Tag: Squier

Squier 40th Anniversary Stratocaster Review

Premier Guitar doesn’t often review anniversary edition instruments—most of them being marketing exercises in disguise. But the Squier 40th Anniversary Stratocaster genuinely seems to embody much about where Squier has been and the reliable source for quality, affordable, and, yes, beautiful guitars they have become.


At $599, the 40th Anniversary Stratocaster lives on the higher side of the Squier pricing scheme. But there is much—in terms of both style and substance—that makes this Stratocaster feel special. The mash-up of 1950s design cues (gold anodized pickguard) and 1970s elements (block inlays) really works in spite of how easy it is to screw up a Stratocaster’s graceful lines. And the spots where Squier added flash, like those inlays and neck binding, reflect a genuine concern for craftsmanship and executing the little details.

In practical terms, the 40th Anniversary Strat specs out and feels quite like a Classic Vibe Stratocaster, which is a good thing. The body is nyatoh and the fretboard is laurel, but apart from the 9.5″ radius fretboard, which always feels a bit flat on a Strat for me, neither result in major deviations from classic Strat weight or touch. Output from the alnico 5 pickups felt a little more contoured, less edgy, and less punchy on the treble side than the pickups in the Vintera ’60s Stratocaster and ’80s E Series Stratocasters I used for comparison. But apart from missing that micro-trace of extra spank that cuts through an intense spring reverb signal, there was little to upset the surfy state of very stylish bliss this Squier induced each time I plugged it in.

Hot-Rodding at Home!

For our annual guitar mods issue, we asked readers to share projects from their own workbenches.


Anthony Pereira: Jackson with Warpigs

Not as elaborate as others I’ve seen, but I’ve always been a sucker for Jackson guitars, and I’m not even a shred player. I wanted to do something different to my SL2, so I installed FU-Tone Noiseless Springs, an FU-Tone Brass Block on the Floyd Rose, a trem stopper, and Bare Knuckle Warpig pickups. The kicker is that I put a P-90 Warpig in the neck position for the punchy leads. The pickups are much darker than the stock pickups, but they scream through my 1982 Marshall 2203.

Gregg Ledoux: Meet Mavis

This is Mavis. She has a Warmoth swamp-ash body, a Warmoth Goncalo Alves neck with pau ferro fretboard, and stainless-steel frets. I chose a Lollar P-90 and Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates for the pickups. I assembled this guitar in the last couple of months. She rocks!

Jin J. X: Covering Serious Ground

Hi Premier Guitar!

This may look like a “normal” Ibanez Artcore, though it has some extra goodies. This is an Ibanez AFJ85 with a Stewmac Golden Age Parson Street alnico 2 PAF-style pickup in the bridge, and a custom alnico 3 neck pickup made for me by David Magazzi out of Connecticut. Instead of a 3-way switch, it uses the middle three notches of a 5-way rotary switch with the outside positions acting as a “mute.” The “top” master volume and tone pots are dedicated to the magnetic pickups with their own input jack.

You may notice a small wire coming from the bridge—this is a Fishman Powerbridge posted to the floating posts. That wire goes to the “bottom” volume and tone and to a separate jack. Historically, I’ve not been the biggest fan of piezo pickups in solidbodies, but in a hollowbody it actually sounds more real (a trick I picked up from the mighty Gilad Hekselman). So, this guitar covers some serious ground: legitimate jazz and R&B sounds in the neck, bright twangy sounds in the bridge, and a whole separate circuit for acoustic sounds that, in the studio with EQ, sound very much like a dreadnought we all know and love.

Thank you for all you do, and I appreciate that you give readers the opportunity to get in on the fun.

Justin Lee: Smashing Pumpkins Squier

Hi Premier Guitar,

Love all your content, especially the Rig Rundowns! I’d like to share with you my quarantine guitar project. It’s my first-ever guitar that had been unassembled for the longest time. I’ve since gone on to own much better guitars but there’s still something very magical about this one.

It’s started life as a Korean Squier and I thought the white finish was a bit boring (no offense to Jimi), so I painted it, inspired by Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album. I guess the choice of red and white was inspired by Van Halen.

During this whole period of quarantine, I decided to get it back up and running with some help from my local guitar shop. I changed the tuners and nut, and I wired in a few old pickups I had around: a Gibson pickup in the bridge and a DiMarzio Vintage Pro in the neck. I’m still not sure what to do about the space for the middle pickup. I might just leave it empty, which makes it more Frankencaster-esque. I’ve set it up with .011s and raised the action with the intention of trying to play slide (again!). I’m also waiting to get the right (free) knob for the second tone pot.

It’s probably not worth the money that I’ve just put into it, but I can’t give it up and it should be played. Also, it seems to be my kids’ favorite one of them all.

Kind regards,
Justin (currently living in Singapore but spent a lot of time in the U.K. and Canada)

Justin Motander Jones: Berto

This pine-bodied “Berto” was made from a beam from a neighbor’s 1930s patio here in the Kensington neighborhood of San Diego, California. The purpleheart fretboard pays tribute to the now-defunct historic Ken Cinema. The guitar has a TV Jones Magna’Tron, and a McNelly CC neck pickup. The anodized aluminum knobs are made locally by Forney Guitars. Berto has a Schroeder bridge and Gotoh tuners. I make guitars in San Diego and my IG handle is @justinmotanderjones, if you’d like to see some others.

Kato: Tilt-Back Banana

I put together this beautiful guitar out of some parts that were made to my specifications. It’s a Strat-style body but it’s a little bit thinner than normal. The neck is custom-made and the closest replication of the tilt-back banana headstock like George Lynch’s. The pickups are alnico 2 in the bridge, alnico 4 in middle, and alnico 5 in the neck. The neck has a slightly slimmer profile, so it’s easier to play blazing-fast leads. I had the neck plate custom-engraved with my logo and the headstock is currently out being painted to match the body and I’m having my logo applied. Hope you like it. Took me quite a while. Can’t wait to play her!

Mark Cully: Two-Fer

I have two guitar projects to share. The first is my ’90s MIM Squier Telecaster. I put a gold-foil pickup from a 1960s Teisco guitar in the neck position along with CTS pots, orange drop capacitors, and a proper Fender switch.

The second project is my Lotus guitar. It started out as a double-humbucker guitar with a Tune-o-matic bridge. I installed a Tele-style bridge and pickup, and a P-90 in the neck position. It’s now a string-through body. I handmade a hardwood shim for the neck pocket to make the neck angle suitable for the lower bridge. It has all new electronics, including CTS pots, orange drop capacitors, etc. Great mag, by the way!

Matt Dunn: Best of Both Worlds

This guitar started its life as a cheap Strat copy under the Stadium brand. I’ve always loved HSS Strats because of how versatile they are in terms of sonic possibilities. But you rarely ever see P-90s put into a Strat, let alone P-90s for an HSS configuration! So, I ordered a custom pickguard with the help of WD Music, loaded the guitar with some GFS pickups, and decided to see how a pair of P-90s and a Wide Range-style humbucker would sound. It ended up sounding wonderful, with more of a Gibson flavor than I anticipated or expected. As a Les Paul Junior fan, this guitar provided me the best of both worlds and is quite the conversation starter!

https://www.instagram.com/p/CEeyqFcns31/

Michael Menkes: Modded Explorer

This bass was a stock Epiphone Korina Explorer. These are the mods:
  • Hipshot A Bass Bridge with string through
  • Bartolini Classic Bass humbuckers
  • John East Uni-Pre preamp
  • Hipshot D extender tuner
  • Alperious Custom pickguard, pickup covers, and truss rod cover

It took a full year to complete! Worth it.








With Failure Comes Focus

Failure was one of the most underrated bands of the 1990s. As they crafted their early groundbreakers Comfort (1992) and Magnified (1994), they developed a hardcore following, toured with and befriended Tool, played the Lollapalooza main stage, and got rotation on MTV. All that momentum culminated in their career-defining 1996 album Fantastic Planet. A quarter-century later, the band—co-founders Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards on shared vocals, guitar, bass, and keyboards, alongside drummer Kellii Scott—have released what may be their next classic, Wild Type Droid.


But getting here wasn’t smooth sailing. The blissful ignorance that Andrews and Edwards say brought Failure success in the ’90s is also what nearly destroyed them. “So much of what I did on guitar on that first album, I had no idea what I was doing,” says Andrews. “That brought something different to it.” Edwards agrees, adding, “We discovered as it went.”

While that approach opened the doors to creativity, it also brought frustration. “We knew when we were making Comfort that it wasn’t turning out the way we hoped,” Andrews relates. “Even on Magnified, there was this feeling of, ‘Dude, did we nail that? I’m not really sure.’ Case in point, the label actually wanted to release the demos for Magnified, as opposed to what we turned in as the finished thing. It was a struggle finding what our sound was until we took the reins for Fantastic Planet.”

Failure – Headstand – Music Video

Even on that self-produced album, which Edwards describes as “really spread out” and eclectic, the band was searching. He explains, “When I demoed the idea for ‘Blank’ or ‘The Nurse Who Loved Me,’ I remember thinking, ‘These can’t be Failure songs.’ But they became staple Failure songs!”

Things soon came undone, and in 1997, at the height of their career, Failure broke up. Instead of headlining shows with their crushing space riffs, the guys moved on to other bands and projects, which for Andrews included some A-list pop studio credits with Nine Inch Nails, Paramore, Andrew W.K., and Tenacious D. Though they were staying busy, the fans were left without until 2013, when Andrews, Edwards, and Scott announced their reunion.

Far from a ’90s nostalgia trip, Andrews says the band wanted their return to be more intentional: “When we rebooted, and once we realized that the Failure sound is unique to these brains, it became more of a consideration of, ‘If we’re going to make music together, what kind of music is it going to be?’” Their subsequent albums The Heart Is a Monster and In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind proved as vital, creative, and driven as ever.

“Even if we hadn’t done what we did in the ’90s, I still feel like what we’re doing now is cool.” —Ken Andrews

Now, on Wild Type Droid, Failure sound like a robust and streamlined machine with a renewed focus, incorporating new tones alongside their signature mammoth riffs, cosmic themes, and dissonant harmonies. That’s due at least in part to a fresh and in-the-moment recording approach. “In the Future was written by forcing the songs into being,” says Edwards. “With this new process, we committed to going into a room together for a month and recording—four or five days a week, and five, six hours a day—everything we played. It was very organic.”

Hours upon hours of jamming and creatively searching for new ideas did take a toll. Andrews says that process informed the sound of the album, calling it “a conscious decision to enter this mode of only improvising and not putting on the songwriter hat. That was a unique decision that I think paid off because it gave us this huge well of material. You can’t recreate that in a songwriting workshop studio thing. It’s that intangible randomness that happens when you have three brains working at the same time.”

And while it lead to exhaustion in the studio, Edwards sees that as an asset and likens it to “Kubrick’s theory of doing way too many takes. You exhaust the actor, and after you go through all the terrible takes, all of a sudden, you transcended into another state of consciousness, and interesting stuff starts happening.”

With both guitarists playing equal shares of guitar and bass, how do the songs begin? It’s as simple as one of them picking up an instrument. “I would see an instrument that I hadn’t played yet, grab it, then start making noise,” said Edwards. “Kellii would start playing a beat, and then all of a sudden, we’d be into something.”

With that in mind, Andrews introduced two new pieces of gear, hoping they would be inspiring. He was right, and Edwards quickly took to one of them: a Danelectro baritone. “This was my first experience playing baritone,” he says. “And because it’s what I always do, a lot of my baritone parts are way up on the neck. It had a different quality than anything I’d heard from a guitar. ‘Long Division’ is a good example.”

Failure’s Gear

Guitars

  • Danelectro baritone
  • Squier Bass VI
  • 1976 Gibson Les Paul
  • Gibson Explorer
  • Fender Jazzmaster
  • Vintage Gibson LG-1

Amps & Effects

  • Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III
Strings & Picks
  • Ernie Ball Power Slinky Bass (.040–.-95)
  • Ernie Ball Baritone Slinky (.013–.072)
  • Ernie Ball Burly Slinky (.008—.038)
  • Dunlop Tortex .60 mm, .73 mm, .88 mm

Andrews’ other new addition was a Squier Bass VI. Failure has always placed bass front-and-center, driving their music with grinding tones and low-octave chords, so the Bass VI was an easy fit. “We’ve been playing chords on 4-string bass for a very long time,” says Andrews, “but I found that when I was playing the Bass VI it’s a different quality. You can hear it on ‘Submarines’ and ‘Long Division.’”

Although there are appearances by a Jazzmaster, a new Gibson Explorer, and Andrews’ 1976 Les Paul, the Danelectro and the Bass VI defined the album. Failure’s other secret weapon was their trusty Fractal Audio Axe-Fx IIIs. “We were using presets and scenes from previous songs, from previous albums, even ’90s songs. And I’ve been using the Fractal since 2014, so I’m quite familiar with the unit,” says Andrews. “If I had recorded a DI track during writing, I could completely reconstruct the sound, hearing it in context with the final vocals at the end. There were several songs where, literally, I was playing back DI bass and DI guitar while essentially mixing them on the Fractal.”

The refined sounds of Wild Type Droid’s woven tapestry of guitar and bass are a reminder that the Failure guitarists also geek out on production techniques. Reminiscing about the band’s early years, Andrews says, “I remember having long discussions [with Edwards] about production, more than individual riffs and parts. We were very aware of how impactful production can be on establishing an emotional mood that you get from listening to music. It became an obsession, in a way.”

“So much of what I did on guitar on that first album, I had no idea what I was doing. That brought something different to it.”—Ken Andrews

That obsession pays off throughout Wild Type Droid, helping the album sound meticulously crafted while never losing Failure’s raw, straightforward character. Songs like “Headstand” and “Bad Translation” take the best of Fantastic Planet’s power, dissonance, and pop sensibilities, and amplify them. Andrews and Edwards chalk that up to their creative connection, strengthened by decades of making music together.

“Everything was very much about listening to the other person and saying, ‘What can I play that’s not stepping on that?’” says Edwards. “That’s a product of an evolving sensibility within the band members over many years,” Andrews continues. “We’re looking now at the challenge of complementing things, as opposed to doubling and strengthening things.”

Failure’s albums sound better than ever, they still have a loyal fan base, and their new release is a musical success, but the 6-string duo are quick to mention how hard survival has been in the music industry. “In the ’90s, being signed was the biggest factor in what we were doing at any given time,” says Andrews. “And if you weren’t signed in the ’90s, you weren’t taken seriously,” chimes in Edwards.

But Andrews points out that being on labels had its share of problems. “We were basically on their schedule,” he says. “We couldn’t release the record if they didn’t want to do it, we couldn’t tour, we couldn’t do anything. It was all about promoting our band within our own label to get them to pay attention and do stuff for us.”

Today, that business model is dead, and most record labels have all but given up on album sales as a major revenue stream. “It’s crazy when you think about how much it changed from 2005 to 2012, and then from 2012-ish to now,” says Edwards.

“It was a whole different thing,” agrees Andrews. “I remember when record companies started sniffing around our shows. I went to the bookstore and got Donald Passman’s book about the business of music [All You Need To Know About the Music Business]. In that book, the first thing he says is, ‘Do not try to force yourself into the public eye or into the music business. You have to be invited in,’ which sounds kind of crazy in 2022. What’s even left to invite you into?”

“It’s like Kubrick’s theory of doing way too many takes. You exhaust the actor and after you go through all the terrible takes all of a sudden you transcended into another state of consciousness, and interesting stuff starts happening.”—Greg Edwards

Today’s uneasy music industry is all about streaming services, and Spotify sits comfortably at the top. But they’ve seen a steady trickle of artists challenging their platform or, as Neil Young did very publicly, abandoning the service altogether. Recently, Failure announced their decision to do the same. Though the day’s politics played a role, the band said it was inevitable and a long time coming. And since most artists don’t make much from Spotify streams anyway, leaving the platform wasn’t a major financial setback.

“Spotify, in some sense, is the streaming arm of whatever you want to call the major-label world,” says Andrews. “But it’s completely flipped on its head. It’s all about aggregating the most content possible and paying the lowest possible for individual streams. If you really game it out, how does Spotify exist past another 10 years? Eventually, musicians won’t want to use a service that doesn’t give anything back to them. That’s what happened to us.”

Andrews says Failure is in a better place now than during their first go-round. “I’m enjoying the process way more than I did in the ’90s. Even if we hadn’t done what we did in the ’90s, I still feel like what we’re doing now is cool. Why would you stop doing something when you feel like you’re getting more appreciation for it? I feel like we’re this independent, little business that happens to be a band. And we’re surviving.”

Failure – Another Space Song (Live on KEXP)

Greg Edwards’ clear, chime-y arpeggios float over the mesmeric groove created by Ken Andrews’ growling bass line and Kellii Scott’s repetitive kit work in this 2015 version of “Another Space Song” from Fantastic Planet.