Price paid: $ 275
Purchased from: Voigt Music Center
Features — 8
Made in Indonesia, this guitar definitely punches above its class and rivals the Fender Standard Series (MiM) in quality. It has two features that come from the American line of Fenders: 22 frets, and the two-point tremolo bridge, with the solid saddles. This guitar has a basswood body, whereas most Fenders have alder. The difference is minimal and mostly irrelevant, though it is noticeably lighter than my MiM Strat, which I will mostly be comparing this one to, and which I will henceforth designate as "Layla." The only bespoke pieces on this guitar are the three Duncan-Designed HR-101 pickups. They're okay for what they are, but you'll probably want to get proper Duncans eventually. The controls are just what you would expect from a Stratocaster, and they're exactly as lacking in quality as you'd expect from a cheaper instrument. The bridge, tuners, nut, pickguard, all work great and with serious whammy use, it stays in tune better than any of my guitars with a Floyd Rose system. Maybe it's just because I actually have the patience to properly set a Stratocaster. As I've said, the pickups and other pieces on this guitar are fine, but I would definitely switch out the pots, 5-way switch and input jack ASAP. Another thing: mine only came with two springs in the back, and unless you like playing light gauge strings, you're gonna need to add at least another spring. It comes with .09, I believe, and I am using this with Ernie Ball .10-.52 or whatever it is, tuned to E flat standard, same as Layla. I knock it down a bit because the controls are stiff and mostly useless.
Sound — 7
Stylistically, I play a variety of stuff. Some guitarists I like to emulate are: Edward Van Halen, Andy Summers, Mark Knopfler. Most of my favorite musicians tend to be Fender guys. I feel like the Hot Rails have a single coil character, with more output and less noise. It has a nice brightness to it, and it sounds great through all three channels of my EVH 5150 III 50 watt head and matching 212 cabinet. I also use a Line 6 Pod HD Pro, sometimes through the power section of a Peavey Classic 30 or into a Cube Micro Amp, and it sounds great through that as well. It's a Stratocaster. It does everything. Knocking it down a bit because you can't really roll off the volume to clean up your amp, or color the neck and middle pickups with the tone controls. Noticing a theme there... Also I don't really get that Strat sound in the 2nd and 4th positions, and that's my favorite guitar sound.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
This guitar is well-made. I believe the tech at the shop where I bought it actually did some fret work on it because they were hanging over the edge of the fretboard when it came to them. I've read stories on some forums where the pickups were put into the wrong positions. I think that may have happened to mine, the neck pickup is super loud and the bridge pickup feels weak in comparison. The action and intonation were good when I bought it, but that could be because the tech checks the guitars, and it's irrelevant to me because I changed string gauge and tuning so it would have been "wrong" for me anyway.
Reliability & Durability — 8
I don't know that I would put this guitar through a gig, at least stock. I have a J Mascis Jazzmaster, also from Squier, and the back strap button fell off that, so that makes me a little nervous about the strap buttons on this one as well. However, so far everything is holding up. If this guitar isn't leaving the bedroom, it's dependable. If you're gonna be doing gigs, you'll have to make some upgrades first. Right now, this kind of IS the backup, to Layla. The tuning machines are accurate and probably won't give you any issues. I will probably eventually use the parts I took out of Layla and put them into this guitar.
Overall Impression — 9
Basically, if you want some of the outfittings of an American Fender, but you've got a quarter of the budget, this is your guitar. It's a great platform for upgrading and I believe the two-point bridge, solid saddles and 22 frets means you should give it a good look if you're looking in the used MiM price range. It's lighter than Layla, stays in tune better than my 3 Floyd Rose guitars, and sounds okay. When I chose this guitar, I was also giving a good look at a Squier Baritone Jazzmaster, but they're in totally different categories and for what I do, the Deluxe Strat had more uses. If I somehow lost this guitar, I wouldn't be too sad because I still have Layla, with a Custom Custom in the bridge and locking tuners, and several other guitars. If you're upgrading from one of the cheaper beginners guitars, or looking for a good platform for upgrades, this is probably one of the better deals out there.