The Fender Signature Stratocasters
Using Lace Sensors

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This page is dedicated to Fender's Signature Stratocasters, particularly the ones using Lace Sensor pickups. Since this site deal a lot wit Strat Plus and Ultra guitars, all of which use those pickups, I thought it good to highlight these signature guitars, which are in a way deviants of the more common sisters.

The whole idea of making a singature guitar started with Dan Smith, of the famous “1980s Smith Strats” Fender fame, and one of the men who wanted to turn Fender around to building quality guitars, had an idea about building guitars made for famous artists. He comments in A. R. Duchossoir, in his book called The Fender Stratocaster, the following:

"Our (Fender's) desire with the whole Signature series was to build guitars exactly the way the artists play them. We didn't just build something that everybody was going to buy and then the artist had to have his different."

The idea was not new to Fende or Gibson. Even under CBS managment, Fender was playing with the idea of marketing a custom Telecaster built to James Burton's specifications. The whole ball really got rolling under new managment of Bill Schultz and FMI by aproaching Jeff Beck. More of that story is told on my Strat Plus page, as well as farther down on this page. Beck was appraoched in early 1987 about creating a special Singature guitar in his behalf. He thought about it and then turned it down. Out of that the Strat Plus was born. Next to be approached was Eric Clapton. Here, in part, is how it happened:

The Eric Clapton Signature Strat

For obvious reasons, Fender liked to get famous poeple to play their guitars. So when new models came out, often these "stars" were approached to see if they might like to try new models out. back as far as 1985, right about the same time when Fender CBS ownership change was in the works. :

In 1985, Dan Smith, approached Eric Clapton to discuss a plan to create a signature guitar which would be marketed it under his name. The story is told that while Clapton was doing a gig in Dallas, Smith managed to bring him two hard tail Elites. At that time Eric told Smith that he wanted them to built to his own specifications and asked that an exact copy of Blackie, his favorite stage guitar, be made. Clapton's personal preference for the neck shape was the soft "V" similar to the early Martins acoustics, as he played both a 1939 Martin 000-42 and a 1966 Martin 000-28. He also wanted more “compression” sound. As you can image, here was the beginnings of Fender actually creating a possible Singature guitar.

To test the waters, Fender made up a neck and put it on an Elite Stratocaster body. They also built another prototype with a softer V neck. Turned out that Clapton liked the prototype with the soft “V” even better. A 12dB MDX mid-boost circuit (developed and designed by Paul Gagon, Bob Eggler, Roger Cox, James Demeter and John Carruthers) was added as Clapton requested to give him more “compression” making the single-coils sound more like a humbucker. Clapton liked the boost ("compressor") and told Fender to keep it, but wanted more even more ”compression.”

Fender moved over to the Gold Lace Sensor pickups instead of the "Elite" pickups, added a 21db boost and a bypass mini-switch to activate the electronics. Clapton signed on in May of 1987 and the Custom Shop released some of the very first Clapton signature Strats.

To the left you will see on the very first Claptons to be released by Fender's fledging Custom Shop under the guidnance of John Page, which we will call the Version 1 EC Strat. It has the older Custom Shop logo stamped on the back of the headstock. This one is own by a friend of mine in Florida. Note the maple neck with 21 frets, a small mini-switch to bypass the 21db boost and very early Lace Sensor pickups. (Also see picts below). The guitar shown is pretty rare as very few Version 1s were sold. The electronics on these was a bit troublesome as the mini-switch really did not work the way it should have. Paul Gagon, one of the designers for the Clapton boost mentioned that this mini-switch was added after he left Fender, as he worked there from 1978 to 1984. He was also the mastermind behind the design of Fender’s TBX potentiometer, so he playd a big role in the early designs that were later added to the Clapton Strats. Ok there are some gain-sayers that think Fender's Custom Shop never produced any Clapton guitars till 2004. Well obviously, they did!

Gold Lace Sensors on three prototype signature models built by George Blanda for Clapton—one was finished in Torino Red (like the example of the one above) and the other two in Pewter Grey Metallic—in the "Prince Trust Live Aid", "Live in Montreux" and "Eric Clapton and friends Live 1986" DVDs from 1986. The two Pewter guitars had been refitted with 22-fret necks made from birdseye and flame maple built by Texas luthier Michael Stevens two years later (the flame neck was installed in February 1988; the birdseye neck went on the other guitar in early September of that year), with the body of the latter refinished in Candy Green for a short time in 1989. These first models are referred too as Version I Clapton Signature Strats.

When standard production models came out (Version II) They came with a 22 fret, soft-V, Maple neck and an updated MDX circuit that had been tweaked up to 25dB boost in the midrange at around 500 Hz. They dumped the mini-switch and opted for a jack-plug activation for the "commpression" boost! These standard production models came in, not including Custom Shop models, Candy Apple Green (aka 7-Up Green), Torino Red, Pewter, Vintage White, and of course, Black for those "Blackies" !  Below you will see a couple examples of my Verison II production models:

The top is a 89-90 Eric Clapton Signature Strat in Pewter which is in mint condition. Other features on the production models were the vintage type tuners and of course, Clapton's signature on the headstock. Fender used a water slide decal on top of the finish on these, which I find odd. The next is a 1997 7-Up Green Clapton. You can see how the body has a special route for the 25dB circuit board. 

The Version III Clapton Strats came out in 2001 with 3 Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups. On my Strat Plus page I mentioned that the first two versions of the Clapton Strats came with Gold Lace Sensors, which they used from 1988 till 2001 when the Vintage Noiseless were introduced on this model. I believe Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton models were the last two signature guitars to convert from the Lace Sensors. But why? There is an interesting story behind the change of the Clapton Strats from Lace Sensors to the new Noiseless Vintage  pickups in the year 2001. I did an interview with Jeff Lace, son of Don Lace, the inventor of the Lace pickups. He told me that when Lace's (EGI) exclusive contract with Fender ended in 1996, there was a push to get the signature models guitars, which were using the Laces pickups, to move to Fender's newly designed Noiseless pickups. I simply think there was some turf protecting going on, so Fender decided to keep the pickups "in-house" with their own pickups and stopped promoting Lace pickups anymore (a secondary vendor) on Fender's top line guitars (AKA: Custom Shop, Strat Plus Series, Ultra, and Signature series). So it was just a matter of time before Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton Signature guitars moved over to use Fender's new Noiseless pickups. In fact, Lee Dickson, Clapton's guitar tech insisted on it for some reason and he said Clapton needed to make the change.

The question I have, is why would Lee Dickson insist on it? What was going on with that? Personally, and this is just my own preference, the Fender noiseless pickups are just too glassy and bright for me. I owned a 2000 DX Strat (replacement for the Strat Plus DX/Ultra guitars) and kept it like 2 weeks and then sold it. I tried to liked them but just gave up. There are a lot of other pickups I like, such as DiMarzio, Seymour Duncan, etc.. which you will see me using these on custom builds on this website, but just have not been sold on the Fender Noiseless or the Vintage Noiseless—and I have had both.

Below you will see and advertisment for the newly released "Version 1" Clapton Singature Strat in 7-Up green found in a 1990 sales brochure. Also note that this Clapton "Version 1" with 21 frets and the mini-switch to de-activate the 21db boost. The funny thing is, when you read this add it says "But not Eric. He woudn't change a thing." But he did change things. He went to 22 Frets with a bi-few truss rod. He asked the boost, or what he called "compression" be bumped up, which Fender did getting it up to 25dB. Also note the neat advertisment for the new Custom Shop.

While we are on the subject of Eric Clapton Strats, let me show you one that is really rare. Below is a ONE-OFF 1990 CUSTOM SHOP CLAPTON STRAT WITH REAL BRAZILLIAN ROSEWOOD IN SURF GREEN.

OK OK, Surf Green? That’s a Jeff Beck color! And with Rosewood fretboard? I have been told only about 94 were made with Rosewood before Clapton put a stop on them. This being a one-off, is mostly likely the ONLY Surf Green Clapton Strat ever made! It was purchased as ‘used’ in 1994. All the electronics are original, untouched. Guitar is light weight (7 lbs), in excellent shape and plays beautifully.

J.W. Black, who was with John Page in the very early Custom Shop days, verified he worked on this and stated that it is his writing inside the body, and confirmed that Art Esparza (Art’s code 278 AE) made the body. Art Esparza, has also confirmed by email it is his code and sequence number. J.W. Black has confirmed he made the rosewood neck. This research was coordinated by John Page, and both he and JW Black were the first managers of the Custom Shop say this guitar is ‘legit’ and is a ‘one-off’ from back in the wild and wooly days of the early Custom Shop!

Of course, before we rap-up this short segment on Eric Clapton Strats, we need to show you a "Blackie." This is a 2000 in mint condition. When I picked this up it still had the plastic on the trem cover and pickguard. 

The Jeff Beck Signature Strat

A. R. Duchossoir, in his book called The Fender Stratocaster, shares about how the Jeff beck Signature Strat came into being:

"A few months earlier (before March, 1987), JEFF BECK had asked Fender to make him a `62 Vintage model painted in the same yellow color as the souped-up Ford truck featured in the movie American Graffiti. The company obliged but seized the opportunity to talk Jeff into having a namesake Stratocaster model. The STRAT PLUS prototype was therefore put together with Jeff beck in mind, hence its yellow finish christened Graffiti Yellow. But Beck (temporarily) turned down Fender's proposal and the first Stratocaster with Sensors came out as the STRAT PLUS."

While Duchossoir might have known his Strats, he did not know his trucks, or in this case, a car. Anyone who has watched the famous classic from 1973 entitled American Graffiti knows the yellow vehicle in question was not a truck but a 1932 Ford chopped deuce coupe. In fact Beck has a replica of this 1932 Ford coupe. Anyhow, getting back to Strat Plus'—the funny thing is, some people get a Graffiti Yellow Strat Plus and think it is a Jeff Beck prototype! There was never a Jeff Beck prototype on the market!!!!