There have been three US production versions so far of the Fender Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster. As covered in the article on ID’ing various Malmsteen models, the original signature series Strat is plainly different from the other two, with its 50s type neck, head and body, its narrow frets, and American Standard type two-point tremolo. The subsequent two models, updated in 1998 and then 2007, are less easily distinguishable, and both look pretty much like what you see Yngwie spin around his shoulders today. There are differences between these two, though, some totally inconsequential, some less so, and here I compare them side by side.
[We are long overdue for an update: A fourth version of Yngwie’s signature Strat was released in 2011. It is immediately recognizable by its recessed Dunlop strap locks set flush into the body, in place of traditional strap buttons. It comes loaded with three Seymour Duncan YJM Fury Pickups, the company having spirited Yngwie away from DiMarzio after nearly 30 years. Otherwise, version #4 has the same spec as version #3 covered here.]
- My version #2 Yngwie Strat was made in 2001. This model was introduced in ’98 and is sometimes referred to here as “the ’98”.
- My version #3 was built in the first year of production, 2007. This was available until sometime in 2011, when the pickups and strap mounting hardware were changed.
Let’s start with what features they share. They both have: alder bodies; scalloped maple necks (with the option of rosewood fretboards); hella fat frets; vintage six-screw tremolos with the stamped, bent steel saddles; large 70s style “CBS” headstocks (which Yngwie thinks provide more sustain…); DiMarzio YJM stacked humbuckers in the neck and middle positions; DiMarzio HS-3 pickups in the bridge positions; and in my case, both are even vintage white.
Both supposedly employ “no load” tone controls, which are meant to be bypassed completely at 10, mimicking Yngwie’s previous predilection for disconnecting his tone pots for what he described as more output but was probably more brightness. However, on each Yngwie Strat I’ve owned, only the outer tone control evidenced the notch effect, where a no load control softly locks into place when turned all the way up. I turn these all the way up anyway, to get that bubbly, open Yngwie sound, and when I’ve built guitars I’ve omitted a tone control completely; I’d be perfectly happy if manufacturers did the same.
Though all but identical at a glance, get in close to these guitars and reasonably subtle aesthetic differences begin to peep out. For the rabid fan, a mild irritant in the design of the signature Strat available from ’98 through the end of ’06 was the lack of a “bullet” truss rod. You never see Yngwie without that bullet! It was an easily identifiable niggle; a dissatisfying reminder that we didn’t have quite the same guitar as Yngwie, but a slightly inaccurate, if well-meaning, facsimile for fans.
Lately I was in a toy store at the Monroeville Mall (where Dawn of the Dead was filmed) and felt my inner 13-year-old greaseball horror fan stir, abruptly and unexpectedly, when I saw that they had finally released a Freddy Kruger replica glove that was really made out of metal. The one they had when I was a kid was plastic and cloth. As I watched grubby, taped-off-satellite VHS tapes of the Nightmare On Elm Street movies in the wee hours of my tweens, I dreamt of a more satisfying reproduction. It’s not that I wanted to lacerate innocents with an insane razor claw; it’s that mine didn’t look the same as Freddy’s. Besides being plastic, the cloth under-glove was gray while Freddy’s leather was a caramelly newbuck, and forget the dirty copper of the hinged fingers and backplate — they hadn’t even bothered. There was even some tortoiseshell plastic in there. What the?
I seized on this metal glove and, for a few electric, ecstatic moments, believed that of course I would buy it, this object that had always been missing, before a cold wash of reality swept through to remind me that I am 32 and in little need of fantasy prop replicas that would aid hours of role play in an adolescent horror world. I can make use of a guitar that makes me feel just a little bit more like a rock star, though.
The bullet truss rod, standard issue on the Yngwie Strat since ’07, is the metal Freddy glove of the Malmsteen disciple — finally, the guitar looks right.
It was not until I laid both guitars down together that I discovered a difference in the paint. It’s not the clearest comparison to make in small digital pictures, but in raw daylight it’s unmistakable. The older model is buttery and yellow, brighter; the current model is duller, less colored, a more genuine cream, for my money the more naturally aged-looking color of the two. You can imagine this as paint that started out white and found itself in a sunlit store window for some years.
A digital swatch taken from the guitars in Photoshop makes things clearer. At the time they were made, both finishes were billed simply as “Vintage White” by Fender.
I like the idea of taking a guitar to one of those machines at Home Depot that scans the color of any object and spits out cans of matching paint. A whole room of Malmsteen vintage white appeals — it’s subtle enough to make sense on a wall, and to pass spousal standards of taste and decency. For this I think I’d go with the earlier model. Something about a roomful of the duller, more beige tone of the new paint strikes me as institutional, like a 70s psych ward. I am not going back to one of those.
Fender went with a mint green pickguard on the earlier of the two guitars, presumably to emulate a bit of age, as the effect is of a discolored white. The new model employs a simple, true white pickguard instead, which pops better in contrast with the body paint and controls, defining the iconic curves and details of the Stratocaster design in stronger terms.
The mint green guard of the ’98, against vintage white paint, cream knobs and mint green pickup covers, is more amorphous, with each element blending together as members of the ‘dirty white’ family — nothing stands out.
Adding a white guard in 2007 gave all those aged colors a nice neutral to be seen against, like installing 6500ºK lights behind a screen, and I think the timeless appeal of the Stratocaster layout is better showcased because of it. The immediate impression is of similarity to an earlier, healthier ‘Duck’, before exposure to decades of touring in the hands of a viking, such as on the cover of Rising Force, or even the June 1988 issue of Guitar World; significant images, both.
A couple of smaller aesthetic differences: the ’98 has a rich, amber-tinted neck, while the new one goes for a very white, uncolored maple. Some of this could be down to age, but given that my ’98 revision Yngwie was actually made in 2001 and lives in its case between uses, I don’t think these came out the factory the same color. The ’98 also has a high grain (and possibly higher grade) maple neck — more on this later — and at some point between the two models, DiMarzio evidently decided to step up its brand recognition, with pickup logos about six times the size they used to be. The subtler old ones seem more tasteful.
The 70s aftermarket trend for brass nuts clearly made an impact on young Yngwie, who’s insisted on them ever since. They are meant to increase sustain, though this may be a manufacturer myth akin to herbal supplements which increase a man’s size — both rely on wishful thinking.
You will have noticed, as I have, that anything farther down the neck than the fretting finger has no effect on your sound, because that’s not where the string’s vibrating. If you’ve ever put an elastic band or a hair scrunchie around your first fret, to dampen unwanted open strings while attempting tapping sequences more demanding than the usual three-note doo-da-dee, you’ll have noticed, when you tore off and went on soloing with a pick as normal, that the guitar sounded the same as usual. You could wrap an uncooked bratwurst sausage around the neck beyond your fretting hand and it’d sound the same. That is my assertion. I’m not a physicist. I can only see how a brass nut might improve sustain on open strings, where it is directly involved, and shit, who plays chords?
There is an advantage to the brass nut in that it won’t break, which is nice, but they’re also harder to work with, which is sometimes a problem.
The nut on earlier Malmsteen models, including my 2001, was a heaving big uncultured block which was cut unreasonably high, creating a monstrous string action at the low end of the neck; something like 50 thousandths at the first fret in my case. To quote a guitar tech when I popped the case and pointed out what needed to be done, “that is ridiculous.”
These unrefined brass bricks make you work unnecessarily hard when so high, adding significantly to the action across the entire fretboard, for almost no benefit. Nut height has no effect on fret buzz beyond the open strings. In short, these beasts need to be filed down if you’ve to stand a chance of nailing the Déja Vu riff. Or strumming G-flat minor without going purple in the face.
Happily, the revised 2007 Malmsteen Strat, with its many new features, has one improvement not mentioned in the literature: a sane brass nut. It’s slotted at a height that will not require intervention from your tech, and it even looks nice. The early nuts were blocky, rather industrial chunks of metal with hard edges; the new ones are polished smooth, nicely rounded at the edges.
A major focus of the Malmsteen models is their necks; it’s largely what sets them apart from other Strats, after all. The 2007 redesign brought a number of upgrades, or at least changes, to the neck.
Fender’s press material mentions even deeper scallops, which seem a bit needless, but they are indeed present, if only really evident at the top end of the fretboard. The scallops on the ’98 are already plenty deep, nothing like the shallow Fender Japan or Allparts versions, and could hardly be said to be restrictive, but apparently Yngwie is having them cut deeper these days by long time luthier Larry Lashbrook, so we get something similar from Fender.
The new scallops start getting pretty aggressive around the 9th or 10th frets, and by the time you’re up in the teens you’re really ice skating, never touching solid ground. It is fun, I have to say, and liberating to be freed up like that. These high notes ring out more clearly too, as if that extra space beneath the strings acts as an acoustic chamber in some way — like when you play your guitar with the pickguard off and all that empty routing works to amplify the strings.
Both necks are finished in glorious old nitro, as you’d find on genuine vintage Strats; a thinner, hence less vibration-damping finish that purists love (and manufacturers avoid, because it damages easily). Fender only went half way, compromising by finishing the body in standard modern poly, the thick plastic gloop on most current guitars that can never age attractively and hampers resonance. An all-nitro Yngwie model would be wonderful, one that would age, tint, chip and sing, but one supposes they have to keep something back for customers of the custom shop, and it’s encouraging they would be talked into nitro necks at least.
One possible tone-benefitting update on the ’07 involves machine screw neck mounting, a system the big man apparently has installed on all his guitars. Instead of big wood screws going through the heel and into the wood of the neck itself, machined screws are used, coupling with metal anchors set into the base of the neck, a bit like the posts and anchors you see on floating bridge guitars. This allegedly binds the neck even tighter to the body, reducing the chances of it moving around, but as a player who is not often given the venue or inspiration to fling his guitar aloft into the lighting rig, I can’t say I’ve experienced neck instability issues under the old system. I suppose it might grab you a bit of sustain, if you half closed your eyes and hucked up your shoulders and really really wanted it.
Fretwire seems about the same — fat — with equally good work on the fret ends, and a little accompanying rolling of the fretboards of each guitar, for a soft, don’t-think-about-it feel. Yngwie has said the current model has a different profile, and it may be be flatter, but playing the two back to back they feel very similar. The 2007 is more susceptible, however, to an under-reported malady of Fender Strats which share this combination of vintage string spacing on the tremolo end paired with a modern, narrower neck. The high E string needs very little encouragement to slip off the fretboard, and makes a frightful squeak as it does so. Hybrid tremolos can be bought to address this, with vintage screw spacing but modern string spacing to match the neck — cheaply, a Highway One Strat tremolo will work; more expensively, Callaham makes a nice model — but these aren’t mods you should have to make to a $2,000 USA-built guitar.
You’ve got to see the difference in the maple. The stock used on the earlier guitar’s neck is flooded with sexy, swirly grain, all marbled and mature, what you might call select maple. It’s knurled and flowing, the scallops skimming through the figuring, creating a lot of movement and interest, with a premium look that makes you feel a bit more pampered than the Plain Jane American Standard owner — and well you should.
The new one is just flat, buttery, Army-issue maple, ordinary and functional, the kind you’d find on any Strat. I don’t know if this discrepancy is down to a scarcity of beauty pageant maple, a bit of cost cutting (even as the MSRP rises), or someone new in charge with different standards than whoever oversaw these artist series instruments 10 years ago, but these current models (that is, 2007 to present) usually look this way.
It’s odd, isn’t it, to have only a little section at the end of a giant article about guitars — musical instruments — discussing sound. This is a comparison, however, and the reality is that these guitars share the same manufacturer, wood types, pickups, electronics, and hardware; to get them to do anything worthwhile you even have to run each of them through the same DOD pedal. Battering away at the arpeggios, scalar runs and supersize vibrato they were made for, teeming with gain, yes, they sound similar.
Guys who have been around the block a few times will tell you, though, that the louder a guitar sounds unplugged, the better it will sound amped up — not least The Maestro himself. It makes sense: natural resonance, in an unplugged guitar that is louder than another unplugged guitar, can equal longer sustain, and subjectively richer tone. The current model, or my ’07 at least, sounds louder and clearer unplugged, quite distinctively. There’s less of what I perceive as crosstalk between the parts; it rings out simply and truly. My earlier revision has a quieter, more muddled unplugged tone, leading perhaps to a marginally detectable dissonance once electrified.
This is mostly meaningless, however; without a large sample pool of guitars from each line, it can’t be said with any accuracy that type B, through changes in design and materials, outperforms type A in natural sustain or tone. Wood, you know, is all different, and one slab of it won’t sound the same as the one right next to it on the factory line. I remember reading about Steve Vai visiting Ibanez, trying endless neck-and-body combinations in hope of replacing his beloved, fatally splitting Evo; but none of them had it, this particular marriage of these particular bits of maple and alder. Thus, lengthy internet comparisons aside, it’s always preferable if you can actually lay your hands on an instrument before you buy it.
You Are Free To Go
Thus ends an evaluation of the version #2 Fender Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster (1998-2006) versus version #3 (2007-present). I’m hanging on to both, in hopes of starting an unholy billion dollar guitar pile like YJM keeps at Studio 308, but if forced to choose would go for the current model. With several caring little updates, it’s the closest Fender has come to Yngwie’s current custom spec, plays better out of the box, and damnit if I’m not just a fool for that little bullet truss rod.
At a Glance
The main, non-subjective differences between the two models. (For shared features, see Common Ground, near the beginning of the article.)
|Feature||Yngwie Strat (1998-2006)||Yngwie Strat (2007-present)|
|Truss rod||Recessed||70s style “bullet”|
|Neck||Nitro finish; high-grain maple; amber tint||Nitro finish; plain maple; no tint|
|Pickguard||Mint Green 3-ply||White 3-ply|
|Brass Nut||Square; cut high||Rounded; cut low|
|Scallops||Deep; even depth across fretboard||Deeper; deepest in highest frets|
|Neck Mount||Standard 4-screw||4-machine-screw anchor system|
|“Vintage White” color||Butter||Cream|