After last week's "11 Things You Didn't Know About the Fender Stratocaster," I went on a bit of a Strat playing binge - going to different guitar stores, trying out different instruments. After a while, I decided that it would be a good idea to turn my procrastination into something useful - a Stratocaster buyer's guide.
There are a few parameters to this that I should clarify before I continue. Firstly, I've only instruments currently in production and was available as new for under $1000. While I would never discourage anyone from shopping second hand for guitars, I appreciate that not everyone reading this article lives in proximity to a good pawnshop or second-hand guitar emporium. For similar reasons of availability, I've stuck to guitars that are stocked by major guitar retailers and are readily available to buy online.
Secondly, I've deliberately picked instruments that come in at different price points, ranging from entry level models to more expensive instruments. Things are laid out in order of price, starting with cheapest first.
I've stuck exclusively to Squier and Fender instruments when putting this together. Technically, no other guitar on the market is a Stratocaster, as no other company own rights to the name. I'm not just being a stickler here though - there are just too many Strat-style guitars on the market for me to sample. If you've got thoughts on the best Strats that aren't Fender or Squier, by all means share them. Maybe they can form the basis of a new feature, as voted for by users.
So without further ado, here be Strats. You may want your wallet handy...
Squier Affinity Stratocaster
Squier's entry level Strat is a great version of a classic guitar coming in at under $200. Rocking a maple or rosewood neck and solid alder body, it's a solidly crafted instrument that's ideal for beginners hoping to emulate the likes of Hendrix, Clapton and Gilmour.
The are some downsides to the Affinity - the pickups aren't amazing and the tremolo won't stay in tune - but for $200, you can't have everything. Besides, Strats are one of the easiest guitars to upgrade (part of the genius of Leo Fender's Strat design), so fitting better parts down the line is a possibility with this one.
Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster
I've sung the praises of the Classic Vibe Strat many times in the past, and I'm not about to stop now.
For a sub $400 price, you get a hell of a guitar. Design wise, Squier's classic vibe models do an awesome job of evoking classic Fender Strats of the '50s, '60s and '70s. They're also a joy to play, holding their own against a number of the Mexican Fenders on the market. If it didn't say Squier on the headstock, I suspect they'd be selling for a lot more.
While the pickups in the Classic Vibe are better than those in the Affinity, you'll probably want to upgrade them at some point - same goes for the tremolo. But, those things aside, you still get bang for your buck.
Fender Jimmie Vaughan Artist Series Tex-Mex Stratocaster
Want a Mexican Stratocaster that plays like an American model? Look no further than the Jimmie Vaughan Artist Series Tex- Mex Stratocaster.
The Jimmie Vaughan looks the part and plays the part as well, with a lovely fast neck and synchronized tremolo adding to the appeal. Build quality is generally great and the vintage machine heads are a nice touch of character.
As well as all that, you get an awesome set of pick-ups. The Tex-Mex set included in this are as hot as you'd like, including the extra-hot bridge pick-up and the tonal range that you can get out of the instrument is suitably scorching.
Fender American Special Stratocaster
At $999.99, the Fender American Special Stratocaster only just makes it onto this list, but it definitely deserves a place.
This one is a genuine, American made Stratocaster at a price that won't break the bank. No frills compared to some of the more expensive American Strats on the market, it's still a joy to look at, while a silky smooth neck makes for a wonderful playing experience.
The Texas Special pick-ups included sound great and will give you everything from Billy Gibbons to Dave Gilmour by way of Nile Rogers.
It may be the most expensive instrument on this list, but, as a sub $1000 American Strat, the Special still feels like a bargain.
By Alec Plowman