Is the new Squier Paranormal Strat-O-Sonic electric guitar as cool as it looks? I love unusual guitar designs and remember drooling over the original Fender Strat-O-Sonic in the early 2000’s. Imagine my heartbreak when the model was discontinued in 2004. A few years ago I had set up watch alerts on numerous used guitar websites in hopes of snagging a deal on this rare guitar. It wasn’t to be though… the price had almost tripled since I first set eyes on this delicious axe. My chances at adding the Strat-O-Sonic to my collection were looking pretty slim.
Then one day I walked into a Guitar Center and much to my surprise, there sat TWO Strat-O-Sonics! Brand new Squier guitars in red and yellow. Technically the finishes are Crimson Red Transparent and Vintage Blonde respectively. I was intrigued! A few days later, I saw something even more incredible coming down the pipeline. The Strat-O-Sonic would be released in a brand NEW limited edition finish; transparent sapphire blue. If you don’t know anything about my taste in guitars, blue finishes are my jam. I died inside when I saw the first photos of the gorgeous sapphire blue Strat-O-Sonic.
Ironically, as a younger player I didn’t much like Squier. However in recent years I’ve noticed their guitars have greatly improved. Someone even gifted me an Affinity Stratocaster that I often practice on and I’ve been quite impressed with the aesthetics of the Paranormal series. As a buyer, I tend to go for limited edition models and rare finishes because it makes me feel unique as an artist. I want my guitars to make an impression when I step on the stage before I ever say a word into the microphone. The Strat-O-Sonic does just that. It looks sharp and from afar one might mistake it for a much more expensive guitar. The shape and small pickguard even has a Gibson SG flavor to it which is my usual axe of choice. One thing I always loved about the original Fender Strat-O-Sonic was the black headstock which I was happy to see make a return here. The color of the laurel fretboard can range from light to dark depending on the guitar. I didn’t like the look of the lighter fretboards much so if you care about the shade of the fretboard, make sure you see the guitar in-person or a photo of the exact guitar you’ll be receiving before buying. I have successfully darkened a fretboard before but it’s more desirable to find a fretboard that’s naturally dark. Overall, the Strat-O-Sonic looks impressive. But how does it play? That’s what every guitar player wants to know.
When I first picked up the Strat-O-Sonic, it felt quite different than any other Squier guitar I’ve played. To me, it felt more “solid” and better constructed. The neck on a Squier is often hit-or-miss. Some necks have sharp frets and sometimes there are even dead frets above the 12th fret. That wasn’t the case here. The Strat-O-Sonic neck sported better craftmanship than even last year’s Paranormal Series. The neck is a slim comfortable C shape which felt familiar to me as I normally play Gibson guitars with the 60’s slim taper neck profile. The Strat-O-Sonic is just a little bulkier than my Gibson necks but if you’re used to a standard Fender C-shaped neck, you’ll feel right at home here. The 24.75″ scale is a little shorter than a standard Squier or Fender, but this felt familiar to me since my SG’s and Les Paul feature a 24.75″ scale. The nut on a Strat-O-Sonic is actually a bit more narrow as well. I did notice the action was a bit high and found that to be the case on every Strat-O-Sonic I’ve seen. You’ll likely want to lower it a bit and I personally would put a set of 10 gauge strings on it instead of 9’s.
The alnico single coil pickups sound close to a P-90 in terms of tone. Of course they’re a step down in quality, but they’re definitely serviceable. The tone is close to a Stratocaster but thicker, and this guitar features a couple unique twists. You can actually pull out the tone knob when the switch is set to the middle position to put the pickups out-of-phase. This tone sounded a bit funky. If the pickup switch is set to the middle position, you can pull up on the volume knob to switch from running the two pickups together in parallel to running them in series. I’ve NEVER seen either of these features on a guitar before, and believe me, I have some guitars with very unusual wiring. These touches make this a very attractive guitar with many more tonal possibilities than a standard P-90 guitar. Some players complain that the neck pickup is a bit dark or muddy. In this guitar’s defense, having several other unique tone options may make this a moot point, but players who plan to rely on the neck pickup may want to swap the Strat-O-Sonic’s neck pickup out for a higher quality pickup. You’ll definitely want to check and make sure your replacement pickup is the correct dimensions though as sometimes Fender plays with the spacing. I’ve run into situations before where I’ve ordered a pickup for an unusual Fender guitar and the standard-sized pickup didn’t fit.
I have a little bit of experience with a wraparound bridge. As a younger player, I strummed pretty hard and the wraparound bridges seemed to cause strings to break more often than other bridge styles. You should be fine if you keep an eye out for sharp edges and lightly sand any significant points. Lubricating the bridge on the point of string contact can also help. I personally use Big Bends Nut Sauce or the Planet Waves XLR8 String Lubricant.
I’ve already mentioned the shade of the fretboard and the muddy neck pickup so I won’t rehash that again here. There is one other thing Squier could have done to make this guitar better. If they had painted the back of the neck to match the body, the Strat-O-Sonic would look and feel more like a luxury guitar. Even better would have been a neck-thru design! I realize this would raise the price tag a bit but in my opinion that would make this guitar nearly irresistible. In that scenario, with a professional neck setup and upgraded pickups, you’d almost feel like you were playing a low-end Gibson. Don’t get me wrong, it still doesn’t hold a candle to my Gibson SG ’61 reissue in terms of feel, but it would be more than gig-worthy. Plus it’ll add new tones to your guitar collection that you’d never be able to achieve otherwise. I personally am not a huge fan of Fender vintage-style tuners. I’ve tried them on previous guitars and they’re serviceable, but you may want to upgrade to locking tuners or something with a more modern look. I thought vintage-style tuners was an odd choice for a more modern guitar design.
20 years ago I would’ve laughed if you had told me I would be drooling over a Squier, but this guitar has all the makings of something special. The Strat-O-Sonic might be the best addition to the Paranormal Series yet, and a Squier that I would be proud to own. I’m not as much of a fan of the yellow finish, but the red and that blue… oh that blue. I’ve had my eye on the Paranormal Series Cyclone for a couple years but the blue Strat-O-Sonic takes the cake. As a soon-to-be dad who can’t afford to keep buying expensive Gibson guitars, this guitar will be near the top of my wish list. It’s an impressive return of a coveted guitar model that once seemed to have been lost in the ether forever.
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