Guitar Review: Fender Total Tone Stratocaster

May 23, 2013

Review by Ian Garrett

The Guitar:      Fender Total Tone ’57 Stratocaster in Daphne Blue, Relic

The Point:        Authentic look and feel of an original 1957 Stratocaster with modern updates

The Damage: $3,699

Imagine being given the opportunity to pick out, for free, any Fender Custom Shop guitar in stock at ProGuitarShop.  Would you choose a Telecaster? Maybe a Stratocaster?  Perhaps you’re a Jazzmaster fan?  Nearly three years ago, this was the “dilemma” I faced after winning the PGS 48 Hour Fender Custom Shop Giveaway.  Yep, some tough choices were in order. But I found “the one” for me, a re-creation of a ’52 Telecaster with custom hand-wound Abigail Ybarra pickups with a heavy relic finish. I still love this guitar and pretty much compare everything to it. I know it wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice, but it spoke to me.

Now I’ve been given another opportunity to test drive the new Fender Total Tone series, and to give my thoughts on this unique Stratocaster.  The guitar for this review is modeled after a classic ’57 Strat, with a maple neck and Daphne Blue finish.  Although it has a relic finish, it’s not a “heavy” relic like my Telecaster. In other words, it has minimal intentional wear in only the most obvious areas where a nitro finish would wear naturally over time.   The first thing that grabs you upon opening  the custom black Tolex case is the beautiful retro Daphne Blue finish with a gorgeous maple neck. It just looks and feels like an original Strat from 1957 that is in very good, but not mint, condition. Not a closet queen, but not “beat to hell” either. 

Despite being a Tele man first and foremost, I’ve owned a number of Strats over the years; both are great guitars, and I won’t argue which is better.  They’re just different.   I used a Fender Humboldt Blues Jr. amp to demo this guitar, with limited pedal use, sometimes just a little spring reverb. You don’t need much else.

How does it feel?

I don’t consider myself a “finish” snob, but I do love the look, feel and even the smell of a nitrocellulose finish. It just seems right to me. It would be out of place on an Ibanez shredder- type guitar.  But on an “old” Strat?  Yes, please!  The beautiful one-piece V-shaped quarter-sawn maple neck has a really nice aged look to it, without appearing fake at all.

In fact, the neck is usually the first thing I have to figure out – does it feel right in my hands? Are the frets dressed properly without sharp edges? The answer to these questions this time was a resounding yes.   Keep in mind it’s a fairly full-sized neck with a 9.5” radius and tall, jumbo 6105 fret wire.  If you like a thinner neck, you might want to look at the ’62 Total Tone version that has a slimmer C- shaped neck profile.     

Also notable is the hardware from the American Vintage series, including the Synchronized Tremolo system that worked well, and featured improved bent steel saddles for better tuning stability.  The neck pocket was tight, and the alder body was light weight (total weight on my scale was just over 7 lbs.).  Overall, I didn’t see any issues at all with this model, and it arrived perfectly set up for my needs.  All in all, what you end up with is a package with an authentic looking vintage appearance, but with some modern updates that most players will appreciate. 

Now let’s talk about the pickups,   designed especially for this model, called the Fender Lineage Red Pickups (the Lineage Black series are for the 60’s models).  They have a vintage vibe to them, but are still punchy and bright, a bit hotter I would guess than originals from the era, but still authentic sounding.  I liked that the middle pickup is reverse wound so positions 2/4 are noise cancelling.  Honestly, I found these pickups to be very quiet for single coils in any position.

How does it sound?

My favorite tone from a Strat is the neck pickup, and the Total Tone Strat sounds beautiful in this position.  Clean, deep, bell- like tones rang out from my amp. Moving from the 5th to 4th position, you immediately notice a difference; the mids shift, becoming more pronounced, with the bass diminishing slightly. I liked this setting a lot, too, and it seemed to cut through the mix a bit better.  Engaging the middle pickup on any of the 2-4 positions will give you that signature Strat squawk but punchy warm tone, reminiscent of those great ‘50’s vibe – yet another flavor to choose from.

The middle position alone, as you would expect, has a very present midrange, without the deepest lows or highest highs.  It’s perfect for channeling that Stevie Ray Vaughn vibe. It also seems to have a bit more volume and kick to it than the other positions. The second position highlights the midrange with more punch coming from the bridge/treble pickup.

Finally, what I normally don’t like about Strats, but actually enjoyed with this one, was the bridge setting. Sure it was bright and cutting, but never too “ice picky” like. There wasn’t much bass, but enough upper midrange in this setting to make it enjoyable – much more so than I expected.  I discovered quickly that all five settings yielded different but great tones with a wide range of versatility.

Expensive but worth it?

My wife told me I had better not bond with this guitar, because unlike my Telecaster, this one was only a loaner. I got that disapproving look when I told her it was too late.  GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) can be a terrible thing sometimes.

Many folks might look at this guitar and wonder whether the price at almost $3,700 is justifiable.  I think it is, but I believe that for several reasons. One, this is not a run-of-the-mill Strat. You can’t buy a Mexican, or even an American Standard, and make some “modifications” so that it looks or feels like an authentic ’57 Stratocaster. The neck is like a wonderful old pair of jeans, and not the ripped kind of jeans you find at Target, but the kind you’ve worn for years and are just right.  No easy feat to pull off with a new instrument.  Throw in the Lineage Red pickups and you begin to see why this Strat is truly something special. 

There is a certain point where you just can’t add up the sum of the parts and say it should be “this price.” The finish on this guitar is not inexpensive to do correctly.  And let’s be honest - you are paying for good American jobs, and we should understand and rejoice in that.  I got to meet several of the folks from Fender’s Custom Shop when I won this contest nearly three years ago– and we still keep in touch via Facebook.  They are passionate about making Fender guitars, and the work here shows it.

I believe it’s better to have a few guitars that are really great, than a lot of guitars that are simply good.  In short, if you pick up a guitar like this Total Tone ’57 Strat and it just feels right, like it’s an extension of your musical thoughts, then it’s certainly worth it.


Rating:  4.5

5 – Tremendous product; among the very best

4 – Great value overall; exceeds expectations

3 – Definite contender, but look closely at the competition too

2 – Average at best; probably better choices exist

1 – Not ready for prime time 


  1. Burl Lenz says:

    Wonderful review was giver here about this guitar. I was not having that much knowledge about this Fender Total Tone Stratocaster before. So, there were many new things for me to learn about.

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    posted on May 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm
  2. guitslinger says:

    That was a great review and Sonic Blue is my favourite Strat colour-I’m a die-hard Beatle freak- it certainly would entice someone with the bucks to afford one to put in an order.While I was reading the review of the ‘57 I was thinking how I would much rather an “L” series if I had the money and sure enough the have a ‘62 with the slim profile “C”  neck that were part of the magic that made the “L” series so desireable-then again the pickups of the L series (‘62-‘65 for those who are puzzled by the term) were IMHO the best Fender ever produced.Now all I need is to win a lottery and one of them in Sonic Blue as a ‘62 model with a rosewood fretboard would be in a place of honor in my music room pretty quick.

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm
  3. guitslinger says:

    I must be becoming dilerious I said Sonic Blue was my favourite Strat colour-which it is-but it completely escaped my mind that the review was of a Daphne Blue one-then again with the artificial fading it looks very close to Sonic Blue.

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm
  4. BluesRambler says:

    WOW! Those are some beautiful photos!  Great job boys

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm
  5. Rob Bowrosen says:

    I would rather have a brand new 2013 American Deluxe in Daphne Blue than this thing.

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm
  6. Wowsville says:

    Hey Rob. That’s like going to a French restaurant and reading their menu of authentic cuisine and saying: I’d rather have a hotdog than this stuff! Why would one be in that french restaurant to start with? Which makes me wonder why you would read this article if you prefer a newer vintage of Fender? Apples and oranges my friend.

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm
  7. Rob Bowrosen says:

    @Wowsville, Oh I was not taking anything away from anyone who likes relics. I myself have a love/hate relationship with the idea of relics. I prefer to relic them myself, if you get what I mean? I honestly didn’t know what the “total Tone” series was I thought it was a new line until I read the review. I personally love the Daphne Blue color. But the “relic” idea. hmmm, as I said I like to “relic” them myself. I have a 69 custom shop I ordered myself which I didn’t get in the “relic” style. I got it like new! A friend got one and I liked it so much I ordered one myself. Cheers!

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm
  8. Patrick Kem says:

    I do believe you have become my new super hero! lol The mods on that strat are sublime. Wondering is there a vid out there somewhere of that guitar being played? Sure would love to hear the tones out of a 4X12 cab plexi. Cheers bro!

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm
  9. celticgods says:

    Why buy a guitar that is “factory-aged” or “pre-worn-in” when it’s actually new?  I love the possibility of ordering a guitar spec’d to the 50’s or 60’s or even 70’s with specific necks, colours, headstocks pickups, etc, but I draw the line at ersatz “road wear”.
    The ultimate foolishness is those GC Clapton Strats and Les Pauls…..I mean WTF?

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 10:55 pm
  10. John E. says:

    No doubt this guitar plays well and sounds good. I understand too why guitar companies are relicing. Clearly reliced guitars are popular and make money for the companies. Personally I think they are about as authentic as pre-ripped jeans and I would never put my money down for one.

    posted on May 24, 2013 at 10:59 pm
  11. Gary Whale says:

    I think that the ‘anti-relic brigade’ are missing the point here. Let’s face it, an original 50’s or 60’s Strat or Tele is well beyond most of us, monetarily speaking! So why not a heavy or light relic replica? If, like me, you love the look of an old guitar, with all the character that this embodies but are not a millionaire, then one of these guitars is most appealing!
    With the black and red pickups also simulating the 50’s and 60’s sound, what is there not to like?
    You could never hope to heavy relic a guitar naturally much younger than say the late 70’s in your own lifetime, so why not get the advantage of a new guitar that looks like an old one?

    posted on May 25, 2013 at 3:06 am
  12. Martin says:

    My ‘62 came pre-reliced when I bought it in ‘82. Where’s the sound bite on this guitar? We want to HEAR these things!

    posted on May 25, 2013 at 4:17 am
  13. guitslinger says:

    Although I think that a relic-ed guitar is strictly for poseurs who want others to think that they are hard working pros and all of my guitars have honest signs of over 40 years of gigging in some cases,this guitar would be about the only exception if it were the ‘62 model.The features and just about everything other than the “vandalism” of relic-ing ,makes this guitar to be right up my alley-of course I’d have to get it refinished…lol.

    posted on May 25, 2013 at 5:07 am
  14. Chris says:

    I have a tendency to believe that relic guitars originally started as an inventive way of being able to repurpose less than perfect specimens or factory seconds that were mildly damaged during production.  I personally don’t care for them. But if they can charge double for something they would otherwise have thrown away, then I don’t blame the companies for doing it.

    posted on May 25, 2013 at 5:17 am
  15. Stan says:

    A great marketing scheme!

    posted on May 25, 2013 at 8:39 am
  16. Rob Bowrosen says:

    WOW! It seems like a lot of people are on my side. LOL! Don’t get me wrong I love to have a ‘50’s, ‘60’s or even ‘70’s spec guitar but sell it to me in new condition and I’ll “relic” it myself. I have a ‘69 Custom Shop, that I got in brand new condition! Right now it has some Rob induced dings! LOL!

    posted on May 25, 2013 at 11:14 am
  17. 57Stratman says:

    To each his own, but I gotta say this: For my money, whan I buy a new guitar, I want it to LOOK like a new guitar. I don’t know if you can get this guitar in either a closet classic finish, or even better, a New Old stock finish, but if you can, that’s the way I’d have to go. I just bought a brand new Fender American Vintage 1959 Stratocaster in Faded Sonic Blue, with the Slab Rosewood fretboard, and of course it is a brand new Strat, and it looks like a brand new Strat, but it feels like a New Old Stock ‘59 Strat. The relics, and especially a heavy relic just goes against my grain. If I found an old vintage guitar that looked like that, I’d have to have her refinished, because for me, the guitars I own have to LOOK as close to a new guitar as I can get.. BUT, if you want a guitar that looks like it was born 50 years ago, and has been used hard all it’s life, then the relics would be for you. Like I said in the begining, “To each his own.”

    posted on May 26, 2013 at 1:29 pm
  18. Anthony Lee says:

    I’ll say this for all REAL guitar players where ever they are.
    We buy great Craftsmanship NEW guitars! And every scratch fall or ding is a mark in our hearst to remember for life.


    posted on May 28, 2013 at 2:00 am
  19. Anthony Lee says:

    I’ll say this for all REAL guitar players where ever they are.
    We buy great Craftsmanship NEW guitars! And every scratch fall or ding is a mark in our hearts, to remember for life.


    posted on May 28, 2013 at 2:01 am
  20. Gregory says:

    I don’t blame people for liking the look of relic guitars I enjoy some wear on my instruments, no I disagree with the price point for the “art” of relicing sure it looks good but the whole point of owning a vintage instrument is the tone from the aging of the wood and pickups now using weaker magnets in the pickups can simulate aging but unless fender had some wood hanging around the shop since 1957 you ain’t going to get there. :(

    posted on May 28, 2013 at 4:31 am
  21. Gary says:

    A duck by any other name (or relic’d) is still an over-priced duck.

    posted on May 28, 2013 at 8:03 am
  22. BR TOAD says:

    I love the sound of a vintage guitar and personally look to buy used guitars for the feel and heart that it exudes however I am not in the tax bracket which allows me to spend more then my Home for an instrument.. I do prefer a NON_RELIC finish to any NEW VINTAGE I purchase as long as it has the sound and feel I want to be he one to put the dings and belt rash into the guitar.. I truly just don’t care for the RELIC LOOK unless it has been put there through time.. BUT GOD knows I love te vintage sound and I am more then willing to pay for the VINTAGE FEEL & SOUND but I want it to look like it was built and cared for with LOVE, HEART & SOUL

    posted on May 28, 2013 at 8:22 am
  23. David Ross. says:

    there was a time when one could go out and buy a remake of the vintage fender guitars and not feel like one was just taken,there are a lot of un-heard luthiers that are able to build a great strat or tele,Fender has gotten way to out there,one use to be able to buy a well built fender and walk away not feeling like one was just ropped,I bought two delux models back in 2006,great guitars,S1switch with noiseless pick-ups,there great guitars that only cost 1,200.00 apiece ,most of what they make now is junk,if one wants something good from fender one has got to sell the house,the car and the kids same on fender,if Leo was around he`d really go through the roof!

    posted on May 28, 2013 at 9:28 am
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  25. Atomic says:

    I felt the same way most of you guitar players feel about relic-ing a fine new instrument, at least until I bought one…  a Nocaster Closet Classic.  I’m not a “poser.”  I simply walked into my favorite guitar shop and picked it out after playing several new Teles.  It just sounded and felt GREAT.  Since then, I’ve purchased two more relic’d Fenders.  Both are Strats, and they also sound and feel FANTASTIC.  After about 40 years of playing guitar, I could care less about the way an instrument looks.  To me, it’s about the feel and the sound.  If a guitar feels like an extension of your body, plays like butter, and sounds phenomenal, nothing else matters, including the price.  Just my opinion on this subject.

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