Back in February 2014, it was announced that Fender Japan was to release a limited run of SCANDAL signature series guitars made by Squier. The guitars were going to be made available at Kitty, the official SCANDAL merch store, as well as major musical instrument outlets around Japan. The guitars made available at Kitty were a bit special though, as they come with a padded soft case and Fender monogrammed strap, both emblazoned with the SCANDAL logo. SCANDAL fans everywhere were stoked when the news broke out and when the music stores began to take pre-orders in May, it was pandemonium.
Well, of sorts.
The thing is, buying a guitar from a Japanese music store isn’t that straight forward. Take Ishibashi for example. Despite being one of the largest chain of musical instrument stores with an eBay shop catering for overseas buyers, they didn’t take direct orders from overseas for these guitars. On the other hand, Ikebe-gakki did. Kitty had long shut their international store which added to the frustration. My options were:
1. get a friend in Tōkyō to help me out
2. register with a deputising service and they’ll provide me with a local address, and they’ll ship it across once the guitar is delivered
3. find a store willing to ship the guitar overseas
4. bid at Yahoo! Auctions Japan, which is the worst case scenario as I’ll be paying cut-throat prices
And of course, I wanted all three.
The first one is HARU’s Squier Telecaster named SKULLSILVER, which I obtained via route (1) – get a friend in Tōkyō to help out (thanks, Farhan-san!) by ordering it online from Ishibashi.
The SKULLSILVER basically looks like a Blacktop (black volume/tone knobs) although it only has 21 frets. It has a basswood body and the neck/fingerboard is maple. The knobs and the pickup selector is swapped around unlike a regular Telecaster.
It is a string-thru and the body is bevelled at the back and this was a design specifically requested by HARU:
The neck is designed to accommodate my small hands. When I play a regular Telecaster live, the sharp angle of its body hits my hips which can get uncomfortable. This problem is rectified by creating a contoured edge at the back of the guitar making it more comfortable when I use it for live performances. It’s also an easy guitar for girls to play. The finish makes the guitar stands out from a distance, and I think it has a design that both girls and guys will like. Of course, this is a guitar I can recommend to beginners as well.
As with the other two SCANDAL signature series guitars, HARU’s signature is at the back of the headstock, which is fine as I never really like to see signatures on the front anyway.
Playability was lovely thanks to the medium jumbo frets. The stock strings are Fender NPS .042-009s, although I have read HARU’s Tweet that she uses Ernie Ball Regular Slinkies (.046-.010). On strumming the strings without being connected to an amp, the SKULLSILVER doesn’t sound as robust as 「はるな」. I guess one could argue that this is due to it being a lower end instrument (unlike the more premium ones by Fender), as well as it being constructed from basswood which is cheaper than alder or ash. However, my SKULLSILVER happened to be well set up and the fret edges are smooth.
The clean tones that come out when plugged into my valve Orange 5-watt combo unfortunately was also a shadow of 「はるな」. It may sound unfair comparing the SKULLSILVER to an 11-year old MiM Fender Tele but it can’t be helped. It’s not that it sounds bad but 「はるな」 has that extra bottom end resonating from the ash body itself which is somewhat absent in the SKULLSILVER’s basswood body.
I guess her saving grace is her overdriven/distorted tone, thanks to the two stock humbuckers. Unlike the other two SCANDAL signature guitars, no comment was made by Fender Japan with regards to the humbucker’s make. I have to admit that distorted tones can totally make any guitar sound good, so no additional points to the SKULLSILVER either. Have a listen:
At the end of the day, the SKULLSILVER serves its purpose – for HARU to play the songs from the band which require overdriven/distorted tones for the most parts anyway (and for fans to play SCANDAL covers). If you want this to be your sole Tele that is naturally versatile, probably not. I know tone can be further tweaked but nothing beats a naturally good-sounding guitar. I may just as well change the string gauges to a .046-.010. Hopefully her tone will be a bit meatier.
This is her full spec, taken from the Fender Japan site:
・Colors: Silver Flake Sparkle w/ Original Graphic Design
・Body: Basswood w/ Body Back Contour
・Neck: Maple, C-Shape (Gloss Polyurethane, Vintage Tint)
・Fingerboard: Maple, 9.5″ Radius (241mm)
・No. of Frets: 21F, Medium Jumbo
・Pickups: 2 Chrome Covered Humbuckers
・Controls: Volume, Tone, 3 Way Blade Switch
・Switching: Position 1. Bridge Pickup / Position 2. Bridge and Neck Pickups / Position 3. Neck Pickup
・Bridge: Vintage Style 6-Saddle Strings-Thru-Body Hardtail Bridge
・Machine Heads: Vintage Style Chrome Tuners
・Pickguard: 3-Ply Black/White/Black
・Scale Length: 25.5″(648 mm)
・Width at Nut: 1.625″（41.3mm）
・Unique Features: Skirted Black and Chrome Amp Control Knobs / Bridge pickup w/ PU Ring / Body Back Contour / Autographed signature is printed on back of the headstock
・Strings: Fender Nickel-plated Strings, Gauges: .009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042