I first heard of the artist H.E.R. when she appeared on the 2019 Grammy Awards, and the guitar geek in me was intrigued by the acrylic-bodied Stratocaster® she played, made especially for her for the event by Fender. There was a dichotomy in play, since I love the fact that younger (can I say “hipper”?) musicians are keeping the guitar alive in modern music, but I’m also an old-school traditionalist when it comes to classic guitars and an acrylic Strat® seemed like a contradiction in terms.
Soon after her Grammy performance, H.E.R. began working with Fender on a signature model, blending more traditional aspects (wood body, not acrylic) with some of her specific guitar tastes. When this guitar arrived for review, I was pleased to find a performance-ready instrument that plays well and looks stylish and will surely inspire new players to pick up the guitar.
Artist models can be tricky, as the visual presentation can present the expectation that you’ll play that player’s style or genre, but the H.E.R. signature model represents a great balance between the traditional Strat we all love and something definitively new.
The H.E.R. Strat is striking to say the least. The Chrome Glow finish is not an old-school Inca Silver derivative, but a sharp-looking bright silver that matches the anodized aluminum pickguard and will look great in the lights. In a nod to collectable vintage custom-color Strats, a matching painted headstock is a great touch, and more subtle than the matching headstocks on a lot of custom-color Strats. A maple fingerboard and white plastics are the finishing esthetic touches on this nice-looking instrument. I appreciate the fact that the guitar is not covered in distracting reminders that it’s a signature model. In fact, the only way to identify it directly with the artist is the subtle “H.E.R.” etched on the neckplate on the back. In other words, this is a Strat that will look right at home on any gig.
I am constantly amazed at how guitar manufacturers continue to improve the quality-to-price ratio, and both the build and the factory set-up on this mid-priced guitar, made in Fender’s Mexico factory, bear this out. The satin mid-‘60s “C”-shaped neck is right in the wheelhouse for most players. The neck seems especially solid to the point that the neck-to-body feels like what you’d expect on a more expensive instrument. Fretting and bending were smooth as silk. An excellent factory set-up on the reviewed instrument meant the guitar was ready to gig right out of the bag.
Volume and tone controls were usable across their entire ranges, with consistently linear-sounding tapers. All three felt especially smooth yet solid, which isn’t always the case in a brand-new guitar. As far as wiring, the tone controls are wired in the modern configuration favored by all but the most vintage-centric Strat players; the bridge pickup’s tone control knob is the one nearest the jack, while the other knob controls the tone of both the neck and middle pickups, as compared to “vintage” wiring where the bridge pickup’s tone can’t be controlled.
Some uber-traditionalists might blink at the fact the guitar sports Fender Noiseless™ pickups. While you might notice a difference between its tone and a true vintage Strat with old-school single coils into a clean amp, there wasn’t a bad sound to be had. The H.E.R. finds a nice compromise between classic tones and a guitar that can be played at high gain without constant volume control riding to mitigate noise. In positions 2 & 4 an aggressive picking attack will get as much “quack” as you might want. The bridge pickup cut through on lead tones and both the neck and middle pickups sounded organic and “Strat-like”. As someone who’s occasionally left a Strat at home when a gig demanded dirtier tones, this guitar strikes a great balance between modern usability and traditional tone.
What’s not to like? This is a great-playing Strat that eliminates the need to manually control noise via volume between songs. And no, it doesn’t hurt that it looks great under the lights. The H.E.R. Stratocaster is a great guitar for a wide variety of styles and definitely provides a high-quality instrument for a reasonable price.
Street price: $1099.99
Purchase Fender H.E.R. Signature Stratocaster here.
H.E.R And The Fender Team Discuss Her New Signature Stratocaster
How did your partnership with Fender start?
H.E.R.: We did a documentary video with them about three years ago and they loved my story. We had footage from my very first tour and home. It was very raw and organic, and the relationship was built there.
Fender has always been the guitar I played, from the black and white mini-Stratocaster I had when I was seven years old.
For my Grammy performance they wanted to create a guitar for me. We decided to do an acrylic Strat because it matched my outfit and would look really cool. They did it in five days, which was crazy. That was the beginning of me coming up with guitar ideas. Everybody wanted to touch it and know what it was made of and how it felt. I wanted to create another guitar that had that same effect on people. I wanted to see it in different lights and make it change so it wasn’t just another solid color you’ve seen before. I love iridescent nails and chrome nails and I wanted the guitar to match. It looks great in the light. Very stylish.
How about the particulars of the neck and pickups?
H.E.R: The pickups are noiseless. That’s necessary. And if you’re just learning how to play guitar, the neck is easy to move around. It’s not too heavy and the color of the wood matches perfectly with the iridescence. I don’t know if a little girl will want to start out on a Telecaster with a heavy neck. It’s the perfect guitar for someone starting out and inspiring young women to want to learn how to play. And it’s cute too.
For a signature guitar model, it’s priced affordably as well. Was that important?
H.E.R: Yes. That’s so important. The key is to inspire people to play. I want kids to say ‘mom, dad. Can we go buy the H.E.R. guitar? I have to have it.’ That would mean the world to me. To inspire and make it accessible.
You’re also joining a list of legendary players with this signature model.
H.E.R: I know. It’s crazy! It doesn’t feel real and it probably won’t until I see it in the store. And then I’m probably going to cry. It’s going to be great!
Are you going to buy it?
H.E.R: Oh yes, absolutely.
I love Fender. I’m so appreciative of this collaboration. It’s been a dream of mine since I’ve been a little girl and I can’t believe it’s really happening. This is just the beginning.
Matt Watts, Fender’s VP Of Marketing and Max Gutnik, VP of Fender Electric Guitars and Basses & Amplifiers:
When was Fender first aware of H.E.R.?
Matt Watts: We first took notice of her in 2016 when she released her debut EP “H.E.R. Volume 1” and were fortunate enough to work with her in our 2017 Offsets campaign. Aside from being an incredibly prolific singer and songwriter, she’s a virtuosic guitar player which made all of us take notice immediately.
How did the relationship start and progress?
Watts: The relationship started with product support like it does with all of our artists. It’s critical that we can support artists with everything they need to write, record and tour with and the journey with the artist develops from there. As our Artist Marketing team has grown, so have our capabilities, and we often look to create content with artists like H.E.R. that are pushing guitar forward while providing a platform for them to reach our 9M+ fans across social media and share their stories and work. We see ourselves as partners for our artists and Fender as support extension for their brand.
When our Artist Marketing Manager Moya Nkruma joined the team in 2018, H.E.R. became one of her priority artists and Moya has done an amazing job of finding ways to work with our product team and the custom shop to create bespoke guitars for key performances like her back-to-back Grammy appearances.
H.E.R. clearly has an amazing sense of style and vision, and Moya did a great job of helping bring her vision to life. Case in point: the Acrylic Stratocaster that H.E.R. used at the 2019 Grammy’s, which was built by our Master Builder Scott Buell and generated a ton of buzz during and after the performance. That collaboration helped open up the conversation and direction for the current Signature model.
What is the importance of partnering with H.E.R. on this guitar?
Watts: You know that you’ve arrived as a guitar player when you have a Signature Model and H.E.R. is now part of an exclusive club that includes Jimmy Page, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Billie Eilish, Flea and many more icons. H.E.R. truly represents the future of guitar and we’re seeing guitar playing and interest skewing younger, more female, and much more diverse than ever before. H.E.R. is the first Black Female Signature Artist and it’s important that the next generation of players can see themselves in their heroes. She pushes musical boundaries and it’s important for Fender to champion artists like H.E.R.
Discuss H.E.R.’s involvement on the guitar specs, design, etc.
Max Gutnik: From the initial concept to final approval, the H.E.R. Stratocaster was a true collaboration with the artist. Each spec was discussed in detail and was thoughtfully selected to help bring the instrument to life. By taking inspiration from some of H.E.R.’s favorite guitars and prioritizing her needs as a musician, we were able to design an instrument that captures her personality and style while meeting her needs in the studio and on stage.
What makes this guitar unique from other signature artist models?
Gutnik: All of our signature models reflect the individuality of the artists we partner with. The custom Chrome Glow finish, maple neck with matching painted headcap, anodized aluminum pickguard and Vintage Noiseless pickups all combine to make The H.E.R. Stratocaster a one-of-a-kind instrument.
How long was the entire project from initial idea to launch?
Max Gutnik: The project took a little over a year for us to design and prepare for release. After a meeting with H.E.R. in early August of 2019, we were able to fully envision the guitar we were going to design . A few rounds of building prototypes and detailed discussion led us down the path of building the guitar we’re introducing this year—a stunning Stratocaster tailored to fit the needs of one of the world’s most captivating artists.
What will make this guitar launch a success?
Watts: We’re faced with unprecedented challenges right now, but it’s music and guitar that continue to unite us in uncertain times. Our hope is that fans of H.E.R. as well as new and existing players will be inspired to pick up this guitar to either start their creative journey or use it as a tool of creative expression. We also hope that we can shine a spotlight on what an incredible artist and guitar player H.E.R. is and are proud to play a part in her legacy.