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This article was originally published in issue #29
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With the huge rise in the popularity of amp modelling and guitar effects apps on the iOS platform, it was only a matter of time before a company as large as Fender realised the potential of a Strat with an in-built audio interface. The Deluxe Stratocaster HSS Plus Top with iOS Connectivity is the result of this realisation and represents the combination of a classic Strat and high quality audio interface in an affordable package.
The Deluxe s trat is a ‘made in Mexico’ alder bodied guitar with a beautiful flame maple top finished with a gloss polyester Cherry Burst. The neck is Fender’s modern C shape, made from a single piece of plain maple with a satin finish for comfort, matched with a gloss headstock and chrome tuners. First impressions are of a standard deluxe Strat with a bridge humbucker and two single coils plus a very good two point trem with vintage saddles. The electronics appear to be standard also, with a 5-way pickup selector switch and three knobs that look like they should be the classic volume and dual tone controls, plus the usual output jack on the front of the body. It’s only once you look at the bottom of the body that you realise this is not your ordinary Strat, thanks to the addition of a Mini USB port and 1/8” headphone jack. Housed inside the body is a high quality audio interface with great signal to noise ratio and dynamic range that allows direct connection to any compatible iOS device or Mac/PC with no need to install drivers or any software.
The guitar ships in a soft gig bag with a pair of USB cables in the front pocket. Fender has realised that most iOS users are now using devices with the newer lightning cable so have provided a mini-USB to Lightning cable, compatible with iPhone 5 or iPad 4 and newer devices running iOS6 as a minimum. Also included is a typical mini-USB to USB cable for easy connection to a Mac or PC running OSX 10.6 or Windows 7, neither of which require any drivers to be installed. Users of older iOS devices can purchase a mini-USB to 30-pin connector from Fender separately or from other outlets very easily.
For our review, the Deluxe iOS Strat was plugged directly in a Macbook Pro and was recognised immediately as a new audio interface within both OSX and Logic Pro X, allowing easy selection of the guitar as both the input and output device. The beauty of this is that you can now travel incredible lightly with just your phone/iPad or laptop and a guitar with access to all of the apps or effects on your device with no need for an external sound card. This makes travelling, especially when flying, far easier for all musicians and gives users access to a superb ‘on the road’ recording setup that is perfect for cramped hotel rooms or tour buses where a quality tone is required with the minimum of fuss.
Sound quality from the audio interface is superb with a crisp high end with great dynamics and reproduction of each pickup position. The user can also direct the output from their device back to the guitar and monitor through the headphone output controlling the volume of the headphones with the volume control nearest the jack socket and the guitar volume with the control nearest the bridge. The middle knob is a master tone control for all five pickup positions. The interface seems rock solid too - on an 2011 Core i7 Macbook Pro the buffer size could be reduced to 64 samples with no glitches or pops at all, resulting in a latency of around 4ms.
Fender has done a fantastic job in subtly combining their classic design with a modern audio interface and it’s great to see that they haven’t tried to do anything too over the top such as adding too many controls to the front plate of the guitar or an LCD display for example. Guitarists are very traditionally minded when it comes to aesthetics and they will appreciate the unaffected appearance of the iOS Strat.
The guitar itself plays beautifully with a supremely comfortable neck thanks to great finishing and fret work. The modern C shape is very approachable for most hand sizes and works well for both chordal and lead playing. Tonally the pickups offer a combination of the majority of classic Strat sounds with the exception of a single coil bridge tone, since the bridge humbucker can’t be split on its own. This humbucker allows access to higher gain lead tones and crunchy rhythm tones that offer more versatility than a classic SSS setup would. The two point bridge works very well indeed, offering a more modern approach than the standard 6-screw version that is more controlled and smoother in operation. Tuning stability is flawless too once the guitar is well setup and maintained with none of the intonation issues that can plague other guitars at this price point.
Fender is onto a definite winner here, offering great value considering the quality of the guitar and interface. You’re certainly not getting a cheap feeling or sounding guitar here with a gimmick thrown in. This is a serious guitar with a great interface at a great price point. Of course, you can only use the audio interface with this specific guitar but for travelling players or people who only need one guitar to record with, the iOS strat seems like a fantastic solution that is more than worth checking out.