PRS SE Silver Sky vs Fender Player Stratocaster: which is better?

PRS SE Silver Sky in Ever Green and Fender Player Stratocaster in Polar White in front of a white brick wall
(Image credit: PRS/Fender)

Now, we know that any guitar which challenges the Fender Strat is in for a tough fight. The Strat has some of the guitar world’s most passionate and loyal fans, and rightly so. You can imagine the outcry then, when faithful Strat evangelist John Mayer ditched Fender to join forces with PRS and create the Silver Sky. Four years later, the affordable ‘SE’ version hit the scene to much acclaim. The Fender Player Strat is equally as esteemed, taking over the mantle as the most affordable Mexican-made Fender Stratocaster on the market.

Now, both the Player Strat and SE Silver Sky are impressively capable instruments. While one is very much based on the other, they do have distinctly individual personalities – meaning that, depending on the type of player you are, there will be one that suits you better. In order to decide which one takes the title, we’ve put them head to head in a number of categories, from features and build quality, to the sounds they can produce.

PRS SE Silver Sky vs Fender Player Stratocaster: At a glance

PRS SE Silver Sky

  • PRS SE Silver Sky review 
  • Price: $849/£895 (inc gigbag)
  • Origin: Indonesia
  • Type: Double-cutaway solidbody electric 
  • Body: Poplar
  • Neck: Maple, 635JM profile, bolt-on
  • Frets: 22, medium
  • Hardware: PRS-designed 2-point steel vibrato, PRS-designed vintage-style tuners – nickel-plated
  • Find out more: PRS Guitars 

Fender Player Stratocaster

  • Fender Player Stratocaster review
  • Price: $849/£719 (inc gigbag) 
  • Origin: Mexico 
  • Type: Double-cutaway solidbody electric 
  • Body: Alder
  • Neck: Maple, bolt-on 
  • Frets: 22
  • Hardware: Nickel/Chrome, 2-point synchronized tremolo, bent steel saddles, standard cast/sealed tuners 
  • Find out more: Fender 

PRS SE Silver Sky vs Fender Player Stratocaster: History

Tidepool Fender Player strat on light brown carpet

(Image credit: Future)

Before these two electric guitars go head to head, we need to first let you in on some of the history surrounding them. One guitar is part of a long line with a rich history, and the other is only at the start of its life – but both have built a fantastic reputation.

The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most imitated guitars ever, and that is down to its overwhelming popularity as one of the greatest electric guitars to ever exist. The original Strat came to be in 1954 – introduced in tremolo and non-tremolo versions as Fender’s new top-line guitar. The Strat quickly evolved into one of the most popular guitars out there, being played by artists of all styles thanks to its impressive versatility and comfort. Fast-forward to 1990, as Fender expanded their operation to Ensenada, Mexico – and the MIM (made in Mexico) Strat was born.

The Player Series, also made in Mexico, was introduced as a replacement to the ‘Standard’ series in 2018 – and has very quickly proven itself to be a great electric guitar for players of all abilities.

The SE Silver Sky is a significantly younger guitar. It was unveiled in 2022, and is, as you probably guessed, the more budget-friendly version of John Mayer’s signature US-made Silver Sky. The US-made version caused some serious controversy in the guitar world upon its arrival in 2018 – and we kind of understand why. Its points of inspiration are very clear to see – but as is the case with all Strat-style guitars, it offers an alternative take on the iconic instrument we all know and love.

The SE model delivers on the same promise, but at under half of the price of the USA model. Unlike the Player Strat, the SE Silver Sky is made in Indonesia. This would historically have been considered a disadvantage, but that is really no longer the case. The SE Silver Sky possesses some different specs to both its US-made older sibling and the Player Strat, delivering a well-made alternative to what came before.

PRS SE Silver Sky vs Fender Player Stratocaster: Features

Closeup of the PRS SE Silver Sky

(Image credit: Future)

Features-wise, the SE Silver Sky and Player Strat are not dissimilar. Both have three single-coil pickups, synchronized tremolos, five-way pickup selectors, bolt-on maple necks and that famous double-cutaway body shape – but where there are similarities, there are also plenty of differences. 

Although the volume, tone and pickup controls are identical on both guitars, the pickups they control are the main difference between the two. The SE features a set of 635JM ‘S’ single-coils onboard, which are designed to replicate the warm-yet-punchy vibe of the US-made Core equivalent. The neck has a 635JM carve, and feels nigh-on identical to the full-fat Silver Sky, and the 8.5” fingerboard radius offers up a playing experience which errs on the side of vintage. You also get proper rosewood on the fingerboard of the SE Silver Sky, as opposed to Pau Ferro on the Player Strat.

The Player Strat is equipped with an alder body rather than the SE’s poplar, and its Player series alnico 5 pickups seem to deliver a bit more power and output than the 635JM ‘S’s. As such, the Player Strat is a killer choice for the guitarist who wants a modern tone to go along with the classic look of the Strat. The neck profile and fingerboard radius on the Strat – which is a marginally flatter 9.5” – offers a more modern feeling playing experience than that of the SE Silver Sky.

Winner: It’s a tie here, to be honest. They both offer the same features, but they’re just presented in different ways. If more of a vintage vibe is what you want, then the SE Silver Sky is the one for you. If you’re looking for a more modern, powerful performance, then the Player Stratocaster wins. 

PRS SE Silver Sky vs Fender Player Stratocaster: Build quality & design

Closeup of the PRS SE Silver Sky headstock

(Image credit: Future)

Build quality is a hugely important factor to think about when buying any electric guitar. Unsurprisingly, both of these guitars are built well enough to withstand any reasonable level of abuse, whether that’s gigging every night of the week, practising for hours every day or being carted around to jam sessions or lessons at school. 

Despite the Strat being made in Mexico and the PRS coming from Indonesia, we found no real difference in the actual build quality of the guitars. The country of origin debate is undoubtedly one that will come into consideration when comparing these guitars, and if these guitars had come out 10 years ago then, honestly, we’d have gone for the Mexican-made Strat. 

However, in the present day, both of these guitars feel really solid, just as you’d expect from any electric guitar around the $850 mark. Everything that’s meant to move, moves smoothly – like machine heads and tone controls – and everything that’s not meant to move emphatically, doesn’t. What more could we ask for?

The only point of criticism for us in terms of materials falls upon the SE Silver Sky and its tuners, knobs and other plastic fittings. The plastic on the volume and tone controls feels a bit too lightweight for us – like it could break if put under too much stress. The tuners do feel more solid, but when all-metal tuners are so easy to come by, we’re a little disappointed that PRS didn’t opt for something more heavy duty. This isn’t a ‘made in Indonesia’ problem though, as the USA-made Silver Sky also uses the same plastic machine heads – a criticism which has also been levelled at said USA model.

In terms of design, it’s a close-fought battle. The Player Strat follows the more traditional route, and feels comfortable and familiar as a result of the body carves and cutaways. The look is classic, and undeniably great for those who value traditionalism over anything else. 

The design of the SE Silver Sky delivers a similar sensation, to be totally honest. That said, regardless of the body shape and pickup layout, this guitar doesn’t feel like a copy of a Strat. The reverse 3-a-side PRS headstock is a little jarring at first, but we’ve grown to love it. If doing things differently is your thing, then this guitar will look great on you.

Winner: Design-wise, these guitars both look great, but serve different audiences. One is for traditionalists, the other isn’t – so from a design standpoint, we can’t separate the two. Build quality, however? The Player Stratocaster wins by a hair. Both guitars feel solid in the fit of the body and neck, however the plastic hardware on the SE Silver Sky falls a little short of what we’d expect. 

PRS SE Silver Sky vs Fender Player Stratocaster: Sounds

closeup of the controls of the PRS SE Silver Sky

(Image credit: Future)

You won’t be particularly surprised to hear that these guitars don’t sound that different to one another. 

Starting with the SE Silver Sky, as we mentioned previously, the 635JM ‘S’ pickups that adorn this model are designed to produce a smooth, balanced and warm tone. These pickups are budget versions of the ones found in the USA Core Silver Sky, and John Mayer’s request for a more aurally pleasing, less ice-picky tone is gladly met here. The neck and middle pickups are both pretty Strat-esque, and kick out a tastefully thick funk-friendly clean tone. 

The neck and middle pickups are both pretty Strat-esque, and kick out a tastefully thick funk-friendly clean tone

Through a dirty guitar amp, the 635JM ‘S’ pickups also behave pretty nicely. In terms of background noise and hum, there isn’t much – and their lower-than-strat output makes for quite a controlled and comfortable response. This is where they differ most from the Player Strat’s alnico 5’s.

Speaking of the Player Strat, you’ll get a more traditional Strat-esque tone here thanks to those alnico 5 single-coils. Granted, they are voiced a little differently to most – offering a more modern take on the Strat sound – but when EQ’d correctly and paired with the right amp, you can go all the way back to old-school ‘50s territory. The bridge pickup on the Player Strat offers all the brightness, top-end and bite that the 635JM ‘S’ doesn’t, and while it can sound a little unruly and overwhelming at times, it has that undeniable ‘Strat’ voice.

With some gain, the extra power of the Player Strat becomes more obvious. The heightened output of these pickups can make playing with gain both easier or more difficult, depending on your playing style. For those who want more touch sensitivity, these probably aren’t the pickups for you. The alnico 5’s are a bit ‘brute force’ at times, if you ask us.

Winner: We’ve got to give this round to the PRS SE Silver Sky. While both guitars are capable of some wonderful tones, we found that the 635JM ‘S’ pickups were just that little bit more sophisticated and tactful in the majority of musical scenarios. We found that while the Player Strat also sounds great, the tones we coaxed from it were just a little bit crude and average in comparison.

PRS SE Silver Sky vs Fender Player Stratocaster: Final verdict

Closeup of the body of a Fender Player Stratocaster

(Image credit: Future)

Well, hopefully we’ve not ruffled too many feathers here. We’d like to preface this by saying that both of these guitars are seriously good. Regardless of which one you buy, you’ll be getting a great, versatile guitar that looks and plays well, and represents fantastic value for money. 

This battle really comes down to personal preference. If the sound of the guitar and doing things a little differently are the most important things to you, then we’d guide you down the path of the SE Silver Sky, but if build quality and traditional looks are where your priorities lay, then the Player Strat is the guitar for you.

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James Farmer

James is a freelance writer and former Junior Deals Writer at Guitar World. Before writing, James worked as a guitar salesman at a local music store, so he knows a thing or two about matching people with their perfect instruments. James also has experience working in other areas of the music trade, having briefly worked for online music distributor, RouteNote. James is a guitarist, bassist and drummer and has also toured the UK and Europe with his old band Hypophora.