Noted UFOlogist Tom Delonge recently rejoined his teenage pop-punk band, Blink-182, and to celebrate the occasion, Fender has released a new version of his old signature guitar, which became a bit of a coveted collectors item due to its reputation as a solid workhorse rock n' roll guitar.
The company was kind of enough to let me try one out for a month, and I can confirm: it is truly an excellent no-frills rock n' roll guitar. With one pickup, one volume knob, and a smooth matte finish on the neck, this is simple, loud beast built for fast power chords. It's a blast. It's also weirdly alien-themed, in fitting with Tom Delonge's extracurricular activities as the head of a DoD-contracting UAE-research firm.
First, there's the little alien on the neckplate, as seen above. Yes, it says "TOM" as well — apparently it's his own signature / illustration — but of course he signs his name with an alien. Of course.
Then there's that lone bridge pickup: a Seymour Duncan Invader. I'm not sure if the company deliberately named it after Space Invaders; or if Tom selected it because it reminded of Space Invaders; but the name oddly fits.
It's also the loudest freaking pickup I've ever played. I plugged it straight into my amp, with the clean volume set to 4, and it still distorted in an awesomely musical way:
This thing is all chunky mids and low-end, and I usually like my guitars a little more jangly (though not quite the standard Fender Bridge Twang, uck). But this thing does not give a shit. It is meant to sound thick, and big, and gnarly, and damn, it works. Combined with the jumbo frets and smooth C-neck, it's easily playable, too. I found myself picking it up frequently to work out ideas — it just felt less fussy than my hollow body, or my Gibson Les Paul Jr (which is itself a pretty stripped-down workhorse guitar). This thing just inspires you to hit a chord and rock. It's not great for big bending solos and leads — but if that's what you're into, then you're probably not buying a Tom Delonge guitar in the first place.
But that brings me to the other way this guitar is absolutely out-of-this-world: the price. It retails for $1,300. Yes, you read that right! For a one-pickup guitar with a single knob and a hard-tail bridge — no whammy/tremolo system, as is common on Fender Strats. There are no fancy design embellishments, either — no binding stripes along the neck or body, or fancy gold inlays. The most basic Fender Player Strats tend to run around $800, and come with three single-coil pickups (plus the tremolo bridge). You could buy a separate Seymour Duncan Invader pickup for $110 on top of that, and it still doesn't come anywhere near the price of this thing. I loved playing this thing so much that I was genuinely tempted to buy one myself. But not at that price (especially since I just bought a fancy new semi-hollow in March for … much less).
I get that some people are willing to spend money for a celebrity-branded axe. But this is an absurd markup — especially when you factor in the quality assurance. Fender had to ship me to two models, because both times, the pickup had fallen out of the guitar before it arrived at my house. A quick scouring on Reddit revealed that that was a frustratingly common problem, too. It's not the hardest thing to fix, but if I'd spent $1300 specifically to get a stripped-down, over-simplified workhorse guitar, the least you could do is make sure it works right out of the box.
Meanwhile, Fender just released an even newer $200 Squire Sonic Stratocaster that's basically this exact same guitar but made in Indonesia instead of Mexico, with a slightly different humbucker in the bridge. It's not technically a Tom Delonge signature model, and the quality assurance on Squires can be a toss-up (I haven't played it myself). But I'm not convinced that either of those things is worth the additional $1000 markup.