Spicy tones from south of the border
By Saul Mann
When I first laid eyes on the Jimmie Vaughan Tex-Mex Strat, its unpretentious character admittedly surprised me. Made in Ensenada, Mexico, its simple appointments and plain, vanilla looks didn't shout, "look at me!" Even the Jimmie Vaughan signature is tucked away on the back of the headstock.
I assumed a player of Jimmie's stature would have had the folks at Fender's Custom Shop working overtime to build a powerhouse guitar with all the appointments, capable of belting out those rootsy, singing blues tones with the flick of a switch. What I discovered not only gave me a greater appreciation for the Fender craftspeople in Ensenada, but even more so for the skill, craftsmanship, and thoughtfulness of Mr. Vaughan himself.
When Fender and Mr. Vaughan decided to get together and produce the Jimmie Vaughan Artist Signature guitar, Jimmie wanted to take a hands-on approach. He went to the Fender facilities in Arizona, California, and Mexico, and working long and hard with Fender's R&D and Marketing team, designed a guitar he would be proud to play.
Note to the skeptics out there: this guitar is no PR-hyped fairy tale - Jimmie had a very hands-on role in the creation of the JV, and this is the exact guitar he plays on stage! He developed a genuine rapport with the people at Fender, especially those in Ensenada. In fact, on a fine August afternoon not too long ago, Jimmie and his band returned to the plant and treated the folks that helped him realize his dream guitar to a free concert!
Special over-wound Tex-Mex pickups were built for the neck and mid positions, with an extra-hot bridge pickup for a bright and spicy sound. These high-output pickups deliver a balanced, fat tone with lots of high-end sparkle.
Not content with the normal tone controls on the Strat, Jimmie instead had the middle control rewired to the bridge pickup, leaving the middle pickup wide open and ready to burn. This is a relatively common Strat mod, and it's great to see it on a production model!
Fine vintage feel
The neck received special treatment as well. While in Ensenada, Jimmie worked tirelessly with the Ensenada builders. Hours were spent sanding the neck into a special soft V-shape until it fit his playing style perfectly. The result is a neck that's fast, and great for grabbing and bending strings. The maple neck has a warm honey color and a smooth satin finish that lends a vintage look and great feel to the production version.
To further the vintage vibe, six Fender/Gotoh Vintage tuning machines populate the headstock, and an American Vintage synchronized tremolo anchors the strings at the bridge-end of the guitar.
Vintage is set aside where the frets are concerned, with jumbo frets being favored for their sustain, tone, bendability, and overall playing ease.
It's important to see how the JV was designed, the care that went into picking the various components, and making them all work together the way Jimmie imagined it. But the big question is, how does it play? The short answer: perhaps the best-sounding Strat I've ever had the pleasure of playing!
Thanks to the Tex-Mex pickups, it has a genuine vintage Fender sound that doesn't sound contrived. It's really bright, but not at all harsh, and has a beautiful bell-like quality throughout its range.
My main guitar is a Strat Plus with Fender Lace Sensors and a TBX tone control, so getting used to the mod on the tone control took me a minute or so. That said, once I got into playing I really loved the tonal variety I was able to coax from the JV. With a clean amp setting, the neck pickup selected and a bit of treble rolled off, I was able to get a warm, singing tone that kept me busy with a personal blues jam for almost an hour! The other settings yielded equally compelling sounds, including that archetypal phasey Strat sound in positions two and four, serious punch in position three (just the middle pickup,) and a blistering, snappy punch with the bridge pickup.
Overall, the construction is excellent. The neck fits solidly in the body, the frets are smooth and even across the fingerboard, and there are no cosmetic flaws to speak of. The action was a little loose for me, but exchanging the strings from the factory shipped .09s - the gauge most people use - for .10s - the same gauge Jimmie uses - ought to take care of this.
The body is made from alder, a favorite and classic Fender tone wood. It's light in weight, and delivers a warm, punchy sound. Four finishes are available, including Olympic White, Two-Color Sunburst, Black, and Candy Apple Red. A thin, one-ply white pickguard protects the body, and is the only thing I would wish to change. Chrome Fender/Schaller strap-lock ready strap buttons round out the package and add a touch of modern security to the guitar.
Aside from the great sound, one of the most striking features of the JV is the price. You might expect to pay three times as much for the quality, tone, and vibe of this guitar - it is certainly worth it! The care and attention to detail, by both Jimmie Vaughan and the Fender Ensenada team, is obvious from the moment you pick this guitar up. When you play it, you'll be convinced. If you are after your first guitar, this may be the perfect instrument - it's priced right, and it plays great! If you are a lover of the Fender sound (and who isn't), you can do no better than to add this guitar to your collection!
Features & Specs