues-rock heaven.


And my ’59 Telecaster Custom? Yeah, I eventually changed out the pickups. I couldn’t handle having a guitar that I never played. I plugged in a Fender Vintage Noiseless pickup set and to me it was worth it. When I need to sell it to pay for my kids’ college tuition I can just have the original pickups put back into place. Of course, if the Vintage Hot Rod Series had existed a few years ago, I’d have never had to face that pickle.


The American Vintage Hot Rod series is a custom guitar lovers dream come true. Each of the Hot Rods has the buttery, graceful playability found in the best vintage guitars. The highly modded, extra-powerful electronics give them the sonic performance every guitarist craves. There’s nothing like having your cake and eating it, too.


Vintage Hot Rod Series Features:

  • Thin-skin nitrocellulose finish
  • Satin-back neck
  • 9.5" fingerboard radius
  • Medium-jumbo frets
  • 25.5" scale length
  • Nut width: 1.650"
  • Chrome hardware
  • Fender/Gotoh® vintage-style tuners
  • Includes vintage tweed case, strap, cable, and Meguair’s care kit

Hot Rod ’52 Telecaster Features:

  • Premium ash body
  • 1-piece maple neck with U-shape profile
  • Vintage-style Tele bridge with 3 compensated brass saddles
  • 1-ply black pickguard
  • Custom Vintage Tele bridge pickup
  • Seymour Duncan Vintage Mini Humbucker neck pickup
  • 3-position blade pickup selector
  • Master volume and tone controls

Hot Rod ’57 Stratocaster Features:

  • Comfort-contoured alder body
  • One-piece maple neck with custom slim V-profile
  • American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo
  • 1-ply white pickguard
  • Parallel-wired Samarium Cobalt Noiseless neck and middle pickups
  • DiMarzio Tone Zone bridge pickup
  • 5-position blade pickup switch
  • Master volume control
  • Tone 1 (neck pickup)
  • Tone 2 (bridge pickup)

Hot Rod ’62 Stratocaster Features:

  • Comfort-contoured alder body
  • Maple neck with vintage C-shape profile
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo
  • 3-ply mint green pickguard
  • 3 American Vintage Strat single-coil pickups
  • Reverse-wound/reverse-phase middle pickup
  • 5-position blade pickup switch
  • Master volume control
  • Tone 1 (neck pickup)
  • Tone 2 (bridge pickup)