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Fender Limited Edition HM Strat review

A blast from the past that may or may not bring out that late-'80s shred instructor vibe in your playing

Fender HM Strat
(Image: © Fender)

Our Verdict

The Fender Limited Edition HM Strat is an improved reissue with enhanced pickups and a Floyd Rose Special double-locking tremolo, eclipsing the original as a superior shred-worthy guitar.

For

  • Custom-voiced HSS pickups deliver searing high-output.
  • Floyd Rose Special tremolo is perfectly set up.
  • Tall rubberized knobs are ideal for Cathedral-esque swells.
  • Hot finishes.
  • Excellent build.

Against

  • It's not exactly subtle.

The first time I ever laid eyes on the Fender HM Strat was in the hands of Greg Howe for his 1989 Hot Rock Licks instructional video on (wait for it…) VHS! 

Back then, it appeared Fender had released their own offbeat version of a Superstrat. But for me, I was merely blown away by the look of these guitars with their bright-colored Day-Glo finishes, HSS configuration and, of course, its hot-rodded sound paired with a locking tremolo (it might also have been Howe’s sheer virtuosity that helped make the guitar that much more alluring, but I digress).  

Introduced in 1988 and ending production by 1992, the Fender Heavy Metal (HM) Strat was originally made in Japan and subsequently produced in the United States, and at the time, was celebrated for its contemporary design as well as being unfairly maligned for exactly the same thing.

One example would be the cutesy '80s “Strat” logo underscored by a matching body paint stripe on its black-capped headstock evoked more of a Miami Vice vibe than “heavy metal.” Regardless, let’s just say the HM Strat has since built a cult following because of its coveted rarity. 

Fender has recently been digging into their archives and reissuing many former favorites in guitars, and here, the Limited Edition HM Strat is one of those beloved models that happens to be built in the same Japanese factory as the originals with (mostly) the same specs and look, but with a far more fresher sound and feel. 

Features

Most will ask what is the difference between the original HM Strat and Fender’s brand-new reissue? The answer is rather simple: the reissue debuts new custom-voiced high-gain humbucking and dual single coil pickups, and a recessed Floyd Rose Special double-locking tremolo system that replaces the original’s discontinued Kahler Spyder tremolo. 

Outside of the upgraded componentry, the Fender Limited Edition HM Strat shares the same features in what made the original a prized model.

There's a lightweight basswood body, a sharper body radius, contoured and shaved neck heel for comfortable access to the upper frets, bolt-on maple neck with a maple (or rosewood) fingerboard, 24 jumbo frets, thin “C” shape neck profile with a soft satin urethane finish, super-flat 17–inch radius that facilitates a low action setup for extreme bends, and slightly shorter 25.1–inch scale length that hits a sweet spot for snappiness in tone and playability. 

Other features include Gotoh tuners, molded ‘F’ logo control knobs (volume, tone and tone), five-position pickup selector switch, coil-split toggle (for humbucker), and the distinctively stylized “Strat” silk logo on its headstock. The guitar is available in era-correct Black, Frozen Yellow, Flash Pink, Ice Blue and Bright White finishes. 

Fender HM Strat

(Image credit: Fender)

Performance

Though I try and subdue it, my inner C.C. DeVille proclaims this is the exact guitar I wanted in 1989 – Flash Pink finish and all. Considering that roasted necks have become fashionable for Superstrats with their darker caramelized hue, I find the bright maple fingerboard in contrast to its bold Day-Glo finish makes playing the HM Strat all the more enjoyable, as if its unblemished fingerboard looks lit up as a launch pad for ferocious lead playing. 

And that is key here, the HM Strat is a total shredder of a guitar. Having its control set ergonomically within reach, I absolutely love the tall rubberized knobs you can easily manipulate for their equally smooth volume and tone taper. 

Nostalgia aside, this reissue’s brilliant setup of its Floyd Rose Special rivals the twitchiness of an original Kahler Spyder, making aggressive dive bombing and nuanced tremolo throw easily accomplished with total control. The custom-voiced pickups are also outstanding in this reissue. 

The high-gain humbucker is not too overwound to choke out any subtlety, instead, it’s well-balanced and rich, allowing harmonics to pop and thickening single notes to shine. Bravo to Fender on making the humbucker’s coil tap effective in that it doesn’t affect the volume when you activate it, and offers a useful split-coil sound that doesn’t sound weak. 

The two single coils also provide much color to the HM Strat’s hot-rodded engine. Their close proximity to each other offer a denser shade of glassiness to their single-coil spank. If you don’t mind its retro-'80s styling, the HM Strat is one helluva sweet turbocharged ride.

Specs

  • PRICE: $1,199 / £899
  • ORIGIN: Japan
  • TYPE: Double-cut solidbody electric
  • BODY: Basswood
  • NECK: Maple, Thin C profile, bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 638mm (25.1”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Locking, 42.1mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Maple (as reviewed), rosewood 17"
  • FRETS: 24 jumbo
  • HARDWARE: Floyd Rose Special Locking vibrato, Gotoh diecast tuners
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 54mm
  • ELECTRICS: HM Humbuckers (bridge), 2x HM Single Coils, 5-way toggle pickup selector, volume and 2x tone controls
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.56/7.85
  • OPTIONS: None
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Not at present
  • FINISHES: Flash Pink (as reviewed), Ice Blue, Black, Bright White, Frozen Yellow
  • CONTACT: Fender