If we were to look into the history of modern music, it just wouldn’t be the same without the invention of solid-body electric guitars. The striking simplicity of the instrument combined with its immense potential and flexibility offers something for almost any genre that comes to mind.
Be it mainstream pop music, funk, jazz, or extreme metal, it found its way into the hearts of both the music fans and musicians worldwide. But the instrument itself wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for Leo Fender and his innovative approach to guitar design with the Fender Stratocaster.
While the electric guitar was certainly developing over the years, things were still a bit impractical and “clumsy” with plenty of other guitar brands. But Leo Fender took it to a whole new level with his invention of an Esquire or Broadcaster guitar, which eventually became the Telecaster.
However, it was with the Fender Stratocaster that things took off. Even to this day, the guitar retains its main characteristics, with only some modifications done to it. However, even though the Stratocaster is a well-known guitar model, there are plenty of model variations available today, each with something different to offer than the next, and covering a wide range of price points.
I’ll start this article by jumping into reviews on the best Fender Stratocaster guitars at different price points, but if you want to learn more about them before reading reviews, check out our guide on Fender Strats at the bottom of the page here.
|Name of Product||Image of Product||Description||Price Range||Full Review|
|1. American Ultra Stratocaster (Best Overall)||Body: Alder or ash|
|$1900||Read Full Review Below|
|2. American Professional II Stratocaster (Editor's Choice)||Body: Alder|
|$1550||Read Full Review Below|
|3. Vintera ’50s Stratocaster (Best Under $1000)||Body: Alder|
Neck: Maple, “Soft V” profile
|$1000||Read Full Review Below|
|4. Fender Player Stratocaster (Best Value)||Body: Alder|
|$690||Read Full Review Below|
|5. Fender Player Stratocaster HSS||Body: Alder|
|$700||Read Full Review Below|
|6. FSR Mahogany Blacktop Stratocaster HHH||Body: Mahogany|
|$900||Read Full Review Below|
|7. Deluxe Stratocaster||Body: Alder|
|$900||Read Full Review Below|
|8. American Original ’60s Stratocaster||Body: Alder|
|$2000||Read Full Review Below|
|9. Limited Heavy Metal Stratocaster||Body: Basswood|
|$1100||Read Full Review Below|
|10. Dave Murray Signature Stratocaster||Body: Alder|
|$1000||Read Full Review Below|
|11. Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster||Body: Alder|
|$1700||Read Full Review Below|
|12. Parallel Universe II Jazz Stratocaster||Body: Alder|
|$2000||Read Full Review Below|
|13. Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Stratocaster||Body: Alder|
|$6900||Read Full Review Below|
|14. Yngwie Malmsteen Signature Stratocaster||Body: Alder|
|$1800||Read Full Review Below|
|15. Eric Johnson Signature Thinline Stratocaster||Body: Alder, semi-hollow|
|$1700||Read Full Review Below|
|16. Fender American Performer Stratocaster||Body: Alder|
|$1200||Read Full Review Below|
Here Are the Best Stratocasters
1. American Ultra Stratocaster (Best Overall)
Estimated price: $1900
Body: Alder or ash
Fretboard: Maple or rosewood
Fret Count: 22
Pickups: 3 single-coils or 1 humbucker and 2 single-coils
Controls: 1 volume and 2 tone pots, 5-way pickup selector switch, coil-split (with humbucker versions)
Bridge: 2-point Deluxe Synchronized Tremolo
My Review: Going into some of those high-end territories, the American Ultra Stratocaster comes as one of Fender’s most prestigious electric guitars. This model is made of quality materials, bringing some of the best traits among all Stratocasters. Looking at its price tag, it’s obvious that it’s intended for professional players, which you can also see with its traits. While we have some classic design and build traits that you find on most Strats, this one brings in a special set of pickups, improved bridge, and locking tuners. It’s an all-around awesome instrument with some different variants. There’s also a version that has a humbucker pickup in the bridge position and a rosewood fretboard instead of a maple one.
Build Materials: Of course, the body is made out of alder, just like most of Fender Stratocasters. However, there are also versions with an ash body, although alder is more common with Ultra Strats. But comparing it to some cheaper models, the Ultra series brings tonewoods of better quality.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Instead of the standard old school Fender bridge, we have the company’s 2-point Deluxe Synchronized Tremolo one that offers great stability in tuning. This is, of course, accompanied by amazing Deluxe Die-cast Sealed Locking tuners that keep things in check.
As for the pickups, most Ultra Stratocaster models come with three Noiseless single-coil pickups. While working and sounding as regular single-coil pickups, they feature noticeably reduced hum levels, making these guitars very useful for both studio and live settings. Some versions feature Fender’s Ultra Double Tap humbucker in the bridge position. Aside from the three standard control knobs for volume and tone, there’s a switch integrated within the volume control. This one splits the humbucker and turns it into a single-coil pickup, making the instrument very versatile sonically-wise.
Finish and Design: Just looking at this instrument, it gets pretty obvious that it’s a high-end one. These aren’t just your plain old boring finishes, but rather more intricate ones. We also have the Ultra Satin neck, which even adds to the guitar’s awesome feel and performance.
Bottom Line: You just can’t go wrong with this Strat, especially if you’re into fine bluesy tones or the subtle funky rhythm stuff. But the instrument’s greatness also shows in some hard rock and metal settings, most notably neo-classical and prog rock music. It comes with a larger price tag, but it’s worth every single penny if you ask me.
2. American Professional II Stratocaster (Editor’s Choice)
Estimated Price: $1550
Fretboard: Maple or rosewood
Pickups: 3 V-Mod II single-coils
Bridge: Upgraded 2-Point Tremolo with Cold-Rolled Steel Block
My Review: In 2020, Fender came out with some brand new guitars, including upgraded versions of the company’s Professional series. Simply dubbed as Professional II Stratocaster, this new high-end instrument comes with some upgrades and changes, mostly when it comes to its performance and feel. The neck profile and the heel have been adjusted a little to bring easier access to higher frets.
Build Materials: While it’s pretty much the standard combo that we get with most Fender Strats, there are a few variants that also include a rosewood fretboard instead of the “conventional” maple one. Other than that, we can notice that Fender keeps their game at a high level with a high level of tonewood quality.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: What’s important to note is that Fender included upgraded bridges on Professional II Strats. We have a 2-point tremolo with vintage-style saddles. The cold-rolled steel block is enhanced and even helps add some sustain in there. Additionally, the instrument also comes with brand new V-Mod II single-coil pickups. While it’s still the classic Strat tone, these pickups give a more balanced and articulate response, all while managing to keep that bright jangly high end of the spectrum in there.
Finish and Design: What’s also really exciting is that Professional II Stratocasters come in 9 different color variants. What’s more, some of these versions can either come with rosewood or maple fretboards. Overall, there’s nothing drastically new in their finish and design, but things have definitely been sharpened up compared to the original Stratocasters from the Professional series.
Bottom Line: Further pushing the boundaries of this old guitar model, Professional II Stratocaster is one of the best guitars of the past few years. It’s a fairly versatile one, and yet it manages to keep some of the old classic qualities of vintage-styled Strats. Overall, this is easily one of the best Stratocasters out there for the money.
3. Vintera ’50s Stratocaster (Best Under $1000)
Estimated price: $1000
Neck: Maple, “Soft V” profile
Fret Count: 21
Pickups: 3 Vintage-style ’50s single-coils
Controls: 1 volume and 2 tone knobs, 5-way pickup selector
Bridge: 2-point Synchronized Tremolo
My Review: Another throwback to the old times is the Fender’s Vintera ’50s series. The Stratocaster model here has a very peculiar neck design with its “Soft V” profile that was very popular in the 1950s, as well as a 7.25-inch fretboard radius and 21 frets. The pickups also do an amazing job at replicating the old school rock ‘n’ roll stuff.
Build Materials: Aside from the alder body, we have a standard maple neck with the maple fretboard. Although a simple guitar, these are high-quality specially selected tonewoods.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: And with its hardware and other traits, Vintera ’50s Stratocaster once again comes back to the old times. We have Fender’s 2-point Synchronized Tremolo accompanied by vintage-style locking tuners. The pickups are their Vintage-style ’50s single-coils that cover all the necessary “twangy” tones from the era, along with the standard controls.
Bottom Line: While it does take us back to old times, Vintera ’50s Strat is still not as expensive as one would expect. It comes as a great addition to your arsenal if you’re in favor of old tones.
4. Fender Player Stratocaster (Best Value)
Estimate price: $690
Fret Count: 22
Pickups: Player Series Alnico 5 Strat single-coil pickups
My Review: Fender Player series are the cheapest ones, although they bring some of the basic qualities that we love about these guitars. You’ll get all of the standard configurations of a Stratocaster, with its three single-coil pickups and a standard Fender’s tremolo bridge. Aside from the guitar’s 22 frets, all of its features are somewhat vintage-oriented. In short, this is a fairly simple and affordable guitar that’s a perfect choice for any musician who wants a nice Strat while keeping things at a budget-friendly level.
Build Materials: With the Player Series Stratocaster, we also get the standard alder body and a maple neck with a maple fretboard. There’s nothing very unusual about the Player Strat compared to what we’re used to.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: With the instrument’s Player Series Alnico 5 Strat single-coil pickups, you’ll get that classic twang that all of Fender players adore. Of course, this is all accompanied by a standard configuration with a 5-way pickup selector switch, one volume knob, and two Tone knobs. Tone knobs are in control of the guitar’s middle and neck pickups. The only difference with these controls compared to some older Strats is that one tone knob controls the bridge pickup, while the other reduces the treble of both the neck and middle pickups.
Bottom Line: Fender Player Stratocaster is probably the best entry-level Strat on the market. But don’t get fooled by its low price since this instrument can still put up quite a punch and even serve as a great guitar for more experienced musicians. All in all, this is another one of the best Fender Stratocasters for the money.
5. Fender Player Stratocaster HSS
Estimated Price: $700
Fret Count: 22
My Review: Another one from the Player Series, this Strat comes with almost the same specs as the previous one. The only difference is the humbucker pickup in the bridge position. With such a configuration, you’ll be able to cover some heavier territories. I’d say that this particular Strat comes in handy for those who play hard rock and classic heavy metal, although it’s useful for plenty of other guitar-oriented genres as well. Other than that, it’s a pretty comfortable instrument to play, just like the regular version that we already described above.
Build Materials: As already mentioned, the specs are the same except for the pickups. Once again, we have a classic Strat with a body made of alder and a standard maple neck with a maple fretboard forming a bolt-on construction with the body.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The pickups on this one are the standard Player Series Alinco 5 ones. The humbucker in the bridge is just a little brighter compared to what you’d expect from it, taking this instrument closer to the classic Fender territories. It’s all accompanied by the standard configuration featuring a 5-way switch, volume knob, and two Tone knobs. The bridge is the same classic Fender tremolo one.
Bottom Line: Once again, we have a fairly simple and classic Fender Stratocaster with just some cheaper features compared to those high-end ones. This is a very useful guitar for heavy metal and hard rock players due to the inclusion of a humbucker pickup in the bridge position.
6. FSR Mahogany Blacktop Stratocaster HHH
Estimated price: $900
Fretboard: Pau Ferro
Fret Count: 22
Pickups: Three V-Mod Alnico Humbuckers
Controls: Volume (with “treble blend”), Two Tone Controls
Bridge: Standard Fender Tremolo Bridge
My Review: Now, this one is pretty unusual, making it one of the most unique Fender Strats on the market. The first important difference comes with a mahogany body, which you don’t see that often with Stratocasters. Additionally, the guitar has the triple-humbucker pickup configuration, making even classic Gibson Les Paul lovers excited about it. While not exactly a “Super-Strat” guitar, it still gets pretty close with such an innovative approach to features. In case you love the Fender Stratocaster aesthetics and ergonomic qualities, yet prefer a somewhat darker tone and an unusual twist with the middle humbucker, then this is the guitar that you’ll want to be looking into. The fretboard is also different here, not only with the materials used but with a slightly less round radius of 9.5 inches.
Build Materials: Choosing mahogany as the main body material for a Fender Stratocaster is a little unconventional. Some would even call it controversial. Nonetheless, it’s a very fresh twist to the classic guitar, resulting in a slightly less bright output compared to regular Stratocasters. Other than that, we have a classic maple neck that feels like most of the other Strat necks. The only difference here is the Pau Ferro fretboard with a flatter radius. This is yet another feature that brings it somewhat closer to the classic “Super-Strat” guitar concept.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: While we have the classic Fender bridge and tuning machines, these all come with a golden finish, giving the instrument a very glamorous look. What’s more, the hardware is pretty durable, making the instrument fairly reliable in the long run as well.
As far as the electronics go, the guitar has the standard 5-way switch for the three humbuckers. It selects them the same way every Stratocaster selects its 3 standard single-coils. It’s also accompanied by two Tone knobs that control the treble roll-off of the humbucker and two other pickups.
Finish and Design: One of the most noticeable traits of this guitar is its design. While it comes in a few different color variants, all of them feature the classic glossy finish. The notable trait in this regard, however, comes with the top side of the headstock that’s painted black, thus the “Blacktop” name with this particular Strat model.
Bottom Line: The guitar is not as expensive as you’d expect from all of its features and traits. In fact, it’s easily one of the best electric guitar deals considering its price. At the same time, you need to bear in mind the unconventional nature of this instrument, being a classic Strat with three humbucker pickups.
7. Deluxe Stratocaster
Estimated price: $900
Fret Count: 22
Pickups: 3 Vintage Noiseless single-coils or Twin Head Vintage humbucker in the bridge and 2 single-coils in middle and neck positions
Controls: 1 volume and 2 tone controls, coil-split (on humbucker versions), 5-way pickup selector switch
Bridge: 2-point Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
My Review: Although it seems similar to the Ultra Series, the Deluxe Stratocaster is a somewhat “stripped-down” version of it. Nonetheless, this instrument can deliver not only a great tone but also a very comfortable and user-friendly performance.
Build Materials: We have a standard alder body, although not as prestigious compared to the Ultra series. This is followed by a maple neck and a standard maple fretboard in all of the model’s variants.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The instrument is equipped with a Two-point Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo and the standard locking tuners. What makes it so amazing for this price are the Vintage Noiseless pickups. There’s also a version with the humbucker pickup in the bridge position, along with a standard coil-split feature.
Bottom Line: In some way, this is a “semi-budget-friendly” instrument. It’s not something that you’d buy if you’re looking for the cheapest Strat out there, but it’s still not as prestigious as the Ultra Strat. Nonetheless, it’s a very simple yet reliable guitar with an awesome tone and a very reasonable price.
8. American Original ’60s Stratocaster
Estimated price: $2000
Fret Count: 21
Pickups: 3 single-coils
Controls: 1 volume and 2 tone pots
Bridge: 6-Saddle Pure Vintage Synchronized Tremolo
My Review: With so many new additions to Stratocasters, plenty of guitar lovers got thirsty for the good old vintage stuff. And this is exactly what the American Original series brings some of these old things back to life, just like with this ’60s-inspired model. We have the thick “C” neck profile, a radius of 9.5 inches, and a very unique tone with the Pure Vintage ’65 single-coils. Of course, this is accompanied by a fine rosewood fretboard. It’s a great “throwback” instrument rounded up nicely with its 21 vintage-style frets.
Build Materials: The guitar comes with the alder body, maple neck, and a rosewood fretboard. The addition of this fretboard brings us back to the 1960s when Fender made such instruments. This is all accompanied by a nice-looking nitro finish.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The great thing about this model is that it convincingly replicates Strats that Fender made back in the 1960s, even with the hardware. We have their 6-Saddle Pure Vintage Synchronized Tremolo and Pure Vintage tuning machines.
Then we have Fender’s ’65 Pure Vintage single-coils that manage to precisely capture what their old pickups from the 1960s did. Of course, this is accompanied by standard controls for volume and tone, just like on any classic Strat.
Bottom Line: Before getting into it, you need to know that any instrument that replicates sonic, ergonomic, and aesthetic traits of the old days of rock ‘n’ roll won’t exactly be the cheapest one. However, it’s obvious that this guitar is marketed for the lovers of the 1960s, which is a somewhat specific category. What’s most important is that the guitar truly does a great job, even for some contemporary genres.
9. Limited Heavy Metal Stratocaster (Best For Metal)
Estimated price: $1100
Fret Count: 24
Pickups: Heavy Metal humbucker, 2 Heavy Metal single-coils
Controls: 1 volume and 2 tone controls, 5-way pickup selector
Bridge: Floyd Rose Special Double-locking Recessed Tremolo
Nut: Floyd Rose Special Locking
My Review: And here we come to Fender’s twist to the “Super-Strat” concept. Clearly inspired by the 1980s, both in terms of features and aesthetics, Limited Heavy Metal Strat takes you to Shred town with its thin “C”-profile neck, 17-inch fretboard radius, and a very unusual and rare scale length of 25.1 inches. It’s all accompanied by amazing Heavy Metal pickups and their HSS configuration. But aside from the slightly aggressive tone of these pickups, you can do pretty much any genre with this instrument. It’s also a popular model among jazz fusion players.
Build Materials: Making a basswood Stratocaster is somewhat weird, but it works quite well in this setting. Aside from that, we have a standard maple neck with the addition of a rosewood fretboard.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: This Strat comes with a Floyd Rose Double-locking tremolo bridge and a standard locking nut, all followed by Gotoh tuners for perfect tuning stability. Then we have Fender’s specially designed pickups for this guitar, featuring stronger output and a slightly sharper and rougher tone. However, the 5-way selector switch and volume and tone controls can help you add more versatility to the tone.
Design and Finish: The idea behind this instrument was to replicate Fender’s original HM Strat from the 1980s. But while the guitar seems completely different compared to classic Strats, we can still see Fender’s contoured body and their signature headstock. We have some unusual finishes that take us back to the flashy aesthetics of the 1980s.
Bottom Line: Although intended for classic metal music, this is one fairly versatile instrument. I’d recommend it to anyone who adores the Super-Strat concept.
10. Dave Murray Signature Stratocaster
Estimated price: Around $1000
Fret Count: 21
Pickups: Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in bridge and neck, Seymour Duncan JB Jr. in the middle
Controls: 1 volume and 2 tone knobs, 5-way selector switch
Bridge: Floyd Rose Double Locking Tremolo
My Review: Although not a “Super-Strat,” Dave Murray’s signature Strat is intended for virtuoso players who love heavier tones. We have a classic design and traits of old school Strats, with the addition of a Floyd Rose tremolo, Seymor Duncan Hot Rails pickups, and a comfortable “C” neck. It’s a pretty great and practical instrument for any metal player who still likes some classic features.
Build Materials: Aside from an alder body and maple neck, the guitar comes with a rosewood fretboard, puts it closer to those classic ’60s Strats. Other than that, it’s obvious that these are specially selected quality materials, putting this guitar ahead of many of this price category.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The guitar is equipped with a Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo system, locking nuts, and vintage-style tuners. But the best thing about this Strat is the pickup configuration. With two Hot Rails in neck and bridge positions and a JB Jr. in the middle, we get a diverse and unique tonal palette. The output of these pickups is a blend of vintage-oriented and modern tones. Although single-coil-sized, these are three fully functional humbuckers.
Finish and Design: Although nothing too flashy, the guitar’s design keeps things very stylish in a subtle way. The fine sunburst finish with a pearl pickguard is an aesthetic representation of this guitar’s tone.
Bottom Line: This Strat is a signature model of Iron Maiden’s legend Dave Murray. Therefore, you can expect an awesome metal-oriented instrument that’s also capable of bluesy stuff and other genres. Considering its price, it’s well worth it.
11. Stevie Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster
Estimated price: $1700
Fretboard: Pau Ferro
Fret Count: 21
Pickups: Texas Special single-coils
Bridge: Reversed American Vintage Tremolo
My Review: A guitar paying tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn, this signature Strat takes things to some twangy bluesy territories. It’s all followed by an unusual reversed tremolo bridge, with the handle taking the top instead of the bottom position. Of course, the guitar’s design also adds “SRV” initials, putting it in the high-end blues category aesthetically and sonically-wise.
Build Materials: Aside from the standard alder body and maple neck, it’s accompanied by a Pau Ferro fretboard. These are all specially selected high-end materials, which adds to the instrument’s great tone and durability.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The most unusual feature is the reversed tremolo bridge, meaning that the handle is on the bass side of the body. This is the way Stevie preferred it. As far as the pickups and electronics go, we have three Texas Special single-coils with all the standard Strat controls.
Finish and Design: In terms of aesthetics, this guitar is also done in Stevie’s style with the 3-tone sunburst and his initials on the black pickguard. Combined with gold hardware, it gives some very old school vibes.
Bottom Line: Going into higher-end territories, this is a perfect guitar for true lovers of those old Strat bluesy tones. Texas Special pickups might be a bit specific, but they’re exactly what this group of players will be looking for.
12. Parallel Universe II Jazz Stratocaster
Estimated price: $2000
Fret Count: 22
Pickups: Two ’65 Single-Coil Jazzmaster
Controls: 1 volume and 1 tone knob, 3-way switch
Bridge: American Professional Jazzmaster Bridge
My Review: Now, this is a completely unconventional guitar, bringing some old Jazzmaster features with a classic Strat design. It’s not for everyone’s taste due to these features and a very unusual finish, but it’s still one very well-done and unique guitar.
Build Materials: Being a very expensive instrument, we have some of the best-chosen materials. The alder body is accompanied by a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard, which are standard Jazzmaster traits.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: The bridge construction is also the one we see on Jazzmaster guitars, with the classic old school approach. This is also accompanied by old-school-style Jazzmaster pickups, similar to the classic P90s, and simple controls for volume, tone, and 3-way pickup selection.
Finish and Design: The lacquer finish is also one of the guitar’s selling points, bringing in a stunning and head-spinning sparkling color pattern. You won’t find any other Strat (or any other guitar model) that looks like this.
Bottom Line: Although a slight turnoff to some conventional lovers of Strats, this guitar definitely has its following. But that was exactly what Fender was aiming for with their Parallel Universe series, and this Stratocaster is just one of the examples. Just bear in mind that all of these guitars are expensive.
13. Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Stratocaster
Estimated price: $6900
Fret Count: 22
Pickups: Vintage Noiseless single-coils
Bridge: Blocked American Vintage Tremolo
My Review: Look, this is a fairly expensive one, but the Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster model is one of the ultimate guitars that you can find on the market. This prestigious model is what every Strat lover is aiming for and it’s intended for the most experienced players who are ready for such a serious investment. From top to bottom, this is a guitar with all the best features that money can buy. It comes from Fender’s Custom Shop and is made by the same people who build instruments for guitar legends.
Build Materials: Just a simple Stratocaster configuration with the alder body, maple neck, and a maple fretboard. Of course, these are all the finest tonewoods that Fender could find, as you’d expect from a guitar made over at Fender Custom Shop.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Blocked American bridge takes Fender’s standard tremolo bridge design and adds even more stability in there. Even with extended heavy use, the guitar will stay in tune. This is also due to wonderfully-made vintage-style tuners. The 3 single-coil pickups are Vintage Noiseless ones and are accompanied by classic Strat controls.
Bottom Line: There’s really not much to say except that this is one of the finest and most prestigious Stratocasters out there. With this instrument, you’ll get the same specs that Eric Clapton himself prefers.
14. Yngwie Malmsteen Signature Stratocaster
Estimated price: $1800
Fret Count: 21
Pickups: 3 Seymour Duncan STK-S10 YJM Fury single-coils
Bridge: American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo
Special Features: Scalloped Frets, Dunlop 6000 Jumbo Fretwire
My Review: Yngwie Malmsteen was also one of the players who pushed Strats into new territories. For all these years, he kept to his true style, and his signature model will bring you the same features and traits as his guitars. The biggest selling point of the instrument comes with its scalloped frets. Along with the “Modern C” neck profile, you’ll have an instrument that’s rather easy and comfortable to play. It’s too easy to play and inexperienced guitarists might even bend the strings if they press them too hard.
Build Materials: Yngwie Malmsteen Signature Strat comes with the standard configuration, featuring an alder body and maple neck with a maple fretboard. Although we have this very common formation, it’s important to note that the guitar comes from Fender’s Custom Shop and brings the best possible materials, including Dunlop’s special fret wire.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: As far as the hardware and electronics go, Malmsteen likes to keep it true to old classic Strats. We have the American Vintage tremolo bridge, Schaller Vintage “F”-style tuners, and 3 single-coil pickups with basic controls. However, these are Malmsteen’s signature Seymour Duncan STK-S10 YJM pickups that offer a more aggressive tone.
Bottom Line: Although not a Super-Strat, the guitar is intended for virtuoso players. The classic traits are all still there and it comes as a fairly versatile instrument. However, scalloped frets are a very specific trait, and not every guitarist prefers such a design. This is easily one of the best Stratocasters on the market right now.
15. Eric Johnson Signature Thinline Stratocaster
Estimated price: $1700
Body: Alder, semi-hollow
Fret Count: 21
Pickups: 3 single-coils
My Review: With a guitar player like Eric Johnson, you’d only expect to have a high-end prestigious signature instrument. However, what’s so unique here is that we have a semi-hollow-body Strat, the so-called “Thinline” design. It’s done all according to Eric Johnson’s specs and brings no special branded pickups or hardware. You’ll only get them with this particular guitar. This Stratocaster is one of the best blues-focused guitars out there.
Build Materials: Once again, we have a signature guitar with a standard Strat tonewood configuration and a premium choice of materials. The alder body and maple neck with a maple fingerboard work perfectly for the instrument’s Thinline design.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: While there’s nothing inherently exciting with its features, the hardware is done with great care. The same can be said about pickups and electronics. While we’re at it, the guitar’s single-coils were made according to Eric Johnson’s preferences. These aren’t like any other pickups out there and you can only get them with this particular guitar model.
Finish and Design: The very stylish design and finish are also what makes this guitar very specific. The Thinline semi-hollow body works perfectly with both of the finish variants, the “Vintage White” and 2-color sunburst.
Bottom Line: To put it simply, this is one of the ultimate blues and blues-rock guitars that you can find out there. Additionally, the guitar’s unique “Soft V” neck profile makes it very easy to play, making the guitar very favorable among virtuosic technical players. Along with the semi-hollow body and unique pickups, you’ll get a very rich tone.
16. Fender American Performer Stratocaster
Estimated Price: $1200
Fretboard: Rosewood or maple
Fret Count: 22
Pickups: 3 Yosemite single-coils
My Review: Fender’s Performer Series comes as somewhat of a modern twist to their classic guitars from the old days. With the Performer Stratocaster, we get an amazing feel with the guitar’s “Modern C” neck profile and a rosewood fingerboard with 22 frets.
It has a standard configuration for a Stratocaster, although it comes with a different type of fretboard and pickups that you don’t see that often. It’s a high-end instrument, but it’s not as expensive compared to the other stuff that we mentioned, so it’s definitely worth it.
Build Materials: In some ways, the guitar is similar to the classic old school Strats, at least with the build materials. We have the alder body paired with a maple neck in a standard bolt-on construction. However, the guitar also comes with a rosewood fretboard in some of its variants.
Hardware, Electronics, and Controls: Aside from the Vintage-style Synchronized Tremolo bridge, the guitar also comes with “ClassicGear” tuning machines that have that smooth action and a gear ratio of 18:1. It’s all followed by jumbo frets which give you a great feel. Looking at the electronics, we have Yosemite single-coil pickups and standard Strat controls. Although not that common, these pickups are pretty interesting as they bring a higher output compared to average single-coils.
Finish and Design: Performer Stratocasters come in a few different finish variants. The one that quite stands out is the “Satin Lake Placid Blue” which also gives this guitar a very eye-catching appeal. Other than that, we have the standard Stratocaster features.
Bottom Line: In case you’re up for a classic-styled Strat with some slightly modern features, then the Performer series comes in handy. It’s one of those perfect blends of old and new stuff in one instrument. I’d say this is one of the best Strat style guitars out there.
Fender Stratocasters: What Makes Them so Special
As we already explained, the guitar came with some of the features that we can see even to this day. With this in mind, we decided to cover some of the Fender Stratocaster’s main characteristics that we can find on the abundance of models. Of course, there are some minor differences among different Stratocaster models, but we’ll address them as well where we think it’s necessary. Keep in mind that in this article we’ll be focusing on genuine Fender Stratocasters guitars, but there are many Strat copy brands out there.
So let’s start with the basics – the guitar’s body. As we mentioned, the body is usually made of alder or ash wood. It’s a completely solid body, and there have been plenty of other variants material-wise, like basswood, poplar, and even mahogany, which is quite unusual for Fender guitars. But if you’re looking at your average Fender Stratocaster in a store, it usually comes with an alder or ash body, although those that are made out of alder are much more common. Being a little harder compared to some other tonewoods, it all helps this guitar have a very “tight” tone. In case you’re looking for something mellower, there are still Fender Stratocasters that feature bodies made out of mahogany, but they’re kind of rare.
However, it’s not just the materials that make Fender Stratocaster’s body so amazing. It also comes to the guitar’s very stylish and innovative design, something that we also mentioned above. The body features an overall contoured design, a trait that makes the instrument pretty comfortable to play. So instead of squared edges, you get that smooth feel, including a very useful design trait that allows for a comfortable picking hand placement. Along with this also comes very ergonomic access to the instrument’s higher frets. Although the body and neck joint is a bolt-on one, you can still have a pretty comfortable playing experience up there near the body.
The contours are also present on the body’s backside, giving players that smooth feel, no matter if they prefer the sitting or standing position while playing. The guitar might be a bit heavier compared to what we’re used to today, but most models have bodies that aren’t that heavy since the company has managed to keep things decent in this regard.
One of the strongest points of every Fender Stratocaster is the neck. In fact, these guitars have always been praised for having an amazing feel. In a lot of cases, we have the standard “C”-shaped neck profile, although many other variants have been used. There are even some examples of the “V” shape, the “U” shape, as well as thinner neck profiles. But whatever your choice might be, they’re always fairly comfortable, making Fender Stratocasters often associated with more virtuosic players over the years.
Maple-made necks of Stratocasters almost exclusively feature maple fretboards with a radius of 7.25 inches. Although this is somewhat of an “old school” setting, they still manage to feel pretty well under one’s hands. On the other hand, some models have different types of fretboards, mostly rosewood ones.
When it comes to the scale length, Fender Strats are at 25.5 inches. This makes them very useful for those lower tunings, but they’re quite often used in standard tuning and might come with just a bit of a higher tension because of it. What’s also worth noting is that Strats come with a bolt-on body and neck construction, which might not work for some guitar players with a specific taste.
Pickups and Electronics
What makes Stratocasters stand out compared to most other guitars is their triple pickup configuration. The most often on, of course, is the triple single-coil pickup configuration, which allows for a standard 5-way positioning switch. This is all accompanied by one master volume control, as well as two-tone knobs. These tone knobs control the treble roll-off for the bridge and the neck pickup, but there are some other examples where they alter the tone of middle and neck pickups. It would be a good idea to get more informed about these controls before buying a specific Stratocaster model that you want to lay your hands on.
But aside from the standard triple single-coil setting that the Stratocaster became famous for, there are a few other examples worth noting. The most common alternative is the humbucker-single-single combination, giving players an option to have that “rougher” tone for heavy riffing. In some cases, this configuration can also come with the coil-split option for the humbucker, practically turning the guitar into a classic triple-single Strat.
Another alternative comes with the implementation of the so-called “rails” pickups. These are essentially humbuckers that are packed in a very compact single-coil size. They give a tone of a standard humbucker, although you may notice the difference in some cases due to their different design. Some Stratocaster guitars, like the Dave Murray Signature model, have these “rails” humbuckers on both neck and bridge positions. But we’ll get to that later in the main section of the article.
In almost all cases, Fender Stratocasters come with passive pickups and passive electronics. However, some models bear active pickups on them, although they’re pretty rare. Some more expensive Strats can come with the company’s so-called Noiseless pickups. These are like the standard single-coils, although they have a noticeably reduced hum in the output.
Alternatively, Fender Strats may come with some totally “unconventional” pickup formations, which is the case with some higher-end models. You’ll even find Strats with two humbuckers or two P90 pickups. The sonic output of these guitars is completely different compared to what we’re used to hearing from Stratocasters.
Even after all these years, Strats have the same old classic tremolo bridge. The cavity on the backside of the guitar holds three springs that keep the balance and you just pull the whammy bar handle to lower the pitch of all strings. But over the years, with the development of different concepts, we’ve also seen Fender Strats with floating tremolo bridges, allowing players to raise the pitch with the pull of the whammy bar handle, allowing them to achieve that “true vibrato” that’s usually reserved for fretless stringed instruments.
Looking more into the world of Stratocasters, we also have models that implemented the innovative Floyd Rose bridges, accompanied by locking nuts. This is usually the case with some metal-oriented models, the kind that’s often referred to as the “Super-Strat.” But with almost all of their models, it’s the classic tremolo bridge with individual saddles that can be adjusted both in terms of height and distance from the nut (which is how you set the intonation). Of course, there are also some examples of Stratocasters that have fixed “hard-tail” bridges, but they’re not that common.
Fender Custom Shop Stratocasters
Within the company, Fender has their special division called Fender Custom Shop. Located in California, this division makes guitars under special orders for high-end instruments. Of course, they also make special amplifiers there, and all the gear is usually done for high-profile experienced musicians. What’s more, Fender Custom Shop is in charge of innovation and they have come up with new concepts that are used on plenty of Fender’s standard products.
The main goal of this division is to create one-off guitars and amps for famous guitar players. They’ve done some exclusive work for guitar legends like Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, B.B. King, Kurt Cobain, and others. However, it’s not rare to have certain products made available for the public. This means that any guitar player can get their Stratocaster or any other of Fender’s products made by the same people and with the same specs that were used for these legendary musicians. In some cases, these guitars can get the “relic” treatment, making them look as if they’re instruments from the old times. Needless to say, anyone who opts for a Custom Chop Fender Stratocaster, or any other Custom Shop electric guitar model, should be prepared to pay a large sum. These aren’t cheap at all, but they’re most certainly well worth the price.
On the other hand, we have a much cheaper solution in the form of Stratocasters made in Mexico. The main advantage of these instruments is that they’re cheaper. While some of the materials might not be as good compared to American-made Strats, you’ll still have some awesome qualities in there, including the overall feel and the tone. These are somewhat “stripped-down” budget-friendly instruments, yet they’re way ahead of Squire, which is Fender’s subsidiary company. These days, they’ve rebranded these MIM (short for “Made in Mexico”) guitars into the Fender Player series. Aside from the name, these are essentially the same old quality guitars that you’d expect of Fender.
In case you’re looking to purchase your first-ever Fender guitar and are working with a limited budget for your entire setup, the Player series is what you’ll want to look into. Additionally, they have a few interesting Stratocaster models that are worth checking out, even for the list of the best Fender guitars that you can find on the market these days. While you can’t expect some “premium” luxurious and prestigious features on them, Fender Player Stratocaster guitars can still compete with some even more expensive guitars out there.
Choosing the Perfect Fender Stratocaster: What’s the Best Strat Model for My Needs?
The Fender Stratocaster model is actually quite a broad category. Over the decades, the company has created so many different variants of this classic guitar, often covering some unexpected sonic territories and including somewhat unusual and “unconventional” features. Therefore, you’ll see Stratocaster guitars in the hands of various guitar players, no matter their stylistic preferences and technical approach to the instrument. But with this said, we come to a very complicated issue – how do you choose the perfect Fender Stratocaster for your needs?
While even the classic Strat with three single-coil pickups is pretty versatile on its own, it’s always a good idea to start narrowing things down with your preferred genres. In case you need something that would also cover heavier territories, then you can always go with Strat that has a humbucker in the bridge position. If you’re mostly into blues and jazz stuff, then a classic one will be more than enough. In case you’re into funk, it’s pretty much mandatory to have a Strat with only single-coil pickups.
Another thing that’s very specific about any guitar model, including the Stratocaster, is the neck profile. However, there isn’t a specified guide here about what’s the best option for a specific type of player. In most cases, Stratocasters have “C,” “V,” or “U” profiles. But at the same time, Fender neck profiles are all over the place and we have so many different variations. The best solution here is to try them out and see how well it fits in your fretting hand. Additionally, most Fender Strats have a noticeably smaller fretboard radius, meaning that the entire fretboard is noticeably rounder. Some of the more modern models can have a flatter radius, usually if they come with non-maple fretboards.
Lastly, you should also look into any additional features that you might want to see on a guitar. These may include stuff like active electronics, floating tremolo bridges, or even scalloped frets. All three of these traits are usually favored by more virtuosic players, mostly those who are lead guitarists in metal bands.
Fender Stratocaster History
But before we get into this list, it’s important to share a thing or two about Fender Stratocaster’s history and how it eventually managed to change the world. After all, this guitar model is so widespread that you’ll even see the same type used in some completely different musical genres. The slick contours and the “universal” design also make it very aesthetically pleasing to a wide scope of guitar players, no matter their musical background and skill level. So how did this fine instrument with so many great traits come to be?
For this story, we’d have to go back to the beginning of the 1950s. Although the electric guitar was becoming increasingly popular, the instrument wasn’t that easily obtainable and the world was still waiting for the wider commercial success of a particular model and its availability. And this came in the form of Leo Fender’s very simple yet innovative Esquire guitar. Released in 1950, it features only one single-coil pickup in the bridge position. However, it didn’t take long for the guitar to get an additional single-coil in the neck position and eventually a new name, the Broadcaster. But it was only when it got the name Telecaster that it got more attention and ultimately its commercial success. Of course, the legendary name Telecaster was given to the instrument in 1951, and the instrument model remains almost unchanged even to this day.
But it just wasn’t enough for Leo Fender. After all, the market of solid-body electric guitars was quickly starting to get pretty crowded. Aside from Fender, we had other companies, most notably Gretsch and Gibson, which quite pushed the limits of this instrument. In 1952, Gibson unleashed their innovative Les Paul guitar with two P90 single-coil pickups and a very innovative bridge design. So it was up to Leo to come up with a new guitar that was to compete with the almighty Les Paul.
The development of this new Fender’s instrument started sometime in 1952. The idea was to have a very versatile and comfortable guitar to play. Additionally, there was another issue that guitarists were dealing with – those bulky vibrato tailpieces. Whoever wanted to have a vibrato arm in there had to buy a guitar with a Bigsby tailpiece, or any other similar version. However, what Leo Fender was preparing with this new instrument was revolutionary and managed to do the same while keeping things fairly tidy and compact. With a cavity on the backside of the guitar’s body, Leo found a way to store springs in there, which were then attached to the bridge. Holding the balance, you could use the arm screwed into the bridge and pull it down to easily detune all strings. What’s more, the bridge also had individual and adjustable saddles where you could adjust their height and intonation.
Just like the previous models, this one also had the bolt-on body and neck formation, as well as standard single-coil pickups. Back in those days, guitar builders were still experimenting with humbuckers, and it wasn’t until 1957 when Gibson implemented it on their Les Paul guitars that they got some widespread attention. However, what made the Strat so special were its three single-coil pickups. This was, of course, accompanied by a 5-way pickup selector switch, with the guitar offering a nice palette of different tones, along with its one volume and two tone controls.
It took about two years for the guitar’s design to be perfected, and it finally came out in 1954. With all these features that we mentioned, it comes as no surprise that the instrument made a huge break on the market those days. And these aren’t even all the important traits that the guitar carried. Its asymmetrical double-cutaway design with uneven cutouts proved to be not only stylish but very ergonomic as well. The biggest virtuosos of the era jumped in to grab one Strat for themselves. It also featured contoured edges and had a contoured backside of the body which made it very comfortable both for standing or sitting positions.
Of course, there have been many modifications to the instrument, as well as different models being manufactured over the years. However, the main traits have almost always remained the same, with the only exception being some experimental models. We could find some minor adjustments to the guitar’s maple neck, different use of materials for the body or the fretboard, and even a different combination of pickups. Nonetheless, today, in the 21st century, this fine instrument’s body is usually still made of ash or alder, has that contoured design, three pickups, a very comfortable maple neck, a whammy bar, as well as the classic 3-pickup configuration. And it still seems to be the winning combo, doesn’t it?
My name is Chris and I’ve had a passion for music and guitars for as long as I can remember. I started this website with some of my friends who are musicians, music teachers, gear heads, and music enthusiasts so we could provide high quality music related content as well as some of the most accurate and in-depth gear review and demo information on the internet.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 (over 15 years now) and am an avid collector of all thing’s guitar. Amps, Pedals, Guitars, Bass, Drums, Microphones, Studio, and recording gear, I love it all.
I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. My background is in Electrical Engineering earning a Bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University and with my engineering experience I’ve developed as a designer of guitar amplifiers and effects. A true passion of mine, I’ve designed, built, and repaired a wide range of guitar amps and electronics. Here at the Guitar Lobby, our aim is to share our passion for Music and gear with the rest of the music community.