Heartfield by Fender Talon II Review
Heartfield by Fender
The Heartfield Talon is a rare find in the guitar world, but if you have the chance to get your hands on one you should scoop it up. Heartfield guitars were Fender-designed instruments built in Japan from 1989 to 1993. In addition to the Talon, the line included several other guitar models and a couple of bass guitars.
Fender is well known for American classics such as the Stratocaster and the Telecaster. Even though those guitars have certainly been employed in heavy metal over the years, Fender did not and does not to this day make an instrument to compete with iconic metal brands such as Ibanez and Jackson.
The Talon appeared to be their crack at the heavy rock market, under the cover of the sub-brand of Heartfield. And this is definitely a guitar made for metal.
Over the past twenty years the Talon has faded into obscurity, but there are a handful of collectors and enthusiasts out there who still cherish this little gem. Personally, I see where they are coming from. I’ve been a Talon owner since 1993, and it is the one guitar in my collection I could never part with.
It served as my main guitar in several bands. I've used it in recording studios. It has been beaten up, torn down, thrown around, rebuilt and pushed to the edge over the years. It still sounds great, and it is a joy to play.
This article tells the story of my Heartfield Talon, and the Talon legacy in general. If you are on the fence about grabbing up one of these guitars, maybe by the time you read through this review the decision will be crystal clear.
My Talon Story
I bought my Heartfield Talon in early 1993. The shop owner had suggested it because he knew I played in a metal band. Looking back, I think I may have had a little luck in landing this guitar. In 1993 the Heartfield line was discontinued and the guitar shop where I purchased it may have known this was coming.
According to the serial number my guitar was made in 1991, so it must have sat around for a while. According to the price list available on Fender's website, this guitar retailed for well over twice what I paid for it. My luck seems to have been a case of being there at the right time, when the shop wanted to ditch the guitar for a low price.
I had been playing an Ibanez PR1660 at the time, and the Heartfield Talon was definitely a big step up. The name Heartfield on the headstock didn’t mean a whole lot to me, but the two little words underneath it did: by Fender. The presence of their little logo convinced me that the Talon might be just what I needed.
Talon II Specs
The Heartfield Talon came in a few different flavors. Some models had 22 frets, some 24. A few different tremolo systems were used over the years, mainly Floyd Rose and Kahler, along with different pickups, inlays on the fingerboard, hardware, and some even featured reverse headstocks. Talon models are identified by Roman numerals from I to V, plus the original Talon which had no number.
My Talon appears to be a Talon II, though I didn’t know that until I did a little research.
- Basswood body
- Maple neck
- 24-fret rosewood fingerboard
- Two DiMarzio humbuckers and one Fender single coil pickup
- 5-way selector switch
- Floyd Rose Original Tremolo
- 3-ply black/white/black pickguard
- Gotoh tuners
The finish on mine is Montego Black.
Over the years I’ve made a few modifications and repairs, but nothing major. I had to replace the Floyd Rose Original (with another Floyd Rose Original). The plastic volume and tone knobs disintegrated and I replaced them with black knurled knobs, and I’ve added some Dunlop Straplocks. Other than that, the guitar is stock.
The Talon is a dark and resonant-sounding guitar thanks to the soft basswood body. Unplugged, I’d compare it to the woodiness of a stand-up bass in some ways. I have other basswood guitars, but they don't quite have the same warmth as the Talon.
The DiMarzio humbucker in the bridge position is a hot pickup with good midrange growl. It has nice output without while retailing good note separation and articulation. I've use it for everything from '80s glam metal to extreme death metal and it comes through time and again.
The neck pickup sounds good, too, but I've always had trouble balancing my amp EQ so that switching between pickups sounded right. For that reason, I typically only use the neck pickup for clean sounds.
The tone knob has a nice feature that helps a little with this problem. On just about every other guitar I’ve ever owned I crank the tone knob to ten most of the time. But the Talon has a middle notch on the tone control, as though it has active electronics (which it does not). I keep the tone knob at that middle notch, and then can turn it up for a treble boost when I use the neck pickup.
The only real fault I have with the Talon is the sustain, but that may be because I’ve been spoiled by set-neck guitars with stop-bar tailpieces over the years. Locking trems do tend to lack sustain, but even so I always felt like it was a little weak in that regard.
Construction and Playability
When it comes to durability and build quality, the best compliment I can give this guitar is that it survived with me through my twenties. This poor thing has taken a lot of abuse over the years, especially in its early days.
Over the past decade or so it has sort of been put out to pasture, but there was a long time when it was my go-to guitar and I played the heck out of it. For part of that time I didn't even have a proper case for it. It has plenty of "character" dings all over the body, especially on the back, a little rust and a little chunk of wood taken out of the body here and here.
My Talon still plays as good as it did twenty years ago, even though It has its share of battle scars. The modifications and upgrades I've had to perform have been very minor.
The neck is still beautiful, and possibly the best of any guitar I’ve ever owned, including Gibsons, Fenders and custom Carvins. It’s thin and fast, like an Ibanez Wizard neck.
The Floyd Rose Original tremolo is rock-solid, as it should be. Even though I changed out the bridge a few years back, it still has the same locking nut it shipped with, and it has held up very well.
I've had no issues with the electronics, no issues with the neck warping or the fretboard cracking. Even the frets have held up surprisingly well.
I guess my Talon is a good example of why vintage Fenders made in Japan have such a solid reputation.
New Guitars That Are Like the Talon
About ten years ago I went out searching for a replacement for my Talon. Seemed to me anything with a basswood body, hot humbuckers and a fast neck would probably be about the same. Honestly, it’s tough to find anything exactly similar.
During its lifetime I've compared my guitar to others superstrats like the Jackson Soloist (which has a neck-through build and therefore isn't the same) and Dinky (closer, but they typically have alder bodies like a Strat). I even had a custom Carvin guitar made with a mahogany neck and body, which I thought could come close.
I've come to the conclusion that the closest thing to a Heartfield Talon in today's world is probably the Ibanez RG. While there are obviously some key differences, the RG has a similar feel and sound and a very similar build. It's an amazing superstrat, just the like the Heartfied Talon.
So, if you need a new guitar like the Heartfield Talon I'd check out the RG. But if you have the chance to grab up a used Talon I really suggest you go for it. Chances are you are going to get it for a good price.
It’s not like we’re talking about vintage Les Pauls here or something. Much of the value of the Heartfield Talon is in the eye of the beholder, and if you are smart enough to be that beholder you can get yourself a great deal on a cool guitar.
The Legacy of the Heartfield Talon
I’ve had a couple of offers over the years from people looking to buy the Talon. Truth is, I would never sell unless there was some insane offer on the table. Though Talons are prized by a small percentage of guitar collectors out there, I really don’t think they’re worth that kind of cash.
The sentimental value, and the memory of days gone by, is worth much more to me. If I ever had to start selling off my guitars the Talon would be the last to go. I don’t know how many are still out there, but I’m happy I held on to mine over the years.
Looking back, my life when I first bought my Talon is one big blur, and not in the way you might be thinking. I was so busy back then, and constantly in motion. My time was maxed out writing music, practicing on my own and rehearsing with bands, plus taking college classes and trying to manage a job. I really didn’t give too much thought to what I had at the time in my Talon.
I'm glad I still have it, and I’m glad there are still musicians who appreciate this guitar. They are getting harder to find, especially in anything close to original condition, but it is nice to know there are Fender Heartfield Talons still out there.