Unlike soccer and vuvuzelas, guitars and baseball don't necessarily go together. But when you're talking about two institutions as American as the Fender Stratocaster and Major League Baseball, the alignment seems a little more warranted.
Such is the case with the new MLB-approved line of Fender Strats that the company unveiled at the W Hotel Scottsdale last night when the behemoth guitar manufacture hosted a small concert and party to celebrate the guitars' official drop on March 31.
Complete with a stage set up in the middle of the W's second floor pool, it's evident that Fender takes care of its own and can turn something as seemingly trivial as a guitar release into a stylish full-blown affair.
Garrett Dutson, known to the music world as the "G. Love" in G. Love and the Special Sauce, has better blues sensibilities than a lot of those in the genre itself. Calling on a Bukka White cover of "Fixin' To Die" and a version of "Bullfrog Blues," Dutson - performing solo -- played a Philles MLB Stratocaster and a humbucker-equipped Gretch acoustic to great effect.
Although most of the open-shirted dudes and girls in fallopian-length dresses (one of which magically found her way into the pool) seemed to regard the stage with confusion, everyone still stomped a foot or nodded along with Dutson's songs.
Even when he laid into his almost-rapping over songs like "Booty Call," the solo act rarely felt kitschy, even if the audience seemed to lose interest later on in the set.
The real focus of the night, however, were the guitars. With the W's poolside cabanas being turned into their own little guitar showcases, each holding a guitar and amp or two, everyone had their chance to try out Fender's latest offerings. Anaheim Angels hitting coach and former Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Dave Hansen sat down to play a few licks on an Angels Strat, of course, and the dude can really rip, though we both lamented about the guitars being set up with ".009 strings.
The MLB guitars are Mexican-made Stratocasters with graphics corresponding to each team's hometown: Fenway Park for the Red Sox, the Hollywood Hills for the Dodgers, a saguaro-dominated silhouette for the Diamondbacks and so on -- there's 12 team guitars and one All-Star Game guitar all in all.
They're made with the collector in mind rather than the player, as all changes made to a standard Mexican Strat are aesthetic rather than electronic or mechanical, but I have to admit that even the laser-engraved neckplates and headstock badging are nice, subtle touches that any player can appreciate -- Fender is known for being conscious of the small details and it shows in this line.
While I'd love to see the same graphics applied to an American-made Strat, with a better set of pickups and a higher caliber of finishing applied, the Mexican-made MLB Stratocasters play as a Strat should and are sure to draw in the same sports fans that have gigantic vinyl appliqués of their team on the back of their truck.
With Fender's corporate outpost in our backyard as well, it's nice to know that Phoenix residents have an opportunity to check out guitars like this firsthand before their release, knock back a couple brews, watch a girl get pushed into a pool and can catch a set while they're at it.