Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.
Ritchie Blackmore: One of the Fathers of Metal Guitar
A founding member of one of the most influential English rock bands, Ritchie Blackmore is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His father got him his first guitar when he was eleven years old, and only on the condition and promise he'd learn how to play it properly. Ritchie can play quite properly in a number of wonderful styles.
He took classical guitar lessons as a child, and later in life said it had been rammed down his throat. He'd then go on to say how much he loves classical music. As the guitarist for Deep Purple, and later, Rainbow, he'd incorporate classical guitar into British hard rock and metal.
People who study music history often point to another Englishman, Tony Iommi, as the person most responsible for creating what we call heavy metal music. Ritchie Blackmore can't be left out of these discussions, however, as he played a very significant role too. Blackmore would create famous heavy riffs himself. One could even find signs in guitar stores asking you to please just not play 'Smoke On The Water.'
It's been said Ritchie Blackmore was the bridge between Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. There were other bridges, but possibly Blackmore was the biggest. If Tony Iommi fathered heavy metal rhythm and riffing, then Ritchie Blackmore fathered neoclassical shredding.
These days Ritchie is mostly all about playing folk guitar behind his extremely attractive wife's vocals. He's worth at least sixteen million dollars, and has inspired a huge lot of guitarists, maybe none so much as Yngwie J. Malmsteen. His most famous work has been done while blazing away with a Fender Stratocaster.
Yngwie Malmsteen, King of Neoclassical Shred
When I was a kid I absolutely loved to get my hands on a guitar magazine. I didn't know what anyone was talking about half the time, but I loved it all just the same.Today, I'm friends on Facebook with some of the staff of the major ones. I first learned of Yngwie from either Guitar Player, or Guitar World.
I spent lots of my chore money on cassette tapes, and so as soon as I could, I simply had to own something by this Swedish phenomenon I'd been reading about. I bought 'Rising Force' and 'Trilogy,' and of course I was completely amazed that someone could play that many notes per second on a guitar.
I was already familiar with EVH and Randy Rhoads. Malmsteen was a completely different sound and style from either of those other two greats. He's always had a very European take on his metal music, and I certainly appreciate it all. Time went on and persons like me were horrified upon hearing Yngwie had had a horrible car accident. I was thrilled when he came out of a week long coma.
Malmsteen rocks on. He influenced a whole generation of persons who wanted to achieve his level of technique, and if possible, also mix in some EVH. Along with Eric Clapton, Yngwie was one of the very first persons Fender honored with a artist series Stratocaster. Our purposes here are to take a closer look at the Fender Artist Series Stratocaster guitars of both Ritchie Blackmore, and Yngwie Malmsteen.
1. Fender Artist Series Ritchie Blackmore Stratocaster
Most Stratocaster guitars look very much the same. You often have to pick one up and plug it in to find the differences. That could be the case here from a cursory glance.
When you pick this guitar up and hold it in your hands you will notice straight away several things different. The neck is fatter than normal, for this neck is the Fender 'U' profile. Most Strats have one or another variety of 'C' profile neck.That one is comfortable with the neck of a guitar is vastly important. The neck profile here is just the beginning of the differences, however.
Our rosewood fretboard is scalloped. What does that mean? The fingerboard between the metal frets, at every instance, is concave, and this increases clearance and reduces friction between fingers and fretboard making bends and lead techniques quicker and easier.
Scalloped fingerboards are not for everyone. If you consider that both Ritchie and Yngwie use them, and use them for such stupendous soloing, you recognize for sure what scalloping the fretboard is all about. It is also something which takes a lot of work to create. So the feature adds to the price of an instrument.
Most will notice the larger Fender Strat style headstock. This was a feature of the CBS era, but the large head-stocks have maintained a following. The fingerboard radius is also a very old school 7.25". The nut is a cut above being of synthetic bone.
The pickups here are made by Seymour Duncan. It's one of the most reputable brands of pickups around. There are only two of them. Oh you see three? Nah, that thing in the middle is a dummy. Seriously, that is not a pickup in the middle.
There only being two pups changes the switching situation. The blade switch is a 3-way in the instance of this guitar. The middle position blends the two pickups.
Fender Ritchie Blackmore Stratocaster features:
- Model: Fender Artist Series Ritchie Blackmore Stratocaster
- Body: Alder
- Neck: Maple, U shaped with gloss polyurethane finish
- Fingerboard: Graduated scalloped rosewood 7.25" radius
- Frets: 21 vintage style
- Pickups: Neck - Seymour Duncan quarter pound flat SSL-4 Strat pickup
- Pickups: Bridge - reverse wound and reverse polarity Seymour Duncan SSL-4 Strat pickup
- Pickups: Middle - non active dummy pickup
- Pickup switching: 3 position blade switch
- Position 1: Bridge pickup, Position 2: Bridge and neck pickup, Position 3: neck pickup
- Controls: Master volume, two tone controls
- Bridge: Vintage style synchronized tremolo
- Tuning machines: Fender/Schaller vintage style tuners
- Chrome hardware
- 3-ply white pickguard
- 25 1/2" scale length
- 1.650" width at the synthetic bone nut
- Ritchie Blackmore signature at front of the headstock
- Large 1970s style headstock with 1970s style decal
- Bullet truss rod adjustment nut
- 3 bolt neck plate with micro tilt neck adjustment
- Pearloid dot fretboard positioning inlays
- Black plastic knobs, pickup covers, tremolo and switch tips
2. Fender Artist Series Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster
Yngwie Malmsteen famously prefers both the large head-stock and the scalloped fingerboard too. Malmsteen has said he believes the larger head-stock gives the guitar a bit more sustain. With the Malmsteen guitars, you do get a choice as to whether you want a rosewood or maple fingerboard.
The neck of the Malmsteen Strat will feel different. Yngwie's guitars have the modern 'C' profile. He's also got the large super jumbo frets rather than the vintage style fret wire. The fingerboard radius is a more common and more modern Fender 9.5". Malmsteen prefers nuts machined from brass, such is evident here.
Again with the Malmsteen Strat we have Seymour Duncan pickups. This time we do have three pickups, and these are designed specifically for Yngwie J. Malmsteen. They are famously known as the 'fury' models.
Our pickup selector switch is again a 3-way instead of 5. There are no pickup blending positions to select. You are either on one of the three pickups with your switch, or you're not playing the guitar at all.
Fender Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster features:
- Model: Fender Artist Series Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster
- Body: Alder
- Neck: Maple, modern C shape, with nitrocellulose lacquer finish
- Fingerboard: scalloped rosewood or scalloped maple with 9.5" radius
- Frets: 21 Dunlop 6000 super jumbo frets
- 25.5" scale length
- 1.650" width at brass nut
- Chrome hardware
- Tuning machines: Fender vintage F style machine heads
- Bridge: American vintage style synchronized tremolo
- Pickguard: 3 ply WBW
- Bridge pickup: Seymour Duncan STK-S10B YJM Fury
- Middle pickup: Seymour Duncan STK-S10N YJM Fury
- Neck pickup: Seymour Duncan STK-S10N YJM Fury
- 3 position blade switch: position 1-bridge, position 2-middle, position 3-neck
- 1 master volume control, 2 no load tone controls
- Tone 1 control operates neck pickup, Tone 2 control operates middle and bridge pickups
- Made in the USA
How to Choose Between the Two Guitars
For the most part the issue with these guitars is entirely the necks and fingerboards. Scalloped fingerboards are not the most common things. They exist so one can use a much lighter touch with their fretboard hand and fingers.
These fingerboards exist to facilitate single note lead playing, and that playing being very fast with the tempos. There are persons who can play every bit as fast as Blackmore and Malmsteen, and who do not use scalloped fingerboards. So as with most other things in guitars, it comes down to a matter of taste and personal preference.
The fingerboards are not just scalloped, but curved. The curvature of the fingerboard is represented numerically by the fingerboard radius. A smaller number represents more curvature, and so the Blackmore 7.25" fingerboard is more curved than the Malmsteen's more standard 9.5".
The more curvature on a fingerboard is thought to facilitate chording and rhythm playing. Flatter boards are thought to provide more ease for single note playing. But ask yourself if Blackmore has trouble with leads, or if Malmsteen ever had trouble with rhythm. Yes, those are exceptional players, but the point is it will come down to taste.
The further differences which are important have to do with the neck profiles. The Blackmore 'U' profile is a fatter neck than the Malmsteen modern 'C' profile. Are your hands bigger than normal? It would seem the Blackmore guitar would fit best with a player with bigger hands.
Looking past the extremely important details of the necks and fingerboards, what matters? Price always matters, and the Malmsteen guitar, because it is made in the USA, is significantly more expensive. As a very long running production guitar, one could likely find nice ones used. In a new one, it cost close to five hundred bucks more, comes with a case, and has three pickups instead of just two.
Are you a pure tone-hound? Both guitars feature Seymour Duncan pickups. They are different models, but you will really have to get nitty and gritty to hear the difference between them. These are both tremendous Strats representing astounding players. My advice is listen to your wallet and your neck hands. Thanks for reading.
© 2017 Wesman Todd Shaw
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 09, 2020:
Thanks Anthony, and I agree 100% with everything you said.
More So than with just about any other sort of guitar, one needs to really already know exactly what they are getting when they buy one of these.
I think you just have to play one before you buy one, or you could wind up with some buyer's remorse. Then again, most folks have a good return policy these days.
Either is really a guitar for someone who is an advanced player. Not so much that you have to be as good as Ritchie or Yngwie, but you do need experience - and I would think most would also have another more typical sort of Strat.
Anthony on January 09, 2020:
Great article Wesman!
It is significant to note that the scalloping on the Malmsteen model is much deeper than on the Blackmore one and is a uniform depth from the treble to the bass side of the fretboard where the Blackmore model is a 'graduated' type of scallop where it is more deeply scalloped on the treble side and less so on the bass side of the fretboard until you get up around the 12th fret where it becomes uniformly scalloped from treble to bass sides. Also, having the fretboard scalloped is more for better grip and control of the string when performing bends and vibrato than facilitating 'fast' playing. I do find that after playing scalloped fingerboards helps develop a lighter and more sensitive touch while playing that can help with speed since you carry less tension in your hands (at least I do) when playing.