US-made Stratocasters are built in Fender’s factory in Corona, California. The finish is generally polyurethane, except on the Originals, which are finished in nitrocellulose lacquer. With the exception of the American Special, they all come with cases.
The American Special is Fender’s entry-level US-made Stratocaster. It features ’70s styling with a large headstock. It comes with a 9.5″, medium jumbo fret C neck, 6-point vibrato, and Texas Special pickups. Four colors are available, and it comes with a Rosewood or Maple fretboard, depending on the color. The American Special is also available in HSS configuration. Street price is around € 1,100.
Fender’s replacement for the long-running (in different iterations) American Standard series was introduced in early 2017. Besides the traditional SSS configuration, it is also available as HSS and HH model. The American Professional features a 9.5″deep-C neck with narrow-tall frets. The pickups are the new V-Mod type, the rest of the hardware is similar to what we were used to from the American Standard: two-point vibrato with stamped saddles, non-locking tuners. 8 colors are available, most of them with a choice of Rosewood and Maple fretboard. Street price around € 1,600.
The newest addition to the Stratocaster range, introduced in January 2018, replaces the American Vintage series. Instead of year-specific models, there now is a ’50s model (very similar to the 1956 AV) and a ’60s model (very similar to the 1965 AV). The biggest changes are the flatter 9.5″ fretboard radius with vintage tall frets and the lack of a tinted neck. While I liked the tinted neck, the flatter fretboard radius makes perfect sense to me, even if it created a bit of an outcry among vintage Strat lovers. Both models do of course come with vintage-correct 6-point vibrato and vintage tuners. The ’50s model with soft V neck (Maple fretboard, of course) comes in two-tone sunburst, white and black. The ’60s model (thick C neck, Rosewood fretboard) is available in three-tone sunburst, Candy Apple Red, and Olympic White. Street price is around €1,900.
The lineage of the Elite dates back via the American Deluxe to the 1990’s Strat Plus model. The Elite, the top-of-the-line factory model, is an evolutionary upgrade of the Deluxe that it replaced it 2016. Upgrades over the American Standard/Professional include locking tuners, block saddles, contoured neck heel, a compound 9.5″-14″ radius fretboard, and compound C to D neck. Pickups are the N4 noiseless models, that continue the lineage of noiseless pickups which started with the Lace Sensors in the Strat Plus. It is also available in HSS configuration. All these features make them great guitars for live use, I just wish the neck was a bit thicker. Available in seven colors with Maple and Ebony fretboards (Rosewood before mid-2017), street prices vary a bit between € 1,800 and € 2,000.
As of early 2018, Fender offers the following US-made Artist models:
- Yngwie Malmsteen
- The Edge
- Eric Johnson (Maple fretboard, bound Rosewood fretboard, Thinline)
- Jeff Beck
- Eric Clapton
- Jim Root
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
They are all quite different, and a definitely worth investigating if you are looking for something different from the standard models. For example, the Yngwie Malmsteen model has a scalloped fretboard, the Eric Clapton model an active mid-boost, and the Jeff Beck model still carries its Strat Plus legacy roller nut. The Eric Johnson model (12″ fretboard radius) has a reputation as being close to Custom Shop quality. Prices vary from around € 1,300 for the Jim Root model to € 2,300 for the Eric Johnson model.
The MIM Stratocasters are made in Fender’s factory in Ensenada, Mexico. As of mid-2017, due to new CITES regulations, Rosewood has been replaced by Pau Ferro as fretboard material. The finish is usually polyester. All MIM Stratocasters come with a (rather thin and cheap) gig bag.
The cheapest Stratocaster that carries the Fender logo on the headstock is the Mexican-made Standard Stratocaster, which has been unchanged since 2009. It is somewhat vintage-looking with small headstock, 21 frets, and six-point vibrato. It comes with a modern C neck, medium jumbo frets, and 9.5″ fretboard radius. Fretboard material is Maple or (since mid-2017) Pau Ferro. Besides the standard SSS version, the Standard is also available as HSS, HSH, and HH model. The SSS and HSS models (the latter optionally with Floyd Rose) can also be had as Plus Top models, i.e. with a flame Maple veneer and transparent sunburst finishes. Unlike most other Stratocasters, the Standards come with ceramic pickups, which have a mixed reputation among Stratocaster lovers. Street prices range from € 550 for the SSS model (available in five colors) to € 900 for the Floyd Rose model.
If you are looking for an affordable vintage-looking Stratocaster, then the Classic range is the way to go. The ’50s (4 colors), ’60s (3 colors), and ’70s (2 colors) come with period-correct headstocks, neck shapes and the 7.25″ fretboard radius, while also featuring AlNiCo pickups that are considered a considerable step up from those on the Standard. Street price is around € 700.
The ’50s and ’60s Classic are also available in nitrocellulose lacquer finish instead of polyester (only one color each) for around € 1,000.
Looking for the relic look, but not willing to shell out for a Custom Shop model? The Classic range is also home to the ’50s and ’60s Road Worn model. Besides the relic look, they differ from the Classics by being equipped with Tex-Mex pickups. Both a ’50s and a ’60s model, either available in two colors and at around € 1,200.
A special case are the Classic Player ’50s and ’60s Stratocaster. While part of the Classic range, they feature certain modern features. Both come with a two-point vibrato and medium jumbo frets. The ’50s (available in two-tone sunburst and Shoreline Gold) has a 9.5″ fretboard radius, vintage locking tuners, and American Vintage pickups. The ’60s (three-tone sunburst or Sonic Blue) comes with a 12″ fretboard radius and Custom ’69 pickups. The Classic Players have received very positive reviews, street price is around € 900.
The Deluxe is the MIM counterpart to the Elite. All three models come with 12″ fretboard radius, two-point vibrato, Vintage Noiseless pickups, contoured neck heel, locking tuners, and large headstock. The SSS model comes in four colors, the HSS in three, the Deluxe Roadhouse in four. The latter has a built-in preamp and an alder body instead of ash. Street prices are in the € 800-900 range.
As of early 2018, Fender offers the following Mexican-made Artist models:
- Dave Murray
- Robert Cray
- Jimmie Vaughan
- Buddy Guy
- Ritchie Blackmore
- Jimi Hendrix
- Ed O’Brien
Just like the US-made Artist models, these come with a wide range of options. The Dave Murray models is equipped with three humbuckers in single coil format and Floyd Rose vibrato. The Robert Cray is Fender’s only factory hardtail model. The Ed O’Brien model comes with a sustainer pickup in the neck position. Street prices range from € 800 for the Jimi Hendrix model to € 1,300 for the Ritchie Blackmore version.
Fender’s entry-level Squier range is made in China. The models are, from cheapest to most expensive:
- Bullet: available as hardtail, with vibrato, and in HSS configuration. Around € 125.
- Affinity: large headstock, SSS and HSS. € 200.
- Vintage Modified: large headstock, SSS and HSS. Seymour Duncan-designed pickups. Around € 320.
- Contemporary: new for 2018, Superstrat-like designs. Available as HSS, HH, and active HH (with Floyd Rose and reverse large headstock) models, each three colors. Street price around € 360 – 450.
- Deluxe: 22 frets, Duncan-designed pickups. € 375.
- Classic Vibe: ’50s and ’60s models with vintage looks, but modern features (9.5″ fretboard radius, modern C neck). AlNiCo pickups. These have gotten great reviews and are generally considered to be similar in quality to the MIM Standards. Street price around € 450.