Price paid: $ 2100
Purchased from: Norway
Sound — 10
I play in a semi-progressive rock band, and a classic rock cover band. Using fairly Standard stompboxes into a Vox AC30 or Fender Twin Reverb. This thing is silent. There is a minor hum, just about the same at HOT humbuckers. But this is no issue at all. Fender did a good job with the N3 pickups. To me they sound about the same as SD SSL-5 pickups, maybe a bit lower output, but without the hum. These things scream if you want them to. Overtones are easily done. I feel that this guitar does the whole spectre, from twangy california sounds to powerful roaring lead tones when using the S-1 switch. This is by far the most versatile guitar I've tried out ever.
Overall Impression — 8
All in all, this guitar rocks. If I lost it, I would get another one straight ahead. The sound and playability (and looks of it) outweighs my bad experiences by far. Also, it seems to be a great bang-for-buck when you compare it to ie. an American Standard. This thing is just so much more fun. I tried lots of guitars before ending up with this one, but in this price range, nothing comes close in my opinion.
Reliability & Durability — 5
This is probably the guitars weakest point. After playing the first gig, the middle pickup just gave up and died. And it was no easy fix, because the routing through the S-1 system is hell on earth. The local guitartech wouldn't touch it either, so it was sent to a Fender service center. After this experience, I can probably never bring this guitar to a gig without a backup (being a MIM strat). Other than electronics, the guitar seems to be build with Precision to last for many years to come.
Action, Fit & Finish — 7
Had to adjust the saddle height, but pickups and fretwork were fine. The locking tuner on the low E-string doesn't seem strong enough to lock a 46+ gauge, so you will have to tighten this with a quarter twist once now and then. Stays in tune, but still, it's a bummer.
Features — 9
Mine is a late 2010 American Deluxe strat. Specs on Fender.com I have the N3 single coil setup. Beautiful pearl-ish white with a hint of sparkle in it. The compound radius neck is unbelievable. It has a thin nitrocellulose finish, and has a great feel to it. The top frets are pretty flat, which makes it "impossible" to fret out. The bottom octave has a more familiar 9,5" radius, exactly like the Standard model. Seeing this thing next to a standard, the esthetics alone is worth the price difference. Still a subtle Fender look, no flash, no frills. Tuners are great, but the tremolo block seems a bit light. Tried using 10-52 strings, but this proved impossible with the factory tremolo system. Works fine with 10-48 gilmours.