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Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special HT and Paranormal Toronado review

Think Squier only offers budget-friendly versions of Fender designs? Here are two electric guitars that prove the brand has more going on than meets the eye

Squier Contemporary Stratocaster and Paranormal Toronado
(Image: © Fender)

Our Verdict

Offering classy styling and unique tones, these highly affordable new Squier models are equally perfect for beginners seeking outstanding value as well as experienced players looking to expand their sonic options without compromising quality and playability.

For

  • Both guitars offer different but thrilling sounds.
  • Cool finish options.
  • No argument with the price.

Against

  • Well, these are obviously not for purists.

40 years ago, Fender introduced the Squier brand to provide affordable versions of the company’s flagship instruments like the Stratocaster and Telecaster and compete with low-priced import copies of those instruments. 

Since then, both beginning players looking for an inexpensive first instrument and experienced guitarists looking for great value have turned to Squier guitars, which have consistently delivered exceptional bang for the buck.

While Squier started out offering what were essentially authorized copies of original Fender production models, in more recent times the brand shifted to offering its own original models in addition to the usual Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars (which now also include the Classic Vibe series with period-correct details). 

Squier’s Affinity, Contemporary and Paranormal series each have their own distinct approach and offer a variety of models and features that aren’t available in Fender-brand counterparts.

We took a closer look at the new Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special HT and Paranormal Toronado and discovered that both offer distinctive sounds and performance that truly deserve consideration on their own merits without even considering the bonus of their budget prices.

Features

The Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special HT is a Strat, but not as we know it, Jim. While it may share the same sculpted asymmetrical double-cutaway body shape and has three single-coil pickups, the middle pickup is positioned much closer to the bridge pickup and all three pickups are angled.

Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special HT Pearl White

(Image credit: Fender)

The switching is also customized to provide the following five pickup settings: bridge/middle series (humbucking), middle only, middle/neck (parallel), bridge/middle/neck, and neck only. The control configuration is simplified as well, consisting of master volume and master tone knobs instead of the Strat’s standard three-knob volume/tone/tone setup. The pickups are Squier SQR Alnico single-coils.

Other notable features of the Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special HT include a roasted maple neck with Indian laurel fingerboard, 12-inch radius, 22 medium jumbo frets, graphite nut and black-finished oversized headstock face, a sculpted neck heel with asymmetrical four-bolt neck plate and black hardware, which includes a six-saddle string-thru-body hardtail bridge with block saddles (the regular Contemporary Stratocaster Special features a modern two-point tremolo bridge). 

Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special

(Image credit: Fender)

The Squier Paranormal Toronado resurrects the underrated Fender Toronado model originally produced from 1998 until 2006. The Toronado resembles the offset body shape of a Jazzmaster but with a wider, more voluptuous profile. The Toronado also breaks with Fender convention by featuring a 24.75-inch scale length and a pair of Squier Atomic humbucking pickups. 

With its poplar body and bolt-on maple neck with Indian laurel fingerboard, the Toronado combines attributes of F- and G-style guitars to deliver a fresh and different tonal personality and feel.

Features of the Paranormal Tornado include 22 narrow tall frets, 9.5-inch radius, C-shape profile, three-position pickup selector toggle (bridge, both, neck settings), six-saddle string-thru-body hardtail bridge, vintage-style tuners and four knurled flat-top chrome control knobs (individual volume and tone controls for each pickup).

Squier Paranormal Series electric guitars and basses

(Image credit: Fender)

Performance

The only detail that distinguishes these guitars as budget instruments is the Squier name on the headstock. In terms of style, construction, playability, tone and sonic personality, these models deliver truly professional gig-worthy performance. 

The fretwork is outstanding, with comfortably rounded edges and smooth surfaces that allow the strings to glide when bending notes. Unlike many past Squier models, pickup and hardware upgrades aren’t really necessary, and the pickups in particular deliver a good amount of both models’ appeal. 

Squier Paranormal Toronado

(Image credit: Fender)

The Contemporary Stratocaster Special is impressively versatile, providing a great combo of popular Strat-style tones as well as distinctive original tones you won’t find elsewhere (including the bridge/middle humbucking and all pickup settings).

Similarly, the Paranormal Toronado has its own unique sonic signature that’s brighter than the usual dual-humbucker/set neck sound, falling into a territory that’s fatter and hotter than Gretsch Filtertrons and P90-style pickups but with more treble bite and midrange throatiness than common humbucker tones. 

The quality and attention to detail knocked me out. With its black hardware and roasted maple neck the Contemporary Stratocaster Special looks like a custom instrument, and the Mystic Seafoam finish of the Paranormal Toronado was similarly eye-catching. Setup was excellent out of the box, with only a few intonation and truss rod tweaks needed to make it ready for the stage or a session.

Specs

Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special HT

  • PRICE: $459 / £325
  • BODY: Poplar
  • NECK: Maple, C shape
  • SCALE: 25.5” (610mm)
  • FINGERBOARD: Indian Laurel, 12” radius
  • FRETS: 22, jumbo
  • PICKUPS: 3x Squier SQR Alnico single-coils
  • CONTROLS: Master volume, Master tone, 5-Position Blade, Special Switching
  • HARDWARE: 6-Saddle String-Through-Body Hardtail With Block Saddles, die-cast sealed tuners
  • LEFT-HANDED: No
  • FINISH: Pearl White, Sky Burst Metallic, Sunset Metallic
  • CONTACT: Fender (opens in new tab)

Squier Paranormal Toronado

  • PRICE: $449 / £339
  • BODY: Poplar
  • NECK: Maple, C shape
  • SCALE: 24.75”
  • FINGERBOARD: Indian Laurel, 9.5” radius
  • FRETS: 22, narrow tall
  • PICKUPS: 2x Squier Atomic Humbuckers
  • CONTROLS: 2x volume, 2x tone, 3-way pickup selector
  • HARDWARE:  6-Saddle Strings-Through-Body Hardtail, vintage-style tuners
  • LEFT-HANDED: No
  • FINISH: Mystic Seafoam, 3-Tone Sunburst

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Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.