I recently did a complete U-turn with regards to my Fenders. I can hardly think of a more flexible guitar than my Telecaster with the Super Distortion in the bridge. It could do just about anything. But it turned out to be a blind alley to lead my Stratocaster down the same path. When playing distorted, of course it sounded fantastic. As I’ve said in another review, the Super Distortion S is a great pickup that is actually hotter and less toppy than the T model, and the Air Norton is very rounded and smooth for a neck pickup. But it only took one rehearsal to make me decide that Namlar, which is my only band right now, is not a Fender band, at least not as far as I’m concerned. In spite of the Super Dist, I was forced to race home during our lunch break and switch the Stratocaster for my Les Paul. It just wasn’t happening with the Fender. And when I sat around at home, playing my Fenders through the Blackstar, I found myself constantly longing for the traditional Fender clean and overdriven sound. Like the other guitar player in my old covers band, I found that humbuckers on a Fender do not balance.
This got even worse during the summer, when I got this insatiable craving for Hendrix and Gilmour. So the decision was easy. Since I needed to get the Stratocaster professionally adjusted anyway, I thought I might strike two birds with one stone and have the shop replace two of the pickups while they were at it. Super Distortion and Air Norton aside, I really enjoyed the glassy precision of the Area 58, so getting two of those turned out to be a logical next decision. And while I was it, why not do the same for my other Fender, and let it be a real Telecaster for the first time in four years?
Now that my Fenders have classic-sounding if noiseless pickups, they sound the way they were made, and that is very good indeed. I’d say they are way more transparent and single coil-like than Fender’s own Hot Noiseless set. Purists might argue that only a true single coil pickup can really sound like a Fender, but I just can’t live with the single-coil hum. I did a quick A/B test in the shop with stock Fenders, and the difference was like night and day. DiMarzio’s Area pickups are close enough that what you gain easily compensates for whatever you might think you’re losing. The Stratocaster pickups are focused and sharp when played one by one, and quack nicely in the 2 and 4 positions. My Telecaster might have lost a bit of its universal flexibility, but now it sounds as bright and spanky as Leo designed it. If I want that extra bit of drive from my Fenders, I don’t have to mess with super-hot pickups. Let’s not forget that I actually own a very capable boost pedal!