Fender and Kenny Wayne Shepherd have been working together since the blues artist was a 17-year-old phenom and heir apparent to the SRV throne. Since then, Shepherd has established himself as both a singular contemporary blues guitarist and a master of the genre’s established forms and tones. His signature Fender Strat is made of the same stuff, combining modern components with features inspired by some of Shepherd’s favorite vintage Strats. The result is a powerhouse blues guitar at a wallet-friendly price.
The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Signature Stratocaster appears to be the simplest form of Strat, but it includes the special modifications that Shepherd feels improve the performance and playability of an otherwise vintage-style platform. Chiefly, these are tall-and-wide jumbo frets, a synthetic bone nut, a 12-inch fretboard radius and Graph Tech bridge saddles (Shepherd has used Graph Tech saddles for many years and praises how they widen frequency response, improve sustain characteristics and reduce string breakage compared to typical, stamped saddles). The pickups are also specially voiced for low output, Fifties-style clarity and the smoky overtones of an early Sixties Strat. The six-screw tremolo’s maxed-out spring tension keeps it from floating on bends and further improves the guitar’s base tone.
All of those features notwithstanding, the heart of the KWS Strat lies within the fairly massive 21-fret neck. A neck of its size has a high inherent stability, giving the strings more power to produce resonance throughout the guitar, allowing for greater dynamic range and focusing the tone. Its true “C” shape is quite comfortable and reasonably fast, not too wide and tapering to its thickest dimensions around the 12th fret. The 12-inch radius makes it easier to play quick runs and set the action low without fear of fretting out on steep bends.
Acoustically, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Signature Strat is everything that it should be: loud and percussive, with ringing depth. These traits remain unchanged when plugged into either a clean or driven amp channel. Even when coupled with fuzz or distortion boxes, the guitar’s acoustic qualities shine through. Most notable is the note bloom—the attack envelope opens and closes very quickly, making it possible to achieve the nail-gun punch and clean articulation of Shepherd’s staccato lines. Likewise, the guitar’s full tonal and dynamic potential is realized with a heavy-handed approach and an aggressive style.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fender’s Kenny Wayne Shepherd signature Strat is the ideal partner for blues players who want clean, vintage tonality, a stout neck and modern improvements, at a workingman’s wage.
LIST PRICE $1,099.99
MANUFACTURER Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, fender.com