This year saw Fender take us all by surprise by launching the Pawn Shop range of guitars, the like of which we’ve never seen before. Actually, that’s not entirely true. One of the three guitars in the range – two ‘Stratocasters’ and a ‘Mustang’ – has appeared before in the Fender catalogue as a Squier ’51, a mash-up design consisting of elements from the Strat, Tele and P bass. The new ’51 Pawn Shop Stratocaster is very similar but features new Fender pick-ups and a distinctly non-Fender like wiring configuration. The Pawn Shops are described by Fender as ‘guitars that never were but should have been’.
Featuring a Strat shaped Alder body and a polyester finish Maple neck, the Pawn Shop ’51 Strat is fitted with a Fender Enforcer humbucker and a Texas Special single-coil, offering plenty of tonal variation as the humbucker can be split with the push/pull volume knob. The tone control has been abandoned in favour of a three-way rotary selector switch for the pick-ups. Hardware is basic; a ‘70s-style ‘hardtail’ Strat bridge with six adjustable saddles, a four-bolt neck plate and vintage –style tuners, all in shiny chrome.
The neck is very slim; a C shape with medium jumbo frets, black dot position markers and a 9.5” radius fingerboard for easy bending. The Pawn Shop guitars are factory fitted with 9-42 gauge strings and are delivered set up with low actions which will make them very popular with beginner to intermediate players, although these made-in-Japan instruments are not budget guitars by any means. The Pawn Shop ’51 is available in Black and Blonde and comes complete with a Deluxe gig bag.
Plugging the ’51 into a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, I was pleasantly surprised by the pick-ups, especially the Texas Special, which puts out pure, bluesy Strat tones worthy of the state it’s named after. The Enforcer is aptly named too, powerful but still wiry, like a hot Tele bridge pick-up but with more low end. The combined and split sound are not so impressive but still useable. Dialling in the Drive channel of the Deluxe brought the Pawn Shop to life, and the guitar only required medium gain to set it alight.
Finish and build quality are excellent – as you expect from a Japanese made instrument – and the slim neck makes it an easy player. Throw in the gnarly tones and apart from the strange looks – although I’m warming to them – the Fender ’51 Pawn Shop Stratocaster is a great alternative to the regular Teles and Strats that absolutely everyone else has.