Ten years after surprising me with my first Stratocaster, my wife surprised me with a trip to Belgium’s biggest music store, KeyMusic in Sint-Niklaas, for my 40th birthday. Waiting there for me to be tested was a Fender American Original ’60s Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red, which based on the specs and looks was my favourite model in the current lineup. It is mostly identical to the previous American Vintage ’65 model, but now with 9.5″ fretboard radius and taller frets. Everything else, including the logo, pearl dots and pickups, is still ’65-spec.
I compared the guitar to several others, including an American Professional, also with Rosewood fretboard and painted in Candy Apple Red, an American Elite, and an American Professional Telecaster. The Telecaster immediately reminded me of why I love the Stratocaster – it’s so much more comfortable. The Elite was the third or fourth I played, and while the specs look great on paper (locking tuners, contoured neck heel, noiseless pickups) none of them have felt exceptional to me.
The Professional felt good, at first a bit better than the Original since the neck profile is closer to what I’m used to from my MIM Standard. The Original ’60s has a rather fat neck, but definitely not too fat even for me with my small hands. It was quite obvious how warm the Original sounded compared to the others. Based on this and the assurance that I would quickly get used to the neck, I decided to go with the Original – which by the way comes with a very nice vintage-style case. No strap or cable is included, which is a step backwards from the American Vintage.
After four months of playing, I can confirm that the neck profile felt good and familiar very quickly – the Standard’s “Modern C” neck now feels quite skinny to me. Setup was pretty much spot-on, I only straightened the neck a little, blocked the vibrato, and changed to my favourite strings (Ernie Ball Hybrid Slinky 9-46). Tightening the truss rod does, of course and unfortunately, require taking of the neck – where I found neck and body stamped “Aug 17”, meaning that these were in production long before the announcement at the NAMM show in January.
And what do I think of the sound after four months? My guitar teacher said: “you always plug in and sound good right away”. There you go. Highly recommended.