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 Performer, they all come with cases.
The American Performer Stratocaster is Fender’s entry-level US-made Stratocaster, replacing the American Special in early 2019. It features ’70s styling with a large headstock. It comes with a 9.5″, medium jumbo fret C neck, 6-point vibrato, and Yosemite pickups. Four colors are available, and it comes with a Rosewood or Maple fretboard, depending on the color. The American Performer is also available in HSS configuration. Street price is around € 1,300.
American Professional II
Fender’s replacement for the long-running (in different iterations) American Standard series was introduced in early 2017, and updated in 2020. Besides the traditional SSS configuration, it is also available as HSS model. The American Professional features a 9.5″deep-C neck with narrow-tall frets. The pickups are the new V-Mod II 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. 9 colors are available, most of them with a choice of Rosewood and Maple fretboard. Street price around € 1,800 including the nice Deluxe case.
The American Original, 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, Inca Silver, and White Blonde (no gold hardware, so no Mary Kaye look). The ’60s model (thick C neck, Rosewood fretboard) is available in three-tone sunburst, Shell Pink, and Olympic White (Candy Apple Red, as shown below, is no longer available). Street price is around €2,100 including a nice period-correct case (tweed for the ’50s, black tolex for the ’60s), but the case candy (strap and cable) that came with the American Vintage is gone. I own a ’60s as pictured below and it’s a great guitar.
The lineage of the Ultra dates back via the American Elite and American Deluxe to the 1990’s Strat Plus model. The Ultra, the top-of-the-line factory model, is an evolutionary upgrade of the Elite that it replaced in late 2019. Upgrades over the American Standard/Professional include locking tuners, block saddles, contoured neck heel, a compound 10″-14″ radius fretboard, and D-shaped neck. Pickups are the Ultra noiseless models, which continue the lineage of noiseless pickups that 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 five colors with Maple and Rosewood fretboards, street prices are around € 2,150 including case.
American Ultra Luxe
The American Ultra Luxe series was added halfway through 2021 as new top-end model above the normal Ultra model. There’s a standard and a Floyd Rose model. The differences with respect to the normal Ultra are small, with stainless steel frets (finally!) being the biggest change. Color choice is limited to two colors, with matching headstocks.
As of 2022, 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
- Kenny Wayne Shepherd
- Lincoln Brewster
- Cory Wong
- Nile Rodgers
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 of being close to Custom Shop quality. Prices vary from around € 1,850 for the Jim Root model to € 2,500 for most other models.
The MIM Stratocasters are made in Fender’s factory in Ensenada, Mexico. Since mid-2017, due to new CITES regulations, Rosewood has been replaced by Pau Ferro as fretboard material, and Fender has stuck with this even after the CITES regulations were relaxed. The finish is usually polyester. All MIM Stratocasters except for the Player come with a (rather thin and cheap) gig bag.
The cheapest Stratocaster that carries the Fender logo on the headstock is the Mexican-made Player Stratocaster, which replaced the long-running Standard series in June of 2018. Upgrades over the Standard are 22 frets, a two-point vibrato, and AlNiCo pickups. It comes with a modern C neck, medium jumbo frets, and 9.5″ fretboard radius. Fretboard material is Maple or Pau Ferro. Besides the standard SSS version, the Standard is also available as HSS and HSH model. The SSS and HSS models (the latter is optionally available with Floyd Rose) can also be had as Plus Top models, i.e. with a flame Maple veneer and transparent sunburst finishes. Street prices range from € 700 for the SSS model (available in seven colors, color selection depends on fretboard) to € 900 for the Floyd Rose and Plus Top models. The changes with regard to the Standard have resulted in a slight price increase and the Player no longer comes with a gig bag.
The Player Plus (not to be confused with the Plus Top models) is the replacement for the Mexican Deluxe range and was introduced in 2021. It is the counterpart to the US Ultra model. Available in SSS (five colors) and HSS (four colors) configurations, it comes with 12″ fretboard radius, locking tuners, two-point trem, and noiseless pickups. A gig bag is included. Street price around €925.
The Vintera range replaced the Classic and Classic Player range in mid-2019.
If you are looking for an affordable vintage-looking Stratocaster, then the Vintera range is the way to go. The ’50s (Sonic Blue and Seafoam Green, NO two-tone sunburst currently available) and ’60s (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 old MIM Standard model. The ’70s large-headstock model appears to be discontinued. Street price is around € 925.
The Vintera Modified guitars replace the 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, modern C neck, and medium jumbo frets. The ’50s (available in two-tone sunburst and Daphne Blue) has a 9.5″ fretboard radius, vintage locking tuners, and Hot ’50s pickups. The ’60s (Burgundy Mist Metallic or Olympic White) comes with a 9.5″ fretboard radius and Hot ’60s pickups. Unfortunately, this means that the respective neck profiles (the CP ’50s had a light V shape, the CP ’60s a thicker C shape) are gone, making the Vintera Modifieds one of the many offerings with modern C shape necks. Street price €1050.
As of 2022, Fender offers the following Mexican-made Artist models:
- Dave Murray
- Robert Cray
- Jimmie Vaughan
- Buddy Guy
- Ritchie Blackmore
- Jimi Hendrix
- Ed O’Brien
- Albert Hammond Jr
- Tash Sultana
- Tom Morello
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 € 1150 for the Jimi Hendrix model to € 1,500 for the Tom Morello 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 € 150.
- Affinity: large headstock, SSS and HSS. € 250.
- 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 € 400 – 420.
- Classic Vibe: ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s 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 (old) MIM Standards. Street price around € 400.