My 2004 Fender Showmaster QMT HH
rocks! I played one in the music store bought one (see the other page), then sold it, then
regretted it. Lesson learned: If you find your perfect
guitar, buy it and change the pickups. Don't depend upon
keeping it stock to sell it: that's a pipe dream for anything
other than the very desirable guitars. So I bought this one
and put the Jazz neck (reverse polarity and wound by MJ herself at
Seymour Duncan) and the Full
Shred Trembucker, both from Seymour Duncan, my favorite electric
guitar pickups company.
Of all the guitars I've ever owned, this one is probably close to the best, aside from my ESP EC-1000QM. And such a pity, too, because it was a great guitar that Fender didn't know how to market properly. If it had come with dual Full Shred pickups, and possibly staggered locking tuners and a Floyd Rose, it would've done much better on the market. So as such, I consider this the most underrated guitar Fender ever produced: a true "sleeper" guitar.
Here are some half decent sound clips.
All are recorded using a Boss BR-80. I am playing through
a Boss ME-70 and either my 1972 Fender Twin Reverb equipped with
Celestion Classic Lead speakers or my stock Fender Pro
Junior. On the Twin Reverb, my volume and tone knobs on
the guitar are at max, and all EQ on the amp is at 5.
Trust me, this was a spur of the moment thing, so don't hate on
my playing: I'm mostly just goofing off.
The other clips that are live are through my same rig but using my Fender Pro Junior, volume at 2, tone at half.
clip 1: Neck pickup
through bluesy setting.
clip 2: Bridge pickup through bluesy setting.
clip 3: Bridge pickup through an 80s metal setting.
clip 4: Playing slide on O Come O Come Emmanuel, live.
clip 5: Playing in middle position (Jazz + Full Shred) with delay and reverb on Prepare Him Room, live.
clip 6: This is me playing a solo on Bless The Lord. I'm using the Full Shred bridge plus ME-70 (Solo + Blues) into my Fender Pro Junior.
clip 7: The second solo to the song Always with the Full Shred bridge, through Fender Pro Junior with "canned" ME-70 patch 5x3 ("crunch with compressor for solos").
clip 8: The third solo to the song Always, same values as above.
Experience Using in a Live Church Environment
So how well does it work out in a live
The Jazz neck sounds fantastic, both clean and in a crunch setting. This pickup has great sustain and clarity, which is one of the reasons why it's my favorite neck pickup so far. However, the Jazz neck is boomy in the bass range, so keep this in mind for your amp's settings: you may want to not boost the bass. You may even want to trim the bass a little.
The Full Shred bridge sounds great. The tone is not "earth shattering", however. It's the cleanest tone you can get from a high output bridge. It's meant for shredding, so the tone is a bit towards the "art metal", "prog", and "solo" tone genre. For a high output passive pickup, it doesn't immediately come across as loud, like the JB. he basswood body of this guitar boosts the mids, but the Full Shred doesn't have a "kick to the face" feeling like the JB. The JB in my EC-1000QM does. So when we do more orchestral stuff in church, the Full Shred sounds like it fits right in, even with distortion, in a Trans-Siberian Orchestra kind of way. When I dial up the distortion into metal territory, it delivers. It stays true to the Marta Witiw videos on Seymour Duncan's website. So if you want to do most Japanese art-rock music, this is also the right bridge pickup for you, at least in my opinion. But in a way, this pickup is meant for a lot of gain and distortion, due to how clean it is, so I had to get out of my comfort zone a bit (i.e. using something stronger than the Blues overdrive setting on my ME-70).
At first, I had a difficult time getting the two pickups to cooperate well in my guitar. I confess that I'm very used to the Jazz/JB and '59/JB sets, because of experience with my ESP EC-100QM and my ESP EC-1000QM respectively. I'm used to switching to bridge (usually also with a separate volume control) for solos, because I want to switch fast, using the pickup selector switch. To my ears, the Full Shred didn't seem to have that dramatic increase in output from the Jazz. But when I asked our music minister to compare the two, he said that there's definitely a difference in output, so it was my ears. I had previously backed the Jazz away from the strings to the point where it sounded anemic, but when I put both pickups back to their recommended height and then backed the Jazz away only slightly, the guitar started to work better for me.
The 5-way switching on this guitar is what makes it extremely versatile. In fact, I wish I had this switching on all of my electric guitars. The split positions (2 and 4) both do a great job getting close to single coil "quack." The middle "third humbucker" position gives a very in-between sound that is quite useful. But it comes at a cost. First, the neck pickup has to be reverse wound, reverse polarity (RWRP) this switching to get to work, necessitating Seymour Duncan Custom Shop pricing (~$160 at the time of writing). Second, you only get master volume and master tone, so having a separate volume level for the bridge is not possible except what you get from pickup height, but then it's a compromise. You also can't switch faster on songs requiring "woman tone" like you can when you have separate volume and tone controls, like on a Les Paul. But you also get very quick access to exotic switching combinations. A traditional dual humbucker guitar with a 3 way switch can get "neck parallel" and "bridge parallel" and "bridge split" configurations, but it would require push/pull pots, so in a way, the beauty of the Fender Showmaster 5-way switch is that it's much easier to wire the guitar up with it.
As for the sustain, this guitar and pickups have lots of good sustain for church.
In regards to comfort, this guitar is light, and the neck is comfortable, at least to me. I still do not like 25.5" scale (preferring 24.75" LP scale), but I can tolerate it. Having 24 frets is nice even if I don't utilize them all. This guitar is worth it.
Still on my list of upgrades: a slick string nut (like graphite and/or Earvana). To be able to use tremolo in church requires not going out of tune. I rarely use mine (mostly as extra vibrato), but I keep it floating and the arm installed.
So all in all, the Showmaster works very well in church, and additionally, the Full Shred proved itself to be very good in church. The Jazz and Full Shred are definitely an upgrade from the original '59/PG+ it had. If Fender had only put the Full Shred set in this guitar when it was originally made, it would've probably done a whole lot better on the market. But it was an ambiguous guitar. It seemed destined to be a shred machine, but had the wrong pickups and (by some opinions) wrong tremolo for that kind of work. The Jackson Dinky is an example of what the Showmaster could've been: much more suited to arena rock and shred.
If my Showmaster broke beyond repair, I'd buy a basswood body Jackson Dinky with the Floyd Rose and then put the Full Shred set in it. Showmasters are no longer made, so finding one that hasn't warped over time is not easy. Also, the proper 5-way blade switch that splits the pickups is now difficult to find, so one would need to get a custom switch from Stewart Macdonald.
Locking Tuners Modification, 9 December 2017
So I discovered that Sperzel
Gotoh-style Staggered Locking Tuners are a direct fit and
install on the Showmaster, except the need to drill new screw
holes on the back. I installed these right before our
church's Christmas music concert and I am very happy with
them! Keep in mind, in this picture, I have not yet
drilled screw holes for the back. They will hold without
them, but I am going to get them drilled so that I have nothing
to worry about.
Note that you can remove the string trees because these staggered tuners create enough of a down-angle. It looks weird in the picture, but trust me, I've measured it twice.