Fender’s newest Strats and Teles may not be as exciting or revolutionary as Chevy’s new Corvette (which has been around about the same amount of time), but I’m still incredibly impressed how Fender manages to provide a fresh spin on those electric guitars every few years or so. And they manage to do this without sacrificing the essence of those models too, so they appeal to modern players and vintage purists alike.
The new American Performer series is a great example of how they approach this, providing performance upgrades that expand the tonal versatility of classic models like the Strat, Tele, Jazzmaster and Mustang, while keeping original features that got it right from the beginning.
The American Performer line is true to its name. The guitars are made at Fender’s Corona, California, factory and are designed with the needs of gigging guitarists in mind, from playability and versatility to cooler-than-usual styling.
Even better for working musicians in today’s challenging industry conditions, the models are all impressively competitively priced, even though they offer a multitude of custom upgrades that most competitors would sell for a pretty penny extra.
Here, we test the American Performer Telecaster and the American Performer Stratocaster HSS to see if their performance delivers.
Each American Performer Stratocaster HSS and Telecaster is offered with a selection of four finish options that are unique to each model.
Selections for the Stratocaster HSS consist of 3-Color Sunburst, Aubergine (both with rosewood fingerboards), Black and Satin Surf Green (both with maple fingerboards), while the Telecaster comes in Honey Burst, Satin Sonic Blue (both with rosewood fingerboards), Vintage White and the incredibly cool shiny copper Penny (both with maple fingerboards).
The real beauty of these instruments lies deeper than their striking looks. Both feature newly designed Yosemite single-coil pickups that blend Alnico 2, 4 or 5 magnets in various installation positions, which are shellac-dipped (as is the case with many '60s Fender pickups) for open-sounding tone, and wound to provide optimum tone for their respective positions.
The Stratocaster HSS has a Double Tap humbucking pickup at the bridge with a coil-splitting function that is engaged via the lower tone knob’s push/pull pot. Both models are equipped with a Greasebucket tone circuit that maintains gain and clarity when you back down the Tele’s master tone or the Strat HSS’s bridge tone controls.
Playability and performance upgrades to both models include 22 jumbo frets installed on the necks, which have a 'Modern C'-shaped profile, 9.5-inch radius and satin finish. New ClassicGear tuners provide an ultra-accurate 18:1 ratio and super-smooth feel.
Purists and perfections will particularly appreciate the elements Fender didn’t change. The American Performer Telecaster has a vintage-style 'ashtray' bridge with three brass barrel saddles, which Tele enthusiasts insist is essential for definitive Tele tone.
The American Performer Stratocaster HSS has a six-saddle vintage-style synchronized tremolo bridge, and the late-'60s/'70s-style oversized headstock is a welcome detail for discriminating tone connoisseurs - just ask Jimi, Ritchie or Yngwie. Both models feature alder bodies as well.
Fender chose the right name for this new series of guitars as they are true performers in every sense of the word. The Yosemite single-coil pickups deliver 'bucket list' Strat and Tele tones better than anything Fender has produced for their sub-$2,000 guitars in the last decade or so.
The tones are ballsy and full-bodied, hitting the amp’s front-end with Manny Pacquiao punch and singing with Freddie Mercury sweetness. The coolest aspect about the Strat HSS’s pickups is that the output is perfectly balanced between the humbucker’s dual-and split-coil settings as well between the full humbucker and middle/neck pickups.
While the jumbo frets certainly measure meatier than typical medium-jumbo frets, they don’t feel overly big under the fingertips, providing satisfying fast and smooth action and maintaining body and sustain when pushing bent notes to the limit. The 'Modern C' neck profile is slim but feels substantial and solid in the player’s hands. These are some of the most comfortable stock Strat and Tele necks I’ve ever played.
The overall construction quality is immaculate and flawless. The necks fit super-snug into the body pockets, every screw is perfectly installed and the overall attention to detail is shockingly good for guitars in this price range - and beyond! Whether you’re looking for a first Strat or Tele or considering an upgrade, the American Performer series models are very worthy contenders.
STREET PRICE: $1,099.99
MANUFACTURER: Fender, fender.com
- New Yosemite single-coil pickups are individually voiced to each model and installation position.
- The Greasebucket tone system maintains clarity and consistent gain no matter where the tone knobs are positioned.
- The Stratocaster HSS has a DoubleTap humbucking pickup at the bridge with a coil-split function accessible via the lower push/pull tone knob.
- The Telecaster has a vintage-style 'ashtray' bridge with three brass barrel saddles that deliver classic Tele twang.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Fender’s American Performer solidbody guitars offer gigging guitarists incredible value for a US-built instrument with upgraded features and classic essentials that discriminating players demand.