Review: Fender American Vintage Series Stratocaster and Telecaster

The following content is related to the March 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now, or in our online store.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a guitar collector say he wished he had a time machine and a wad of cash so he could go back to the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies to stockpile a hoard of classic guitars, I’d be able to afford my own collection of vintage axes that would make Billy Gibbons green with envy. With the introduction of its new American Vintage Series guitars, Fender has eliminated the need for a time machine, as these guitars offer accurate reproductions of Fender classics that look, feel, sound and play just like the original models did back when they were brand spankin’ new. Even cooler is the fact that the prices are well within the budgets of most players.

To date, Fender has issued 14 American Vintage guitars, including Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster, Jaguar and Jazz Bass models, each based on pristine original examples from benchmark years and duplicated in exacting detail. Fender even restored original tooling and replicated vintage manufacturing processes to make these instruments as close to the real thing as possible. For this we review, I checked out the American Vintage ’65 Stratocaster and American Vintage ’52 Telecaster.


The ’52 Telecaster and ’65 Stratocaster are so iconic that it’s not really necessary to discuss the usual features, but it is worth noting a few details that stand out from the typical reissues. While Fender has offered the stunning ’52 Reissue Telecaster model for quite some time, the American Vintage version is so much like the original that only its minty-fresh appearance reveals that its not from the Fifties. The neck has the same hefty, rounded U-shaped profile commonly found on original ’52 examples, and the featherweight ash body is finished the same light-butterscotch hue instead of the notably darker yellow color found on the reissues. One concession to modern preferences is the pickup wiring, which provides the standard bridge/both/neck pickup settings instead of the original neck bass/neck normal/bridge normal settings, although parts and a wiring schematic are provided for traditionalists, should they want to convert the guitar to the original specs.

The ’65 Stratocaster provides a similar walk down memory lane, with its period-correct rounded, laminated rosewood fretboard with large pearl dot inlays and C-shaped neck profile. The Dakota Red finish on the test example was spot on, with a rich glow that perfectly matched the few unfaded original Dakota Red guitars I’ve seen. Like the ’52 Telecaster, the pickup wiring is the only modern adjustment, and in this case a five-position pickup selector replaces the three-position selector found on the original version. Once again, Fender has included a three-position switch that purists can install in the guitar if they want 100 percent original specs.

It should also be noted that the pickups on all American Vintage models are custom wound to provide period-correct sound and specs. While these specs could vary significantly back in the day, here Fender has chosen the best examples from each period and painstaking copied the details to provide consistency between one example of a model and the next.


Strapping on these guitars and plugging them into a vintage amp is probably the closest thing to a time-machine trip that a guitarist can experience in this lifetime. That elusive vintage vibe is there but in a totally new guitar without years of wear, tear and abuse. If you’ve played great vintage Fender guitars, you’ll recognize these beloved Fender tones immediately. And if those tones have eluded you, these guitars will likely provide the satisfaction you’ve long sought.

Players who aren’t used to vintage guitars may find the ’52 Tele’s radius a bit too round and the frets somewhat small, but this is how a Tele was shipped from the factory back in the day. Fender offers plenty of guitars with modern features, but these models are long-awaited concessions to players who have longed yearned for original specs to return. Picking one up almost psychically puts guitarists into a particular timeframe mindset, as the ’52 Tele begs you to churn out raunchy rockabilly, clucking country or chiming Keef riffs, while the ’65 Strat leans toward surf city and British Invasion vibes. Simply put, these guitars aren’t just like the real thing—they are the real deal.

Cheat Sheet

List Prices American Vintage ’52 Telecaster, $2,499.99; American Vintage ’65 Stratocaster, $2,874.99

Manufacturer Fender,

Both are accurate, period-correct reproductions of classic, vintage Fender guitars based upon the finest original examples in pristine condition.

The American Vintage ’52 Telecaster has the same light butterscotch finish, U-shaped neck profile, 7.25-inch fretboard radius and featherweight ash body as on the original.

The American Vintage ’65 Stratocaster comes with either a sunburst, Olympic White or Dakota Red finish and features a rounded, laminated rosewood fretboard.

All American Vintage models have specially wound pickups that accurately replicate the specs and sound of their original vintage counterparts.

The Bottom Line

With the American Vintage Series, Fender has definitively proven that it can make guitars like they used to but at prices that everyday working guitarists can afford and take to gigs without a Lloyds of London insurance policy.

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Paul Riario

Paul Riario has been the tech/gear editor and online video presence for Guitar World for over 25 years. Paul is one of the few gear editors who has actually played and owned nearly all the original gear that most guitarists wax poetically about, and has survived this long by knowing every useless musical tidbit of classic rock, new wave, hair metal, grunge, and alternative genres. When Paul is not riding his road bike at any given moment, he remains a working musician, playing in two bands called SuperTrans Am and Radio Nashville.