First introduced in 1988, Fender’s HM Strat represented a bold direction for their iconic instrument. Built to shred-friendly specs, the HM Strat found itself going up against the “Super Strat” models of the day from the likes of Jackson, Charvel and others.
For Winter NAMM 2020, Fender has announced a limited edition re-issue of the HM Strat, available with rosewood or maple fingerboard. To get the inside scoop on this eye-catching guitar, we caught up with Fender’s Vice President of Electric Guitars, Basses and Amplifiers, Max Gutnik.
The HUB: Can you tell us the “radical” history of how the original Fender HM Strat came to be?
Max Gutnik: The HM Strat was the successor to the Contemporary Strat of the mid-‘80s. They were designed for players looking for a modern, high-performance instrument that could keep up with the increasingly fast and technical music being played at the time. At this point in Fender history, production of US-made guitars was mostly halted as the company transitioned from the original Fullerton factory to the current Corona location. During the interim, several models were built in Japan and imported to the US – including most of the original HM Strats.
Lari Basilio checking out the Fender Limited Edition HM Strat re-issue.
The HUB: Why now? What made you think the time is right for these models to be re-issued?
MG: Well, '80s culture is having a sort of renaissance right now, and a lot of people who maybe didn’t live through it the first time are discovering all the great music, movies, and style from that era for the first time and really loving it. Visually, it’s such a rich era – dayglo colors and hyper-stylized designs abound. And, of course it was a great time for electric guitar music.
The HUB: In recent years we've seen many builders hearkening back to the late 80's era "super-Strat." What advantages do you think players are rediscovering about this style and configuration of guitar?
MG: The super-Strat is a performance first approach to instrument design – you have a highly versatile pickup configuration, a locking tremolo that keeps you perfectly in tune, strap locks installed for security, and a fast, comfortable neck that makes it easy for you to play your best. There’s nothing inessential, everything included serves a purpose. It’s the kind of guitar that can get you through just about any situation you might find yourself in.
The HUB: Can you describe what the neck feels like? What type of advantages does the thin "C" with a 17" radius offer?
MG: The thin “C” neck shape has long been a favorite for its low profile and comfortable shape. It’s easy to move up and down the neck quickly and accurately, and it’s comfortable in almost any fretting position. The 17” radius is super flat compared to most Fender fingerboards, which means the guitar can be setup with less relief and lower action – making the it easier to play and allowing nearly effortless bends.
The HUB: Why the unique 25.1” scale-length? Is that for feel? Is it linked to the Floyd Rose trem?
MG: The slightly shorter scale-length was originally designed with Shred in mind, hitting a sweet spot between long-scale and short-scale that makes bending easier and chords and scales less of a stretch.
The HUB: Are there any challenges or design tweaks necessary for fitting the Floyd into the body of the Strat?
MG: The original Floyd Rose was designed to replace a Strat tremolo, so fitting them into a Strat body is a natural. Of course, there are some adjustments from stock, but nothing good Fender design work can’t accomplish.
The HUB: Tell us about the pickup development process.
MG: We worked closely with the team at FujiGen to ensure that the new HM pickups live up to the legacy of the original HM Strat. The bridge pickup is a high-gain model wound to 16k DCR, much like the Hot-Rodded humbuckers used heavily in the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s. The neck and middle are slightly over-wound single-coils that pair well with the bridge and deliver classic Strat sounds.
The HUB: What types of amps and/or pedals were you plugging into as you tested the voicing?
MG: The Fender Bassbreaker 30R was our primary listening amp, but we also listened through a Blackface Twin, Hot Rod Deluxe, and an old master volume Marshall that belongs to our VP of products.
The HUB: Let’s talk about that headstock logo. How do people react when seeing it for the first time? Any chance we’ll see it on other instruments in the future?
MG: It’s definitely a statement! People seem to have a pretty strong reaction to it, but I think most people are loving it. You never know, it could get used again – if it feels right.
The HUB: Which players do you think this guitar will connect with?
MG: Anyone looking for a high-performance guitar that will make a bold statement will probably dig the HM. Fender fans who remember the original or may have missed it the first time around – ‘80s shred fans for sure!