1981 Fender Bullet Delxue review
For starters if your knowledge of the Fender Bullet is limited to it’s current incarnation under Fender’s Squier brand you may want to acquaint yourself with our article on the Fender Bullet Guitar History.
As we discuss in our article the Bullet series has a long history spanning over 25 years with the original Bullet introduced in 1981. Since it’s introduction the guitar series has undergone a few changes and before we look at the guitar it’s interesting to take a quick look at the point in time when Fender first introduced the guitar. In the early Eighties Fender was coming under increasing pressure from foreign imports and cheaper copies of it’s Stratocaster and needed to react or suffer the financial consequences – Fender at the time was owned by CBS and was subject to cost cutting regimes and this period is not looked at as one of fantastic quality and craftsmanship.
The Bullet was introduced to counter the introduction of cheaper imitations and also to appeal to the beginners market as a “first guitar”. Rumor has it that that too keep costs low the first Bullet production was originally expected to be carried out in the far east (Korea) but after initial trials production was moved back to the USA due to quality control problems – The initial 1981 run of Bullets benefit from the higher craftsmanship and attention to detail that Fenders USA production facilities offered.
The original Bullet’s came in two styles a standard and a deluxe – The deluxe had a few extra features above the standard namely a white Stratocaster-style pickguard and Strat style bridge (“hard tail” without the traditional tremolo). The Bullet Deluxe features the Fender decals on the headstock coupled with a silver star – The serial number to look for has the prefix of E (for Eighties).
From the off the 1981 Bullet Deluxe comes across a little of a Hienz 57 a hybrid and seems to feature a little bit from a number of Fender’s popular lines such as the Telecaster, Stratocaster and Mustang. Colors on the early Bullet’s were limited and the Deluxe came in either cream or red. 25 years on the original paint job has suffered a little and a few dings and scratches are to be expected.
The body of the 1981 Bullet is reminiscent of the Fender telecaster although with slightly more of a countered shape – the guitar featured a maple neck and rosewood fingerboard. The necks were identical to the Fender Telecaster necks of the period and the headstock came equipped with Kluson tuners. The guitar was originally aimed at the beginners market and as such the neck is quite comfortable (you can imagine it being targeted at smaller hands) – the Fretwork is nice and above all the instrument is quite playable and sturdy.
The volume and tone controls on the guitar are as you’d expect from a traditional Stratocaster layout although the bullet deluxe features only two controls (one tone and one volume). The jack socket is mounted where you’d expect to find the third control knob on a traditional Strat – for Fender users this may take a little getting use to and you do find yourself reaching for that other tone control from time to time.
The pickups are single coil – with the positioning again similar to the Telecasater placement (i.e. one bridge and one angled pickup at the neck). Rumour has it that the pickups were taken from the Fender Mustang line – and these add a nice difference to the sound.
The Bullet deluxe produces a nice trebley tone with plenty of warmth. The Bullet’s sound benefits from the guitar’s heavy body which produces and has a reasonable amount of sustain. You can imagine the guitar being a belter for great blues or country. 20 odd years on the pickups produce a nice warm vintage tone without a huge degree of noise (although you may want to give the electrics and connectors the once over to ensure everythings as tight as it should be.)
While there’s nothing new here, there is enough of a difference from today’s Fender’s to give the Bullet a unique voice – this is something to dwell on if your looking for a different sound and is a good selling point of any vintage instrument.
Plugged into a reasonable amp and the 80’s Bullet produces some good tones – you’ll probably want to avoid using it for metal or adding too much drive but in the right circumstances it produces a workmanlike performance in most genres – we think Jazzers would like it too. As we mentioned earlier, Strat players may miss the extra tone control but the 3 way pickup switch offers enough versatility for most.
The early Fender Bullet’s benefited from some nice craftsmanship and some 25 years later have become moderately sought after by collectors and reasonably priced models (around the $500 mark) crop up on Ebay from time to time. The original “tele” style Bullet was only around for a short period – in just one year Fender had modified the design to be more strat like and added humbucker pickups to the available options – this first “original” Bullet Deluxe had a very short run and while it’ll never garner the same adoration as a vintage Stratocaster – it’s an interesting guitar from an interesting period in Fender’s history.
As for problems, well as with any 25 year old instrument – pristine examples are rare so ensure that the electrics are sound and check the neck for any signs of warp – rust is a common problem on the tuners and bridge so take a good look here also. Expect the paintwork to have the odd mark. Above all – one of the benefits of a vintage instrument is that you can expect it to be warn in – as long as the 25 years haven’t added anything life threatening to the guitar – 25 years adds a certain character to the guitar.
In summary we can’t help but like the 1981 Bullet Deluxe – it offers something different, has an interesting history and enough tonal possibilities to suit most – given where the Bullet is today in Fenders squier line up the original seems a world away with the original Bullet Delxue – to paraphrase Star Trek – “it’s a Fender but not as we know it!”.
Tagged with: Fender
Filed under: Guitar Gear
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