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Stratocaster Buying Guide: Fender Insiders Compare 8 Electric Guitar Models

Learn about what to consider when buying a Strat® and watch Fender Insiders including guitarists Cory Wong and Melanie Faye play 8 popular models including the Player, Vintera '50s, and Ultra.

As Keith Richards once said, "The Strat is as sturdy and strong as a mule, yet it has the elegance of a racehorse. It's got everything you need, and that's rare to find in anything." The Stratocaster® is the quintessential electric guitar—a worldwide archetype; the basic form that leaps to mind at the very mention of the phrase "electric guitar." Years after the quote, the Strat is as popular as ever and evolved with the times. In this guide Fender Insiders will review and compare the following 8 popular series of the iconic Stratocaster®:

-- The Player Series Strat® with Melanie Faye
-- The Vintera 50s Strat® with Christone "Kingfish" Ingram
-- The American Performer Series Strat® with Curt Henderson
-- The Limited Edition HM Strat® with Chris Greatti and Ethan Brosh.
-- The Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Strat® with Dinesh Lekhasi
-- The American Original '50s Strat® with Tyler Bryant
-- The American Ultra Strat® HSS with Cory Wong
-- The American Acoustasonic Strat® with Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings

Looking for a beginner guitar? Our interactive gear guide, FindYour.Fender.com, matches you with the perfect model by learning about your sound & style. You’ll be well on your way to finding the right guitar for you.

But first, an introduction to the Stratocaster®.

Finding The Best Stratocaster For You

There is no such thing as the perfect Stratocaster®. What thrills one set of ears may not thrill another. What one player loves about one particular guitar might be a show-stopper for someone else. That's what makes each and every Fender so unique and personal. We've put together a short guide of important considerations when selecting a Strat®. Learning about the parts of the guitar and the materials used to make them can help you find the perfect guitar for your preferences. Time to get acquainted with the basics and then browse 8 models with Fender Insiders

Anatomy of a Stratocaster

Stratocaster Bodies

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Modern Stratocaster bodies are still made of the same woods the originals were made from over 60 years ago: alder and ash. Most contemporary Strats are alder, while the Strats featured in the Deluxe range feature ash bodies.

Alder

The alder used in most Fender guitars boasts many sonic advantages. Not especially dense, it’s a lightweight, closed-pore wood that has a resonant, balanced tone brighter than other hardwoods, with a little more emphasis in the upper midrange. It imparts excellent sustain and sharp attack.

Ash

Ash can be difficult to work with. The pores must be filled before finishes are applied, and two swamp ash guitar bodies are more likely to differ from one another tonally than two bodies made of alder, which has a tighter, more consistent grain. Ash imparts articulation and presence with a great balance between brightness and warmth, and it looks great.

READ MORE: Ash vs. Alder: What's the Diff?


Stratocaster Necks

This is one place where each of the seven Strat models compared here differ from one another, though most are 25.5" scale with a 9.5" fingerboard radius, 22 frets and some variation on a "C"-shaped neck.

Neck Shape

Fender offers guitars with a handful of different neck profiles, but the guitars included here feature variations on the classic "C"-shaped neck, which has a more rounded profile than the pointed "V" or flatter "U" style.

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-- The Player and Performer feature Modern "C" necks, which are slightly thinner than the classic "C" found on the Classic Series, but not as thin as the thin "C" neck profile of the HM Strat®.
-- The American Acoustasonic features a newer, Modern "Deep C" neck, which is slightly thicker than a Modern "C".
-- The American Ultra offers a Modern "D" neck.
-- The Vintera 50s Strat® and American Original 50s feature a soft "V"-shaped neck, however the The American Orginal neck is a bit thicker than the standard soft "V".

READ MORE: C-V-U? Which Neck Shape Is for You?

Fingerboard Radius

The fingerboard radius is the measure of the arc of the fingerboard across its width. The HM Strat® features the flattest fingerboard with a radius of 17", while the Vintera '50s Stratocaster features the roundest fingerboard with a radius at 7.25".

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The Ultra features a 10”-14” compound radius that get flatter as you progress up the neck.

READ MORE: What Is Fingerboard Radius?

Fret Sizes

Fret size refers to the actual fret wire used to create the frets. If you like your fingers to actually touch the fingerboard when fretting the strings medium jumbo or vintage frets are likely for you. On the other hand, jumbo fret wire can provide easier playability with better sustain, tone and bending because you don’t have to press as hard to fret the strings, but your fingers probably won’t even touch the fingerboard, which could take some getting used to if you’re accustomed to smaller frets.

-- The American Original '50s Stratocaster® features tall vintage-style frets
-- The Ultra and Vintera models feature medium jumbo frets
-- The Performer, SRV and HM Strats feature jumbo frets

READ MORE: Narrow Tall? Medium Jumbo? Fret Sizes Explained

"How many frets are on a Stratocaster?"

The answer for every model here is either 21, 22 or 24.

-- 21 Frets: The American Original, Vintera '50s and SRV Signature
-- 22 Frets: Player, Ultra, Acoustasonic, Performer
-- 24 Frets: HM Strat

Maple or Rosewood Fingerboard?

Rosewood is known for being a softer, warmer tonewood. On the the other hand, Maple produces a much brighter and percussive sound.

Check out the Fender Shop for which fretboard options are available for each series. Note, depending on the series certain color options are not available in both fingerboard options.

Stratocaster Headstocks

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Alone among Fender's guitars, the Stratocaster actually has two headstock options: the smaller, streamlined headstock (seen at left) and the larger, CBS-era headstocks (at right). Why? It's simple, really. The Columbia Broadcasting Company—yes, that CBS—owned Fender for two decades from early 1965 to 1985. One of CBS's first changes to Fender instrument design was the introduction of a larger headstock. Why? To accomodate a larger logo decal, of course.

Some people prefer the smaller headstock, which was introduced in 1954 and mostly solidified by 1957. Others prefer the larger, which was introduced in December 1965. It's really just a matter of personal taste.

If you prefer the larger headstock you can find it on the American Special and the Deluxe Strat models.

READ MORE: How the Strat Came to Have Two Heads


Stratocaster Electronics

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All Strats featured here have the classic five-way selector switch, but that's just for starters.

Each offer a unique set of pickups and some feature additional electronics to help you further find your unique tone, such as the S-1 Switch on the American Ultra and the Greasebucket tone circuitry found on the American Performer Strat®

This article specfically compares seven single-coil Strats with the traditional SSS pickup configuration. Strats with other pickup configurations are also available, including the American Ultra Stratocaster HSS Stratocaster.

READ MORE: Understanding the Stratocaster Selector Switch
READ MORE: Decoding Standard Pickup Arrangements


Stratocaster Tremolo Systems

Arguably the most important invention found on the first Strat models, the synchronized tremolo system has gone through many innovations and iterations over the years, some of those changes define the difference between the instruments compared here.

The Vintera '50s Stratocaster® comes equipped with the same 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo found on Strats released in the '50s and '60. The American Ultra Stratocaster features a more modern take in the 2-Point "Pop-In" Tremolo Arm, which has a more stable, set-screw system than the traditional screw-in tremolo arm.

READ MORE: Pitch Control: A Tremolo Primer


Popular Stratocaster Models 2020

The Player Series

The Player Stratocaster ® is for the player looking for legendary design, all the classic features and most-of-all versatility. The Player series stratocaster is our most versatile beginner instrument because it combines a classic model with contemporary appointments including a 22-fret neck and a dedicated bridge pickup knob, giving you more control of the other pickup positions. In this Insider clip, Fender's top gear advisor John Dryer gives a detailed rundown of our most versatile beginner's Strat®.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVhZD0LlCn4?rel=0

Choose from seven eye-catching colors including Tidepool (metallic teal) and the classic Fender 3-Tone Sunburst.

Features and Specs

-- Alder body with gloss finish
-- Three Player Series single-coil Strat pickups
-- “Modern C"-shaped neck profile
-- 9.5"-radius fingerboard
-- 2-point tremolo bridge with bent-steel saddles

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The Player Strat® with Melanie Faye

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nvt6fdrrSEo?rel=0


The Vintera '50s Series

The Vintera series 50s Stratocaster® is for someone looking for the golen era Stratocaste®sound in a brand new instrument. We've created three vintage-style pickups that capture articulate tone that make 50s single-coil pickups a favorite amongst players. Visually speaking, this guitar looks like something that would have come out of the Fender factory in the mid-50s with its 1-ply pickguard and vintage-style handware including the classic six-point synchronized tremolo.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAwrLjV1jWY?rel=0

Features and Specs

-- Alder or ash body
-- Three vintage-style ‘50s Strat® single-coil pickups; neck/mid and bridge tone controls
-- “Soft V”-shaped maple neck; 7.25”-radius fingerboard with 21 vintage-style frets
-- Vintage-style six-point synchronized tremolo

Learn more about the Vintera Series Here.

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The '50s Vintera Stratocaster® with Christone "Kingfish" Ingram

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tyGm_DnaWM?rel=0


The American Performer Series Strat® with Curt Henderson

The Yosemite pickups are voiced specifically for each instrument, so you know you are getting a one-of-a-kind experience. The three gorgeous color options, satin finished neck and 70s shape headstock gives this guitar a truly striking appearance. Under the hood, Fender's "Greasebucket" tone system allows you to cut treble without sacrificing on tone or affecting your gain.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljpsyIWX8Vk?rel=0

Features and Specs

-- Alder body
-- Three Yosemite single-coil Stratocaster pickups; RW/RP middle pickup
-- Push-pull pot activates neck pickup; Greasebucket tone circuitry
-- “Modern C”-shaped neck with 9.5”-radius fingerboard; 22 jumbo frets
-- ClassicGear™ tuning machines; silver ‘70s logo

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The Limited Edition HM Strat® with Ethan Brosh

This limited edition model is a reissue of the classic Heavy Metal Strat® Fender released in the 80s. If you are looking to shred loud and hard this is the model for you. The extremely flat 17" fretboard radius and a thin "C" neck guarantee a fast and low action perfect for speedy solos. The recessed Floyd Rose bridge will keep you in tune longer through the dive bombs and string bends. The Rubberized "F" logo knobs are the perfect homage to the original HM.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zisYe78bajs?rel=0

Features and Specs

-- Basswood body
-- Custom high-gain pickups
-- Maple neck with maple of rosewood fingerboard
-- 25.1” scale with 17” radius and 24 jumbo frets
-- Floyd Rose® Special tremolo system

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The HM Strat® with Chris Greatti on Fender Play LIVE

There's a reason its called the HM Strat - the HM stands for "Heavy Metal". And Chris Greatti (Blame Candy, Poppy, Yungblud) showed exactly why this guitar is so at home in that genre on an episode of Fender Play Live all about '80s Metal. Watch as he and Sebastien Betley shred on their HM Strats to Ratt's classic hit "Round and Round".

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXGdARhMB7w?rel=0

Fender Play Live is a weekly live show featuring artists & experts diving into anything & everything guitar. Catch it weekly on Fender's YouTube & Facebook pages at 5PM PT, or watch previous episodes here.


Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature®

For those seeking the ultimates blues tone, you've come to the right place. This model is based of SRV's "Number One" Stratocaster®. This is "the number one" instrument for the number one blues guitarist of all time, the creme de la creme blues Stratocaster®. This guitar really pops aesethetically with its gold-plated hardware, engraved SRV pickguard and 3-tone sunburst.

Features and Specs

-- Early-’60s oval neck profile
-- Pau ferro fingerboard with 6105 frets
-- Texas Special™ pickups
-- Engraved SRV pickguard
-- Gold-plated hardware
-- Reverse vintage-style tremolo bridge

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The SRV Strat® with Dinesh Lekhraj on Fender Play LIVE

In an episode of Fender Play Live called "How to Play like Stevie Ray Vaughan", guitar expert Dinesh Lekhraj dives into the style, tone & everything else that defines the blues legend. Check out the clip below where he shows off the SRV Stratocaster in action by playing some of the classic tune "Crossfire".

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNCBSWBlm0o?rel=0

Check out the full SRV Fender Play Live right here. Want to learn how to play some Stevie Ray Vaughan classics? Check out Fender Play lessons for "Cold Shot", "Crossfire", and more!


The '50s American Original Stratocaster with Tyler Bryant

This guitar is for someone that likes the original. We've captured the ethos of the 50s era Stratocaster® in this re imagining of the original golden era strats. We've included period correct details including the signature one-ply pickguard and "soft-V" neck. The Pure Vintage '59 Strat® Pickups deliver the classic rounded warm tone that 50s strats are known for with their Alnico 5 magnets nad staggered pole peices. Choose from three colors including Inca Silver.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncrJAhodBIE&t=24s?rel=0

Features and Specs

-- Alder or ash body
-- Three vintage-style ‘50s Strat® single-coil pickups; neck/mid and bridge tone controls
-- “Soft V”-shaped maple neck; 7.25”-radius fingerboard with 21 vintage-style frets
-- Vintage-style six-point synchronized tremolo
-- Includes deluxe gig bag

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The American Ultra HSS

The American Ultra series is our most premium production Stratocaster®. It's got all the appointments needed to get the job done, executed in a way that caters to the modern musician while capturing the ethos of Leo Fender's original design. Vintage pickups combined with modern wiring options provide a range of tonal possibilities further expanded by the S-1 switch which blends the neck pickup into any switch position.

Body contours, a tapered neck heel and rolled fingerboard edges make this guitar as comfortable to play as it is functional. The "Modern D" neck profile with satin finish and 10" - 14" compound radius are perfect for those looking for a "fast" neck for soloing and leads.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WURQr9IASgM?rel=0

The Ultra is available in seven colors including Plasma Red Burst and the increasingly popular Texas Tea (which changes colors in the light).

Features and Specs


-- Alder or ash body with sculpted rear contours
-- Three Ultra Noiseless Vintage Strat single-coil pickups
-- “Modern D”-shaped neck with Ultra satin finish
-- 10”-14” compound-radius fingerboard; 22 medium-jumbo frets
-- Includes premium molded hardshell case

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The American Ultra HSS Strat® with Cory Wong

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfoHrhWZuOs?rel=0


The American Acoustasonic Series Stratocaster

The American Acoustasonic Series builds on the versatility and playability of the classic Stratocaster® design. The Fender and Fishman®-designed Acoustic Engine that powers the Acoustasonic provides a new collection of 7 acoustic and 3 electric inspired voices. The hollow body means this guitar sounds great plugged into an amp on stage or in your lap. The top is made of spruce, which is a common choice for acoustic guitars due to its resonance.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEWLD55ajtI?rel=0

Choose from 5 colors including Dakota Red and 3-tone burst.

Features and Specs

-- Acoustic Engine delivers new body style and tone wood combinations
-- Mod Knob selects and blends voices
-- Patented Stringed Instrument Resonance System (SIRS)
-- Three pickup systems: Fishman Under-Saddle Transducer; Fishman Acoustasonic Enhancer; Fender Acoustasonic Noiseless™ magnetic pickup Integrated forearm and back contour, and mahogany neck

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How it works:

The "Mod Knob" gives you control of these 10 voices by giving you the option to switch between or blend 2 distinct models available in each of 5 positions. Here is a quick summary of the tones offered:

Position 5: Core Acoustics
--A: Sitka Spruce/Mahogany Dreadnought
-- B: Sitka Spruce/Rosewood Concert with Slotted Headstock

Position 4: Alternative Acoustics
-- A: Sitka Spruce/Walnut Small Body Short Scale
-- B: Sitka Spruce/Mahogany Americana Dreadnaught

Position 3: Percussion & Enhanced Harmonics
-- A: Sitka Spruce/Rosewood Auditorium
-- B: Adds body pickup to the above voice

Position 2: Acoustic & Electric Blend
-- A: Engelman Spruce/Rosewood Dreadnaught
-- B: Fender Electric Clean

Position 1: Electric
-- A: Fender Electric Fat/Semi-Clean
-- B: Fender Electric Dirty

The American Acoustasonic Stratocaster with Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVAyXopT2XA?rel=0

Learn more about the American Acoustasonic Series Stratocaster here


How Much Does A New Stratocaster Cost?

While all Fender guitars are held to an extremely high standard of quality for component parts, fit and finish, some models include advanced features that can make the cost jump.

Of the eight models featured here, the Player Stratocaster is Fender’s entry level Strat and can be had for under $700. The higher-priced models including the American Ultra HSS $1899 and the American Acoustasonic $1999 carry higher price tags but offer meticulous attention to accurate detail and premium appointments.

Features like a rosewood fingerboard or innovations like the pop-in tremolo arm, locking tuning and body contouring will also make the cost of any instrument rise.


How Much Does a Stratocaster Weigh?

Due to variations in the density of wood and the structure of various components, no two Stratocasters—even from the same series—are likely to weigh exactly the same. And no two Strats from the same series that weigh the same may not sound the same.

That said, almost all of the Strats featured here fall somewhere between seven and nine pounds, with the majority in the meaty middle of that range. People with smaller builds may prefer an instrument on the lighter side, while a lighter guitar doesn't feel substantial enough for others.


Left-Handed Models?

Woe to the southpaw player. Always searching for guitars only to find that left-handed options aren't available. Lucky for the lefties Fender is paying attention, and offers a number of SSS Stratocaster options, including the Player Series Left-Handed. More left-handed guitars here.


Famous Stratocater Players