“Playability is where this guitar shines. This Strat is a player”: Fender Mike McCready Stratocaster review

With its Road Worn finish and easy neck, the Pearl Jam guitarist's new signature Strat feels like it's had a few decades under its belt, and is just warming up

Fender's Mike McCready Stratocaster
(Image: © Future / Phil Barker)

Guitar World Verdict

This is a serious guitar that not only delivers a full-bodied tone but also has a neck that makes short work of anything you throw at it. It’s no wonder McCready has the confidence to play this guitar on stage night after night on tour.

Pros

  • +

    Great neck and playability.

  • +

    Relic'd finish at a reasonable price.

  • +

    Big, gutsy tones.

  • +

    Nails the vibe of his original.

Cons

  • -

    Not everyone likes a relic job.

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A shining beacon in a sea of riff-heavy, punk-inspired grunge guitarists, Mike McCready’s impeccable blues feel, Hendrix-esque chord work, and earworm hooks have helped Pearl Jam stay afloat for over three decades – all while most of their contemporaries have sunk without a trace. 

Inspired by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen and Ace Frehley, McCready’s classic rock approach to guitar helped define the Seattle band’s sound – a sound players have been chasing since the early ’90s. 

Now, if there’s one guitar heavily associated with the grunge icon, it’s his battle-worn Fender Stratocaster. A fresh-faced McCready purchased his beloved Strat immediately after the success of the band’s monumental debut album and he’s used it on every record and tour since. 

He originally bought the beat-up six-string, believing it to be a 1959 model – and he even got a “'59” tattoo to commemorate his favourite guitar. We can only imagine his surprise when Fender’s Custom Shop informed him it was actually made one year later, in 1960. 

Fender's Mike McCready Stratocaster

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Having already celebrated the guitar with a limited Custom Shop run, Fender has shifted to making a more affordable option. Now, if there was one word to describe the new McCready and Fender collaboration, it’s ambitious. Not only has Fender set out to make a wallet-friendly rendition of a Custom Shop smash hit, but they’ve also committed to imitating the wear and tear of the original guitar – no small feat, for sure. 

Let’s start by addressing the rather distressed and battered elephant in the room. At first glance, it really does look like an elderly guitar behind a counter in a small town, and from a distance, it appears unmistakably to be McCready’s beloved Fender. 

All the large scratches, dings and scuffs are accounted for. However, once you remove the guitar from its appropriately retro case, you’ll start to notice the slight limitations of the Mexican facility compared to the efforts of the Custom Shop. 

Fender's Mike McCready Stratocaster

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

The ageing is a courageous attempt and mostly on the money. However, we can’t help but feel the relic’ing looks almost too precise in places. The scalpel-sharp lines and surgically removed sections of finish serve as reminders that you’re playing an artificially aged instrument. 

If anything, the bare alder showing through the sparse sunburst patches is a little too clean. The guitar is missing the thousands of hours of sweat, blood and tears the original wears with pride. Perhaps that’s your job! 

Playability is where this guitar shines. This Strat is a player. The neck here is very slim – slimmer than you’d expect – and remarkably easy to navigate. Couple the slight profile with the heavily relic’d nature of its finish and you get a lightning-fast guitar that is addictive to play. Throw in the perfectly aged dots and flawless fretwork, and it might be the best Fender neck we’ve played in years – thanks, Mike! 

Fender's Mike McCready Stratocaster

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Being a grunge legend’s signature axe, you may expect hotter pickups onboard. However, McCready is a vintage gear hound and a massive fan of his guitar’s original pickups. That’s why Fender developed a custom set of ’60s single-coil pickups specially designed to reproduce the tone of their golden-age instruments. 

These pickups sound superb and very convincing – one strum and we were transported to the swinging ’60s. The tone is bright and responsive, all without sounding spikey or thin. These pickups have a retro charm that will surely put a smile on any vintage guitar fan’s face. That said, it’s not only throwback jangle this guitar can do – it distorts beautifully, taking maxed-out fuzz and face-melting gain in its stride. 

Fender's Mike McCready Stratocaster

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

It’s fair to say heavily relic’d guitars always start a debate among guitarists, but what’s not up for discussion is how good this particular guitar plays and sounds. This is a serious guitar that not only delivers a full-bodied tone but also has a neck that makes short work of anything you throw at it. It’s no wonder McCready has the confidence to play this guitar on stage night after night on tour – perhaps it’s a state of love and trust.

Specs

  • PRICE: $1,899 / £1,649
  • BODY: Alder 
  • BODY FINISH: Road Worn Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • NECK SHAPE: Slim “C”
  • SCALE LENGTH: 25.5” (64.77 cm) 
  • FINGERBOARD: Slab Rosewood
  • FINGERBOARD RADIUS: 9.5” (241 mm) 
  • FRETS: 21 Jescar Medium Vintage 
  • PICKUPS: Custom Mike McCready ’60s Single-Coil 
  • SPECIAL ELECTRONICS: Treble Bleed Circuit 
  • BRIDGE: 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo with Bent Steel Saddles 
  • CASE: Deluxe Brown Hardshell
  • CONTACT: Fender

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Daryl Robertson

First and foremost, I'm a guitar enthusiast – a fanatic, some might say. I'm a firm believer that most of the world's problems can be solved with a Gibson SG and a catastrophically loud amp. As a Senior Deals Writer on Guitar World, I write about guitars for a living, but in a past life, I worked in music retail for 7 years, advising customers on the right guitars, basses, drums, pianos, and PA systems for their needs. I also have a passion for live sound; I'm a fully qualified sound engineer with experience working in various venues in Scotland, where I live with my wife and dog.