Fender American Special Stratocaster and Telecaster
$1,099.99 (all models)
Originally published in Guitar World, 30th Anniversary 2010 issue
Fender's American Special series Telecasters and Stratocasters are truly special instruments that will please even the most hardcore Strat and Tele enthusiasts.
The Telecaster and Stratocaster were pretty much perfect since the day Leo Fender introduced each, more than 50 years ago. While Fender has made a few changes to the basic models over the years—most notably with the American Standard Series, which provides subtle new upgrades and enhancements every couple of years or so—today’s Teles and Strats aren’t very different from the Fender guitars your dad, or even your grandfather, played.
One of the biggest improvements is that the list prices of base Strat and Tele models have actually decreased over the years when you adjust for inflation. For example, the Strat’s original list price in 1954 was $250, which is the equivalent of about $2,000 today. Of course, Fender has offered a wide variety of import versions made in Japan, Korea and Mexico that have sold for much less than that, but even today’s iconic workhorse American Standard model, with its starting price tag of $1,590 offers guitarists financial relief compared to yesteryear’s prices.
With a suggested retail price of only $1,099, Fender’s new American Special Stratocaster and Telecaster models provide musicians with an even better bailout deal than the U.S. government gave AIG. These are bona fide made-in-the-U.S.A. instruments that offer all the craftsmanship, quality materials and playability that guitarists expect from an American-made Fender guitar, yet you can buy one for less than half the price of what the Strat and Tele originally sold for.
The Fender American Special Series consists of three models—a Telecaster, a Stratocaster and a humbucker-equipped “HSS” Stratocaster—and each with two finish options. All three have alder bodies, a high-gloss urethane finish, and a maple neck with a 9 1/2–inch radius and jumbo frets.
The American Special Telecaster comes with a vintage-style string-through-body bridge with three brass saddles to provide the classic twang that Tele aficionados love. Its Texas Special Tele bridge and neck pickups are constructed from Alnico V magnets and deliver the increased output and hotter tones that today’s players prefer. Controls include the standard master volume and master tone controls with knurled chrome-dome knobs, and a three-position pickup selector with a Fifties-style barrel knob. Finish options are Olympic White with a matching three-ply white pickguard, and three-color sunburst with a black three-ply pickguard.
Players who prefer Strats have two American Special models to choose from: the American Special Stratocaster and the American Special Stratocaster HSS. Both feature a vintage-style tremolo bridge with bent steel saddles and a larger Seventies-style headstock, which many players insist provides enhanced sustain and fatter tone (just ask Jimi and Yngwie). The American Special Stratocaster comes with three Texas Special Alnico V single-coil Strat pickups and a maple fingerboard, and it’s available in either Candy Apple Red or two-tone sunburst, complemented by a white pickguard.
The American Special Stratocaster HSS is more of a hard rock hot-rod featuring a high-output (16.4K ohms) Fender Atomic bridge-position humbucker with Alnico V magnets, while the neck and middle pickups are Texas Special Strat single-coils. The HSS comes with a rosewood fingerboard only, and its neck is contoured to a rocker-approved slim profile in contrast to the American Special Stratocaster’s slightly heftier vintage-style C-shaped profile. The HSS model sports a black pickguard and is offered with a black or three-color sunburst finish.
Fender's American Special Series guitars are a testimony to the genius of Leo Fender’s original concept for a mass-produced solidbody guitar. Every single detail, like the exceptionally tight neck pocket, the immaculate finish, and the smooth-as-silk fretwork, is as close to perfection as Fender has ever come in its history. The fact that Fender is still able to build these guitars in the U.S. and sell them for considerably less than previous American models certainly would have made Leo very proud.
The American Special Telecaster is a classic Tele in every sense. The Texas Special pickups offer plenty of aggressive character, with percussive, explosive attack and brilliant, singing treble. The harder you dig in, the more it gives back. The neck has the smooth, satiny feel of real wood instead of the artificial, plastic feel that many modern urethane neck finishes impart.
The Strat models are both fine examples of Leo’s crowning achievement that will also please longtime fans. With its humbucker bridge pickup, the HSS model is a rocking beast with fierce midrange and delightful crunch when played through an overdriven amp. It covers EVH territory quite nicely, but it also delivers timeless Strat tones with the middle and neck pickups engaged. Its slim neck is exceptionally comfortable and makes playing honestly effortless. If you prefer 100 percent authentic Strat tones, the American Special Stratocaster does the trick quite nicely.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fender's American Speical series Telecasters and Stratocasters are truly special instruments that will please even the most hardcore Strat and Tele enthusiasts. These outstanding gigging and studio workhorses put U.S. craftsmanship within the reach of everyday players once again, without forcing them to make any significant compromises. For the first time in history, the “real thing” has never been more affordable for Fender fans.
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