The Stratocaster design is one of the most iconic six-string templates in history. Indeed, throughout the decades, it’s been the instrument of choice for countless guitarists, and to this day is the benchmark for many brands – PRS and Ibanez included – seeking to capture some of that Strat magic.
Owing to this heritage, it’s little surprise the Stratocaster has been the recipient of very few radical design overhauls. Even Fender’s latest big release, the American Vintage II line, was all about harnessing history. Yes, certain specs have changed over the years, but overall the Stratocaster has remained a relatively static six-string.
That’s what makes the new made in Japan Aerodyne Special Stratocaster so – for want of a better word – special. First introduced in the mid 2000s, the flagship Aerodyne range dipped its toes into modern waters, testing out new specs, aesthetics and tones. The new-for-2022 reboot – complete with HSS/SSS Strats, a Telecaster and Precision and Jazz Basses – pushes that boat out even further.
The result is a Strat unlike anything else currently in the Big F’s books. It’s familiar to hold, but the slimmer basswood body makes it really lightweight, whereas its bound top ditches smooth contours for rigid edges. This does put slightly more pressure on the forearm, but it’s really nothing to worry about, and the deep reverse contour and sleek body carve more than compensate for this.
Another notable difference is the neck and fretboard. The rosewood ’board is a Strat stalwart, but the 12” radius isn’t, and it makes this particular guitar far more accommodating. With the help of the modern C maple neck, the Aerodyne is a dream to get around: the neck is faultless, with no fret edge issues whatsoever, and the action is perfectly adjusted for effortless chording and lithe string jumping.
Functionally speaking, the spec sheet overhaul isn’t just for show: the Babicz Z-Series FCH 2-Point tremolo is a great addition. Supremely responsive to both whole note pull-ups and borderline divebombs, the floating tremolo unlocks some flexible bending feats – something the original six-screw bridge-equipped Aerodynes couldn’t deliver.
Not only that, the Babicz is really comfortable underneath the pick hand. Unlike bent steel saddles which can tear up the strumming hand, the smoothly contoured Babicz saddles are far superior. They’re even better than block saddles, owing to their rounded edges.
Comfort and response aside, the Babicz drives the guitar’s immense natural sustain. This bridge’s Full-Contact Hardware design – which increases contact between saddle and bridge for brighter overall tone – isn’t just snake oil. Unplugged, the guitar is incredibly dynamic. Plugged in, it sings.
Having said that, because the Babicz design is so noticeably responsive, the slightest unintentional pressure when palm-muting or plucking can throw the tuning out. If tamed, this lends itself to some cool hands-free bending potential, or you can just throw an extra few springs on the block and eradicate the quirk entirely. To that end, the presence of Deluxe locking tuners – along with the synthetic bone nut – helps maintain robust tuning stability.
Tonally speaking, it’s pleasingly diverse. Boasting a trio of all-new Aerodyne Special single-coils, the guitar is capable of both snappy Strat sounds when balanced on the edge of breakup and some impressively cutting gains when cranked.
Scooped slightly in the mids, they’re all nicely responsive to their respective tone pots, with the five-way switch helping navigate an impressive collection of Fender sounds, and then some. They’re also noticeably dynamic – something the overall build probably helps with – and particularly sensitive to pick attack.
The control set is nothing new, but the usual control tips have been replaced by smaller all-silver alternatives. These play into the aesthetics of the Aerodyne, but practically aren’t as intuitive.
Once accustomed to the model’s sound and response, this is less of any issue, but one that needs overcoming nonetheless. Plus, the lack of friction or knurling make rolling adjustments a tad more laborious. Again, it’s a minor gripe for a guitar that otherwise excels in tone, build quality, hardware and performance.
Sounds and feel aside, this really is a beautiful Strat with looks to match its resonant and dynamic character. Sleek and elegant with the perfect marriage of modern playability and timeless Strat tones and feel, this might be the best Aerodyne yet. Perhaps even more impressively, no other Fender we can think of behaves quite like it. Translation: pick it up and you’ll struggle to put it down.
- PRICE: $1,299 / £1,349
- BODY: Basswood
- NECK: Maple
- SCALE: 25.5”
- FINGERBOARD: Rosewood, 12” radius
- FRETS: 22, Medium Jumbo
- PICKUPS: 3 x Aerodyne Special Single-Coil Stratocaster
- CONTROLS: Master Volume, Tone 1 (Neck/Middle), Tone 2 (Bridge)
- HARDWARE: Babicz Z-Series FCH-2 Point Trem, Deluxe Locking Tuners
- FINISH: Chocolate Burst, Bright White, California Blue
- CONTACT: Fender