Before we get into our Fender Player Stratocaster Review, let’s consider the good old Fender Stratocaster.
You don’t need to say too much more. In 1954 Leo Fender placed his first Stratocaster in the shops. In 1954 we doubt he had the faintest idea of what would happen. It has been called the guitar that changed the world, but it had a bit of a slow start. Buddy Holly played one, but it was a guitar ahead of its time in many ways.
Fender had already produced the Telecaster and the Precision bass, but this was different. It was a bit ahead of its time and had to wait for the world to catch up. Leo was viewed with skepticism by the stodgy old bores in Nashville who thought music belonged to them. Sorry fellas, it didn’t then and doesn’t now.
They didn’t like the non-musician upstart from California. He didn’t like them much either by all accounts. But he created something unique in the guitar world. The Stratocaster is probably still the most recognizable shape for a guitar.
I bet Leo never thought one day Jimi Hendrix would play it with his teeth and set fire to it. Or that one day Dave Gilmour’s black Strat would sell at nearly 4 million dollars. Thus becoming the most expensive guitar in the world despite all its modifications. Or that Richie Blackmore would throw it around mid solo by its whammy bar.
It is a unique instrument. It might not have changed the world. There are other contenders, like the invention of Penicillin, that justify that honor more. But it certainly changed music. And it is still here…
The Strat has been through some rocky times. It was first built in the US, where it has been brilliant and then just plain terrible. It has been ordinary and at times, out of fashion. And it was sent to Asia and to Mexico to be made for the purposes of cost-cutting. It has been cheaply made and had a cheaper Fender-owned Squier version. It has seen dozens and dozens of companies copy it. And it has seen various reincarnations, but it is still here.
The Strat ironically mirrors the fortunes of Fender the company itself. A great idea that went tragically wrong and never really recovered despite the marketing hype. In many ways, Fender the company lost the plot, as did Gibson, years ago, and both have been trying to recreate the past. It is just not going to happen, and it’s time they both accepted that.
In many ways, Fender was saved from an inexorable downhill spiral by a CBS man, William Schultz. CBS takes the blame for many of Fenders’ early problems after they bought it from Leo in 1965. It is ironic then that one of them helped to at least get it back on track. He helped to put in motion an employee buy-out in 1985 and to a certain extent, a rebranding. Standards improved, and things got better. But they are still in recovery mode even now.
The Fender Player Stratocaster is a move in the right direction. They are not claiming it sounds like this guitar or that year. It is not a vintage Strat. Or you can sound like..? It is what it is. A cheaper version of the guitar that once changed music but has now, apart from a few vintage relics, gone forever.
The Fender Player series is worth a close look. It replaced the Standard Strat series that was made in Mexico in 2020. They are quite similar in many ways. The new Strat, though, has an extra fret making 22 and a two-point tremolo. The pickups are not as hot as the original Mexican efforts. This gives it more of a Strat sound. There is also a tone control for the bridge pickup. More on the later.
This Player Series Strat is also made down Mexico way, and a wider audience can now get their hands on a genuine Fender Strat.
Since 1956 the principal wood used in the body construction of a Stratocaster has been Alder. Whether at the time its tonewood potential was understood is unclear as a lot of guitars were made from mahogany.
Alder is wood that is only medium-weight. It produces a clear sound that is full-bodied. The mids are powerful, and the lows warm and resonant, but the top does fizz somewhat. Ideal then for the toppy Strat sound. It is bright and crisp, with a good sustain level. Its crisp attack sounds ideal for what Leo was looking for in the early days.
Mahogany is a wider sound much more suited to the Les Paul. Alder wood was a good choice. We might add that its not only the Strat. Telecasters, Precision and Jazz basses get it as well. A solid piece then is the order of the day for the Fender Player. It is given a gloss finish in Polar White. There is a white scratchplate in the traditional styling.
The contoured body shape, of course, is a ‘set in stone’ feature. It wouldn’t be a Strat without it. Neither would it be a Strat without that jack socket. A simple thing that is so much a part of the design.
The neck is not as the original Stratocaster neck was designed. This is a more modern ‘C’ shape profile. It has to be said though that the neck shape is good and comfortable and will suit most playing styles. This may, of course, be why it has been designed this way.
Made from Maple wood with a Maple fretboard, it has a fretboard radius of 9.5 inches. It has been given an extra 22nd fret as against the original Stratocasters that had 21. A quick word about the frets. Contrary to some opinions, Fender uses nickel-silver fret wire by Dunlop.
It is a bolt-on neck with a dual-action truss rod. This type of rod will create either a convex or alternatively a concave shape for the fingerboard disregarding the pull of the strings.
The neck has the standard dots on the fingerboard and is finished with satin polyurethane glossy coating. This gives a nice smooth feel to the playing action, and some do think it makes it faster.
All fairly standard hardware and nothing to get particularly excited about. We wouldn’t say corners have been cut, but the equipment may not be the best you could find. When you are producing a budget range guitar, which let’s be honest, this is, even though it is at the very top of the budget range, then there does need to be some savings.
Up at the headstock are some Fender machine heads. These are standard sealed units that do the job. There is also a synthetic bone nut. The old six-point tremolo is replaced by a new two-point design. This has steel saddles. It is a design that does restrict any friction against the posts. This will help to keep the guitar in tune. All the hardware is chrome plated.
Ah, the pickups. To us, a really important area. We are sure to upset a few people here now, but we are going to pass an opinion anyway, and it is a purely personal opinion. We are afraid we are a bit old school with these things.
When we see a Strat that Fender has made with a humbucker, it is not a Strat. A Strat has single-coil pickups. A Strat does not have a Humbucker. If you want a humbucker, go and buy a Gibson. Likewise, while we are on the subject, a Precision does not have an active pickup. If it does, it is not a Precision bass. Precisions have one single-coil pickup. End of!
If you see a humbucker on a Fender, feel sorry for the company for trying to do something they are not. Leave the humbuckers to the other lot, now in Nashville. Thankfully we are presented here with this Fender Player series, with three single-coil pickups. It is, therefore, a Fender. Decent pickups they are as well.
I am not going to say they have recreated an original sounding pickup. That is not possible, but they are crisp and clear. They have Alnico 5 magnets. These give, and have always given, a nicely balanced low end with a mid-range that can be subtle or punchy.
But it is the top end we are looking for and that ‘bell-like’ sounding dynamic is evident. The three pickups have a heritage to maintain, and they do that without trying to be ‘vintage,’ which they are not. The sound they give, though, is as you would expect from a modern Fender Strat. At the price of the instrument, it is a good value sound.
Here is something that we don’t often say. There is an improvement in the controls over the original Stratocasters. They are standard, of course, visually. Three knobs and a sliding pickup selector. There are the volume and two tone controls. Two tone controls but three pickups.
On the Fender Player Series, the first tone control operates for both middle and neck pickups. The second tone is for the bridge pickup. So all three pickups now have a little tonal control, and the bridge pickup is included in the configuration. There is a 5-way switch for pick and joint pick up selection.
How Does It Play?
For decades the Strat has been one of the most popular instruments because it was so nice to hold and comfortable to play. The Fender Player has maintained that style with its contoured body. Whilst the neck has changed shape over the years, it is still comfortable and easy to play. It doesn’t need a bodybuilder to lift as some guitars do, and it feels easy.
Pete Townshend, who has smashed up a few Les Pauls’s, SG’s and Rickenbackers. And we might add, a few Strats in his time, recently remarked that he plays the Strat all the time now because when he holds, it feels like it is a part of him. It gets you like that, and through the years and all the ups and downs, that is something that hasn’t changed; it feels good. This Strat also feels good.
How Does It Sound?
When Leo Fender designed the Stratocaster, he wanted it to have a unique sound. He designed it with three single-coil pickups. He was successful. It sounded like no other guitar at the time, even with that hum. It didn’t take long for some guitarists to realize that you could play with the pickup selector. Position it halfway between one and two, and two and three, you got a different sound. They called it the Fender Strat ‘quack’.
Nowadays, there is a five-position selector so we can all ‘quack’ as much as we like. All those lovely sounds are now at the flick of a switch. All the sounds of the modern Strat are here. Many of which define what this guitar is all about. A great top end and some warm bottom end with a gutsy mid-range. It is a unique sound. It might not be what it was, but it still beats the competition.
Fender Player Stratocaster Pros & Cons
- Arguably the most iconic shape of guitar ever!
- Comfortable and very playable neck.
- Three very nice single coils.
- Lots of quality tonal options.
- Nothing quite feels or plays like a proper Fender Strat!
- None, how could there be, it’s a Fender Strat!
We like Fender guitars, that much is probably obvious by now. So when we do a Fender Player Stratocaster review, we are going to appreciate the instrument and its heritage. But we are also sometimes critical. We are not so much critical of the guitars. They range from ordinary to very good without the excellence they have had.
We are, though, sometimes amazed at the decisions the company makes. And we are not sure of their marketing or sales strategies.
There is no doubt about that and worth the money. But let us stop a minute and consider who it is for. A new US Stratocaster will cost you twice the price of this Player series. Is it twice as good? Fender has a budget range of guitars already in Squier. There Strat is a decent guitar at half the price of the Player Series.
Is it for someone that can’t afford an American made Fender? If so, what is the Squier for? Is it supposed to sit in the middle? A ‘real’ Fender but not really because it is made in Mexico. How condescending. The quality of the Squier we can say from personal experience is pretty good. It is half the price again of the Fender Player series. We sometimes wonder if Fender knows the direction they are heading.
This Fender Player series is a good guitar, as we have said. It is not vintage, and it doesn’t try to be. But the US ones aren’t either. Is it a good investment for the money? Definitely.
It is a good guitar that will serve you well. It sounds good and plays well and may well be better value than a more expensive version. So go and get yourself one of these, and we can all ‘quack’ together.