I am going to pull no punches with this Fender Mexican vs American Stratocaster review. Probably going to upset a few “we can do no wrong” attitudes, but I’m not interested in that. I am going to tell it as I see it. It’s my opinion, to which I believe I am entitled.
I played Fender basses all of my professional life. I have championed some of them, not all, against all rivals. When the Fender Precision is right, no other bass comes close. So, you could say I am a “Fender man.”
I still have two Precisions, one a ‘62, now in storage, made when Fender knew how to make guitars. And the one I use now is an ‘85 “Made in Japan” model. I use that these days because it is better than its “Made in the USA” equivalents. I have also got a very old and a very good Gibson EBO…but shh… we don’t talk about the enemy’.
The UK’s First Comedy Store
The famous comedy club, “The Comedy Store,” opened in 1979 and laid claim to it being the first of its kind in London. Wrong. The Fender Soundhouse had been open, Seymour Duncan and all, since 1973. That was much funnier.
It was there that I tried two different “Made in USA” Fender Precisions. Both had been “set up and ready to go,” I was told by a salesman who couldn’t find the jack socket. They were so bad that the only place they should have gone was on the fire. My buddy who was with me tried a Strat and a Tele and said the same. A shambles.
We left. CBS had done a great job of destroying the legacy that Leo had given the world. So this “Made in America” logo that seems to excite so many people means nothing to me. But we shall see how the American-made Strat shapes up against the seemingly lesser appreciated Mexican version.
The Guitar of the Greats?
Some would say so. Jeff Beck, Dave Gilmour, Richie Blackmore, Rory Gallagher, and Pete Townshend. Mark Knopfler, Jimi Hendrix, and even going back to Buddy Holly. The list of famous Stratocaster guitar players just goes on. They would all agree there is something special about the Fender Strat. I wouldn’t disagree when they are made well.
I often wonder if Leo knew quite what he was doing when he sold out to CBS. Maybe the offer of 13 million dollars, in 1965 a rather considerable sum of money, was the clincher. That was more than CBS paid for the New York Yankees. In my opinion, Fender never fully recovered.
Bill Schultz was brought in from Yamaha by CBS in 1981. Maybe they suddenly realized what they had done, or hadn’t done. There was a little revival when he took control in a buy-out in ‘85. But the damage had been done. They were not the same and haven’t been since.
The Irreplaceable Stratocaster
An obvious question, “What makes a Fender Stratocaster so special?” Quite a few things, but the most obvious is the deep contours on the body. A unique design was thrust upon us in 1954. This was three years after the first Precision basses had arrived. Leo and Fender ruled the world.
Those instantly recognizable contours came about because people who used Telecasters, or Broadcasters as they were, said the edges of the Tele were a bit uncomfortable. The Strat design fitted the body perfectly, as did the Precisions.
There were some other differences added, such as the extra middle pickup, which added some extra tone to a one-trick pony Telecaster. The Strat was here, and it made an impact. A few years have passed since then. But time now to look at the American Strat and the Mexican Strat. Or, more accurately, American Professional Strat vs Fender Player Strat.
Fender Mexican vs American Stratocaster
Let’s have a little competition.
This is one of the differences we see very early. The American Strat is made of three pieces of Ash. The Mexican from Alder. The original, classic-sounding Stratocasters were made from Alder. This apart from a few early Strats from 1954 that were for a few years made from Ash.
But by the time of Buddy Holly in ‘58, they were Alder. Most of the great players bought their guitars from the late 50s to early 60s, and they are Alder. CBS started the change to Ash in the 70s. You know, those “Soundhouse days.”
Ash or Alder?
Is one better than the other? Personal choice. Ash is a very hard wood, and it usually weighs a bit more than Alder. Fender likes it because it has a lighter color and a nice straight grain. A pointless argument when it has a colored finish on it. Unless, of course, you are going for a natural or transparent finish.
As a sound, it produces decent levels of sustain and some very recognizable highs. It has a mellow and more rounded tone with a top-end that doesn’t destroy your eardrums. A lot of people prefer the sound of Ash.
Alder, on the other hand, is what the Fender Strat is all about. Resonant with a real punch coming from the upper mids with oodles of sustain. And, of course, that ear-shattering rip from the top end. The “Strat sound” that many people so covet was probably Alder. For me, it would have to be an Alder body every time.
Mexico 1 – America 0
Not a lot to choose between them here. They are virtually identical in terms of their design and manufacture. The pickups are of the same design but made in different places. In Korea or Mexico for the Mexican version and made in America for the Americans.
The potentiometers for the volume controls for both guitars are made in Taiwan. The five-way sliders for both guitars are made in Mexico. As I said, not a lot between them, so a point each.
Mexico 2 – America 1
On the guitars I looked at, both the Mexican Player series and the American Professional have Maple necks. They are both given a deep C shape. There does seem to be some confusion here, though.
In one set of literature, it will tell you that the Mexican Player version only has 21 frets, and the American version 22. This does not appear to be wholly accurate. The Player we looked at had 22 frets, as did the American Pro.
Fender has a bit of a reputation for getting their specs wrong. If you want to be cynical, some would say they do it on purpose. Although I can’t see the value of that. It is a ‘C’ shape, just barely. But it is getting close to what you could call a ‘U’ shape.
And the neck shape?
They call it a ‘Modern C.’ Perhaps that refers to the 9.5-inch radius. Some of the classic early 60s Strats had a flatter 7.5-inch radius.
The necks, though, are similar. Reasonably comfortable to play and carry no inherent problems. Not exactly sure why the extra fret is listed as if it was a selling point, but there you are. Both necks are inherently the same, so one point each.
Mexico 3- America 2
While we are on the subject of necks, let’s take a quick look at the truss rod setup for both. Fender attaches marketing emphasis to a “unique” Bi-Flex truss rod system on the Professional series.
An added screw located beneath the seventh fret serves as an anchor to the rod. Using this, you can move the neck in both directions. An added ‘bonus’ is the micro tilt giving you further directional changes.
The Mexican Player series has the traditional truss rod…
You know the one that served the Strat so well until Fender decided something should change. Fender necks, in my opinion, are very stable anyway. In 40 years, I have never had a problem and only once had to make a minor adjustment.
Yes, you can only move the traditional truss rod one way. But when you rarely have to, it isn’t going to make a difference or be worth a complete redesign. Sorry Fender, it is not important enough to warrant the investment. The traditional truss rod is fine.
Mexico 4 – America 2
Let’s start with the machine heads or tuners for this Fender Mexican vs American Stratocaster review. They are both fitted with the same closed-back standard two-pin style tuner. Fender has usually chosen decent machine heads for their electric guitars, and these are more than adequate.
Here there are some differences between American and Mexican Strats. Securing the bridge to the body on the American, there are five screws, whereas there are only two for the Mexican.
This again adds to the confusion because that only applies to some. I decided to check and looked at five American Professional Strats. Three had five screws, and two had two screws.
I did the same for the Mexican and came up with a similar balance of whether it was two or five. I am tempted to say, typical Fender. They have lost the plot again. So whichever you choose, it will be the toss of a coin whether you get five or two.
The saddles on the Mexican Player are not nickel-plated but chrome-dipped. This will mean they will be likely to lose their finish much quicker. That does seem to be standard across the range.
The bridge on the Player series is made in Korea. Nothing particularly wrong with that other than they have used a slightly cheaper metal. That’s not the Koreans fault; that is a Fender decision.
For awarding points, I will have to ignore the five screws or two situations. These are both Fender guitars, of course. But the American bridge is better made, and the saddles are of better quality.
Mexico 4 – America 3
This is an area where it becomes a personal choice. The Mexican Player is given a Polyester finish. That means it is harder, able to withstand a few knocks. It is shiny and will probably stay looking new for longer.
With the professional series, Fender seems to have tried to create a vintage feel by giving it a lacquer finish. I am not sure how giving the guitar a polyurethane finish adds nostalgia to it. The vast majority of people couldn’t tell the difference anyway. I would prefer the polyester finish personally but points to both as it is a personal choice.
Mexico 5 – America 4
This is an interesting part of the discussion. You might think you are getting something that sounds like a Fender Strat used to sound, but you would be wrong. Those days are long gone. Furthermore, in talking to some guitarists, the American Strat isn’t much better, if at all in the sound department.
The difference is minimal, a little bit brighter maybe from the Mexican, but that might be down to the Alder. Considering the price gap, you might expect the American to be noticeably better. It isn’t.
Mexico 6 – America 4
Value For Money
There is one reason to choose an American Strat over a Mexican Strat. That is so that you can buy into, as someone put it, “The Fender legacy.” But in real terms, the “real Fender legacy” disappeared in 1965. That pre-CBS Fender legacy is going to cost you. At the price points of both and considering what I have looked at, Mexico wins in value for money.
Mexico 7 – America 4
Ain’t What They Used to Be
It seems criminal to have to say this given what they were, but they just aren’t the same now. They are not alone, of course. Gibson also had their aberrations. Suddenly deciding they want to have a turntable company wasn’t a good business decision, and that sent them to the verge of bankruptcy.
You only have to look at Fender’s product range now to see that in the main, the quality has just gone. Even in their acoustic ranges, of which some are an embarrassment to the Fender name. They seem to be living in Disneyworld, thinking just the name will carry them. Pun intended. A lot of people see through the facade now and have gone elsewhere.
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Fender Mexican vs American Stratocaster – Conclusion
The Mexican Player is a good guitar for the money. It plays well, sounds good, and is at a price more people can afford. The American Professional is also a good guitar despite everything. But not significantly better than the Mexican. And certainly not twice the price better. But for those that find these things important, it is an American Stratocaster.
That is what I find most frustrating about this whole scenario. They are both “good” guitars. Fender shouldn’t make “good” guitars. They should make “great” ones. Here they both are, with an extra option: Fender American Professional II Stratocaster and Fender Player Stratocaster.
But if you want a Fender-made Strat and don’t mind the Squier name, this Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Stratocaster might be better than both of them.
I will always be a “Fender man”
But it saddens me to see how they have deteriorated. And people can say, “Oh, their guitars are good!” Not if you compare them to what they were, they aren’t. But I will still play mine, and a couple of my buddies will still play their pre-65 Strats.
Fender guitars are special, and I don’t care where they are made if they sound good. But I don’t want them to be good; I want them to be great. Neither of these two guitars is great. But the Mexican Player Stratocaster offers excellent value for money, so it would be my pick.
Until next time, let your music play.