The Fender Stratocaster could very well be the most iconic guitar of all-time. Though they arrived a few years after the original Broadcaster/Esquire Teles that made history as the world’s first mass-produced solid-body electric, the Stratocaster family quickly became Fender’s best-selling instrument, a tradition which has lasted to this day. With so much choice, finding the best Stratocaster for you can be a big task.
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With plenty of exciting guitar announcements coming from Fender at NAMM 2020, here we’re answering the question of which Fender Stratocasters are best. Whether you’re after a budget electric bearing the Fender logo, or something more upmarket, by the end of this feature you should know the difference between the Fender Stratocaster models, and be closer to knowing which one is right for you.
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What are the best Stratocasters?
If you’re looking more of a top-line, US-made Strat, the Fender American Original '60s Stratocaster ooze all the class and pedigree you’d expect from the big F. With more Custom Shop-associated finishes like Shell Pink and Olympic White, here’s an instrument guaranteed to feel, look and sound the part.
The affordable Fender Player series has fast become one of the most successful lines to ever come out of the Ensenada factory. Their Strats are available with options for HSH or HSS pickup configurations and even Floyd Rose-equipped models, but it’s this classic Strat - available in a tantalizing Buttercream finish, alongside six others - that screams pure Fender.
Best Stratocasters: buying advice
Think long and hard about your pickup configuration
Sure, you can always replace pickups further down the line – but it would be much more cost-effective to ensure you invest in a Fender Strat voiced to your needs. Those in search of cleaner tones may prefer to stick with Fender’s typically noiseless and lower-output single-coils while someone looking to dial into more high gain and heavy metal tones might need more bark from their guitar’s electronics, and perhaps be more suited to one or even two humbucker or hotrail style pickups.
And there are always exceptions to such rules – some of the most legendary rock and metal tones ever recorded have shined through thanks to their single-coil grit. So it’s worth asking yourself what has typically been used by the artists you’re trying to emulate.
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Look at the non-American instruments too
As nice as it is to see the words ‘Fender Corona, CA’ on the headstock of your newest guitar it might be worth looking at the company’s more affordable options made in their Ensenada factory and also under budget brand Squier, whose lines recreate the American-made models and often with great success.
This ultimately means you could get the guitar of your dreams for a lot less – depending on what you're looking for out of color scheme, parts and build. If you’re looking to invest in a high-quality instrument that will retain its value, however, then an American-made Strat will probably be what you’re looking for.
The best Stratocasters available today
1. Fender Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster
Classic Strat looks for an absolute steal…
Price: $229.99 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple Or Rosewood | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Indian Laurel | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Three Squier Standard Single-Coils | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1 (Neck/Middle Pickups), Tone 2 (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: Chrome | Finish: 2-Color Sunburst, Black, Brown Sunburst, Competition Orange, Race Red, Slick Silver, Surf Green
Costing roughly a third of the hugely popular, Mexican-made Player Stratocasters - which themselves cost roughly a third of their American-made equivalents - you can see just how far down the family tree we’re going here.
But the Squier Affinity series really does offer a great value – you get a decent-sounding and reliable instrument that can still legally call itself a Strat and will almost definitely perform better than most clones out there at this rock-bottom price range. If you’re looking for your first guitar or perhaps buying one for someone you know, the Affinity series - which also has HSS models for those wanting more power - will be hard to beat.
2. Fender Squier Contemporary Active Stratocaster HH
One of the most metal Strats ever made!
Price: $399.99 | Body: Solid Poplar With Urethane Finish | Neck: Maple (Slim C) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Indian Laurel | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Two Squier Active Humbuckers | Controls: Master Volume, Tone | Hardware: Black Chrome | Finish: Flat Black, Olympic White
Though Squier have also made a version of this guitar with non-active ceramic pickups, a vintage-style tremolo and no reverse headstock which has also proven popular among higher gain players, the Contemporary Active Stratocaster offers a lot more for very little money.
If you’re the kind of guitarist who generally lives on the overdrive channels, the two Squier Active Humbuckers offer plenty of punch and clarity even at lower tunings. Naturally - like a lot of active humbucker-equipped guitars - the clean tones aren’t hugely inspiring, but that’s a small price to pay for thicker and fuller distorted sounds. Whoever said Strats weren’t for metal clearly had never picked up one of these…
One of the best Fender Stratocasters in the mid-price range
Price: $649 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Player Series Alnico 5 Strat Single-Coil | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1 (Neck/Middle Pickups), Tone 2 (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome | Left-handed: | Finish: 3-Color Sunburst, Black, Buttercream, Capri Orange, Polar White, Silver, Tidepool
Replacing the Mexican Standard series in 2018, the Player range has been widely praised for bringing everything you’d want out of a Strat to a more affordable price-point. The Alnico 5 pickups are voiced similar to the SRV-inspired Texas Hot single-coils, perfect for a slightly thicker Strat snarl that loses none of its bite when pushed.
Best of all, there are options for a remarkably vintage-looking Buttercream finish and HSS configurations to compliment a Modern C-shaped neck profile with a 9.5"-radius fingerboard and a two-point tremolo bridge with bent-steel saddles. Ultimately, you’re getting a Strat that can do it all and look the part without breaking the bank.
4. Fender Vintera '50s Stratocaster
A modern recreation faithful to the original vintage design…
Price: $899.99 | Body: Alder or Ash | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Vintage Style 50s Single-Coil | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck/Middle Pickups), Tone 2. (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome | Finish: Seafoam Green, Sonic Blue, White Blonde
Unveiled last year, the Fender Vintera series aimed to “reimagine, consolidate and replace” the Classic line being made in the Ensenada factory. And it did precisely that – paying tribute to the American giant’s original designs from the 50s, 60s and 70s, all with period-correct features. Which is why you’ll find they’re available in only SSS configurations (though there is a Vintera 60s model that comes with the addition of an S1 switch).
The Vintera 50s are perhaps the most eye-catching of the lot, available in three finishes including collector’s favorites Seafoam Green and Sonic Blue, and voiced to recreate the chime and articulation of the earliest Strats in production. A truly historic instrument without the historic price tag.
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5. Fender Limited Edition HM Strat
The best Fender Stratocaster for metal guitarists
Price: $1,199.99 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.1" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x Custom HM Single-Coils, 1x Custom HM humbucker | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1 (Neck/Middle Pickups), Tone 2 (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: Black | Finish: Flash Pink, Ice Blue, Bright White, Frozen Yellow
The short-lived 88-92 run of heavy metal-friendly Strats were very much tailored to an era of super shredders. Famed for their extreme playability and bright color schemes, the line was brought back to life at this year’s Winter NAMM – the new models offering a basswood body, Gotoh tuners, a HSS pickup configuration with a coil split switch for the bridge pickup, a Floyd Rose locking tremolo and 24 jumbo frets.
Of course, these latest versions wouldn’t be the same without a black headcap and that infamous 80s stylized Fender logo on the headstock. The new limited-edition models come in four finishes - Bright White, Ice Blue, Flash Pink and Frozen Yellow - with options for rosewood or maple fingerboards on the original 17”radius/25” scale narrow C-shaped neck that was highly praised for effortless performance.
6. Fender Tom Morello Stratocaster
The RATM legend’s Soul Power Strat can now be yours!
Price: $1,399 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Two Vintage Noiseless and one Seymour Duncan Hot Rails | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck/Middle Pickups), Tone 2. (Bridge Pickup), Kill-switch toggle | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome | Finish: Black
Few artists have used their guitar as a weapon in the way Tom Morello has. As the founding guitarist of Rage Against The Machine, he was usually spotted with his custom Arm The Homeless superstrat, but in Audioslave he was more known for playing his black Aerodyne Stratocaster – now made available by Fender from this year.
Though this model doesn’t actually come with ‘Soul Power’ written across its upper body, the decal is included for those hoping to recreate the iconic look – which is a nice option to have. It also comes with many more of the RATM legend’s customizations – from the chrome pickguard and killswitch toggle to the recessed Floyd Rose system and inclusion of a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails bridge pickup for heavy humbucker sounds. What you get is a very modernized Strat perfectly suited to higher gain rock riffers and shredders alike.
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7. Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster
The blues virtuoso’s ‘Number One’ Strat was the core of his tone
Price: $1,699.99 | Body: Select Alder | Neck: Maple (thick oval shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Pao Ferro | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 3x Texas Special Single-Coils | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1 (Neck/Middle Pickups), Tone 2 (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: Gold | Finish: 3-color sunburst design with polyurethane finish
To many, he was the greatest blues maestro of all-time. Welding together his favorite Albert King and Jimi Hendrix licks into a monster package of his own, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s phrasing and tone have continued to set the bar today – which is precisely why his signature guitar has been one of the best-selling artist models in Fender history.
This recreation of his ‘Number One’ Strat features his favored Texas Special pickups for added warmth and bite, his engraved SRV pickguard, gold-plated hardware, a Pau Ferro fingerboard and a reverse vintage-style tremolo bridge as the Dallas prodigy himself preferred. Thankfully it comes fitted with 10-46 gauge strings, instead of the flesh-tearing 13s SRV generally stuck with.
If you’re looking to get Scuttle Buttin’ or for a slice of Riviera Paradise, this would definitely be the Strat for you.
The brand-new high performer, unveiled at NAMM 2020
Price: from $1,899.99 | Pickups: Three Ultra Noiseless Hot Strat single-coils or two with one Ultra Double Tap humbucking bridge | Body: Alder or ash with sculpted rear contours | Neck: Modern D-shape with Ultra satin finish | Finish: Cobra Blue, Mocha Burst, Texas Tea, Arctic Pearl, Aged Natural, Plasma Red Burst and Ultraburst
Announced last November and showcased at Winter NAMM, the all-new American Ultra series stands is Fender’s most advanced modern guitar yet, with no compromise on quality of sound or feel.
Available in both fully single-coil and HSS forms to appeal to just about any kind of player, these guitars offer hours of gigging comfort thanks to brand-new back body curves and one of their fastest-playing necks yet, with a super-sculpted heel to provide unparalleled access to the upper registers of the fingerboard.
It’s a fact worth noting because it’s the first time in decades Fender have significantly altered their iconic Stratocaster body shape. Looking for a Strat to take you into the future? This could very well be it.
Read the full Fender American Ultra Stratocaster review
9. Fender American Original '60s Stratocaster
A high-class, American-made instrument that nods to Fender’s glory years
Price: $1,949.99 | Body: Alder with lacquer finish | Neck: Maple (thick ‘60s C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 3x Three Pure Vintage '65 single-coils | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1 (Neck/Middle Pickups), Tone 2 (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome | Finish: Shell Pink, Olympic White, 3-Color Sunburst
If you’re looking for a beautifully constructed, American-made Strat that has more in common with Fender’s past than other models, then the American Original ‘60s will undoubtedly score high. Period-correct appointments such as an alder body with lacquer finish, mint green pickguard and a rosewood fingerboard bring lots of vintage appeal, though unlike the original Strats from this era, it benefits from a five-way pickup switch – offering some level of modern versatility.
Best of all, though, are the options for an Olympic White finish - or even better, Shell Pink - which make it a guitar that can truly turn back time and transport you through Fender’s most iconic years.
10. Fender Parallel Universe Vol II Jazz Strat
One of the best Fender Stratocasters for leftfield fans
Price: $2,299.99 | Body: Offset Alder With Maple Top | Neck: Solid Rosewood (C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 3x Texas Special Single-Coils | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone Blend | Hardware: Chrome | Finish: Transparent Seafoam Green
This year’s second instalment in the Fender Parallel Universe range saw some truly curious additions, including this limited-edition Jazz Strat – effectively combining the body of a Strat with the neck, vibrato and pickups of a Jazzmaster, along with a custom Decoboom Streamline pinstriped pickguard and aluminium radio knobs.
Along with the Pure Vintage 65 single-coils found on Jazzmasters, which feature vintage bobbin construction to genuine original-era cloth wiring, there’s the Jazzmaster bridge with brass Mustang saddles that keep the strings where they belong and a screw-in arm that stays securely in the tremolo.
Finished in Transparent Seafoam Green that makes it feel even more collectable and obscure, here’s a Strat completely reimagined in every sense of the word.