FENDER JAPAN STR-75
09/17/16- There's hardly any English-language info out there on the 'net about the Fender Stratocaster STR-75, probably because it was made for the Japanese market during the eighties. When you are contemplating getting a new, oldish guitar like this, it's natural to want to learn something about it. That's the main reason for this article (besides it being yet another article to add to the collection).
So this is like an "NGD" (New Guitar Day) article. That kind of article isn't easy-- what can you say about a guitar that isn't evident from its appearance? Your subjective impression, peppered with snarky opinions? A breakdown of its construction? Its historical perspective, derived from a variety of internet sources? It's much easier to write articles about modding and desecrating valuable vintage musical instruments.
Obligatory Background Blurb: The eighties were a turbulent time for Fender Stratocasters. Apparently, some very good Stratocaster clones were being produced in Japan at a time when Fender USA was trying to recover from turmoil and the doldrums. "Super Strats" had become popular, and Fender was late to the party. Fender Japan carried the torch, producing recreations of traditional Strats under the "Squier" and "Fender" banners. They entered the "Super Strat" market with their series of "Contemporary Stratocaster" models that were imported into the USA.
When my '71 Strat was stolen in the early '80s, I eventually replaced it with a Tokai reproduction of a pre-60's Strat. I couldn't bond with its fat neck, so I wasn't too distraught when it too was stolen. I bought a Fender Japan Contemporary Strat to replace it.
The Contemporary Strat was very different from the traditional Strat-- it had two humbuckers, a Floyd Rose-ish tremolo with roller saddles, a locking nut (behind the nut), edge-mounted jack, and a flatter radius neck. It was a well-constructed guitar and very playable. However, the roller saddles began to corrode (pot metal) and there was little hope of finding replacement parts; it was stolen before it became a real problem.
Many Strats later, my foray into Ibbies and Floyd Rose-equipped guitars got me jonesin' for an actual Fender "Super Strat" (the Strat Plus Deluxe doesn't fit my definition of a "Super Strat"). Fender USA has produced a few Floyd-Rose Strats through the years, including a current HSS Standard Strat, made in Mexico. They're reasonably priced and probably well-made, but lacked one feature that I really wanted: A flatter neck radius. The Warmoth option was more than I wanted to spend to get what I wanted. That's when I came across an eBay listing for the Fender Japan STR-75 with a Poplar body.
As shallow as it sounds, the looks are what hooked me: The gold hardware on a black body with black pickguard looked unexpectedly attractive-- I'd thought that the "tuxedo" look (white pickguard) was the best look for a black guitar. Seeing the STR-75 also gave me a greater appreciation for gold hardware, which I'd thought was overly gaudy for most guitar finishes. I think a dark guitar and gold hardware actually go together very well; it inspired me to replace the chrome hardware on my Rosewood Strat (Strat 10.5.1) with gold hardware.
That wasn't the only factor: Japanese Strats from the '80s are well-regarded for workmanship and playability, which jived with personal experience from my Contemporary Strat. The STR-75 model appeared to have a more standard Floyd Rose licensed tremolo and locking nut (a Takeuchi TRS-101, branded as "Fender Ex-Trem", identical to the Ibanez TRS) -- I assumed that this offered better repair/replacement options should it wear/deteriorate. (The jury's still out on that one.)
Pre-purchase research wasn't easy since this appears to be a non-export model that's not often discussed in English-language forums. The eBay listing had a link to this:
(This jpg borrowed from a Japanese website)
Although the copy's in Japanese, it contains some useful clues for those who don't read Japanese. For example, searching for "EX TREM" turns up parts diagrams and measurements for the Takeuchi TRS-101. Also, "305R" indicates that it has a 12" neck radius (305 mm radius). The pickups ("Hod Rod 7S" and "Dragster 8H") are a Fender Japan thing: Apparently, the Dragster 8H humbucker was also used in a Fender Japan HH Jaguar model. The page also contains model names of other similar Fender Japan productions.
A collection of catalog scans of Japanese musical instrument from the '70s to '90s can be found at The World of Musical Instrument Brochures. In addition to hinting at how many different electric guitars were produced in Japan during the '80s, a few additional pieces of information about the STR-75 can be sleuthed. The STR-75 series appears in the 1989 catalog for 75,000 yen (but not 1986; 1987 and 1988 catalogs are missing). Apparently, the model number indicates the price in yen (The STR-70 is 70,000 yen). Weird. It appears to have been made in three burst finishes: CRS- yellow (cyan) to red, RBS- red to black, and BBS- blueberry to black (this one).
There were a few other things that I thought were positives. This would be my first Strat with a contoured heel (The "Pro-Feel" feature). Although I'm okay with the standard block heel, I was curious. The heel neck angle adjustment was a nice bonus too-- much easier than using shims.
I was also curious about the string retainer bar. They're used on some locking nut guitars, but not others. It seems to be optional, since the guitar appears to function the same with or without it. However, it wouldn't make sense for the manufacturer to spend money on an optional part that made it more difficult for the customer to re-string, right?
Apparently, it's for guitars without an angled headstock (like Strats). It changes the angle that the strings exit the sloped back edge of the nut. But with a locking nut, there's no danger of the string popping out of then nut, or not sitting solidly enough within the nut to produce a strong open string tone. So why? In this case, it's to relieve some of the force needed to tighten the nut blocks and bolts to hold the strings locked in the nut. Hopefully, it keeps the user from over-torquing and stripping the bolts/nut threads. Sounds reasonable to me...
The two knob layout is odd for a Strat, but utilitarian. Unless I mod a guitar with other functionality, I usually only wire them with a master volume and tone. But just in case, there's enough pickguard real estate to install a middle pot; gold dome-topped Telecaster knobs are easy to find.
Internet searches turned up additional pictures at Japanese websites.
I first thought that it had a solid black finish, but learned that it was actually a flamed-wood (bird's eye maple laminate) burst finish in a base color they call "Blueberry". Fancy flamed wood finishes do not appeal to me (too "foo-foo" for my tastes), but this was an acceptable degree of foo-foo-ness because it's very subtle. Under normal lighting and at a typical viewing distance it looks like black.
Other pictures (sample at right from Japanese website) showed what was under the pickguard: The pots appeared to be full-sized, but the selector switch looked like a sealed, PC board style. An easy replacement, if necessary. The single coil pickups showed a bar magnet underneath, which I assumed meant that they were hot single coils, probably ceramic. That was likely a good thing, to better match the output from the humbucker (which from researching the Dragster 8H, seemed to be a relatively low output humbucker). At any rate, this wasn't a deal-breaker because pickup-swapping is an obsession unto itself, warranted or not.
The pics also showed that it had a "swimming pool" pickup route, which by conventional wisdom is a horrible thing. My Strat Plus Deluxe has a swimming pool route, and I don't believe that it makes any perceptible tonal difference. In the world of electric guitars, there are many people who hold strong beliefs about stuff like this (body material, weight-relief, chambering, etc.). I used to believe the conventional wisdom, but my aluminum, rosewood, and plexiglass Strats have led me to be suspicious of conventional wisdom about stuff like that. The STR-75's laminated Poplar body doesn't make it sound notably different from any of my other Strats. (But didja know that tonewood pressed against a frijoles-filled body makes for a very resonant toneorgan?)
Digression- Scatocaster Floyd Rose Tremolos and Conventional Wisdom: I like forums and user groups for getting the "straight poop" from users who aren't parroting a corporate line. That's especially true for computer & software problems, and a little less true for guitar forums. Some folks do have genuine experience, knowledge, and expertise about a topic, and can voice valuable opinions and advice. Some folks chime in with answers that they've read somewhere else on the Internet-- there's nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as it's solid information or an informed opinion. The funniest ones are folks who chime in to say that they don't know... that's like raising your hand in class to proclaim your ignorance. Thank you for sharing that with us... now put that feces back in the toilet, if you don't mind!
The parroted "truths" tend to become "conventional wisdom" because they're recited frequently enough for search engines to catalog, which leads to more people reading them and repeating them, etc., etc. Most "truths" of conventional wisdom sound reasonable, so they're propagated-- even though those who propagate them may not have any direct personal experience with the topic. Scalloped necks are one such topic: Lots of people seem to have opinions about them and misconceptions about what they're all about, even though they don't have any experience with them.
Floyd Rose tremolos have a similar effect. Some people who dislike them have never used them... and that's okay. It's honest to say that you don't like Floyd Rose tremolos because they're fucking ugly. But some folks don't use them because there's "conventional wisdom" that says that they're harder to tune-- actually, any brand of floating tremolo is harder to tune than a hard tail. It's the nature of the beast.
Similarly, googling "palm muting floyd rose" turns up link after link of folks discussing palm pressure on the bridge of a Floyd Rose making strings go sharp. No shit! Doing that on any floating bridge does that and it should be obvious why one should work on technique to avoid doing that. (The real issue with palm muting a Floyd Rose is that the muting zone is much smaller than a traditional Strat bridge because of all the Floyd Rosey junk at the end and the closeness of the treble E string's saddle exit point to the whammy bar. The solution is the same: Work on technique.)
A common misconception that's frequently parroted is that it's much harder and takes much longer to restring a Floyd Rose. If you know what you're doing, it only takes slightly longer. The difference between restringing a Strat-style tremolo (SST) and a Floyd Rose tremolo (FRT) is that the FRT requires two hex wrenches. SSTs and FRTs both require wire cutters to trim the string length -- actually, that's optional, but advisable. The SST requires threading the string through the sustain block channel and the opening in the saddle (not always easy with a thin and flexible E string, especially if the saddle opening isn't aligned with the block opening); the FRT can be strung at the opposite end by threading through the short tuner channel, secured by the string's ball end-- which is even more secure than a locking tuner, and doesn't damage the string. The only extra steps needed in stringing a FRT are loosening the three locking nut bolts with a hex wrench (takes a couple seconds) and tightening the saddle string locks with a hex wrench (takes a bit longer)-- essentially the same thing you do with locking tuners except you do it with a hex wrench instead of thumb screws. Yes, a FRT takes longer (especially if you can't find your hex wrenches), but not more than a minute or two longer for an entire set of strings. Considering how often most people change strings, it shouldn't be considered an unbearable, deal-killing burden.
However, when seconds count-- such as breaking a string during a song without a backup guitar -- a SST will get you back in the game faster.
The STR-75 Arrives... and I wasn't disappointed. The frets showed minimal wear and were tall enough (medium jumbo?) for easy string bending. It plays great, although not as shredder-ish as an Ibanez with 24 frets, a super-flat radius and thin Wizard neck. It feels, plays, and sounds like a modern Stratocaster, but with more stable tuning, a wider-range tremolo and a mellower and fuller bridge pickup.
Despite the humbucker-single coil mix, the pickups are very output-balanced (unlike the HSH Ibanez guitars I've played). The single coils have the distinctive Strat flavor, with the characteristic Strat quack in positions 4 and 2.
As expected, the pickups weren't noiseless (I don't think anyone made noiseless single coils back in the '80s). I've also learned that all humbuckers aren't equal in their ability to reject hum. All pickups, even "noiseless" and humbuckers pickups, pick up some level of noise: Noiseless pickups just have a significantly better signal-to-noise ratio. High gain with compression (for sustain) can reveal the noise in even the quietest of pickups. I play in an electrically noisy environment, and the most thorough job of shielding doesn't cut it. With noisy single coils, I've made some peace using ISP Decimator noise gates; they're one of those things that you use because you have to.
Basically, a noise gate doesn't filter out the noise or change the signal-to-noise ratio, it just cuts off both signal and noise when they drop below the threshold that you set. Therefore, when you stop playing, you don't hear the noise. The threshold is set at the point where the noise (when you're not playing) is cut off. Below this point, everything coming out of the noise gate is muted. Anything louder than that (like brushing against the strings, or playing notes) opens the gate, letting the signal and noise through. Ideally, your notes are louder than the noise so you won't notice it as much when you're playing, but it's still there: With high gain, the noise can put a dirty edge on the note. When you let a note decay slowly, the note will linger around the threshold briefly, then be truncated when the note signal strength drops to the level of the noise. When you play staccato, you can trigger the gate abruptly, which emphasizes the staccato effect.
The STR-75 humbucker sounds okay, but is almost as noisy as the single coils. I had some spare humbuckers and noiseless single coil pickups, so I did the swap. The humbucker was swapped with a DiMarzio Evolution neck pickup that I'd removed from my Ibanez S420 to install a Sustainiac. For the middle pickup, I used a spare DiMarzio Area 61, a relatively high output pickup (designated at the bridge pickup in their Area set). For the neck pickup, I used a spare Kinman SCn (the bridge pickup in their Blues set).
The single coils are relatively high-output pickups which helps with output matching the humbucker (in conjunction with pickup height adjustment). They're also extremely quiet pickups, which is appropriate for a shredder guitar. According to the DiMarzio website, the Evolution neck pickup is one of the more treble-emphasized of the mid-output humbuckers. Despite that, it's noticeably darker than the single coils... which is exactly what I expected, and one of the reasons for an HSS guitar.
The only "trick" in getting them to work together is to reverse the wiring of the middle pickup (ground lead wired as the hot lead, the hot lead wired as the ground lead). Otherwise, the mixed positions (2 and 4) produce a very thin, out-of-phase sound with practically no bass. With the wiring reversed, the mixed positions produce the expected "quack".