Limited Edion? Yes, but ...
In 1997 and 98 Fender Japan offered this little series of three "Limited Edition" guitars dedicated to and designed by the Hellecasters, Will Ray, Jerry Donahue and John Jorgenson. Not only the awesome look and the rarity but also many special constructional details make these guitars very interesting and collectible.
I never succeeded to find out, how "limited" this edition really was. Every instrument has a serial number on the back of the headstock and I never heard about an instrument with a higher number than 400.
Even Jerry Donahue himself, whom I contacted, ever found out how many were produced. On february 4th, 2006 he mailed to me...
"I don´t know how many of the limited editions were built but the orders were such that the company extended the time limit by six months! I´ve enjoyed playing the Japanese versions more than most of my others (except in rare cases where the ash is at an optimum weight and tone - there´s nothing to beat that!) as I find, and so did the reviews, their level of workmanship & quality control to be superior. That frustrated the "higher ups" at the head offices and the decision was ultimately made to drop the entire line!"
Fender CIJ Limited Edition Hellecasters
Jerry Donahue Stratocaster
This is a fantastic Strat and a unique one.
The wiring is unparalled in that the Seymour Duncan pickups mix Tele-, Strat- and exclusive Jerry-Donahue signature tones. There are master volume and master tone pots only. The middle tone pot is not a pot but just a 2-way-rotary switch.
Combining it with the 5-way blade selector you get 8 switching options and sounds to choose from.
Firstly there are the 5 regular Strat tones, of course.
Turn the middle pot over and you get 3 more options for the positions 2, 3 and 4.
In position 3 you get neck and bridge pickups in parallel. In position 2 and 4 the neck and the bridge pickup are combined with a secret resistor and a cap in order to produce some slightly "out-of-phase-" or "in-between-" sounds not too far away from what you get in the normal Strat positions there.
These are the Jerry Donahue tradmark sounds that can`t be found only on other Donahue signature guitars that mimic the Strat`s famous in-between-sounds by the use of the neck and bridge pickups only. (Therefore all other Donahue Signature guitars from Peavey, Fret King and from Fender look more like Telecasters and only have two pickups but still offer these Strat-like-sounds.)
I don`t use these much but I like the normal neck and bridge combination (without resistor and cap) which is pretty close to a politer version of the Tele middle position.
That Donahue bridge pickup has a steel plate underneath for more focused mids and some extra winds for more sustain and punch. It is similar or almost similar to the Seymour Duncan "Twangbucker". The other pickups are Seymour Duncan vintage style alnico II Strat pickups.
The best thing about this guitar is the neck. One piece maple with vintage frets and a pretty thick profile with a light V-shape. Absolutely fantastic!
This was my main guitar for years.
FENDERS WITH BASSWOOD BODIES?
I asked Jerry Donhue why Fender Japan had chosen basswood and not ash or alder. I feel very flatterd and honoured that Jerry answered my email. Thanks a lot, Jerry! This is what he wrote...
"The decision to use basswood was actually mine and here is the reason: Even before the Strat was released, when Fender decided to offer a Japanese version of my Custom Shop Telecaster, I told them I would like them to use the same wood that comes on their `62 reissue Tele (also made in Japan). I had tried out many guitars from Fender Japan and found the the ones that were made with ash bodies were very erratic in weight AND sound - and this inconsistancy worried me. On the other hand this `62 reissue, though not quite as magical as an optimum ash guitar (if you are lucky enough to find one), it was a good weight and consistantly satisfactory in its tonal quality - I never found one that I didn´t like. So, rather than taking chances, I opted for the basswood bodies for their version of my Tele and also, later on, when Fender decided to have Japan do the Hellecasters´ set.."
I used this Strat as my main squeeze for some years and always loved how versatile, balanced, transparent and sensitive it sounds. But since I am always curious to learn more about how guitars work I bought this US-made alder Strat body with nitro finish, ignoring that Jerry favours ash. (I already have two ash Fenders but no alder Strat - just a Jazzmaster.) Since many, many guitar players favour alder Strats I just had to try this.
(And by the way: Jerry`s latest signature guitar by Fret King has an alder body, too.)
But this experiment kind of failed. Part of the liveliness has gone, the guitar sounds almost too warm and a bit indistinct now. Maybe this has to do with the Gotoh vibrato. In contrast to vintage Strat trems this Japanese one has chromed brass saddles, that worked very well with the basswood...
So I guess I`ll better put the original parts back together because this really is a very, very fine Strat.
UPDATE from 2014/2015:
In the meantime I have changed everything on this guitar back to the original state and I`m glad I did so.
I must say that the basswood body with urethan finish is a bit brighter, lively and more versatile and open sounding than the US-made alder body with nitro finish that I tried out.
This really is a fantastic Stratocaster.
Fender CIJ Limited Edition Hellecasters
Will Ray "JAZZ-A-CASTER"
This Tele has a basswood body, too.
As the pole screws clearly show these Seymour Duncan pickups are not real Jazzmaster pickups. They have ceramic magnets underneath the single coil and these ugly steel pole screws. So construction-wise they are almost like P-90s but with wider bobbins.
They are hot and bright.
You get a 4-way-selector offering the pickups in series as well as in parallel. The stacked tone pot lets you cut off some bass frequencies if you want, which is very usefully especially with that serial pickup combination.
I wish, I could apply this bass roll off for this pickup combination only. That would be perfect!
Altough I like a lot how fresh and punchy the guitar sounds I don`t play it any more. The main reason beeing that the neck is pretty slimm. Playability is excellent, but this is just not what I prefer.
Also I find the pickguard terribly ugly...
But this was my main backup guitar for quite a long time and I also gigged it two or three times and it proved to be very flexible and reliable and well sounding.
It came with a special Hipshot Will Ray signature B-Bender which I never used. Unfortunately I`m just not good enough to incorporate this wonderful thing in my primitive playing.
Limited Edition Hellecasters
John Jorgenson "Hellecaster"
Definitely as kitschy as the Will Ray model but more beautiful to me.
This is so much over the top you can only admire the stylish consequence...
This guitar has a heavy maple body and came with a free floating brass Schaller vibrato. I made a rosewood shim and put it underneath the vibrato because I like it to be flush on the body. Apart from the weight this is a great guitar to gig. No hum there thanks to the Seymour Duncan split singlecoils. The sounds are not "real Stratocaster" though.
Incredible but true:
Some "Hellecasters" left the Japanese factory with
Mine was one of them. There was one cap too many soldered at the wrong spot, making the whole guitar sound too dark and muddy. John Jorgenson himself and some gearheads in the www helped the customers to solve this problem.
The great Fender Company didn`t give a f...
and never bothered to answer my inquiries.
Absolutely no customers support from them for a custom shop limited edition guitar costing more than 1500
But this is what John Jorgenson mailed to me on Nov., 7th 2002:
The pots do not need to be changed.
The only thing you need to do is to
remove the capcitor
on the lower pot
nearest the output jack.
It was added mistakenly at the factory,
and cuts out all the highs!
Once that little problem was solved, the wiring of this guitar proved to be extremely versatile - even more so than a normal Strat since you get creamier and warmer drive sounds and a nice Tele-style middle position as well as all the regular Strat-sounds and additionally you can even roll off some bass frequencies with the middle pot, too
As good as this is - I stil feel that the instrument`s voice lacks a bit of temper or personality. You have plenty of that as far as the visual appearance is concerned, but there isn`t enough "mojo" in these sounds.
(Check also my PRS EG2 guitar with the split singlecoils Domino pickups by Lindy Fralin. I have the same concerns / doubts about these pickups. They don`t hum, but they aren`t "alive" either.)
On the Hellecaster you have a 5-way switch with the usual suspects, but a push-pull knob on the second tone pot as well, bringing in the bridge pickup when neck or neck and middle are selected. That makes for seven pickup combinations.
The middle knob is not a treble cut but a bass cut pot.
A very seldom seen - but useful - feature. "Reverend" guitars usually come equipped with it and some "G&L" models have it , too.
The warmer and fatter your pickups are, the better you can use it to clean up the sound.
This guitar can do almost anything and is perfect for a live situation. If you dare to show up with it, that is.
But for the studio or for real and pure vintage sounds you`d probably prefer the "real thing".
Playability is fantastic. The frets are wide and high and the medium neck feels very good, too. I had trouble with the Schaller locking tuners because I`m not used to the upside down configuration. Beeing nervous on stage I kept tuning the wrong strings ...
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