Published On: Thu, Aug 13th, 2009

Fender: Ritchie Blackmore Signature Stratocaster

Want to get closer to rock god tone? With a custom pickup layout and, crucially, a scalloped fingerboard, this Blackmore model is like no other Stratocaster.

From a distance, there’s not much to tell this guitar apart from any other original or 70s reissue arctic white Strat with a rosewood board: no fancy paint jobs… but the devil’s in the detail, as they say.

 

Blackmoore Fender<br />
StratocasterThough Blackmore owns a ’74 Strat and a ’79, this guitar is most likely modelled on the 1977 model that came on the scene in the Rainbow era. 

 

Unlike previous American and Japanese custom shop models, this Mexican-built instrument’s price tag is likely to guarantee mass appeal.

 

So, what’s special? The big news is the scalloped fretboard. Blackmore began experimenting with shaving wood from between the frets in the early ’70s after playing a badly-worn acoustic and discovering he could get more control by digging into the grooves.

 

His long-time tech John ‘Dawk’ Stillwell tells the story of coming across Ritchie at breakfast, carving away at his Strat with a serrated knife.

 

Stillwell took the guitar away and produced a result Blackmore was happy with, and this became a standard Blackmore mod.

 

Unlike the Malmsteen scallop, which is symmetrical, this is a graduated scallop. To stop barre chords going out of tune it starts around the fourth or fifth fret on the bass side, but begins straight away on the treble, gradually getting more pronounced as you ascend.

 

The result certainly impacts on the feel, and while it takes a little getting used to the result is impressive: it’s a very fast neck and you can dig really deep into the second octave.

 

The second mod is the absence of a middle pickup: there’s a blank bobbin and a cover in its place. Blackmore doesn’t use the middle position at all; in the old days he used to screw the pickup down into the guitar because he found it got in the way of his pick.

 

When it comes to the electronics, there is no one Blackmore wiring scheme, and plenty of experiments were carried out. However, the one chosen here gives a three-way switch which allows bridge, both pickups or neck pickup settings.

 

In addition, the bridge pickup is reverse-wound so that the twin pickup position is noise-cancelling. This, of course, isn’t a setting you get with the standard five-way switch, so it represents a unique option for this guitar. There’s no suggestion anywhere that this was an inside secret of Blackmore‘s sound or any evidence that the reverse-winding trick was a feature of his guitar in the ’80s.

 Blackmoore Fender  Stratocaster

What we certainly do know, though, is that this guitar doesn’t feature the Master Tone Control (MTC) circuit designed by Stillwell which was definitely a significant factor in the Blackmore sound (along with his heavily-modded 200W Marshall Major).

 

Its absence isn’t surprising as this little box is a $350 add-on – and it’s still available from Dawk himself if you want the real thing (see www.dawksound.com).

 

Also, Ritchie Blackmore has never used Seymour Duncan pickups, but these Quarter Pound Flat SSL-4s are supposed to be close to the Schecter F-500-Ts he did use. They are significantly more powerful than standard Strat single coils and are described as having something of a P90 character.

 

And before someone points it out, Blackmore has used Gold Lace Sensors in all his guitars for years – around £60 a pop, if you fancy another upgrade. And he’s used Engl amps since 1994.

 

In all other respects the Blackmore signature model is pretty much standard. The vibrato bridge has the vintage pressed saddles rather than the cast ones you’d expect for a period-specific ’77 reproduction, but the general agreement is that pressed ones sound better, so that’s probably a good thing.

 

The vibrato is set up for forward and reverse bends and the guitar is well enough set up not to go out of tune badly, though the intonation had to be fixed on arrival.
Under the back cover are just three springs. Not sure why – Blackmore‘s guitars always have four, the one second from the bottom being removed.

 

The shiny polyurethane-finished ‘U’ profile neck isn’t radically different from the more common ‘C’, but it feels nice and slim while not being foolishly skinny.

 

There’s a bullet truss rod which adjusts at the headstock end and a much-maligned three bolt/Micro-Tilt neck fixing. Players who go in for a lot of rough handling can find the neck shifts.

 

You can always try another Stillwell mod that’s not featured here: gluing the neck in with epoxy. Just don’t change your mind… 

 

Sounds

 

A Marshall and a big grin is really all you really need – though if you want real Blackmore authenticity you might want a modded Aiwa tape deck as a preamp/echo, a 35-foot stage lead and a Hornby Skewes treble booster (failing availability, the BSM RPA booster is designed to emulate this combination).

 

Turn down the guitar and turn everything on the amp up full. Proceed with caution!
The bridge pickup tone is remarkably bright and rich and has more bass than anticipated; high output pickups can be a bit dark and boxy, but there’s no such problem here.

 

 

 Blackmoore Fender   StratocasterBacked off, the guitar dances around all the subtle stuff and fingerpicks beautifully. The neck pickup is there for a fuller spectrum sound and you can get that massive, clean, bassy thud when you damp the strings and let a 4×12 move some air.

 

The twin pickup tone is the surprise at the party: gone is the tell-tale single coil hum (though these pickups are pretty quiet) and you get a sound that’s a bit like a combination of both the standard five-way ‘out of phase’ sounds – only a bit less phasey.

 

It’s very hi-fi and very appealing, even if it’s not exactly a genuine Blackmore signature tone. It reminds me a little of a slightly less edgy version of the Jazzmaster twin pickup sound.

 

Played in anger this is simply a great hard rock Strat. How ‘Blackmore‘ it is recedes in importance, really – but wailing leads and massive power chords are the inevitable outcome.

 

The Seymour Duncans may jump into distortion a little too quickly for some, and the breakup zone is a little narrow, but the ‘arena’ tones are clear and punchy with plenty of detail.

 

Chords sound fantastic, the sustain is better than dark chocolate ice cream, and the feedback is a beast. It’s a shame we know too much these days about hearing loss. 

 

Verdict

For Blackmore-style tones without all the peripheral hardware, this guitar gets pretty close and if the idea of a scalloped neck appeals, this may turn out to be the way to find your favourite fingerboard. The pickups sound great but theyre a little too hot for my liking; Id rather have less output and use the booster option more. My reservations about the lack of a middle pickup were unfounded since I too never use the Strat middle pickup on its own, but I do miss the in-between tones. Overall, this is a well-priced classic rock guitar offering great sounds and at least a respectful nod in the direction of one of the instruments innovators. Final Score: Build Quality: 17/20 Playability: 18/20 Sound: 18/20 Value for money: 17/20 Vibe: 17/20 TOTAL: 87%

Build Quality Playability Sound Value Vibe Score
17 18 18 17 17 87

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