While we'd certainly expect Mike McCready to have taken an example of his 2021 Custom Shop signature Strat on tour alongside his longtime favourite 1960 model, we're pleased to hear from him that he took the testing stage of his new Mexican-made Roadworn version very seriously. He didn't just try the prototypes at Pearl Jam shows last year, but he's been using the finished article at the band's US shows in the last few weeks.
"I wanted to make sure I was playing this thing live so I could have the confidence to go, 'Oh yeah it's something that's worth buying'," McCready told us in a new interview. "I played it on Indifference, I played it on [Yellow] Ledbetter, Daughter… I've played it on six other songs. Strat-type songs, just to see if it can hold up to what my real 1960 does. And it does."
We've scoured fan-filmed footage of those songs at recent gigs to get the ultimate demo of this Road Worn Strat in action – and if he's using it on the specific songs he mentioned, it certainly delivers the goods. Yes, it obviously helps McCready is playing it, and in the context of the band too.
Above we have McCready and the band on 31 August in Minnesota engrossed in full Hendrix Strat mode with the new signature model on fan-favourite b-side (and frequent show closer) Yellow Ledbetter. And below we have McCready seated with the Strat to play Vs album fave Daughter from the first of two gigs in Fort Worth Texas on 13 September.
The band still have two more Texas shows to play in Austin on 18 and 19 where the Strat might have another outing. And while McCready looked to be using his '59 Burst to play the song Indifference on 13 September, it looks like he used the Road Worn '60 signature to play a sit-down version with the band in St Paul Minnesota on 31August.
Changing things up with guitar choices in the set or studio isn't uncommon for McCready. "As a band, I don't want everybody playing the same type of guitar because it's gonna sound too samey, and that's not good," he said. "So Stone [Gossard] will play a Les Paul, I'll play a Strat. Stone will play a Strat, I'll play a Les Paul – I'll mix it up."
McCready also mixed things up when his latest signature model entered the prototype testing stage last year and he took different versions to Europe for shows with Pearl Jam.
"Last year when I was touring in Europe we had about three prototypes of this Fender going and I was playing them there to [judge]," he confirmed to MusicRadar. "[I'd say] 'The pickups aren't right on this one but on this one they're a little bit better, and that's not as good a neck but it's good on this one', so we ended up working with Fender very quickly, they're very easy to work with. We ended up [combining] those three together and that's what we have now. It's the one out of those three."
The relic'ing of it is kind of fascinating to me
The guitarist isn't hyperbolic enough to claim the $1,900 version of his heavily worn 1960 Strat is better, but he's clearly very, very happy with how close Fender's Enseñada factory has been able to get.
"The relic'ing of it is kind of fascinating to me," McCready told us. "I don't know how they do it. They don't tell me. I'm assuming there are a lot of secret methods. So it's kind of like alchemy in this interesting way to me that they make it look that way. I love that they do that. But I like guitars that play like they're old. That's what I gravitate towards. And they have to play good the first time I play him or they never get better for me. And this one does that for me. That was huge for me."
And it's obviously not just about look and played-in feel, it has to sound like the original too.
"The pickups had to sound as close as they possibly could to the ones on my 1960 original," added McCready. "The original sounds the best, I'm not gonna lie, because that's the original, but this one is right next to that."