Fender Guitar Sales Boom. The Strat is Back! Fender Stratocaster Buyers Guide: 10 Models Compared

Fender Stratocaster
Contents

After Fender’s biggest boom ever in sales in 2020, guitars are back! A 17% rise in sales of the classic guitar as people look to learn guitar with Fender.

We’ve decided to compile an essential list of the most famous guitar in history, The Fender Stratocaster. What is the best Strat to buy?

Which Is The Best Fender Stratocaster To Buy? 

If you’re considering buying a Strat, you may be scratching your head over the number of variations there are. And there are a lot!

My name is Lee and I’ve played some form of Stratocaster for the last two decades. If I could (or if Fender would like to sponsor me?) I’d own one Strat from each evolution. I cannot get enough of them. I could literally sit here looking at them all day. I’m guessing you’re here because you feel the same?

There’s definitely something special about the Strat. But over the years it’s difficult to keep up to date with the number of models being released.

Let’s Look At 10 Best Models Of The Fender Stratocaster. 

*Although some of the following guitars aren’t in production any longer. They’re still in mass-circulation as second-hand instruments. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular Strats over time, as some have had such a positive effect on guitarists all over the globe.

Fender Stratocaster
  1. Squire Stratocaster
  2. Player Stratocaster
  3. Deluxe Stratocaster
  4. Classic Series ’60S Stratocaster
  5. American Standard Stratocaster
  6. American Special Stratocaster
  7. American Vintage ’65 Stratocaster
  8. American Professional Stratocaster
  9. American Elite Stratocaster
  10. Custom Shop 

1.Squire Stratocaster

Squire Affinity Strat HH FSR CGS GRN

Don’t underestimate a Squire. They are ideal for a first-time player, a child, or somebody with a lower budget. A perfect guitar as an introduction into the Stratocaster world.

Squire provides budget versions of Fender guitars. Squire has the rights to use the real Fender Strat specifications. So, although you won’t be getting the hardware and perks of the authentic fender strat. You’ll still be guaranteed the outstanding build quality and blueprint of a real Fender guitar. This in itself is why Squire is the most popular entry guitar in today’s market.

Beginners can now get their hands on the legendary electric guitar without having to spend big money on a Fender.

There are lots of Stratocaster-shaped copies out there on the market, but none are in partnership with Fender. True value for money.

This particular Squire I’ve chosen is a good starting point. The Affinity HSS Stratocaster is lightweight and possesses an incredible resonance. The ‘C’ neck profile is similar to the more expensive fender models. The beautiful Indian laurel fingerboard, race green poly finish, and medium jumbo frets really look the part.

You have two single-coil pickups in the neck and middle positions, so you can carve out some classic punchy strat tone. The humbucker at the bridge position gives you power and growl when you want to go a little heavier with riffs or face-melting solos.

I chose the Affinity series over the Bullet, as the hardware is of much better quality. With the added humbucker you have a much wider scope to enjoy classic strat tones and meaty solos.

*Did you know Kurt Cobain and Jack White were known to play a Squire now and again?

Notable Features: 

  • Body Material: Alder
  • Body Finish: Gloss Polyurethane
  • Color: Race Green
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Neck Shape: C
  • Radius: 9.5″
  • Number of Frets: 21, Medium Jumbo
  • Scale Length: 25.5″
  • Nut Material:l Synthetic Bone
  • Bridge/Tailpiece: 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
  • Tuners: Standard Die-cast

2.Fender Player Strat Series

Fender Player Stratocaster – Buttercream, Maple Fretboard

Many of the price tags beyond this strat are over the thousand dollar mark. So, Fender has given us a chance to play the legendary electric guitar at an affordable price. Whilst having the hallmarks of its more expensive cousins. Built with the same specifications as the ‘real thing’.

With a comfortable contoured shape of the alder body wood, this allows you ideal armrest whilst you get into learning the guitar. This series of strat provides the player with either a maple or a Pau Ferro fretboard.

The Player Series comes fitted out with three single-coil pickups, just like the vintage classics. This model features the Alnico Y pickups, they seem to be so much more powerful than the Alnico II and III. Especially on the bridge pickup, that’s where I found it to be most notable.

In the past budget guitars have suffered from tinny, thin, and shrill-sounding pickups. Not The Player Series. The Alnico V range pickups will give you that trademark Fender tone without sacrificing the butter smooth bass shading. The build quality, choice of fretboards, and superior pickups are a big leap up from the Squire.

If the ‘Player’ Stratocaster is a little more than your allotted budget, I’d strongly recommend trying to stretch that budget to a Player Series guitar. A worthwhile addition to the Strat family.

Notable Features:

  • Made in Mexico
  • Alder body, bolt-on maple modern C neck
  • Pau Ferro 9.5” radius fingerboard
  • 22 medium jumbo frets and synthetic bone nut
  • Standard cast/sealed tuners, two-point Synchronized vibrato bridge with bent steel saddles
  • 3x Player Series Alnico V Strat single-coil pickups, 
  •  Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm
  • Neck Width: 42mm at nut, 51.8mm at 12th fret
  • Neck Depth: 21.1mm at first fret, 22.3mm at 12th fret
  • Weight: 8.5lbs/3.8kg

3.Deluxe Stratocaster

Fender Deluxe Stratocaster Maple Fingerboard Vintage Blonde

The beautiful Deluxe series are Mexican-made guitars. Truly wonderful looking instruments. It has all the bells and whistles an American elite strat possesses.
Whereas the more expensive American Strats have that classic sound on the old records. The Deluxe has more of a modern sound in comparison. Far away a better all-round sound to the lower-priced guitars. You get a comprehensive wider choice of tones and all at a great price.

Fresh mouthwatering looks, modern electronics, and a contemporary vibe set the deluxe apart from the rest. Giving you character and unique functionality you’d expect from an electric guitar with a higher price tag.

Special modern S-1 switching can unlock pickup combinations, for when you need that mule to kick your solo through the band Into the audience. This classy feature gives you the use of all three pickups at once, all just by pressing down on your volume knob. A benefit you won’t find on a ‘Standard Strat’. Vintage noiseless pickups put a stop to that unwanted hum or buzz from the amp. This is a godsend for some players..
I feel Fender produces these tiny tweaks over the years on purpose to appeal to players on all levels.

A very, very good guitar considering the price.

Notable Features:

  • Vintage Noiseless Strat pickups
  • Made in Mexico
  • 12″ Fingerboard Radius
  • Push/Push Mini-Switch
  • Two-Point Tremolo Bridge with Vintage-Style Bent Steel Saddles
  • Double cutaway electric guitar
  • Three Vintage Noiseless™ Strat pickups
  • Push/push mini-switch adds bridge pickup in positions four and five
  • Two-point synchronized tremolo bridge with bent steel saddles
  • 12”-radius fingerboard; contoured neck heel; locking tuning machines

4.Classic Series ’60S Stratocaster

Fender Classic Series 60’s Stratocaster (Lake Placid Blue)

The Classic 60s Series oozes class with its unmistakable authentic features and finishes. Every part of this guitar takes the player back to the creative and wild days of this era. Rock music arrived and flourished with the Strat being a huge part of that. The 60s Strat served psychedelic bands, surf, and rock music.

Guitars from the fifties and the sixties attract a massive level of interest from guitar buyers. The Classic 60s strat is a very desirable guitar and has all the hallmarks of that era. Collectors and vintage guitar lovers all should have this axe in their arsenal.

Fender Custom Shop has a number of master builders who put their skills and knowledge towards a selected number of ‘limited’ guitars. They also have a smaller team who continue the production of tribute models and one-offs. The vintage-style 60s strat is one of those.

The Classic 60s Strat has a bright and rather thin tone, matching those of the early 60s. A jangly bluesy rock sound. Straight out of a Tarantino movie is the best way to describe the tone of these beauties. A mix between The Shadows and trend-swamprock country!

Here’s your next guitar if you want to emulate the sounds of the sixties

Notable Features:

  • Vintage-Style Single-Coil Strat Pickups
  • 7.25″ Maple “C” Neck Profile With Rosewood Fingerboard
  • 21 Vintage-Style Frets
  • Aged Control Knobs
  • Vintage-Style Tuning Peg
  • Neck Material: Maple.
  • Neck Finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose Lacquer.
  • Neck Shape: “C” Shape.
  • Scale Length: 25.5″ (648 mm)
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood.
  • Fingerboard Radius: 7.25″ (184.1 mm)
  • Number of Frets: 21.
  • Fret Size: Vintage-Style

5.USA Standard Stratocaster

Black 1996 50th Anniversary USA Strat

This is my guitar! Photo by Freddie Bennett

-The USA Standard is the guitar where you start to take things seriously. An American-made Stratocaster is the most iconic of electric guitars. It’s as simple as that.

Fender launched an update in 1987, the ‘standard’. Notably having a flatter fingerboard, a thinner neck profile, and an improved tremolo system. This was tailored around the more modern player. Amazingly, this model has been continuously improved and remained in production until late 2016.

The ‘standard’ can be used by players all the way up and down the skill scale. A superb rich thick tone and at a value that other instruments around the same price cannot compete with. Value for money without a doubt. You’re getting the best of both worlds, quality build, and classic strat tones.

A tough sturdy and warm sound. A vintage tone that the newer version of this guitar just doesn’t seem to have.

Built with unmatched proficiency, backed up with Fender’s tradition of superb innovating instruments.

Fender released this Stratocaster with a 50th Anniversary coin on the back of the headstock. Three Vintage single-coil pickups (Custom Shop Fat 50s). Only 2,500 of these were produced.

The USA Standard is a one-man army. It can put its hand to any style of music, all thanks to its wide variety of classic and modern tones. It’s a beast!

Notable Features:

  • Released 1986/87
  • FretBoard Radius: 9.5.
  • Neck Shape: Slim C.
  • Number of Frets: 22.
  • Body: Alder.
  • Neck: Maple
  • Standard Single-Coil Strat Pickups Custom Shop Fat 50s
  • Modern “C” Neck (Available with Maple or Rosewood Fingerboard)
  • 21 Medium Jumbo Frets

6.American Special Stratocaster

Fender 2014 Stratocaster American Special-Tobacco Sunburst

The American Special is light and looks impeccable in its finish. The body shape is vintage and curvy.

A guitar that fits nicely between the Standard and the Highway One.

The Urethane finish requires a lot less labor than a nitro finish. Less sanding between coats results in the wood being sprayed a lot less, as not to stifle the wood grain. Unlike the thick syrupy type 70s coating polyester. This really is a step up in quality compared to the guitars lower on this list. Making it a more pleasurable experience for the player.

The ‘grease bucket’ tone circuitry gives you the option to roll off those highs without adding extra bass frequency. This is a classy touch. The guitar comes with Texas Special Pickups to give you a hotter SRV tone. You can break up a little earlier than the custom fat 50s.

This is for the guitarist who is looking for that timeless Fender Style and leading-edge features. The American Special delivers a modern tone and performance, bringing the player the full Stratocaster experience.

  • Texas Special Single-Coil Pickups
  • “Greasebucket” Tone Circuit
  • Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo Bridge
  • Large, ’70s-Style Headstock
  • Jumbo Frets
  • US Made

7.American Vintage ’65 Stratocaster

Fender American Vintage ’65 Stratocaster-Sunburst

The American Vintage ‘65 replicates the tiniest details from Fender’s early history. Using re-tooled hardware you’re guaranteed to get that vintage look and the same feel if you were to buy it in 1965. That’s a pretty special feature by Fender. You can only applaud them for re-creating an already successful vintage range with this old classic.

Super thin Nitro lacquer ensures the body can breathe and age naturally, just like the originals did. If you are looking for the natural road-worn look in time, you’ll definitely get that with the 65.

The tone is meaty and full. I’ve not known a strat with as much depth as the 65 reissue. This is exactly what you get if you listen back to the late 60s Stratocaster-based music. If you’re looking to get close to anything from Hendrix, The Shadows, or Pink Floyd. This is your instrument.

The neck is the thick ‘C’ 60s style. The 65 single-coil pickups are wound exactly like the original spec. Fingerboard edges are rolled beautifully in comparison to the newer square edge style. Even the nut is a proper ‘bone nut’, this all adds up to an outstanding reissue. Fender has gone full whack into authenticating that Vintage 65 Stratocaster. A very desirable guitar if this era of music is your thing.

Notable Features:

  • American Vintage ’65 Gray-Button Single-Coil Pickups
  • 6-Saddle American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo
  • “Mid-’60s C” Neck Profile
  • “Round-Lam” Rosewood Fingerboard
  • 21 Frets
  • Flash-Coat Lacquer Finish
  • 3-Ply Pickguard With Vintage Bevel
  • Bone Nut
  • Aged White Plastic Controls

8. American Professional Stratocaster II

Fender American Professional Stratocaster-Olympic White

The Fender Professional II is for the enthusiast or ‘strat addict’. If you’re looking for a durable guitar to see you through years of live shows and hours on end of home practicing. Then this is your next guitar.

It’s beautiful to look at. It’s evolved from the mark Pro 1.
The fretboard is now slightly rounded and it feels far more broken in (another great feature in my eyes). The neck becomes thinner as you get nearer the nut. The bridge is now constructed from a ‘cold rolled steel’. Fender quotes that this upgrade gives you a beefier tone due to the thicker metal.

I really like the tiny little tweaks Fender make over the years. Always trying to improve, yet keeping the classic shape and feel to the original Fender Strat. They always seem to be changing some aspects, but always to aid us, guitarists.

One very different feature comes in the pickups. The pickup poles are now made from different magnetic alloys. It’s now based on what’s considered to be optimal for each pickup position. This is essential as it gives you a balanced volume when playing the low and high E strings. It now has a more proportional all round tone. Outstanding!

Another impressive small perk fender has improved is the bridge pickup boost. When the furthest tone pot is pushed, it adds some tasty warm bassy tones into your sound.

(Adds neck pickup to positions 1,2 and 3). This is definitely my favorite ‘extra’ you get with the Pro II.

The American Professional II Stratocaster may be one of the most complete evolutions since 1954. It really is an outstanding upgrade and I would highly recommend it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEVgtHauqK0&feature=youtu.be

Notable Features:

  • Body wood: Alder
  • Body finish: Gloss Urethane
  • Neck shape: C
  • Neck Wood: Maple
  • Scale length: 25.5″
  • Neck finish: Satin Urethane
  • Material: Rolled-edge Maple
  • Radius: 9.5″
  • Fret size: Narrow-Tall
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Nut width/material: 1.687 in. (42.8 mm) Bone
  • Configuration: SSS
  • Special electronics: Tone bypass
  • Bridge type: Tremolo/Vibrato
  • Bridge design: 2-point Fulcrum tremolo Individual saddle
  • Tuning machines: Sealed High-ratio
  • Color: Nickel

9. American Elite Stratocater

Fender American Elite Stratocaster (3 Colors Sunburst)

At first glance, you may be thinking ‘yet another strat’. It may look like all the others, but you’d be wrong to think it’s anywhere near the same. Underneath that classic strat-shaped body, you’re given over a dozen new and interesting extras for the modern-day guitarist.

As soon as you plug-in and play, you know you’re playing something special. Exceptional tones and a beautifully built modern strat. It’s kind of a (super) rejuvenated version of the older Strats. Lots of updates. At this point, it’s safe to say the vintage Fender purists fans among us won’t like this. I feel Fender are always trying to improve their range and appeal to everybody. Well done to them.

Ok, the updated perks:

The pickups are the Fourth Generation Noiseless Pickups. These are a fantastic addition.

The volume pot can be pushed in, giving you further tones to play with (S-1 Switch). This fancy inclusion enables the player to achieve more scope and become more dynamic in their playing. The S-1 switch adds subtle colors to your playing. In the bridge pickup positions, the difference in tone is very noticeable. Middle positions are less prominent but darker in tone. The Middle and neck are warm and snappy. The neck pickup is creamy, fat, and bassy. With a quick tap of the volume switch your back to that classic crisp sound.

I can only imagine how suitable the Elite is for the gigging guitarist. The push-button option to cut in and out with lush tones is far quicker and a lot less hassle than using a pedal. I love the S-1 switch!

The Double-Action Truss Rod Adjustment Wheel is now at the bridge end of the neck, rather than behind the nut. It actually makes so much more sense positioned at the bottom of the fretboard. When you’re adjusting the truss rod, you’ll have the guitar in the ‘playing’ position. This feature makes it so much easier, rather than reaching up to the headstock for every small tweak.

If you don’t mind spending top dollar and you want all the new features and trimmings Fender has to offer. The American Elite is for you. The ultimate live guitarist Stratocaster.

 

Notable Features:

  • 4th Generation Noiseless Pickups
  • S-1 Switch — Offers five additional pickup configurations
  • 9.5″-to-14″ Compound-Radius Neck
  • 2-Point Deluxe Synchronized Tremolo With Pop-In Arm
  • Double-Action Truss Rod Adjustment Wheel
  • Locking Tuning Pegs
  • Soft-Touch Controls

10. Custom Shop Stratocaster

Fender Custom Shop Stevie Ray Vaughan Tribute Stratocaster 

‘Number One’

The Fender Custom Shop produces special order guitars. Creating a limited edition high-quality guitar. If you love the road-worn relic look, the Custom Shop assembles some real mouth-watering pieces.

In 1987 the Custom Shop was born. The initial master builders were John Page and Michael Stevens. Since then the team has expanded and produced some of the most sought-after guitars ever made. Their passion and first-class approach towards reproducing guitars is unparalleled.

Stevie’s ‘Number One’ Stratocaster was, according to him, ‘his first wife’. Stevie also dated the guitar as a 1959 model, as the pickups had this date on them.

The neck has an Oval C shape 60s profile. A two-piece select alder ’63-style body and hand-wound Custom Shop pickups. Just like the storied original. This guitar bears an American Vintage left-handed synchronized tremolo bridge for Hendrix-style access.

Other features include a 10”-radius round-lam rosewood fingerboard, 21 #6100 frets, a five-way pickup switch, custom wiring, 3-ply Black pickguard, vintage-style chrome tuning machines, bone nut, and wing string tree.

With Texas Special single-coil pickups, you get scorching tone. Overwound for that unique SRV sound. They offer a dynamic response and a focused mid-range. If you’re looking to get anywhere near that famous SRV tone, go get yourself some gauge 13 strings or some thick galvanized steel! How anyone plays 13s as Stevie did is beyond me!

Ladies and Gentleman, The Holy Grail of guitars.

Here’s the man himself. Just listen to that tone!!!

Notable Features:

  • Select Alder Finish
  • Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Rift Sawn Maple Neck with a Special SRV Oval “C” Shape and 12” (305 mm) Radius
  • Frets: 21, Jumbo Hardware Closet Classic,
  • Gold Bridge 6-Saddle American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo
  • Pickups: Custom Shop Hand-Wound Texas SpecialTM Single-Coil Strat® (Bridge, Middle, Neck)
  • Wiring: Vintage Controls Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Middle Pickup)
  • Body Finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Neck Material: Maple Rift Sawn
  • Neck Shape: ’60s “C”
  • Scale Length: 25.5″ (648 mm)
  • Fingerboard Radius: 10″ (254 mm)
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Fret Size: 6100 Jumbo
  • String Nut: Bone
  • Nut Width: 1.650″ (42 mm)
  • Neck Plate: 4-Bolt
  • Neck Finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Fingerboard: AAA Rosewood
  • Position Inlays: Micarta White

Features You Need To Consider Before Buying A Strat:

Fingerboard Radius

  • The Smaller radius fingerboards are more curved. In general, players perceive this better for playing chords.
  • A Larger radius is seen as a better option for playing lead and bending, as the radius is larger.  

Fret Size

  • Deluxe and the American Professional feature narrow tall frets—currently very popular with players
  • Classic Series ’60s Stratocaster and the American Vintage ’65 Stratocaster feature vintage-style frets (smaller and narrower in size compared to Jumbo frets)
  • Standard and Elite models feature medium jumbo frets
  • American Special Strat features jumbo frets

Neck Shape

Most of the guitars covered in this article follow these basic neck shapes. Check Notable Features. 

Bodies

Alder

Alderwood gives the guitar a higher resonance. The upper mid-range pushes through nicely, giving you that extra sustain for attack. Red Alder is used by Fender as it is fast-growing and readily available. Bodies made from Red Alder are constructed from two to four pieces glued together. They feature a tighter more consistent grain than that of ash.

Ash

Ashwood can give you a more rounded and slightly mellower tone. The highs of Ashwood are not too bright in comparison. Ash has a more inconsistent but straight and visible grain that looks great with natural and transparent finishes.

Maple Or Rosewood Fretboard

The Standard Strat, American Professional, and American Elite models are available with maple fingerboards or, for a small additional cost, rosewood.

The Deluxe, Classic Series ’60s and the American Vintage ’65 models are only available with rosewood fingerboards.

The American Special Strat is available with both maple and rosewood for the 2-Color Sunburst model, maple-only for the Olympic White model, and rosewood-only for the Sonic Blue.

Apart from the difference in color between the whole piece of maple makes up the neck as well as the fretboard. Rosewood on the other hand is normally glued to another piece of wood to make up the fretboard.

When it comes to tone, some people claim there is a big difference. Rosewood is known for being more mellower and has a spongier feel to the fingerboard. Whereas a maple neck is harder in tone but feels very smooth under your fingertips. I’ll be honest, I’ve got both two guitars with both types of neck. There isn’t much in it at all. It’s all down to the player. It’s best to try it out for yourself.

25 Legends Who’ve Graced The Stratocaster

  1. Stevie Ray Vaughan
  2. Nile Rodgers
  3. Hank Marvin
  4. Yngwie Malmsteen
  5. Mark Knopfler
  6. Ronnie Wood
  7. Eddie Van Halen 
  8. Pete Townshend 
  9. Bonnie Raitt
  10. Hank Marvin
  11. Buddy Guy
  12. John Frusciante
  13. Dick Dale
  14. Ry Cooder
  15. Joe Bonamassa 
  16. Kurt Cobain
  17. Robert Cray 
  18. Jeff Beck
  19. Ritchie Blackmore
  20. Eric Clapton
  21. Rory Gallagher
  22. David Gilmour
  23. George Harrison
  24. Buddy Holly

…….Oh, and Jimi Hendrix

Did You Know?

Fender sold more guitars in 2020 than any other year in its history

 

Conclusion

I hoped you’ve liked our review on the evolution of the Stratocaster. It gives you a much better understanding of what to look for when buying the classic guitar.

If you want to see which Strats made the ‘Best Selling Albums of All Time’ click here

 

 

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Through my 25 years of playing experience, I am keen to assist you in any way I can. Over the years I've spent thousands of hours messing around with gear and guitars. I still play guitar almost every day and couldn't be without it. Lee-Authority Guitar