Price paid: $ 750
Purchased from: Broadway Sound, Knoxville, TN
Sound — 9
I play a mixture of blues, classic rock, country, and oldies pop tunes and Stratocasters have always fulfilled all my needs in an electric guitar. I quickly found that this one does, as well, and even allows me some extra dimensions that I never had in a standard, SSS-type Strat. It's still new, so I'm still investigating all its possibilities. I'm playing it mainly through my Fender Blues Jr., or Roland Street Cube amplifiers and it has impressed me with its wide range of sounds and tones through both. The neck pickup gives a warm, thicker tone that's perfect for the blues and pop things that I do, while the rather twangy middle pickup is ideal for the country things and pulling off a traditional Fender sound. But the Bridge humbucker is GREAT, IMO. I have pulled off some good Led Zeppelin-type tones with it, as well as a great Southern Rock sound, and a NASTY HOT blues lick or two. It has worked well with all the built-in effects on my Roland amp, and works great with my Boss Blues Driver box in front of it, through the Blues Jr. and this Atomic Humbucker has really good sustain, as well. As far as noise, well, the single-pole pickups are just that, and both of them can hum a little at higher volumes, but it's covered up when you're playing and adding a noise gate in front of the Blues Driver would silence it between songs in live performances. The Atomic Humbucker is as quiet as the name implies. The only mods I've done to this guitar are some set-up work and locking down the tremelo, which I don't use at all. That even increased the sustain a bit.
Overall Impression — 10
The Fender Stratocaster, IMO, is one of the most versatile electric guitars ever to be made. They've been used for almost all genres of music, except (obviously) jazz and classical. In popular music, they lend themselves well to every style. The sound combinations that can be pulled from a Standard Strat are many and varied, and the American Special HSS Strat makes even more sounds possible. I've played, on and off, since the mid-1970's, and have owned several Stratocasters over those years, but I'm thinking now, since I bought this one, that maybe it's the MOST versatile one that Fender has ever made. I have yet to find one thing about this guitar that I don't like, so far.
Reliability & Durability — 9
About any American Strat will hold up well to live playing and this one is no exception. No major mods are necessary in order to take it on the road (unless you just want to mod something on it). Just set it up for your style of playing and wail away! If I were gigging live, my Strat probably would be my sole electric guitar onstage, along with one of my acoustics. Since it's the only Strat I currently own, it's the "only game in town" for me.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
The initial (factory) setup was a little off for me, but it almost always is, with a new guitar, and I really don't count that against it at all. Being bounced around in a truck during shipment doesn't do any factory pre-set a lot of good. After I got it, I dialed in the neck, then adjusted the action height, and tweaked the intonation a little. About thirty minutes of work and it's now perfect. I have learned, over the years, to do most of this myself, so it doesn't cost me anything but a little time. The finish, as in all of Fender's higher-end guitars, is excellent. Not a flaw that I can see anywhere. It's plenty tough and durable, too. The tuners and other hardware are solid, with nothing loose at all. All the controls work well, with no noise. The pickups were adjusted well at the factory; sound has been no problem at all. I did replace the strap buttons with a set of strap locks, but I've done that on all my electrics. Nothing was wrong at all with the originals.
Features — 9
My newest Strat is a 2010 model American Special HSS, made in California. 22 jumbo (I think) frets, black alder body, black on white pickguard, black pickups, maple neck, with a rosewood fingerboard. It has the large 70's style peghead, with the bold Fender decal on it. Six chrome Fender tuners. Vintage style (6 screw) tremelo. It has two Texas Special single pole pickups in the neck and middle positions and an Atomic Humbucker at the bridge. Three controls are Master Volume and two "greasebucket" tone controls, which shape the sound of the Bridge and neck pickups in this model, with the tone of the middle pickup being fixed. Takes a little getting used to, after you've played a regular Strat for years, with the normal fixed Bridge pickup. Standard 5 position pickup selector switch. It comes with a deluxe Fender gig bag, but I opted for a hardshell case which added $100 to the price. Got a very good price on this guitar because the dealer was selling out their Fender stock at the time I bought it.