The Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars have been around forever, it seems. Most of us who play have owned at least one example of these iconic instruments over the years, if not several. While there have been a great many incarnations of these guitars spanning seven decades now, ranging from imported entry level student instruments to high-end, high-dollar show pieces, it has never been more affordable to lay your hands on an American made Strat or Tele loaded with all of your favorite features, as it is right now with Fender’s American Special Series.
The goal was to produce an instrument with all of the quality tone and feel of Fender’s American made series in a guitar that the average player could fit into his/her budget. It seems that Fender has hit the nail on the head with the American Specials.
With several popular finish choices and fingerboards available in both maple and rosewood, the most in demand combinations are ready to fly. Cool new features like Texas Special pickups, a larger radius fingerboard and jumbo frets provide a modern feel and rich tone that handles both clean sounds and heavy distortion equally well. There is even an HSS version available with Fender’s Atomic Humbucking Pickup loaded in the bridge position.
Also included are some nice aesthetic touches that I personally like a lot. The headstock is the big, 70’s style, as is its’ logo decal and certain finish combinations come with the black, multi-ply pick guard. The Strats are equipped with a vintage style tremolo. Fender’s cast/sealed tuning machines are standard. Both guitars come with a heavy gigbag. Fit and finish on the example that I used for this review was quite good. Overall, the execution was above average and showed superior attention to detail.
Now, let’s get down to business. For this review, I used my Marshall DSL100 head with a 1960AV Vintage 30 loaded cabinet for the dirty sounds and my Fender Blues Jr combo for the clean sounds. The guitar that was made available to me was the three single coil, maple fingerboard configuration.
With the pickup selector set on the bridge pickup only, clean sounds through the Blues Jr were bright and chimey, almost brittle if I cranked the treble on the amp. Backing off the treble control just a bit takes the edge off and makes for a nice bright clean sound. My personal favorite setting on the Strat (for clean sounds) is position 4 (middle and neck pickup together). In this position the American Special Strat has all of the warm, classic clean tone that we all love. Bell-like and full-bodied, with rich overtones and the much loved out of phase sound that is provided by the two pickups running together. I don’t recall ever playing a Strat that I liked any better for this type of sound. The Texas Special pickups do a wonderful job with clean sounds providing you know how to dial in your amp.
When I dimed the volume on the Jr I was rewarded with a hard-hitting, mildly overdriven tube tone that was music to my ears. This was with the bridge and middle pickups together. The bridge pickup alone, with the same amp settings, produced a Hendrix-like tone that would be useable for all kinds of classic rock applications.
Now for theMarshall’s turn. I began with pristine clean settings again because the DSL does that tone quite well, better than most Marshall stuff. On channel 1 with just a touch of gain (about 4 on the knob) I nailed some of my favorite sounds. Turn it up loud and it is very SRV-like with this guitar. Back off on the volume knob a bit and you’re back to super clean, with a lot of warmth, on any pickup selection except the bridge pickup alone. Engage crunch mode on the clean channel and the tone explodes into Angus territory. Positions 2 and 4 on the pickup selector work exceptionally well in this mode as the added distortion combined with the single coils creates that magic mid-gain tone that only a Strat can really nail (think Voodoo Child). I was in tonal heaven. You will be too if you are a classic rock fan.
For the higher gain tones we’ll cut to the chase. Ultra Gain Channel, Lead II switch engaged, gain on 10. Start with your tone controls all set at 12:00 o’clock. Tweak the EQ until you get what you like and commence rocking. Strike the big G chord and brace yourself. The tone is smooth and richly saturated, but still has a tightness to it that produces a beautifully articulate sound that retains string definition and clarity. I couldn’t ask for a better classic Strat heavy rock tone. Single note passages sing with all of the searing power of Jimmy or Robin Trower on steroids. Power chords strike you like a punch. And talk about fun with feedback!
For all of you metal fans, I had to throw my Digitech Hardwire Metal Distortion pedal into the signal chain. The results were more than satisfactory. You’ll probably want to stick with position 2 on the p/u selector when using this much distortion unless you have a quality noise gate in your path. Otherwise, the extraneous noise may be more than you can bear. I was able to emulate Dimebag style heavy with a little bit of EQ tweaking. You know, scoop the mids and crank everything else.
One side note regarding the oversized headstock; whether you love it or hate it, the additional sustain that its’ extra mass provides is always welcome in my book. I’ll say it again, this guitar NAILS all of the classic Strat sounds. And it does it with a modern feeling neck that is both comfortable and fast. Fender’s goal has been realized fully in the American Special Series. If an American made Strat (or Tele) with modern “player” features, at a price that is in reach of the average player is what you’re after, look no further. I’ve already ordered mine.
Fit and Finish…………………….*****