Buying A Strat: Fender American vs Mexican

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If you are in the market for a Fender Stratocaster, you are bound to face one dilemma: should you go for the American Strat or the Mexican Strat? This is a question that has stirred debates among guitarists for years. The difference between the two traces back to the roots of Fender’s legacy, from the crafting process to the distinctive sound. The decision might seem challenging, considering the craftmanship involved and the influence Fender has had in the music industry. Our deep dive into the specifics of both models will give you a clearer perspective and guide your choice based on factors such as budget, needs, and preferences. Uncover the idiosyncrasies of these instruments and make an informed choice on your next Stratocaster!

The Legacy of Fender Guitars

The Origin and Evolution of Fender

The tale of Fender guitars starts with Leo Fender, a radio repairman who had a knack for electronics. In 1946, he teamed up with “Doc” Kauffman, a former chief designer of electric guitars for Rickenbacker, to form K&F Manufacturing Corporation. Their first invention was a lap steel guitar with a magnetic pickup, which was a big deal back then.

Fender’s real game-changer came in the late 1940s when he started working on a solid-body alternative to the hollow-body guitars that were all the rage. The first solid-body guitar Fender introduced was the Esquire in 1950, followed by the Broadcaster (later renamed Telecaster) in 1951. The Stratocaster, arguably the most recognizable guitar ever made, hit the market in 1954.

But Fender didn’t stop at guitars. In 1951, he brought out the Precision Bass, the first electric bass to really catch on with musicians. The Jazzmaster and the Jaguar, big hits in the surf guitar scene, came out in the late 1950s and 1962, respectively.

Fender’s Prominence in the Music Industry

Fender guitars have been a mainstay in the music industry for over seven decades. They’re known for their versatility, durability, and iconic sound. Musicians from Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix have used Fender guitars to create some of the most unforgettable music in history.

Fender guitars have been played in various genres of music, including country, blues, R&B, rock, and world music. They’ve also had a big impact on the sound of African styles and other world music. The Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars and electric basses have become standards in the music business and are still in high demand today.

Artistry and Precision: The Craft of Building Fender Guitars

The process of making Fender guitars begins with choosing the wood. Specialized cutting machines are used to cut the shape of the body and neck with extreme precision. The bodies of Fender guitars are typically made of ash or alder. After the wood is cut, a series of sanding processes shape the body and neck. The bare wood is then coated in lacquer and paint, a process that’s a closely guarded secret.

Fender guitars are famous for their iconic designs and top-notch craftsmanship. They’re made with an eye for detail and use high-quality materials. Fender guitars are built to last and offer exceptional playability. They’re suitable for various genres of music and come in a range of prices to fit different budgets.

A Primer on the Different Models of Fender Guitars

Fender offers a variety of electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and bass guitars. The American Standard Stratocaster is a well-known and iconic guitar that’s remained largely unchanged since its debut in 1954. The Stratocaster is known for its space-age lines, smooth contours, double cutaways, and three-pickup arrangement. It’s versatile and has been used by artists in various genres, including rock, blues, country, metal, and jazz.

The Telecaster was the first mass-produced electric guitar, while the Stratocaster has become the world’s most recognizable guitar silhouette. Fender also revolutionized the electric bass with the Precision Bass.

Choosing between American and Mexican Fender guitars ultimately comes down to your budget, preferences, and needs. The American-made Fender guitars are generally considered to be of higher quality and craftsmanship compared to the Mexican-made ones. However, Mexican-made Fender guitars are more affordable and offer good value for the price. It’s a good idea to try out both versions and compare them to see which one suits your needs and preferences.

An Orange and black American Fender Stratocaster

Fender American Stratocasters: A Deep Dive

Standout Features of American Stratocasters

American Stratocasters are distinguished by several unique characteristics. The body is typically crafted from alder or ash, each contributing distinct tonal qualities. Alder is appreciated for its light weight and balanced tone, while ash is favored for its articulation and presence.

The neck profiles of American Stratocasters are diverse, with the majority featuring a “C”-shaped neck, though some models offer a “V”-shaped or “U”-shaped neck. The fingerboard radius and fret sizes also vary among models, providing a spectrum of playability options.

These guitars also boast unique sets of pickups and additional electronics, such as the American Ultra’s V-Mod pickups and the American Professional’s treble bleed circuit. These features, coupled with different tremolo systems, provide a broad spectrum of tonal possibilities.

Unpacking the Variety: Types of American Stratocaster Models

American Stratocaster models are diverse, each with its own unique features and characteristics. The American Performer Stratocaster, for instance, has a maple neck with a modern C shape profile and a satin urethane finish. It also features a rosewood fretboard with a 9.5″ radius and jumbo frets.

The Player Series Stratocaster also has a maple neck with a modern C shape profile and a satin urethane finish, but it’s slightly slimmer due to the reduced nut width. This model offers a choice of maple or pau ferro fretboards with a gloss urethane top coat and medium jumbo frets.

The American Vintage ’65 Stratocaster is the highest-priced model, showcasing the quality and craftsmanship that goes into American Stratocasters.

Behind the Scenes: The American Strat Manufacturing Process

The manufacturing process of American Stratocasters involves a high level of precision and attention to detail. The bodies are finished with transparent finishes, such as sunburst models, to hide the joins. The finishes are typically made of polyester lacquer, which cures to a rock-hard finish in a matter of hours.

The hardware used in American Stratocasters is of higher quality, such as the Classic Gear tuning machines and a steel block in the tremolo system, which provides superior resonance, sustain, and tone. The electronics and wiring, such as the Fender Greasebucket tone circuit and Yosemite pickups, are also high-end, contributing to the guitar’s overall performance and sound quality.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of American Stratocasters

American Stratocasters offer a range of benefits, including high-quality materials and construction, a wide range of tonal possibilities, and a rich history of being played by iconic guitarists. They also have a higher resale value compared to other models.

However, these guitars also come with a higher price tag, which might not be within everyone’s budget. The weight of a Stratocaster can also vary due to variations in wood density and component structure, which may affect the comfort and playability for some players.

Despite these considerations, American Stratocasters continue to be a popular choice among musicians of all levels and genres, thanks to their versatility, quality, and iconic status.

Fender Mexican Stratocasters: An In-Depth Examination

Distinctive Characteristics of Mexican Stratocasters

The MIM Strat, while bearing a resemblance to its American sibling, has unique features. It sports an open-coil humbucker pickup at the bridge and single-coil pickups at the neck and middle, providing a hotter output and more mid-range. This configuration results in a versatile sound suitable for a variety of music genres.

The MIM Strat is constructed with a 25.5″ scale, an 11-hole pickguard, and a contoured alder body. The neck and fretboard are meticulously crafted, featuring a comfortable modern C-shaped neck and properly filed medium-jumbo frets. Depending on the model, you can choose between a maple or pau ferro fretboard. The headstock design is reminiscent of the American Stratocaster, with the cursive, CBS-era Fender logo on the Standard series.

Exploring the Range: Mexican Stratocaster Models

Fender Mexico offers a variety of series, each with unique specifications and features. The Player Series is a versatile option with a classic design and modern appointments. The Vintera series offers vintage-style design and specifications with different versions for the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The Deluxe series, on the other hand, has modern specifications and features, including noiseless pickups and locking tuning pegs.

Each series caters to different needs and preferences, striking a balance between aesthetics and performance. The cost of a MIM Strat can vary depending on the series and features, but they’re generally more affordable than American Strats. This makes them a popular choice for many guitarists, particularly intermediate players looking to upgrade from entry-level models or ambitious beginners seeking a quality guitar.

The Creation Process: How Mexican Strats are Made

The MIM Strat is manufactured in the Fender factory in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. The bodies and necks are made in the USA and then sent to Mexico for assembly and finishing. The MIM Strat uses components imported from Korea, while the American Strat uses components made in the USA.

The Mexican factory was established in 1985 and initially focused on packing strings. However, as demand for Fender guitars increased, they began manufacturing instruments as well. Workers at the Mexican factory were trained by experts from Fujigen, using Japanese techniques and processes. The first Mexico-made Fender guitars were introduced in 1991, and the factory has since played a significant role in shaping the guitar world, producing high-quality instruments at a more affordable price point.

Evaluating the Advantages and Disadvantages of Mexican Stratocasters

The MIM Strat offers several advantages. It delivers a strong and consistent sound, albeit not as rich as the American Strat. It’s a good choice for intermediate guitarists who want to upgrade from their entry-level models or for ambitious beginners who want a good-quality guitar. The MIM Strat can also be modified with new pickups, electronics, and hardware to achieve a sound closer to the American Strat.

However, there are also some disadvantages to consider. The build quality of the MIM Strat is generally considered to be lower than that of the American Strat. The sound of the MIM Strat is often described as lacking in bite and definition compared to the American Strat. The American Strat also holds its value better than the MIM Strat.

In the end, the choice between the MIM and American Strat ultimately comes down to personal preference and budget. Both offer their unique advantages and can cater to different needs and preferences.

A Man singing and playing a fender stratocaster guitar on stage

American Vs. Mexican Stratocasters: Head-to-Head Comparison

When choosing between the American and Mexican Stratocasters, several factors come into play.

Scrutinizing the Differences in Construction

The construction of these guitars varies in certain aspects. The American Stratocaster features ash bodies, while the Mexican Stratocaster is crafted with alder bodies. The American version has an additional fret on the neck, totaling 22, compared to the Mexican version’s 21. The American Stratocaster also boasts a two-point tremolo bridge, contrasting with the Mexican Stratocaster’s six-point tremolo bridge.

The finish on these guitars also diverges. The American Stratocaster is finished with polyurethane or nitrocellulose, while the Mexican Stratocaster is finished with polyester. This distinction can influence the guitar’s tone and durability.

Sound and Performance: A Side-by-Side Comparison

While both guitars can produce a broad spectrum of tones, there are subtle differences. The American Stratocaster is celebrated for its wider dynamic range, enhanced clarity, and more tonal depth. Conversely, the Mexican Stratocaster delivers a robust and enjoyable Stratocaster tone.

The American Stratocaster also features premium pickups, such as the V-Mod or Custom Shop Fat ’50s, while the Mexican Stratocaster may come with Standard Single-Coil Strat or Player Series Alnico pickups. These variations in pickups can influence the guitar’s sound and tone.

Comparing the Cost: Which Offers More Bang for Your Buck?

In terms of cost, the Mexican Stratocaster is more budget-friendly, with prices ranging from $300 to $700. Conversely, the American Stratocaster can exceed $2,000. However, the American Stratocaster is seen as a piece of history and carries a certain prestige. It also tends to have a higher resale value than the Mexican Stratocaster.

Assessing Durability and Longevity: Which Lasts Longer?

In terms of durability and longevity, both guitars are built to last. However, the American Stratocaster is crafted with superior materials and craftsmanship, which may contribute to its longer lifespan. The Mexican Stratocaster, while still durable, is made with more cost-effective materials.

In conclusion, the choice between an American and a Mexican Stratocaster depends on your individual preferences, budget, and level of playing. Both guitars offer great sound and playability, but the American Stratocaster provides higher quality and more versatility.

group of men on stage playing guitar

Making Your Decision: Choosing Between American and Mexican Stratocasters

Identifying Your Needs: What Kind of Guitarist Are You?

Understanding your requirements as a musician is crucial. If you’re a novice or an intermediate player seeking an affordable option, the Mexican Stratocaster could be your match. It offers a robust sound and is a cost-effective choice for those at the beginning of their musical journey or still refining their skills.

Conversely, if you’re a seasoned musician, a Strat enthusiast, or a veteran guitarist, you might prefer the American Stratocaster. This guitar is steeped in nostalgia and is seen as a piece of musical history. It’s celebrated for its tonal balance and top-end headroom, allowing for bright tones that remain consistent and pleasing to the ear.

Balancing Quality and Cost: How to Consider Your Budget

When weighing quality against cost, consider the differences in construction, materials, and overall performance of the two Stratocasters. The American Stratocaster, while pricier, is often seen as superior in quality. It’s constructed with a three-piece body of ash, has 22 frets, and is equipped with American-made pickups.

The Mexican Stratocaster, while more affordable, still delivers excellent playability and sound. It’s constructed with an alder body, has 21 frets, and is equipped with pickups made in Mexico or Korea. It offers great value for money, particularly for beginners or intermediate players.

The Role of Personal Preference in Choosing a Guitar

Your personal preference is a significant factor in choosing a guitar. Aspects such as the guitar’s feel, the sound it produces, and even its aesthetics can influence your decision. For instance, the American Stratocaster has a ’70s style oversized headstock, while the Mexican Stratocaster has a standard-sized headstock. The color options for both guitars also vary, with the American Performer Strat offering a limited range of colors, and the Player Stratocaster offering a wider range.

Final Thoughts: Making the Best Choice for Your Musical Journey

In the end, the optimal choice between an American and Mexican Stratocaster will hinge on your personal preferences, playing style, and budget. Both guitars offer excellent quality and playability, and the choice between them often comes down to your specific needs as a musician. Whether you’re a beginner seeking a cost-effective option or a professional desiring a piece of musical history, both the American and Mexican Stratocasters have something to offer.

Making Your Decision

Deciphering the differences between American and Mexican Stratocasters is more than understanding the nuances of construction, tonality, and price points. Ultimately, it’s about finding a guitar that resonates with you and echoes your musical aspirations.

Both models encapsulate Fender’s commitment to quality and carry the legacy of iconic musicians. So, whether you’re just strumming the first chords of your musical journey or are an experienced artist, there’s a Fender Stratocaster tailored for your unique requirements.

Remember, making music is subjective, and so is choosing your instrument. Let your passion guide your choice and may the strat you go for inspire you to create unforgettable melodies.


Andrew Scrivens

Andrew Scrivens

I am a live musician and guitar teacher from Brisbane, Australia, with extensive experience playing live, in the studio and for TV shows. I play in many venues, studios, music shops and with my students and as such am exposed to a lot of different gear. I form my opinions based on my experiences playing instruments in these locations.

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