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Fender Artist Series Stratocasters: Dave Murray vs. Jim Root

Dave Murray of Iron Maiden with one of his Fender Stratocasters

Dave Murray of Iron Maiden with one of his Fender Stratocasters

Dave Murray, a Legend of British Heavy Metal Guitar

Dave Murray grew up dealing with lots of poverty. His family would be evicted time and again from wherever in the London area they'd been living. Murray would be picked on for being poor, and wind up in some gangs.

His childhood would be troubled, but one day he heard something on the radio that grabbed a hold of him, and didn't let go. He heard Jimi Hendrix playing Voodoo Chile, and he knew he simply must find out how to create such music. He started buying records, and he saved for his first guitar.

British guitarists such as Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore pioneered what we call heavy metal music in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1976 Iron Maiden would form with Dave Murray at guitar, and Steve Harris at bass. Murray would depose two guitarists who'd been in the inception of the group, but Dave had a major falling out with the singer, and left.

He met up with friend and fellow guitarist, Adrian Smith, and cut a record with a band called Urchin. The vocalist Murray couldn't get along with left Iron Maiden, and Dave was asked to please rejoin the group. In 1979 Iron Maiden got a recording contract, and Dave Murray has been a member ever since. Murray and Smith would make for one of the most iconic guitar duos in any genre of music.

Science fiction and horror themes abound in the music of Iron Maiden, and so as to let everyone know from the start, they've always had their little ghoulish mascot, Eddie, on the covers of albums. In the early 1980s Al Gore's wife, Tipper, and several Christian groups decided Iron Maiden was some sort of Satanic outfit.They'd have shin-digs where they'd smash Iron Maiden records with hammers. So classy.

Selling albums has been something Iron Maiden has done quite well, they've sold over ninety million of them. All of this has been accomplished with extremely little support by FM radio stations, and you'd never see Iron Maiden on television either. You can still go and see Iron Maiden today though, and when they're not on tour, Dave Murray resides in his very cozy residence in Hawaii, his days of poverty are long past.

Jim Root with one of his Fender Stratocaster guitars

Jim Root with one of his Fender Stratocaster guitars

Jim Root, American Heavy Metal Guitarist

Jim Root was born in Las Vegas, Nevada. Like most other persons you know, he worked many menial jobs before getting to live his dream. He's been a professional metal guitarist since the late 1990s. Jim would join Stone Sour in 1995, and the band would record some demo tapes, which would be shelved for a few years later.

Jim and Corey Taylor would drop the Stone Sour project and move on to something a bit different, Slipknot. Slipknot would be a huge commercial success, selling twenty million albums worldwide in just a few years time. Strangely enough, only five of those twenty million sales were in the USA. Regardless, Slipknot was the biggest metal music act in the world outside of Metallica.

Jim Root and Slipknot would go on to pioneer a new wave of American heavy metal music. They'd borrow ideas from a wide range of influences from Slayer all the way over to The Beastie Boys. They'd do it all hiding their faces behind individually unique masks while also wearing costumes, and their identities reduced to numbers. Jim Root being 'number 4.'

Jim's guitar playing would be largely of the de-tuned and crunchy variety. Double bass drums, horror show screaming, and very fast tempos were the aggressive orders of every day. Lyrics were famously full of profanity until the challenge was for them not to be. Then the bassist died quite mysteriously.

In 2002 Stone Sour would release their first album, and it would go on to be a certified gold record. Stone Sour would be a very different band than Slipknot. Jim Root says both bands were always intended to have two guitarist, and shared rhythm and soloing between them. 2014 saw Jim exiting the Stone Sour lineup, but he continues to work with Corey Taylor writing material for Slipknot.

Fender Dave Murray California Series Stratocaster

Fender Dave Murray California Series Stratocaster

1. Fender Dave Murray California Series Stratocaster

Dave Murray's brand of heavy metal guitar playing almost exclusively is executed with a Fender Stratocaster instrument. In earlier decades he had had his Strats heavily modified. He'd had the bridge and neck position pickup slots cut out to accommodate traditional PAF style humbuckers.

Over time Dave decided he very much prefers the looks of a more traditional Stratocaster, and there are great humbuckers available which will fit directly into a single coil pickup slot. No one would argue Blackmore and Malmsteen don't sound amazing with single coils in a Strat, and while playing heavy metal guitar; but Murray wants the additional crunch a humbucker can provide, and so he has it.

This Dave Murray Strat has not just two, but three humbucker pickups. They are all made by Seymour Duncan, and that is a name of much respect and love in guitar circles. The bridge and neck SD humbucks are the Hot Rails models. These are high output pups for blazing rock and metal sounds. The middle SD is a JB Jr. model, it is a great, well rounded pickup that cleans up nicely, but will growl, squeal, scream, and shred with the gain cranked.

You may not associate Dave Murray with shredding style guitar play, but this Fender Strat is a shred machine, for this is for all intents and practical purposes, a super-Strat. What makes a Strat a super Strat? Usually it is two things, the first is that it has been modified for humbucking pickups, and the second is the addition of a Floyd Rose whammy bar. That's exactly what you get there for a bridge and trem, and the locking nut absolutely comes in tandem with it.

The Fender Dave Murray California Series Strat is only available exactly how you see it. The color, the fingerboard, the options; there aren't any. This is Mexican production, and California absolutely extends down to Baja California, Mexico. This is one of the most expensive models produced there, and the only drawback to it I can see is it doesn't come with a hard-shell case. Stratocaster cases are many things, rare is not one of them. So get one later on down that road.

Fender Dave Murray California Series Stratocaster features:

  • Body type: Stratocaster
  • Body wood: Alder
  • Body finish: Gloss urethane
  • Neck profile: Standard C
  • Neck wood: Maple, bolt on neck joint
  • Scale length: Fender standard 25.5"
  • Fender standard truss rod
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fingerboard material: Rosewood with compound radius
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • 21 frets, with dot inlays
  • Nut width: 1.687"
  • Pickup Configuration: HHH
  • Neck pickup: Seymour Duncan Hot Rails
  • Middle pickup: Seymour Duncan JB Jr.
  • Middle pickup: Seymour Duncan Hot Rails
  • Control layout: Master volume, two tone controls
  • Pickup selector switch: 5-way blade switch
  • Bridge: Floyd Rose tremolo/vibrato with locking nut
  • Deluxe sealed tuning machines, chrome color
  • Gig bag included
  • Made in Mexico
Fender Artist Series Jim Root Stratocaster in black with ebony fingerboard

Fender Artist Series Jim Root Stratocaster in black with ebony fingerboard

2. Fender Jim Root Stratocaster, Black, with Ebony Fingerboard

It is clear Jim Root is enamored with Fender guitars. He's got a signature model Telecaster, Jazzmaster, Stratocaster, and a custom made Toronado. Jim seems to love the feel and looks of Fender guitars. His are all such to where it seems clear he never liked the traditional Fender sound.

What am I talking about? Root isn't just using humbuckers in his Fender guitars. He's using EMG humbuckers, and that's something beyond the pale. These are active humbucking pickups.

What is an active pickup? An active pickup is one which uses less wire in its coils than a normal passive pickup will use. What makes an active pickup active is its incorporation of a pre-amp to boost its signal, and the pre-amp is powered by, nearly always, a 9 volt battery.

The Jim Root Strat is of mahogany instead of ash or alder. Solid body electric guitars with mahogany bodies are known to have a strong mid-range response. Paired with those EMGs and you'll get the crunch you're obviously after with these. The Jim Root Strat is also available in white with a maple fingerboard. I chose to display the black one because ebony is what I like best on a fingerboard myself.

Regardless of whether you want the maple fingerboard, or the ebony fingerboard, there's much more to the board than is normal. This is a compound radius fingerboard, and it graduates from 12" all the way to 16". This is an extremely flat fingerboard for a Fender Stratocaster to have, and the machining of such a fingerboard requires some additional work done at the factory.

Jim Root Strats all have the large head-stock. Much bigger curves there. They come with a terrific tweed hard shell case too, but the guitars and that case don't come cheaply.

Fender Jim Root Stratocaster features:

  • Flat black nitrocellulose lacquer finish
  • Mahogany body
  • Maple neck with modern C profile
  • Satin urethane neck finish
  • Ebony fingerboard with compound 12"-16" radius
  • 22 jumbo frets
  • EMG-60 neck pickup, EMG-81 bridge pickup
  • 3 position blade switch with master volume control
  • Black Fender Deluxe locking tuning machines
  • 3-ply black pickguard
  • Fender 25.5" scale length
  • 1.650" width at nut
  • Black tweed case with plush red interior

Choosing Your Heavy Metal Stratocaster

There are other Strats in the Fender line which would be suitable for metal guitar work, but probably none more suitable than either of these, and this is the reason for the comparison here. These are extremely different guitars. They won't feel similar in your hands, and they won't sound similar to your ears.

What's the big difference? Most of the difference is in the pickups. Passive pickups, even humbuckers, pick up a lot of background noise due to the nature of their construction .Passive humbuckers, like the Seymour Duncan ones in the Murray guitar will provide more dynamic range. Active pickups are very 'quiet' comparatively, but generally have a far higher output gain than passive models. Simply put, active pickups are what you want if you want to sound like James Hetfield or Jim Root.

The Jim Root guitar is made in the U.S., so it comes with a hard shell case, and cost at least five hundred dollars more than the Murray guitar. I'd never say the Root guitar is five hundred dollars better than the Murray one, just five hundred dollars different. The case can account for a hundred bucks worth of difference at the least, and then the Root fingerboard is something which simply must cost more.

There isn't any way to know if you would like the 12"-16" fingerboard on the Jim Root guitar unless you try it yourself. That is an exceptionally flat fretboard, and it will most certainly feel very different from those on any other Stratocaster you've ever had your hands around. The Dave Murray Strat will, conversely, feel much more familiar.

Dave Murray's Strat has a Floyd Rose and locking nut ensemble, and that is some very usable hardware to have. It's only a plus if you use the thing, if not, it is really just in the way. Murray's guitar sells at just a hair over a thousand bucks, and provides a mountain of class and utility at that price. The Root guitar is much more expensive and designed for much more specific music making, specifically, thrash metal and all the other genres of extreme crunch on the scene today.

These are both great guitars which represent the changes in heavy music, and its respective genres that we've seen over the past several decades. How wonderful it is to live in such a world where there are such wide arrays of products such as these. Thanks for reading.

© 2017 Wesman Todd Shaw