Price paid: $ 449
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Sound — 7
I play a variety of things from blues to metal. The HSS configuration is excellent for this with so many switching options. I played this through a few amps. A Line 6 Spider III 15, Vox AD30VT-XL, Vox VT30 & Blackstar HT-5H with a Carvin G212 open back cabinet. The humbucker is extremely quiet (as you'd expect) but I was surprised how well the single coils dealt with noise. The higher the gain, the more noise - sure. But at moderate gain or clean, they were very quiet. With the switch on the neck &/or middle positions you can get a nice bluesy tone. It can do spanky country or glassy funk. But with it set to the bridge position you can get nice hard rock & metal. The pickups are relatively hot. I'm not sure of the actual specs but I suspect they're Texas Special clones. The quality of sound is nothing special or inspiring out of these pickups.
Overall Impression — 6
This guitar is potentially an excellent guitar. It can play all sorts of different genres and will appeal to an awful lot of players. It's a huge upgrade from less expensive guitars and is built well. It's held back by some low quality components though. And this is where the rubber meets the road. These things can hurt your confidence if not addressed or taken into consideration. When I bought this guitar I was at the limit of my budget. Knowing what I know now (isn't hind sight wonderful?) I should have gotten a cheap guitar to start learning on and saved up for the "American Standard Stratocaster". I can understand someone not wanting to make that leap at the beginning - it's about twice the cost. I'd been looking at (and pricing) what it would take to upgrade the bridge, change to better tuners & upgrade the pickups. When all is said and done I'd have paid the same as a USA made Strat - but would have still had a MIM one. This Strat is filling the middle ground of cheap, mass-produced guitars and higher-end USA-made versions. I don't think it does enough to justify the added expense over the cheap ones. That being said, it's been about 3 years since I bought mine. Maybe they've improved these things... One big plus of having the MIM version is I was able to sell it for a decent amount - it wasn't a big loss like a cheap guitar might have been.
Reliability & Durability — 5
I think this guitar could easily handle live playing, but you'd probably want to address some things if you were planning on seriously gigging with it. The body & neck are solid as a rock, so that's not the area you'd need to worry about - it's the hardware. Within a short amount of time the bridge started to become a bit loose/sloppy. The trem bar is the typical screw-in style. Unfortunately, if you want the bar to be loose and dangle you're sort of out of luck. The bar will rattle around. Screwing it in tighter will get it to stop rattling, but then you have it sort of "stuck" in one position. And each time you screw/unscrew it, the condition seems to worsen. The tuning pegs are "alright" but I felt these would need to be changed soon, too. Not nearly as bad as the bridge, though. They did stay in tune pretty well, but not as well as you'd expect. They're non-locking and just don't hold the strings well. The other parts of the guitar - great! Had no concerns about the finish, the neck staying true, electronics holding up, strap buttons, etc. But not feeling confident because of what's holding both ends of the strings is pretty significant to me.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
The guitar came set up very well (or at least Guitar Center set it up well). Action was medium-low (which is my preference) and the intonation was good. The neck wasn't bowed and there was no fret buzz. The humbucker was adjusted well but the single coils needed to be raised a bit - this may have been more about taste rather than anything. If you're use to 2 humbuckers, the single coils will naturally sound more quiet. But I wasn't use to 2 humbuckers and still thought they were too quiet and needed to be raised. The neck felt great. It looked perfectly seated in the pocket. The fretboard, fretwire, inlays & nut were all installed properly. There was no glue or rough edges, etc. The body finish was pristine. The paint and top coat (polyester) were flawless. The knobs moved fluidly and the switch felt solid. Nothing loose or rattly. Same goes for the 1/4" jack. Solid. The strap buttons were nice and tight and needed no attention either.
Features — 8
The "Standard Stratocaster" model is a Made in Mexico version and is different than the "American Standard Stratocaster" model. They had two options for this MIM model, HSS & SSS. This review is about the HSS version. I bought mine in December of 2008 in "Electron Blue", which was replaced with the lighter tint "Lake Placid Blue". Features include a one humbucking/two single-coil pickup configuration, synchronized tremolo with high-mass bridge block, shielded body cavities & medium jumbo frets. The guitar does not come with a hard shell case or gig bag. SPECS: - Neck Shape: Modern "C" Shape - Number of Frets: 21 - Fret Size: Medium Jumbo - Position Inlays: White Dot Position Inlays - Fretboard Radius: 9.5" (24.1 cm) - Fretboard: Rosewood - Neck Material: Maple - Neck Finish: Satin Finish on Back & Headstock Front with Buffed Fingerboard - Nut Width: 1.650" (42 mm) - Scale Length: 25.5" (64.8 cm) - Neck Plate: Standard 4 Bolt - Truss Rod Nut: 3/16" Hex Adjustment - Pickup Configuration: H/S/S - Bridge Pickup: Standard Humbucking Pickup - Middle Pickup: Standard Single-Coil Strat Middle Pickup - Neck Pickup: Standard Single-Coil Strat Neck Pickup - Pickup Switching: 5-Position Blade, Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Front Coil of Bridge Pickup and Middle Pickup, Position 3. Middle Pickup, Position 4. Middle/Neck Pickups, Position 5. Neck Pickup - Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Bridge/Middle Pickup) - Hardware: Chrome - Bridge: Vintage Style Synchronized Tremolo - String Nut: Synthetic Bone - Switch Tip: Plastic - Tremolo Arm/Handle: Vintage Style Tremolo Arm - Strings: Fender USA Super Bullets 3250L, NPS, (.009-.042 Gauges) Considering what you get for your money, I think Fender has done a very good job with this Stratocaster. They don't include a gig bag or case, but instead give plenty of features elsewhere. I don't know what else they could have done other than a coil tap. I guess they could have included accessories with it, but for the price I don't see how they could.