Price paid: C$ 599
Purchased from: Long & McQuade
Sound — 9
I play a little of everything, perhaps mainly classic rock, country and blues, and am VERY familiar with Strat sounds, having owned quite a few over 25+ years of playing. This one was my first foree into noiseless pickups and I was skeptical. Even after playing the guitar for a few hours, I wasn't sure how to react. You notice they're different from US or Mexican standard pickups even on clean settings. Maybe the attack isn't quite as instant, but it still is capable of the classic Strat tones I'm used to. Throw a little dirt to the sound and you start to see where these pickups can give you some new options. I would describe the tone range as being capable of slightly deeper and warmer natural tones than my US or Mexican Standards, but not totally foreign. The guitar still sounds terrific clean, with a little compressor and/or chorus, but with less buzz and hum when the gain or distortion settings go up. I think most Strat players will enjoy that part of this guitar, and it makes a great option to my other Strats. I'm guessing humbucker-accustomed players would also find this an easier transition into a Strat. The S1 doesn't provide quite the change I maybe unfairly expected, but you can still feel the extra grunt to some lesser extent. At the end of the day, a very versatile guitar that handles a lot of everything remarkably well, and a nice compliment even if you own different Strats.
Overall Impression — 9
I'm completely impressed with this guitar for $599. For a pittance more than a Standard Mexican, you're adding much nicer pickups, some nicer hardware, S1 switching, a different neck, and a unique look. The key feature for me though has to be the pickups, which make this guitar stand out from the rest of the Strats I own. I've switched out the tortoise shell guard for a standard white item - everyone's tastes will be different here, but to me it just "fits" better. Otherwise, I intend to keep this guitar as is as long as it'll hold up for me. The 12" radius neck is different if you're used to the usual 9.5" job, but not so different you can't reasonably switch back and forth. Personally, while my US Standard is a maple neck and 9.5", I like having some variations in gear like this. You do notice it being somewhat flatter, but you won't need to completely retrain your brain the way some might have you believe. If you're after bang for the buck in the Fender lineup, this one might be right up your alley. Nice work Fender.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I've heard some speak of the gold hardware oxidizing or fading somewhat over time, but I'll be my own judge of that over the years. I've owned enough Strats of various price points and builds to know that in general they're outstanding in terms of reliability and durability at each price point. This one has the nicest balance of fit, finish, and component quality I've seen from a Mexican machine. I'm an old dog, and I tend to keep good care of my guitars, making mistakes in handling into my own road wear over the years. They generally hold up to this kind of care very well, and I have no reason to expect this one will be no different.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
I'll start off by saying that I love the looks of the gold hardware and question why Fender doesn't utilize it in more lines. Particularly with the sunburst finish, it really sets the guitar apart from others that would otherwise be hard to distinguish. The fit and finish on this guitar in general is very good, honestly better than previous Mexican built Strats I've owned and played. Specifically, the woodgrain on this particular specimen is absolutely fantastic - I believe I got pretty lucky here (check my photos). The fret edges - while not up to the really fine level of my American Standard - are surprisingly good. Out of the box, this guitar was very playable, with the only minor complaint I have being that it was set up slightly higher than I'm used to. Easily fixable, and Long & McQuade offer free setup to taste as most reputable stores will. Really, not a lot to complain about. There are no issues with the hardware installs, excess urethane, or electrical gremlins. Everything plays very nicely right out of the box. The factory-installed Bullets didn't stretch excessively and tuning was as good as you'd expect. Controls are smooth and reliable. Mexican Strats are sometimes hit and miss in my experience for out-of-the-box setup, but this one gave me no concerns.
Features — 9
Made in Mexico as part of the Deluxe Stratocaster series, with some upgraded and even US parts so it functions as a higher-end Mexican Fender then the typical Standard. The pickups are Vintage noiseless variety, and the guitar features a 12" radius, 21 medium-jumbo frets and 25.5" C-shape satin neck on a very nicely finished Ash Strat body. Mine is a 3-colour sunburst with a rosewood fretboard. Electronics include the fairly typical 5-way switching, master volume and 2 tone knobs, with a push-button S1 switch for extra pickup selection options. Toss in a Vintage style tremolo arm, gold hardware, and a deluxe (upgraded from the Mexican Standard ones I've owned) gig bag. All in all, a really nice mix of parts and some unique features at the price point (pickups, 12" radius and S1 switch for instance). At $599, I really have to give this full credits here... But I'm still going to dock one anyway because it would've sold the deal completely with 22 frets for my tastes.