Sixty-six years ago, Leo Fender invented the most famous solid-body guitar of all time. The venerable Stratocaster, built to refine the sound and feel of the earlier Telecaster, became known in the hands of musicians like Hendrix, Clapton, Gilmour, and Frusciante. It added an ergonomic shape and even more tonal possibilities; a third single-coil pickup and tremolo bar enabled greater tonal acrobatics, and the comfortable rounded edges of the body made it easier to play for hours.
Now, the second generation of Fender’s American Professional Series Stratocaster is here. It doesn’t get a new shape, but it showcases similar player-first improvements. It’s easier to play, offers more sounds, and it’s built to withstand decades of life on the road—even if it’s currently quarantined alongside its owners. After a few weeks of jamming out, I can say it’s easily the best off-the-shelf Stratocaster I’ve ever played.
Same Look, Better Feel
Aside from an assortment of new colors (including the gorgeous Miami Blue of my test unit), there are very few visual cues to let you know that the latest Strat, as it’s come to be colloquially called, is any different from the 66 years of Strats before.
It’s hard to blame Fender for sticking to the classic shape. When you have invented arguably the most iconic guitar shape of all time, you shouldn’t mess with it. Touch the new Strat though and you’ll feel immediately more comfortable than before.
The fretboard, for example, is now slightly rounded at the edges to feel a bit more broken in. It keeps the same comfortable asymmetrical neck as the original model (thinner towards the headstock, slightly thicker higher up the fretboard), but this time Fender sculpted the rectangular neck joint into something a bit more rounded, so you don’t poke yourself when sobbing through Van Halen licks.
I haven’t gotten to try the rosewood model, but I love the maple necks on these new Strats. My review unit had a beautiful glossy fretboard and “satin” back, which never felt sticky or slow when sliding back and forth. The bridge is now made out of cold-rolled steel, which Fender claims is one of the most popular aftermarket upgrades on the previous model. That beefier metal should provide a thicker tone.
All of these changes combine to create a very pleasurable playing experience, almost by default. As any guitarist will tell you, the way an instrument feels matters just as much as how it looks or sounds. These small physical touches demonstrate Fender’s commitment to making instruments better for players, year after year.
One thing purists will be interested to note is that Fender has completely stopped using ash wood in its mainstream guitars, due to supply issues stemming from the destructive emerald ash borer insects. Painted guitars are now alder, and sunburst and natural guitars are pine—like some very early Strats.
One of the many physical imperfections of electric guitars (don’t get me started on intonation) is how the strings can be slightly unbalanced. You’ll be playing the same volume with your picking hand, but different strings will be at slightly varying volumes. Fender says this is because of the way the alloy in each pickup’s magnet responds to differences in string thickness and pickup positioning.