I mentioned a couple of months ago that I’d started learning to play the guitar. In a shocking development, I’ve been keeping this up – progress is slow, but I’m gradually getting better at the basic stuff of strumming in something approaching time, and changing chords without too much fumbling. My main focus is still the lessons to be found at Justin Guitar, but to keep things interesting, I’m having a play with Rocksmith 2014, which I’m using to practice single note playing – it’s quite useful in that it takes you through progressively more difficult pieces and offers lots of feedback. And it works nicely on my MacBook Air.
Anyway, I told myself when I bought the starter guitar that if I kept it up, I’d let myself have a better instrument. Now there’s an insane variety of electric guitars on the market, abeit a somewhat restricted one for left-handed players, but based on the kind of sounds I like to listen to and a personal preference for the way the thing looks, I was angling towards a Fender Stratocaster – the thing that my cheap guitar is an imitation of. And purely on looks, I wanted it with the maple fingerboard option. I don’t know why, but I’ve always preferred that look on a Strat. Now many years ago, the last time I tried to learn to play, I’d had a made in Mexico Strat in the colour Fender like to call Lake Placid Blue – a singularly pleasing metallic light blue, and I sort of assumed that when the time came, I’d be getting one of those again, only in left-handed form so I’d stand a better chance of, you know, playing the thing.
But I decided it would be sensible to do some research first. And so I read reviews, articles, forums, magazines and so on. And watched videos and listened to demos. And had a good thunk about the whole thing, in a remarkably similar way to how I went about buying my first proper camera, which I’m slightly alarmed to note was nearly eight years ago. Where did that time go, eh?
Anyway, after much thinking, ruminating and muttering to myself, I came to a conclusion that’s not all that different to the one I came to about cameras: if I’m going to do the upgrade thing, I’d better make sure I get something that I’ll be happy with for quite some time. And so the conclusion was that what I wanted was the actual proper American Standard Stratocaster. These are made in the US (as the name suggests) and have different pickups, which contribute to a sound that, from the demos I’d listened to, was altogether more pleasing to my ears. The only downside was that Fender do not currently do the American Standard in Lake Placid Blue. But they do make it in a darker metallic blue which they like to call Mystic Blue. So that, I decided, was what I wanted.
And so, I started looking for suppliers. And found that all the usual online suspects either didn’t even list it, or had it down as “available to order”, which can mean anything from “it might be a couple of weeks” to “it might arrive one day”. No reflection on the companies involved – the left-hand market is a small proportion of the overall market, stock space is expensive and you really can’t keep everything on hand just in case some fussy Welsh left-handed bloke decides he wants it.
Then I looked slightly further afield. I’d seen ads in the press for Thomann, a German online supplier. Well, I had a look at their English-language website, which lists a huge range of items, with real-time stock levels. Prices are shown in € with approximate conversion to £ shown (they charge your card in €, so the amount you pay depends on the bank, the time of day, the weather in Finland and probably other factors). Delivery charges are reasonably – €10 for orders under €200, free for anything expensive.
But, but, but, I said to myself. Yes, I know it’s an open market, and there wouldn’t be any taxes or duties to pay, but is it safe ordering things like this from forn parts? Back to the forums I went, and found lots of UK-based customers basically saying that Thormann are Rather Good and what’s more they have a dedicated support line for English speaking customers if there are any problems.
So, I did it. Order placed on Sunday, processed and dispatched on Monday. Estimated delivery, what with the four day weekend, was Tuesday 22 April. So quite naturally, it arrived on Thursday, when that nice Mr Aaron took it away from the office and delivered it to me.
Thormann had put the Fender shipping box inside their own carton for maximum protection, so there was definitely no problem with its condition. Of course, being a slightly more expensive model, inside Fender’s cardboard box is a rigid case designed to survive airport baggage handlers, so there was absolutely definitely no problem with its condition.
I soon had it unpacked, tuned up and connected to my toys. And oh. Wow. Really. Going through the same kit into the same headphones into the same ears, the difference in tone from the cheap guitar was abso-bloody-lutely phenomenal. And that’s without me being all that good at it yet.
And while both guitars share a remarkably similar body shape, the contours on the real Strat are altogether more comfortable. Moving up and down the neck feels smoother and easier, which is a Good Thing. And it well, looks beautiful. Here it is:
Shutter speed: 1/60s
Focal length: 28.9mm
Taken: 19 April, 2014
And yes, that is a load of Doctor Who stuff behind it!
 That’s telling you how you’re getting on, not the thing Neil Young does a lot of with Crazy Horse
 Current listening: Eric Clapton. Frequent other listening includes a lot of Dire Straits. I’ve even been listening to the Shadows…
 Proper tests with the same equipment, same player, same settings
 ie me
 Hi Aaron
 Another post about that to follow at some point