Fender American Standard Series Stratocaster and Telecaster
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, fender.com
American Standard Stratocaster, $1,399.99; American Standard Telecaster, $1,399.99; transparent finishes on an ash body, $100.00 extra
Originally printed in Guitar World, July 2008
Fender's years of costconscious ownership under CBS ended in 1985, when the company was purchased by its employees. In the years just prior to the sale, CBS had initiated several money-saving measures in an effort to shore up its finances. For example, in 1983 the Standard Stratocaster had been relieved of one of its tone knobs, the right-angle output was swapped for a flush-mounting jack, and the traditional tremolo unit was replaced by the Freeflyte trem, whose surface-mounted design eliminated the need for a trem cavity.
Fender’s new owners were anxious to restore the luster lost during these years. The American Standard Series was part of that effort. Introduced in 1986, the designation was a reminder of the company’s roots at a time when high-quality Japanese imports were putting some U.S. guitar makers to shame. It was also a guarantee of a solid product built with the level of craftsmanship for which Fender had once been known.
Fender’s renaissance came swiftly, and today the company’s American Standard Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars endure as a symbol of assured excellence. Their specs have changed over the years, but the American Standards recently received an overhaul that restores much of their original tones and design elements. I just had to have a look for myself.
In addition to new finish colors, these alder-bodied guitars are now offered with an optional ash body with transparent finish for $100. A thinner undercoat improves body resonance, and the bright white maple necks are tinted with a subtle antique hue. Matte finishes are still used on the back of the necks, and the acid-resistant fretboards are buffed to a glossy sheen.
Major changes become apparent as soon as you put one of these guitars in your hands. The handrolled fretboard edges are smooth and snag-free. They look new but feel like they’ve been played on for decades. Bent-steel saddles replace the cast saddles and have no sharp set screws to annoy your palm. More significantly, these saddles are key to the classic jangly Fender spank and sparkle. A copper-infused high-mass block improves the Strat’s bridge performance, and the Tele similarly benefits from a low-profile stamped brass bridge plate.
Many Strat players enjoy the smooth feel and easy adjustability afforded by the Strat’s modern two-point bridge fulcrum, so Fender worked to enhance the system’s tone through sharper knife-edges and properly seated brass pivot anchors. Tuning stability and string tension is aided on both guitars by specially designed graduated-height tuning keys.
Fender isn’t reporting any changes to the standard electronics packages. Still in use is the Delta Tone system, which maintains the pickups’ treble response when the volume is rolled back and effectively removes the tone circuit when the tone knob is maxed (active only for bridge and middle pickups on the Strat). Fender didn’t change the Strat’s pickups—to my mild disappointment. I prefer a slightly beefier tone, more akin to the Tele’s punchy output, but obviously the majority of Strat players are satisfied with the Fifties-style clarity that emanates from this Alnico V–based set. Also included for both guitars is an exclusive molded flight-style SKB case, similar to the cases used to protect high-end firearms and photography equipment.
The bent-steel saddles and copper-infused block make a world of difference in the Stratocaster’s acoustic response. My alder-bodied test Strat’s classic flavors were present and accounted for: lows rumbled, mids were scooped and highs jangled. Be aware, however, that the American Standard Strat’s sealed tuners and two-point bridge pivot intentionally keep the American Standard from exhibiting the same loud rattles and airy sound of a vintage-type Strat. While greatly improved, it’s still intended to be a crossover instrument that will sound very solid with high gain and still exhibit the unmistakable Stratocaster attributes. The pickups are fairly low in output to retain maximum clarity, but they can be easily boosted to Texas Blues territory with a Tubescreamer or similar overdrive.
American Standard Telecasters have always been well liked for the particularly thick and punchy tone of their bridge pickup. Placed in front of a fat-laden clean amp like the Fender Vibro-King, they have an aggressive twang that few stock guitars can match. These thumping midrange and level highs are also capable of cranking out a Seventies-style hard rock crunch, making this guitar a favorite among modern country artists. The revamped Tele has all those sounds and a lot of added dimension, courtesy of the bent-steel saddles and musical brass bridge plate. Its improved musicality, volume and dynamics were apparent with both pickups—the neck pickup sounded much clearer—and particularly obvious with snapped string riffs and heavy rakes. If you don’t mind flipping an extra C note, the ash body option really helps to bring out the best of this new Tele’s talents.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Guitarists have waited a long time for Fender’s American Standards to play and sound like the newly updated Stratocaster and Telecaster. Rolled fingerboard edges, bent steel saddles, Alnico V pickups, the Delta Tone system and vibrant finishes create an ideal balance of vintage and high tech. These magnificent instruments help solidify my contention that Fender is presently building some of the finest instruments in the company’s history.
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