Guitar reviews – they’re a dime a dozen. I thought about what I could possibly add to everything that has been written or recorded about what is arguably the most iconic electric guitar in history. Everyone has pretty much weighed in on it – luthiers, master players, wannabes, down to the people who really don’t know what they’re talking about. But interestingly enough, I realized that I still had questions about the guitar left unanswered until after I actually bought one.
I’m not going to talk all that much about tone or how the sound of this thing blows everything else out of the water. If that’s what you’re looking for, I heartily suggest going to Youtube or your favourite guitar gear forum. I’ve seen and heard all that I want from those places. I don’t have the inclination to do the same. But if you want to read about things not often touched on by the other reviewers, please read on!
In case you missed it, my subject for this blog is the 2012 edition of the Fender American Standard Stratocaster. Yes, it’s 2014, but the specifications haven’t really changed. And more importantly, it’s what I have. A deal that was way too good to pass up came along, so I bit.
The American Standard comes in a number of colors. I would have wanted one in Jade Pearl Metallic, but the store didn’t have any. I was tempted to go for Mystic Blue, but the guitar that I was drawn to the most was this one in Olympic White. It was the first one I tested. Then I put it back on the shelf, quietly slapping one of the “Reserved” signs lying around, just in case. After trying a bunch of other Strats, I went back to it. And before you knew it, it was card swiping time at the cashier!
With everything else happening at home, it took a while before I finally had the time to sit down and take a real close look at this guitar. And now, I share to you my thoughts on what I saw.
I can work with a vintage-style Fender neck. But it doesn’t mean I like it at all. The 1 5/8” nut width, soft V profile and 7.25” fretboard radius isn’t particularly comfortable for my hands. Even if I’m no shredder, 21 frets seem a bit inadequate, as well. I went through two vintage-spec’d Japanese made Strats (one of which is also a Fender which I still have, as of this writing). And it takes significantly more effort for me to play cleanly. This is why, prior to this subject guitar, I have been opting for custom-made necks.
The American Standard is thankfully a lot friendlier to my hands. The slightly wider nut makes a significant difference when I play chords on the lower frets. And even though I hardly play that high up, having that 22nd fret is really nice in those rare times I’m called upon to do some guitar solo. Before I intently studied it, I was unsure if the fretboard radius going from 7.25” to 9.5” is enough. I’ve always thought that my ideal radius was somewhere between 10” to 12”. It turned out to be quite sufficient. I can now honestly say that I love these American Fender necks.
Production Fender necks come with either a maple or rosewood fretboard. The American all maple necks are curiously glossy at the fretboard, but with a satin back. They’ve obviously listened to their customers who rave over the non-sticky feel of bare or oiled wood. Satin poly is probably the best compromise between feel and protection there is.
I, however, went for a rosewood fretboard. It was actually the first thing that drew me to this particular guitar. It had the most striking grain among all the guitars in the Fender section, and that included the American Deluxes and the Custom Shop models.
The thing that I didn’t find much about was the rolled or rounded fretboard edges of the American series. I like it a lot – very comfortable. This probably made the Corona factory more particular with the frets themselves. There are hardly any sharp metal fret edges to lacerate your palm. The fretwork is still far from perfect, though. Some parts still need some smoothing and polishing.
You get the Fender-stamped non-locking tuners here. Personally, I prefer the locking or slotted variety. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad. They’re smooth and solidly built. And strung up properly, these do get the job done, even with the tremolo bridge set to float. I have a mind to keep them there forever, but I do have a set of Sperzels lying around here and going nowhere else. So, I might as well swap them out at some point.
Perhaps the weakest link in the neck construction is the nut. Fender calls it synthetic bone. To me, it only looks marginally better than cheap plastic. Heck, a lot of people are pretty sure it IS cheap plastic. Considering the retail price, why they didn’t just go ahead and use real bone is beyond me. Close inspection also revealed that, at least as far as this guitar is concerned, the slots are far from perfectly cut. The nut will definitely be the first thing that will be replaced in the neck.
This model is armed with a standard two-point tremolo bridge, but with vintage style bent steel saddles — a compromise between contemporary and vintage sensibilities. I don’t lose sleep at night thinking about it, but I do know a lot of people mind this modern versus vintage thing. American Standard Stratocasters are shipped out of the factory with the bridge set to float. That’s all well and good. Someone apparently tightened the springs of this particular guitar and set the bridge flush to the body for dive-only whammy action. It’s fine with me, as well. But what I do mind is the slot of the trem cavity cover being aligned for a floating bridge, which I find tedious. Unless you take that cover off, you have to change the strings one at a time. The whammy bar also seems to be bent for a floating bridge.
Speaking of the bridge, at first I thought that the trem cavity being partially exposed up front was a defect. But all the copies I saw were the same. This is something I would understand if the guitar had an aftermarket assembly. But this is a stock Fender American Standard tremolo bridge. I don’t think this is supposed to be the case. Furthermore, it is a good thing that the intonation is already good, if not close to being perfect. If there was a need for the first saddle to be moved closer to the neck, there might be a problem. There is already very little space left for it to move forward, as it’s almost touching the trem post. I also worry that the saddle is already scraping and bumping into the post whenever the trem goes for a dive. And again, all the copies in the store were set up like this.
The finish work on the body is consistent with the neck – impeccable, at least from the outside. Taking off the pickguard and covers reveals how it is a bit rough on the edges. It’s no big deal, but I do believe the workmanship along the control cavities is a sign of a builder’s level of attention to detail.
What I do find a big deal is that the routs weren’t precise. It’s fine for the stock pickguard assembly. But I hit a stone wall when I realized the fat Strat-configured assembly I was going to use didn’t fit. The bridge humbucker is a bit bulkier than usual, and its corners wouldn’t fit in the cavity. At first, I blamed the pickup’s size. But upon closer inspection, I realized that the bridge pickup rout on the body wasn’t straight. Otherwise, the assembly would have snugly fit. So, after a pang of frustration on my part, back in the stock electronics went. Should I find a different bridge pickup? Should I have the rout enlarged? Should I get a new body? This is a dilemma I did not expect to face.
I would like to clarify that I have nothing bad to say about the stock pickguard assembly, though. It’s a bunch of high quality components neatly put together. The Custom Shop Fat 50’s pickups aren’t bad sounding either. I certainly liked what I was hearing when I was testing all those Strats in the store. It just so happens that I have options on hand which I like better.
Despite its flaws, the Fender American Standard Stratocaster is a fine guitar. It’s not the best at anything in particular, mind you. In fact, I already have a list of things I will be doing with it to completely suit my tastes. But it does achieve what its name might suggest – become a measuring stick, a standard, for which other guitars can be held to.