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Fender vs Squier: what’s the difference?

Five Squier and Fender guitar models lined up next to each other
(Image credit: Future)

Fender and its sub-brand Squier are two of the biggest names in the world of guitar and bass. But what are the differences between the two? And which one is right for your setup and budget? Many of the guitars and basses produced by these two industry titans look the same, and in some cases actually sound very similar too. In this article we'll explain the differences between Squier and Fender, and how that can help you make a decision when buying a new instrument.

From Strats and Teles, to Precision basses, Jazzmasters and beyond, we’ll explore the differences in sound between Squier and Fender, the build quality and feel you get for your money, as well as the history of the two brands. Let's dive straight in with some history.

Fender vs Squier: The history

A Telecaster and two Stratocasters against a shadowy background

(Image credit: Future)

Fender has been a company for some time, but things really took off when Leo Fender invented the Telecaster (then called the Broadcaster, along with its earlier single-pickup incarnation, the Esquire) in 1950. Since then, they’ve gone on to pioneer numerous different guitar, amp and pedal designs, most of which have gone on to inspire millions and grace the biggest stages in the world. 

Squier has been around since the late 19th century, though at first they were making violins and strings. They were acquired by Fender in the mid-60s and for a while they didn’t do much. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Japanese companies started to make copies of Fender’s biggest-selling models. Japanese labor costs were cheaper than they were in the US, so they could make them to a good standard, for less money.

Fender, acknowledging the quality of these copies, licensed Squier to make budget versions of their most popular models to help get the guitars into the hands of more people. Since then, production of Squier has moved from Japan to China and Indonesia, in their own dedicated factories with a specially trained workforce that really know how to put a guitar together.

Fender vs Squier: The players

Jimi Hendrix

(Image credit: David Redfern/Redferns)

When it comes to who uses Fender and Squier guitars and basses, most professionals tend to choose the former. With a more generous allowance for gear, players who perform on stages around the world go for Fender for their more refined sound, improved reliability and build quality, and because of the heritage of the brand too. 

Just a few of the many names that have used Fender gear include Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Marr, Prince, Eric Clapton, Jim Root and absolutely loads more.

That said, there are pros out there that can be seen sporting Squier guitars. Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy used his own signature Squier P-Bass in stadiums around the world; Jeff Healey used to use a really cool Squier Strat – Liam Gallagher’s guitarist often uses a Squier Baritone Jazzmaster too for when they need some lower end beef. Read about more pro guitarists who use cheap guitars here.

Fender vs Squier: Sounds & tones

Three Fender guitars next to each other

(Image credit: Future)

In a nutshell, Squier makes more affordable versions of Fender’s biggest-selling models, though they do also have their own lines and models. They’re made in the Far East and most of them are made using cheaper components. The pickups and hardware aren’t quite up to the same quality, which in turn affects how the instruments sound and feel. 

While all Squiers are made in the Far East, Fenders are made in Mexico, Japan and the USA, with the price points generally going up in that order too. This can make comparing Squier and Fender difficult – if you’re looking at a decent Squier and a lower-end Fender, you might not notice much difference. There tends to be a bit more consistency with the Fender stuff, but both are great options at an affordable price point. Compare a Squier to a top of the range US Fender, and there will be massive differences. 

In terms of sound, Fenders usually have more of a dynamic range – that is they’ll respond better to you using a really light touch, and a really heavy one. High quality pickups really help give out exactly what you put in, enabling you to play with more expression and more emotion. The better pickups in most of the Fenders also tend to have a wider frequency range, so you’ll get a stronger and richer bass response from your lower strings, and a clearer and more detailed sound from your higher notes.

Squier Teles and Strats will still have most of the tonal characteristics you’d associate with the parent models from Fender

For players just starting out, they might not notice too much difference in the sound, which is why many go for a Squier, and then move onto a Fender once they’re more used to it and their ears are better tuned into tone. It’s also worth pointing out that a Squier Tele and Strat etc will still have most of the tonal characteristics you’d associate with the parent models from Fender – they’ll just be a slightly less refined version of what you’d get with a Fender.

The feel of the instrument can also be a difference between Squier and Fender. The build quality from Squier is really good, especially considering the price, however, it does tend to be better from Fender. Now and again, you might get a Squier with slightly rough fret ends – nothing too bad, but your fretting hand might notice it.

How everything’s put together can also affect how the guitar resonates – if the instruments are assembled with more attention to detail, then they’re likely to produce a better tone. Better hardware used on Fenders also helps them stay, and play in tune more accurately.

Fender vs Squier: Buying advice

Three Fender telecasters next to each other on a wallpapered background

(Image credit: Future)

When looking to buy one a guitar from either of these brands, it’s worth considering how the differences between Fender and Squier might affect your purchase. If you’re fairly new to guitar or bass, then you might want to think about starting out with a Squier. You’ll be able to spend less cash – leaving you more budget for a guitar amp, strings, case and anything else you might need – and most of the differences between Fender and Squier won’t really have an impact on your progress. 

If you’re looking to upgrade your current guitar or bass, then a Fender might provide you with an improved sound, better playability and just a higher quality instrument in general.

You should also think about where you’ll be playing the guitar most. Are you after a guitar or bass for playing small shows in pubs and bars? By all means, get yourself a Fender, but 99 per cent of the audience won’t be able to tell the difference between that and its Squier counterpart. If a Squier does the job, and it plays well, then you can perform without worrying about an expensive Fender getting damaged or stolen. 

If you’re going to be taking your new guitar to the studio, then here’s where you might benefit from those higher quality pickups that you’ll get with a Fender. When recording, you’re more likely to hear all the nuances that better quality components will offer – and so will the listener!

Of course, budget is probably going to play a major part in what you choose. If you’ve got a fair chunk of money and you’re looking for a high quality guitar, then go down the Fender route. A Squier will set you back less cash, and, although you’ll forgo a number of improvements and upgrades, you’re still going to get a decent guitar or bass that delivers most of that classic Fender sound.

Fender vs Squier: Squier recommendations

Think a Squier is right for you, your playing needs, style and budget? We’ve picked out three that we would happily recommend any day of the week

Fender vs Squier: Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Custom Telecaster

(Image credit: Squier)

1. Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Custom Telecaster

Golden-era Tele vibes at a bargain price

Specifications

Launch price: $489/£339
Made In: Indonesia
Body: Nyatoh
Neck: Maple, Bolt-on
Scale: 25.5”
Fingerboard: Maple
Pickups: Fender Designed Alnico Single-Coil
Neck Profile: C Shape
Finish: Butterscotch Blonde, White Blonde
Left-handed?: Y

Reasons to buy

+
Squier’s best range of guitars?
+
Classic Tele sounds
+
Bound body edge

Reasons to avoid

-
More expensive end of Squier

Squier’s Classic Vibe range is really popular, and it’s so easy to figure out why. These guitars feel, sound and look amazing. They’re not the cheapest models that Squier make, but you do get a lot for your money.

The Classic Vibe ‘60s Custom Tele gives you a vintage vibe, with that classy bound body aesthetic. The pickups deliver all the classic Tele tones – from bright and twangy, to smooth and mellow. Whilst they might not be as defined as most Fender models, they do stand up really well against a lot of other, similar guitars. 

Fender vs Squier: Squier Paranormal Baritone Cabronita Telecaster

(Image credit: Squier)

2. Squier Paranormal Baritone Cabronita Telecaster

Get ready for some serious low-end chunk

Specifications

Launch price: $449/£345
Made In: China
Body: Poplar
Neck: Maple, Bolt-on
Scale: 27”
Fingerboard: Maple
Pickups: Fender Designed Alnico Soapbar Single-Coil
Neck Profile: C Shape
Finish: Sunburst, Surf Green
Left-handed?: N

Reasons to buy

+
Unique
+
Great for lower tunings
+
Punchy pickups

Reasons to avoid

-
Tuning won’t work for everyone

This is a really interesting guitar. A pair of soapbar pickups and a 27” scale make for an incredibly fun playing experience. Standard tuning for this baritone guitar is B standard, so it’s a lot lower than a regular guitar. Whether you’re playing doomy, down-tuned riffs, or ambient soundscapes, this Squier will give you all the low end you need. 

The look of the Cabronita Tele also helps it stand out even more. Along with the classic Tele body shape, you’ve got a more minimalistic approach to the pickguard and control panel. It’s comfortable to play, and getting used to the longer scale length really doesn’t take long at all. 

Fender vs Squier: Squier Affinity PJ Bass

(Image credit: Squier)

3. Squier Affinity PJ Bass

A versatile and affordable, quality bass

Specifications

Launch price: $299/£219
Made In: Indonesia
Body: Poplar
Neck: Maple, Bolt-on
Scale: 27”
Fingerboard: Maple/Indian Laurel
Pickups: Ceramic Single-Coil
Neck Profile: C Shape
Finish: Black, Olympic White, Charcoal Frost Metallic, Lake Placid Blue
Left-handed?: N

Reasons to buy

+
A versatile bass
+
Suitable for a range of styles
+
Great quality

The PJ merges Fender’s two most popular bass styles together – the Precision and the Jazz. Alongside a P-style pickup where it would normally be, you’ve also got a Jazz pickup in the bridge position. This means that the PJ bass can do pretty much anything in terms of styles of music – rock, funk, blues, pop – even metal.

The Affinity series consists of good quality, entry level instruments. Sure, you can get cheaper ones elsewhere, but these are made under license by Fender and they actually sound good, and tend to play pretty well too.

Fender vs Squier: Fender recommendations

Thinking about heading down the Fender route? These three models would be top of our wishlist.

Fender vs Squier: Fender Player Stratocaster

(Image credit: Fender)

1. Fender Player Stratocaster

Your entry level Fender Strat is absolutely everything it should be

Specifications

Launch price: $849/£549
Made In: Mexico
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple, Bolt-on
Scale: 25.5”
Fingerboard: Maple/Pau Ferro
Pickups: Player Series Alnico 5 Strat Single-Coil
Neck Profile: Modern C
Finish: Black, Buttercream, Sunburst, Tidepool, Polar White, Capri Orange, Silver
Left-handed?: Y

Reasons to buy

+
It’s the real deal
+
Dynamic pickups
+
Quality hardware

Reasons to avoid

-
Not much

The Fender Player series is the entry into the world of Mexican-made Fenders. They’re the standard range of guitars, where you’ll likely notice improvements in pickups, components and build quality. The Player Strat is everything a Strat should be and nothing it shouldn’t.

It’s not too expensive, but you’re still getting quality. It’s a serious instrument, and a handy tool to have in the studio, and on the road. They’re built to a good standard, and will last you years and years. Yes, there are more expensive, American models out there, but make no mistake – this is very much a real Fender Strat.

Fender vs Squier: Fender American Performer Jazzmaster

(Image credit: Fender)

2. Fender American Performer Jazzmaster

A high quality, simplified, American-made Jazzmaster

Specifications

Launch price: $1,499/£1,029
Made In: USA
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple, Bolt-on
Scale: 25.5”
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Pickups: Yosemite® Single-Coil Jazzmaster
Neck Profile: Modern C
Finish: Sunburst, Satin Lake Placid Blue, Vintage White
Left-handed?: N

Reasons to buy

+
Great tones
+
Excellent build quality
+
Merges traditional and modern design

Reasons to avoid

-
Not for Jazzmaster purists

This American-made Jazzmaster offers superb build quality and playability along with the classic Jazzmaster sound, without any of the fuss of the additional rhythm circuit. If you’re a traditionalist, then this may not be for you, but if you want a straight-forward Jazzmaster then this is one to check out. 

It’s got a simple three-way pickup selector, a volume knob and a Greasebucket equipped-tone knob, which lets you cut treble frequencies without muddying up your sound or losing gain. The Strat-style tremolo bridge system allows for individual string intonation, plus it stays in tune well. 

Fender vs Squier: American Original ‘60s Stratocaster

(Image credit: Fender)

3. American Original ‘60s Stratocaster

An authentic replica of some of the most sought-after Strats in the world

Specifications

Launch price: $2,099/£1,749
Made In: USA
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple, Bolt-on
Scale: 25.5”
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Pickups: Pure Vintage '65 Gray-Bottom Single-Coil Strat
Neck Profile: Thick C
Finish: Shell Pink, Olympic White, Sunburst
Left-handed?: Y

Reasons to buy

+
Detailed and dynamic pickups
+
Looks like a ‘60s Strat
+
High quality

Without going into the realms of the Fender Custom Shop, the Fender American Originals are the closest you can get to vintage spec’d Strats and Teles etc. This ‘60s Strat recreates the hallowed pre-CBS era models, with authentic sounding pickups that deliver the sound you’ve heard on so many classic records.

Complete with a ‘60s C neck profile and period-correct finishes, the Fender American Original ‘60s Strat looks and feels every bit as authentic as it sounds. These are made in the USA, in the same building as the Custom Shops, and come shipped with a vintage style hard case.

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After spending a decade in music retail, I’m now a freelance writer for Guitar World, MusicRadar, Guitar Player and Reverb, specialising in electric and acoustic guitars bass, and almost anything else you can make a tune with. When my head’s not buried in the best of modern and vintage gear, I run a small company helping musicians with songwriting, production and performance, and I play bass in an alt-rock band.