When the Schecter Nick Johnston HSS was released this year, I knew I had to have one. But did all of my dreams come true? Is this guitar comparable to a Strat, or is it better?
Schecter Nick Johnston HSS: A Classic Redefined!
It may seem like a silly statement, and may seem like an arbitrary thing to say but I am going to say it; Every professional guitarist, no matter what level you are at, needs a “S” type guitar. It doesn’t matter if you play the heaviest of Death Metal, you need a Strat style guitar. There are a lot of reasons for this, and that topic can be a whole article, and we covered this before.
But one reason, is a Strat style guitar sounds amazing clean. It has a very particular sound that no other guitar can really attain, even with coil splits on a humbucker. For recording in particular, it is essential to have a Strat in the studio, and every big studio I have ever been in had at least one. But another reason is that a Strat is very unforgiving when it comes to playing. If you make a mistake on a Strat, everyone hears it.
But the Schecter Nick Johnston HSS is a somewhat different beast than your usual Fender. Over the years, I have owned a plethora of Fender guitars, and they were never a good fit for me. Once every couple of years, I buy a Fender Strat and try it out for a while… and end up selling it. I am used to playing more “shreddy” style guitars, and the vintage feel of a Fender just never “did it” for me.
I want to be a Fender player so bad. The guitars just never work for me, whether it’s the neck, or the volume knob getting in the way of my picking hand. The volume knob has always been an issue, and I have even modded a Strat to have that knob moved further back. But then, the neck just doesn’t work for me.
Which is a shame, because an HSS Strat is what we call a “Do it all” guitar. There is so much versatility to be had with these guitars, and I have just never found one that I love. Over the years, I have learned the hard way not to buy a guitar that you don’t LOVE. When it comes to Fender I think this has a lot to do with the features for me, like the neck radius and fret size. When you are playing super flat necks like a Schecter Hellraiser every day, you get accustomed to that “feel”.
But as much as I love Metal, I have an unhealthy obsession with Pink Floyd and David Gilmour. He famously played a Fender Strat, and I love the tones he got on the various Floyd albums over more than 20 years of records. I also play many other genres other than Metal. But I don’t get along with Fender guitars, so what choices do I have to get that sound?
The people at Schecter Guitars managed to make something that Fender could make, but they don’t, and probably never will. Fender make “heritage” instruments for the most part and it takes risks with the Squier line. The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS that I just bought (Merry Christmas to me!) has some interesting features that you will not see on a Fender.
Schecter Nick Johnston HSS: Features And Specs
I know what you’re thinking right now, looking at that picture above. This thing looks just like a Fender Strat. So what is the difference? And better yet, could the differences really be big enough for it to matter? The answer to these questions lie not in the appearance, but in the subtle differences in the features. The Schecter has a lot going on “behind the scenes” that you will not notice until you’ve played one…
- Alder Body With Loads Of Finish Options
- Roasted Maple Neck
- Vintage “C” Shape Neck
- 14” Radius
- Extra Jumbo Frets
- 22 Frets And 25.5 Scale
- Roasted Maple or Ebony Fingerboard
- Brass circle inlays
- Schecter Diamond Nick Johnston Single Coils
- Schecter Diamond ’78 Bridge Pickup
- Push/Pull Coil Split
- Graph Tech XL Black TUSQ nut
- Two Point Trem
- Locking Tuners
- Aged Hardware
- Push In Trem Arm (Adjustable)
When the first Nick Johnston Model came out, it was the Schecter Custom Shop version that costs about $3000. I got to play one of these beautiful Custom Shop models, and it was amazing. It was a rare case of “This guitar feels like it’s worth the money” for me. I knew I wanted one, but I hesitated. I’m glad that i did!
For those of you new to Schecter, the Diamond Series is the middle/lower-high end when it comes to pricing. These are usually amazing guitars that play way above the price point. Along with my new Schecter Nick Johnston HSS, all of my guitars are from the Diamond Series. “Diamond Series” just means “mass produced” instead of the sometimes one off guitars you see from the Custom Shop. There’s tons of Diamond Series guitars, and you can see them here.
I am recording an album for 2022, and I need a Strat Style guitar, preferably an HSS. The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS has been a top choice the whole time, since I am a Schecter player. But I thought maybe the new modern Fenders may have something new to offer. I tried them all at the store, and Fender is just… not for me. Fenders are great guitars for many players, just not me.
Out of the box, the guitar was setup and ready to play, as is Schecter’s motto. I made some adjustments that are personal like lowering the action, and setting up the bridge. The fretwork was decent and all of the frets were level. I did have some rough edges on both sides that I suppose are due to weather changes. I filed the fret ends, and it was no problem. The rest of the Schecter Nick Johnston HSS was immaculate, and I have come to hold Schecter Guitars to a much higher standard than other companies.
The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS has the perfect neck for people like myself. I love a flat radius and larger frets. The Schecter has a 14” radius, so it is flat without being too flat. The neck is also a familiar C shape, that sits somewhere between my Hellraiser, and a more vintage size. It’s incredibly comfortable to play but if you are a longtime Fender player, it will definitely feel… weird.
The neck is definitely skinnier than a Fender, and I realize that this could be the biggest factor for a lot of players that are familiar with Fender necks. The neck shape is the similar, but it’s missing some of the girth that a Fender has. You can see the two side by side in the photo below. Side by side, the difference is not subtle at all.
That being said, the neck is still the same C shape. This is not at all skinny like an Ibanez, which would flatten out in the middle and have more of a D shape. The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS is just a traditional C shape that has been shaved down a smidgen. Even with larger hands like myself, I had no issues playing since the radius is so flat. The neck is wider than the Fender, but skinnier. If that makes sense!
The neck is also a beautiful roasted maple with a satin finish on the back. The Ebony fretboard was a fantastic choice, although these do also come in Roasted Maple for the fretboard. The inlays are brass circles, and I feel like they stand out more with the Ebony, which was the only factor in my decision. Both played the same to me.
The headstock is Roasted Maple and has what I call the “new and classy” Schecter logo in silver. The locking tuners work great, if not a little bit stiff. In conjunction with the TUSQ nut, you should have no tuning problems. The back of the headstock has the Nick Johnston logo burned or “branded” on the back, and I like that it isn’t on the front and overbranded.
The dual action truss rod is at the heel of the neck. I know Charvel and Fender have been doing this for quite a while but it’s always a welcome feature for me. Nothing is more frustrating than having to remove a truss rod cover under the strings to make a quick adjustment. Although Roasted Maple is pretty stable, and shouldn’t need much adjustment.
The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS body shape next to the Fender is almost identical. The size, shape, and weight are pretty much the same. I think the Schecter body is slightly heavier, but if so, it is only maybe half a pound. I got the “Atomic Coral” color because all of my guitars are black or white. The pink color is great, and stands out. All of the Schecter Nick Johnston HSS guitar colors are pretty unique pastels, but there is a regular black/white model if you prefer.
The pickguard and all of the Schecter Nick Johnston HSS plastics have an aged look to them, which I personally think is pretty cool. I know some people don’t like the “relic” look on a new guitar, but this stays just within the margin of classy to me. If you wanted to swap all of it out for pure white, then you could. But I think it adds some personality to the whole look of the guitar.
The Schecter Nick Johnston Traditional HSS brings new punch and potential to Johnston’s beloved guitar model at a budget price. The Schecter Nick Johnston Traditional features a 14” radius roasted maple neck carved to his signature “C” shape, outfitted with a 25.5”-scale roasted maple fingerboard, brass circle inlays, locking tuners, and 22 extra-jumbo frets. This is a tone machine!
The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS pickups are very good, and modeled after the Custom Shop set. I cannot find any info on the magnets, but if they follow the custom set then both of the single coils are Alnico 5. The neck pickup has that beautiful Strat tone, but with a little more bite. Like a fatter version of the Texas Special Set from Fender. The 5 way switch works just like a traditional Strat, with your “in between” positions. The one difference is the humbucker in the bridge, which has a push/pull knob.
The Schecter ’78 Humbucker is probably also alnico, and it has a vintage PAF tone sound. It has adjustable pole pieces and I only mention this because people never take advantage of this! adjusting the pole pieces make a huge difference in the tone! For a bridge pickup, this thing is very fat sounding! But the secret weapon is the coil split.
As I mentioned earlier, a split coil humbucker never quite captures the sound of a dedicated single coil. The Schecter ’78 gets close, but the secret weapon is blending it with the middle pickup with the in between setting on the 5 way switch. This gives you two unique tones to mess around with. This sounds really cool clean with some reverb, and even works well with some gain applied. I’ve used it to record some solos so far, and it cuts through the mix.
The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS has some details that change the game a little for me when it comes to design. Firstly, the input jack is on the bottom of the guitar, which is another problem that I always had with Strats. The control layout is different as well, with only two knobs that are positioned further away than a Strat which solves my hand hitting the knob issue.
Finally, let’s talk about the trem, since that is usually another point of contention when it comes to a Strat. The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS has a two point trem with modern full size saddles. It comes with 3 springs in the back, and that seems like the perfect tension for me. The block is surprisingly large and adds mass for sustain. The arm is a “pop in” style that you can adjust with a little grub screw.
I was ready to just deck the trem, like I usually do with a Fender. But since it is a Schecter, I figured I would try to float it first. Amazingly enough, this thing holds tune even with moderate abuse! You can do some pretty serious dives and it stays in tune! I have it set up to only raise pitch by a half step which levels the bridge with the body perfectly.
I was expecting to buy a new bridge if I decided to use the trem. But in conjunction with the locking tuners and TUSQ nut the Schecter Nick Johnston HSS stays in tune. Now I wouldn’t say that it holds up as well as a Floyd Rose, but it’s really damn close. This took a little bit of setup on my part, but it was worth it 100%.
Schecter Nick Johnston HSS: The Verdict
If you are looking for a Strat, but you just cannot get along with a Fender, then the Schecter Nick Johnston HSS is the closest thing you can get at this price point. Some reviewers are calling this the “Poor man’s Suhr” and I can understand why. You are getting a lot for your money with this guitar. But most of this review has been about comparison, and I think that is a little unfair.
The Schecter Nick Johnston HSS is it’s own beast at the end of the day. Yes, it absolutely looks like other guitars. But it doesn’t play like those other guitars at all. This was exactly what I was looking for, and it fills a space that has been empty in my guitar arsenal for a while. I love my other Schecter guitars, but those are all geared towards Metal styles. I was missing a classic sound when it came to recording, and I now I have it!
So if you are looking for something traditional, with modern twists, then this Schecter might be right up your alley. Schecter also makes a 3 single coil version of this guitar, if the humbucker is not your style. Those share all of the same features. and the quality is just unbelievable. The reasonable price is just a bonus.
Real Men PLAY PINK!
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar and piano for 27 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. He has toured for years with several bands and music projects. He worked in LA as a studio musician and engineer working with bands like IAMSOUND, Baroness, Kylesa, Black Tusk, Reflux, and Tripping Daisy. In between giving private lessons, he is recording a solo album for 2022-2023. Christopher plays Schecter guitars, BOSS amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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