Do You Even Need an Expensive Guitar? Pro Songwriter Used a $99 Squier With 5-Year-Old Strings on This Hit Song

Famous guitar YouTube personality Paul Davids recently went over to meet with musician Tom Strahle to discuss some of his work. Particularly, the two reflected on Tom’s choice of a guitar in one of the successful songs that he did for Justin Bieber, the one called “E.T.A.” which was released on the singer’s 2020 album “Changes.”

As he explained during the chat, we’re looking at a simple Squier Stratocaster that he got for $99. Reflecting on this guitar, Strahle said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“It’s all stock except that took the volume knob off. And I wrote my name on it. What you’re hearing on the original is the strings that came with it. And they’re five years old.”

Unboxing The Squier Stratocaster Pack | Fender

When further asked how he “fell in love” with this particular Squier, Tom explained how initially came from trying out a random Squier Strat owned by his friend and just loved how it felt and sounded:

“So I was doing a session at a friend’s house and he had one of these in the corner. I said, ‘Let me let me grab that.’ So I grab it and go ‘Wow, this is funky.’ And I start playing it and like, ‘Whoa!'”

Then he decided to go to a guitar store and get himself one of these. However, as he recalls, there was a selection process until he found the one that suited him the most. Tom continued:

“I stopped by Guitar Center and I went and I grabbed every used Squier they had on the wall and I plugged him in one at a time into a Fender Twin amp, clean sound, pulled out the James Brown chord [dominant 9th chord], neck pickup…  [Plays the chord] ‘Nope.’ Grab another one. ‘No.’ And then ‘Yeah, that’s the one. I’ll take this one.’ And they were like, ‘Okay.’ Easiest sale they’ve ever made.”

A $99 Guitar Is All You Need

But what was it about this particular piece that made him want to take it? Is consistency an issue with some of the Squier models or was he really being picky? Asked about why he choose this Strat and why he chose that one, Tom explained that it all comes back to a very specific tone that he was looking for:

“My main Strat for live is American Standard and it has noiseless pickups in it. And you can’t get that glassy sound. That’s the sound I remember from the ’80s. I was just looking for something that had kind of a spanky almost nasally… Like a guitar that had a head cold. Lo-fi definitely is what I’m trying to try to get.”

Of course, Tom is credited as one of the songwriters for “E.T.A.” and has recorded the song using the aforementioned Squier Strat. Asked about how the song came to be in the first place, he replied:

“It started with me. If they call me and they ask for something, I’m on it right then. Do some gospel r&b vibes… I immediately sat down and started coming up with vibes. I’ve got a bunch of great ideas in there and this was like the seventh one I came up with that night.”

Squier Bullet HT Stratocaster Electric Guitar | Beginner Guitar Demos | Fender

And, what’s really interesting is that they didn’t just take and look at whatever part they felt was worth looping. Instead, they used up much more, if not all, of his take for “E.T.A.” and made the song feel more natural. He continued:

“I thought they were just going to take a four-bar phrase and loop it or something, right? But I played five minutes and you can see if you look at the original… So almost five minutes — I’m getting the vibe.”

Going more into his gear, Tom also pulled up one of his cheap Epiphone Les Paul guitars and said:

“That was $80. I’ve got strung up high strung. Again, it’s a cheap guitar so people said, ‘Well, what about the neck tension?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t care. I’ll buy another one if the neck bends out.'”

Gear Thursday: Fender vs Squier Strat Comparison | Marty Schwartz

Going back to his Squier Strat and choosing the right guitar for a song in general, Tom also reflected on what he considers to be the most important part of the signal path for every guitar player:

“The guitar you choose has a big effect on the sound. The picks or fingers or your nails. But the most important part of the signal path are the neurons signal paths where you come up with a good idea. A bad idea with the best signal path in the best instrument is going to sound like a bad idea.”

“But a good idea… You can make a good idea sound good with a $99 Squier Strat. And then the other thing was, I don’t… I don’t write in a vacuum. So I drop a beat in. That’s what I’m playing to for inspiration.”

Squier Sonic Series Stratocaster! - Awesome & Affordable HSS & Single Coil Strats!

He also added:

“I’m an idea guy. I can come up with a billion ideas but I can’t make a record. That’s why there’s 10 people on a record. You know, [Rick] Beato talks about that all time, like ‘Why there’s so many people on the record?’ And it’s just because, for one thing, everybody’s doing it for free. You’re not getting anything upfront. It’s all backend.”

Further asked whether he got paid once for the song or if it’s a royalty thing, Tom replied:

“No, I’m on because I’ve got writer’s and publisher’s [rights]. The beauty of all this stuff — anything I write for television… I write a lot of music for TV, they keep the publishing. So if I make $1, they make $1.”

Lesson #312 Pentatonic Madness | Tom Strahle | Pro Guitar Secrets

“But with this, I get to keep the writer’s share and the publishing share. ‘E.T.A.’ — I did get put down as a producer. So I got a quarter of a producer point which also brings in money.”

Photo: YouTube screenshot

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.