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My new toy has arrived...

Yesterday, after a looong week of waiting, my new guitar finally arrrived! Erika placed the order, and had it delivered to her office, so when I came to pick her up yesterday she came out carrying this big cardboard box, far bigger than I would have expected for an electric guitar.

It turns out that all that extra space was just a careful packing job by the fine folks at Sam Ash. They took the box that the guitar came in from Fender and enclosed it in another box, with those air-cushion thingies around it. Kudos and thanks to them for taking such care with even an inexpensive instrument.

But enough about the box.

Once I got it unwrapped, I took it upstairs and plugged it in to Erika's little practice amp to make sure everything worked. I tuned it up (it actually wasn't far off), fired up the amp, and blew a half an hour just noodling around. And here's what I think of the Squier '51 Custom so far...

Feel/playability: I was surprised by how close everything was straight out of the box. The action feels about right, and the intonation is close, from what I can tell. I noticed a little buzz up around the 17th fret, so the neck might need a little tweaking. But then again, it came with really skinny strings (.009's I think) and I usually prefer .010's or .011's, so maybe the buzz will go away with heavier strings.

The neck is satin-finished, which I like a lot better than a glossy finish. It looks better, and your hand slides along it better. I had read some reviews online say that the frets on these guitars sometimes needed a little filing along the edges, but mine are perfect. They don't stick out at all. The neck feels a bit thicker and rounder than I remember my last Strat being, but I like it. And —hooray— it's a maple fretboard! And it's got that cool dark stripe up the back!

The guitar hangs well on a strap, too. It's not very heavy, being basswood and thinner than a usual Fender body, but it's not neck-heavy like a Gibson SG. Just like a Strat, it feels like you're wearing it, not just hanging it on your shoulder.

Tone: I LOOOOVE the neck pickup on this guitar. I love a good clean tone, and this pickup delivers. It's the classic Fender single-coil sound, clear as a bell and kinda sparkly when you strum a chord. I played a couple Stevie Ray Vaughan licks, and it sounded great (even with my limited and rusty playing skills). On the overdrive channel, it sounded pretty good as long as I didn't turn up the gain too high.

The bridge pickup I'm not so thrilled with. For one thing, it doesn't really go with the style of the rest of the guitar. It's a black open-coil humbucker in a black plastic bezel, and it just looks out-of-place around all the white and chrome. A big chrome Gibson PAF would look the part more.

The humbucker sounds okay clean, but a little muddy, and kinda hollow and quacky instead of crunchy when you try to add any distortion. With the gain all the way up, I was back in high school again, playing big fuzzy power chords and palm-muting the low E. I'm no lead player, but I can definitely say that this is no lead guitar, at least not for hard rock/metal. I couldn't get that biting sound out of it, and harmonics were nonexistent. But I don't play that stuff much anymore.

Keep in mind that I was playing through a 15 watt Crate practice amp, part of the time with headphones. So I'm reserving judgment on how it really sounds until I can play it through a "real" amp.

The controls are a little strange. There are two knobs, and that's it. The front knob is volume, like you'd expect. But the back knob, instead of being a tone control, is actually the pickup selector switch, and it operates backwards from what logic would indicate. When I first plugged it in, I had to run through the positions and tap the pickups with a screwdriver to figure out which position was which. It's a three-position switch, and there's also a push-pull on the volume control that splits the humbucker into a single-coil. Oddly, there's no hum-cancelling in the middle switch position unless you pull the knob out; with all three coils going, it hums like a single-coil.

Fit and finish: Overall, I'm very impressed, especially for a $100 guitar. The finish on the neck is fantastic, and the sunburst finish on the body shows some nice woodgrain. I'd prefer a little more orange-y sunburst instead of the brown, but it looks good. All the chrome is smooth, and everything is put together straight.

I did find one strpped screw holding down the bridge (easy to do with basswood; it's pretty soft). I'll have to take it out and dribble a little epoxy into the hole one of these days. The pickguard has a couple rough edges around the neck, and the control knobs are cheap and wobbly. But the rest of the hardware seems okay. The tuners are sealed and work smoothly, and the bridge, well, it holds the other end of the strings. (What more can you ask of it?)

Overall, I'm quite happy, and I can't wait to get home and play with it some more. It's fine just the way it is, and it'll get better with a little heavier strings, and down the road, I'll replace the cheap control knobs and maybe find a new bridge pickup, and it'll get better still. But right now I just want to play it. So... when are we getting together to jam again?
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I'll admit I know nothing about guitars, but aren't new toys just THE BESTEST? ;)
Impressed. Actually I would have expected less of a 100 dollar guitar. If I had money for it, I'd buy it pronto, but I already have my telecaster project to work on. Only one fixer-upper guitar at the time! ;)
You have a Tele? Details, please...