2020 Review: Guitars For Home Playing

Rather than do a ‘best of’ style post, every year I’m going to do a rundown of what guitars I’ve had my hands on, and what I’ve learned from the experience.

This post covers guitars I play at home for fun. I’ll cover the guitars that I gig with on Wednesday.

Previous articles: [2019]


My modded Fender Player Stratocaster has become my go-to Stratocaster this year. In fact, I’ve enjoyed it so much I got a second one for Christmas. This one will stay stock though! [We’ll see how long that lasts – Ed]

The mighty Les Paul is still my thing, even as Gibson continues to find new ways to be a douchebag. While I own objectively-better guitars, there’s just something about a Les Paul that makes it home for me.

My attempt to explore a #PlayAlternative world has been completely derailed by the global pandemic. Thanks to global supply disruption (still haven’t seen the PRS S2 McCarty 594 I ordered back in January), lockdowns and the risk of travelling (I live on Plague Island!), it just hasn’t been possible to go and checkout any new guitars this year.

And that’s a shame, because I’d love to find a Telecaster I can actually bond with …

(Modded) Fender Player Stratocaster Takes The Crown

Last year, I picked up a Fender Player Stratocaster in metallic sage green. Fast forward a year, and after several mods, it’s in a really good place now. So good, in fact, that it’s become my #1 Stratocaster.

There’s a few reasons for this.

  • The neck carve on this particular Player Strat is just perfect for me.
  • With the pickup upgrades, it sounds exactly like the Strat sound I remember growing up.
  • And, thanks to adding a shielded pickguard, it’s hum-free here at home.

If you’re looking for a Stratocaster and you’re on a budget, I have no trouble recommending the Fender Player Stratocaster to you. The stock pickups are perfectly usable, and you can upgrade them later on if you feel the need and when you can afford to do so. If you do upgrade the pickups, just remember to get the pots upgraded at the same time.

The Player Stratocaster isn’t perfect. The problems aren’t craftsmanship: these are well-made guitars. It’s that Fender has cut corners on materials and parts, and that does lead to a few problems.

  • The necks are a little unstable, compared to American-made Fender guitars. They need more adjusting, which can be daunting if you’re new to doing so. And it’s a right pain on the Vintera range. More on that later on …
  • The electronics don’t sound the same as American-made Fender Stats do. I like the sound for what they are. Just be aware that, if you really want that classic Strat sound, you’ll need to budget for some upgrades down the road.
  • Quality control isn’t consistent enough. I got a second Player Strat as a Christmas present, and it had to go back to the shop to have work done on both the nut and bridge saddles.

Don’t let that put you off. They’re great guitars, and they’re also great mod platforms.

The Vintera Telecaster Doesn’t Get Much Love Any More

There’s a lot to like about the Fender Vintera 60’s Modded Telecaster. There’s just a couple of things that, combined together, have led to mine not getting much playing time this year.

Like my Player Strat, the neck doesn’t have the same amount of stability that my USA-factory Fenders have. The neck on these Mexican-made Fenders needs adjusting far more frequently. Only problem is, to adjust the neck on the Vintera, I have to take the neck off first.

All I can say is: I won’t be buying another guitar without an accessible truss rod ever again, unless it’s got a baked maple neck, uses carbon fibre rods, or employs some other construction technique to ensure that the neck is as stable as humanly possible.

Part of the problem is me: I just haven’t found the Telecaster for me yet … although I did pick up one of the limited run Squire Esquires (in butterscotch blonde w/ a black pickguard too!!) that I’m really enjoying.

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve already found the guitar that suits me the most …

The Les Paul Is Where I Live

Throughout 2020, I’ve probably played my Les Paul more than my Strat and Tele combined.

I have objectively-better guitars. Deadnote – my PRS McCarty 594 – is a better instrument, by almost every conceivable measurement. Heck, if my long-time collaborator Tess was here, she’d tell you that Deadnote into a tweed-tone signal chain is the sound that I’ve been chasing since the early 90s.

And yet, how many blog posts have I written on here this year where my signal chain starts with my Les Paul? Nearly all of them.

I got to see why through someone else’s eyes. My wife Kristi has been branching out into electric guitar this year. I got to watch her try a whole bunch of different makes and models. From her very first strum of a Les Paul, she was hooked. It just felt alive to her in a way that the competition doesn’t.

When it’s safe to travel again, I’m sure we’ll be off hunting for her first Les Paul.

#PlayAlternative Is On Hold For Now

Last year, I made a start on looking for viable alternatives to Gibson Les Pauls. While Gibson make great guitars, as a brand they’ve been a bunch of douchebags, and that has led to a surge of interest in finding guitars from other makers that can do the same job.

Well, not surprisingly, the global pandemic has put paid to that for the time being.

We’ve seen unprecedented disruption to global supply chains. Here in Britain, many guitars simply aren’t arriving at all. I ordered one of the PRS S2 McCarty 594s all the way back in January. Current guestimates are that it won’t arrive until the summer of 2021. Another example: my local Fender dealer was told they probably won’t see another delivery until after Easter 2021.

On top of that, it just hasn’t been possible to travel to try out any alternatives that are hanging on the wall in guitar shops. We’ve on our third lockdown so far – making it illegal to travel for non-essential items – and in between, infection rates were just too high for it to be worth the risk.

At the time of writing, it’s unclear whether or not I’ll be able to resume the search for #PlayAlternative in 2021. The UK currently has no plan to vaccinate the whole population, and #Brexit is going to greatly increase disruption to supplies and drive prices up substantially, even with a deal.

Maybe in 2022 … but whenever that time comes, I have a different priority now.

The Hunt For A Telecaster Will Begin

When we can safely travel again, my priority is to try and find that Telecaster.

Yeah, it’s clearly nagging at me. I genuinely believe that there is a Telecaster out there that’s right for me; one that I’ll bond with and enjoy as much as I enjoy my Strat and Les Paul. The only way to find out is to get out there and try as many as I possibly can.

Will it be made by Fender? That, I’m not as confident about. I’m not interested in vintage fretboard radiused necks, nor in inaccessible truss rods. Neither are for me, and that probably rules out everything that Fender makes atm.

One thing’s for sure … I’ve got plenty of time to do my research while we simply get through this thing.

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