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The Fender Hellecasters
Welcome back Troglodytes to Would You Rock or Not – Fender Friday Edition. What the HELLECASTER is going on here? Fender Friday took a two week break to cover the 2019 Gibsons so to make up for it, I’m featuring a trio of amazing Fenders.
These guitars were made for the members of the band Hellecaster which is a group of 3 renowned session musicians that got together to play the hell out of their telecasters. Hence the name. Their names: Will Ray, John Jorgenson, and Jerry Donahue. As someone who has never heard of this band or any of their works until today, I’ve got to say, I’m stunned. It’s not every day I can stumble a new artist, click through all their songs on YouTube and love every one. These three can really crank out some amazing instrumentals and that’s all they do. It’s like all the best parts of prime country – all the time. So if amazing guitar work is your main motivation to listen to music – definitely check them out.
Great playing aside – they sure do know how to design a stand out guitar. These 3 have many signature guitars across many different brands, but I will be limiting this video to the 3 from the 1997-1998 Hellecaster Series that Fender Japan did.
Jerry Donahue Stratocaster
Wait… didn’t I just say these guys were known for using telecasters? Yeah, but that’s kind of what makes this instrument special. It was Jerry’s first signature Stratocaster. At first glance, this one might not even seem very special. It has a beautiful seldom seen Blue burst finish on the body – just take a look at that nice dark outline and how you can see through to the woodgrain due to the transparent nature of the finish. Pair that with a bolt-on maple neck that bears Jerry’s signature on the headstock, a commemorative neck plate and a Hellecasters inlay at the 12th fret (kind of ugly) and you’ve got a beautiful strat. The white pickup covers and knobs are just icing on the cake. It also has a nice contrasting black pickguard too… just kidding. It’s not black. This is where it gets special.
The pickguard is actually a very dark blue color that has some sparkle to it. On top of that, underneath the guard lies a telecaster-like aluminum plate to mimic the tele bridge set up. I guess you can’t take the tele out of this guy after all! The electronics are fancy as well. It utilizes Seymour Duncan pickups with a Master Volume and Master Tone and a 2-way rotary knob that allows you up to 8 distinct tonal opportunities. You’ve got the 5 regular strat tones, but then that rotary knob activates 3 new sounds on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions that blends different sounds with the Neck and Bridge being used together.
Another interesting choice for this model is a Basswood body. While not a traditional Fender tonewood, Donahue choose it for its consistent weight and tonal results. He prefers ash, but wanted to make sure that each of these instruments would play, feel and sound very similar to each other and that wasn’t something he felt was achievable using Ash or Alder. He did it for the fans.
Will Ray’s Jazz-a-Caster
Here is the model that I stumbled upon that inspired this whole video. A blinged out Telecaster mixed with Jazzmaster elements aptly named, the Jazz-a-Caster – as seen on the headstock along with his signature.
This tele features REAL gold leaf covering the entire basswood body as well as a maple neck with rosewood fretboard adorned with a shrinking triangle inlay pattern as well as the same HELLECASTER 12th fret inlay that is on all of these. It looks a little less out of place on this model since everything else is also crazy. Look at that pearloid pickguard! The craziest thing though has to be the pickups! It looks like someone just crudely hacked some jazzmaster pups in there and called it a day. That’s what I love about this model. It’s beautiful, but crazy. Who needs to whole tele bridge set up anyways? These ceramic pickups were made by Seymour Duncan and features large pole pieces similar to those found on the Invader series. As with the stratocaster, this one also got fancy electronics in the form of a 4-way selector switch for series and parallel settings and a stacked tone pot. Also included for variety was an optional, Will Ray Signature B-Bender by by Hipshot for them country-licks.
John Jorgenson “Hellecaster”
Last, but not least. The guitar that had me going to Reverb throwing my money at the screen as soon as I knew it existed, the John Jorgenson “Hellecaster.” This is one for people that love crazy, over-the-top limited edition guitars. It is a thing of true beauty.
It’s a maple bodied stratocaster in a Champagne Sparkle finish that is also adorned with a sparkly gold pickguard. Not enough? You’ve got blinged out, gold hardware, a free-floating Schaler brass tremolo and take a look at these monstrous pickups. They are split, hum-cancelling, single coils that take you back to vibes the Fender Electric XII. They’re goofy, but it’s the mystique behind them that draws me in. It offers the typical 5 strat tones with a push/pull pot on the 2nd tone for calling upon the bridge pickup to join the Neck or the Neck/Middle position once activated. This means you can have all the pickups on at once or the Neck and Bridge which is something you can’t normally have on a strat. This makes for 7 distinct tones. The second knob is actually not a tone knob at all now that we’re talking about it, it is a bass cut instead of a treble cut. Many of these were also shipped with an extra capacitor on the 2nd tone pot closest to the output jack that accidentally cuts out all the high-end frequencies from this guitar. It is advised to remove it to open up the tone
Moving on from the body and electronics, we have a rosewood fretboard on a maple neck. The inlays are standard dots aside from the 12th fret HELLECASTER inlay, but the material is new. These inlays resemble the pickguard’s design. This aesthetic choice really ties the whole look of the instrument together. Once you get to the headstock, you’ll be happy to know its been reversed! I love this feature. An upside down headstock with the official title Fender Hellecaster and John’s signature alongside the locking Schaller tuners on top of everything else we just talked about. It’s a cluster of features, but I can’t help loving it.
Each of these instruments feature a limited edition number stamped on the back of the headstock. It is rumored that around 400 of each were made with 250 intended for the US market, but no one knows for sure. Asking prices for these on reverb vary model to model, but they sure aren’t cheap. The Strat and Jazz-a-caster usually sit between $1,000-$1600 and the Hellecaster boasts the highest prices between $1800-$2,500+. What they actually sell for, I’m not entirely to sure, but I know I’d love to do a full review and demo on at least two of these.