Fender Player Series Stratocaster Review (2020)

Pros

  • It’s a legit Fender Stratocaster…enough said
  • Vesatile; great for most types of music
  • Excellent value for the price
  • Very good build quality
  • Ergonomic shape; comfortable neck and body
  • Sound quality on par with American verions

Cons

  • Single coil pickups aren’t suited for high gain
  • Thin c-shape neck might not be comfortable for those with bigger hands
  • Fretboard radius doesn’t allow for very low action

The Fender Stratocaster has been a staple in modern music since the mid-50s. In fact, a good amount of the most well-known rock, blues, and country songs were recorded with Stratocasters.

WIth its dual-cutaway, contoured body, three pickups, and five-way pickup selector, Stratocasters are easily the single-most versatile guitar you can buy.

I can tell you that after decades of performing, recording and some touring, a good Stratocaster is still my #1 guitar of choice. From its comfortable neck and body, versatile tones and easy playability, there’s no other guitar that can do all the things I need and have all the tones that are in my head like a Stratocaster. 

If you’re looking for a Stratocaster, if you’re not sure that you want one, or if you just came across this review and like guitars, read on and you’ll see why the Fender Player Stratocaster is such an iconic guitar.

In this comprehensive review of the Fender Player Stratocaster, you’ll learn why this model is not only a great guitar but a great value for players of any level, from basic beginner to touring professional.

Specifications

To kick off this Fender Player Stratocaster review, let’s first take a look at some of the specs that make this guitar so great. 

Tinted neck with “C” profile

This is a popular and comfortable neck profile for chords, leads, and all types of playing – a favorite among Stratocaster players. 

9.5″ radius neck, 25.5″ scale length

My favorite radius, this 9.5” radius makes the fretboard round enough to fit in your hand well, but also flat enough to play correctly and accurately – a great mix of both. 

Rosewood or maple fingerboard with 21 medium jumbo frets

  • Both fingerboards are made very well.
  • The dark rosewood version gives a slightly warmer tone, with a woody feel to the neck.
  • The lighter-colored maple fingerboard gives a slightly brighter tone, and has a more polished feel on the fingerboard.

Three Fender Standard single-coil pickups with five-way switching

  • Very good, versatile tones from these three pickups.

With the five-way selector, you can choose between:

  • Bridge pickup
  • Bridge and middle pickup together
  • Middle pickup
  • Middle and Neck pickup together
  • Neck pickup
  • Each position has its own distinct tone, and can cover a wide range of music styles.

Shielded body cavities

  • This helps reduce unwanted noise from nearby electronic devices and lights. This is a big bonus when you rehearse or perform and don’t want the keep the line signal and noise-free as you can. 

Vintage-style synchronized tremolo bridge with high-mass block

  • This tremolo allows you to lower the tension on all strings, which lowers the pitch of the notes.
  • Not good for heavy or aggressive tremolo use and dive-bombing, which will cause your guitar to go out of tune fast. 
  • Swapping the factory tuners for locking tuners can help keep this guitar in tune better if you play to use the tremolo a fair amount. 

’70s-style headstock logo

  • Fender has produced various flavors of their headstock logo over the years, and this 70s is always a favorite style among many players.

Synthetic bone nut

  • A good-sounding, solid replica of classic bone.
  • Helps strings move just the right amount to stay in tune while bending, and cut at the right height for string action to make playing easy. 

Medium Jumbo frets

  • The Medium Jumbos are the standard for frets.
  • Many guitars from various companies use these frets, as they tend to appeal to the widest range of players. 
  • They feel low enough to not hinder your playing, yet tall enough for your fingers to grab the string when bending or using vibrato. 

Design

The Fender Stratocaster probably has the most iconic design for a guitar in the world, next to only the Gibson Les Paul.

There are probably a thousand other guitar brands that have copied this exact design.

But make no mistake, the Fender Player Stratocaster is no copy.

Despite being manufactured in Mexico, it is a legit Stratocaster in every sense of the word.

I find the classic dual-cutaway body makes for easy access to upper frets when you’re playing up high – more so than the single-cutaways Les Paul style of body. 

The rear contour on the body makes it very comfortable to hold and play, whether I’m sitting and practicing, or standing for hours on end at a rehearsal or live performance. The front forearm contour is a nice resting place for your end and eliminates a hard edge for your arm to sit while you are playing. This guitar is made to be played for hours and hours. 

I feel this Stratocaster is the most balanced of all guitars in terms of the way it’s made.

Much more so than a Les Paul-style guitar, which always seemed very heavy and awkward to me.

The most important factor to consider when choosing a guitar is whether it feels comfortable to you.

Whether you’re just learning to play, or play professionally, the design of this guitar is made to fit your well and to be comfortable for as long as you want to play it. I would even say that this guitar feels like an extension of you, rather than an awkward piece of wood that you’re trying to get used to. 

An awkward guitar can really get in the way when you’re learning to play, and also when you want or need to play for a long time. There are no worries about ease and comfort with a Stratocaster. 

Although there have been some slight variations in headstock design (like any product, just to make things different from year to year), the design of this guitar has not changed since it first hit the stores in 1954. 

This Stratocaster has a style that has been copied since it arrived. A solid classic rarely needs to change, and the Player Series Stratocaster is a great example of that. 

For people that like to customize their guitar, I can’t think of a guitar that’s more suited to customizing than a Stratocaster. With an endless choice of tuners, pickups, knobs, bridges, and pickguards, and inner components, there is no limit to how much you can customize this. 

I’ve kept my Player Series Stratocaster stock but modified my American Standard Stratocaster. The beauty of this design is that it’s just such a great guitar that you can either leave stock or modify in any what you can think of. This guitar can change however you want it to. 

Build Quality

The build quality of the Fender Player Stratocaster is much better than you’d expect in this price range.

As a long-time owner of both Mexican Player Series and American Standard versions, I can tell you that this Mexican Stratocaster is pretty much a perfect guitar all around.

The neck feels smooth and slim. All fret edges are smooth, with no rough edges. The bridge pieces work well, look great and adjust easily. The tuners move smoothly and make tuning quick and easy. Nothing on this guitar makes you feel like you’re settling, and you feel quality and attention to detail all around. I feel the level of quality on this guitar is well-above the price tag and continues to make it a great guitar and an amazing value. 

I will note that after my first year of heavy playing and performing with this Player Stratocaster, the input jack starting cutting out randomly. This is not uncommon with heavily-used guitars that are moved around a lot, and played for hundreds of hours, though. After a quick soldering fix and check of all existing connections, there haven’t been any other such issues in many years.

Electronics

The Fender Standard single coils that come on this guitar are well-suited for many styles of music and will give you the classic Stratocaster sound you’re looking for. From blues, rockabilly, country, classic rock, and many other styles, these pickups won’t disappoint.

The volume and tone pots work well, and the pickup selector is very solid. I speak from experience because I constantly adjust them while I perform.

This is especially true with the cover bands I’ve played in since I have to change sounds so often to accommodate multiple different bands and styles of music.

As noted, Stratocasters and highly-customizable, and you’ll have a wide variety of pots and pickups, should you ever want to upgrade the electronics, or just customize them for creative reasons. 

Sound

In my opinion, few guitars are as versatile as a Stratocaster as far as tone options. I’ve played hundreds of shows with this guitar that include rock, jazz, blues, country, metal, ambient, and grunge. This guitar easily handles a wide range of tones and styles. 

Hard rock and metal might be a stretch since these single coils can get noisier if you use mid to high levels of distortion, overdrive, and gain. Using the 2 and 4 positions of the selected switch can cut down on that noise, as those positions combine two pickups at the same time, and help reduce the hum.  

If you ever decide to customize this guitar, you have an unlimited number of options regarding pickups. Many companies make single-coil replacement pickups, as well as single-size humbuckers tor different tone options. 

I’ve used various pickups on my Strats in the past, including custom pickups from Lace Sensor, Dimarzio, Seymour Duncan, and Lindy Fralin. 

This Player Series Stratocaster is a great guitar if you leave it stock, but it’s also open to high customization if you want to go that route. There’s no other guitar that gives you as many options to change with your tone, your musical phases, and your playing in general. 

Playability

This guitar immediately felt like “home” to me when I first picked it up. Everything I play on this guitar is effortless, which brings out the best in my playing, and will allow you to express your musical ideas very easily. 

To be honest, for a long time I liked playing my Mexican Stratocaster better than my American Standard. The frets on the Player Series Strat were the perfect shape and height. I felt the American’s frets were just a little too high and that made it a chore to play easily on the higher frets. The type of frets on both are “Medium Jumbo”, so they should be the same but I always felt the Standard was a better playing guitar from the start. 

I’ve had some nice, fast metal guitars in the past that are built for speed and did that job well, but this Strat was the first guitar that I truly enjoyed playing more than any other.

I would spend hours and hours switching between the pickups, tweaking the sound, and just enjoying the inspiration that all the tones gave me. There’s nothing like a versatile, playable guitar to inspire ideas and allow you to be creative, and this guitar will truly help all of that. 

Mexican Stratocaster vs American Stratocaster

The Player Series of Fender guitars are made in Mexico, with the American Standard (or now the American Professional), being made in the USA. They are both great guitars with some slight differences.  

After looking at the spec comparison, you might ask yourself why someone would buy the American Standard version when the specs are pretty similar, but the American costs over twice as much.

There are other differences between these two guitars that you can’t always put in a chart, small things that don’t matter to many people, but that some others might like and therefore will pay extra.

After having played Stratocasters almost exclusively for many years, that difference is very small. Just like watches, cars, cameras, and other products that have different levels of features, some people want a simple, great product that will last, and some others want something a little higher-end, even if both products do the exact same thing.

Darrel Braun actually made a very good video breaking down the tonal differences between the American and Mexican Stratocasters. You’d be surprised at how similar they sound. In some cases, I even preferred the Mexican Strat!

Sure, if you compare the build quality between an American Strat and a Mexican Strat side by side, the American DOES come out on top.

In terms of craftsmanship and attention to detail, the American models are slightly better across the board. They use better hardware, pickups, etc.

However, it’s definitely NOT 3 times as good as the price would suggest!

There are serious diminishing returns when you enter the realm of American made guitars.

In terms of build quality, sound quality, hardware, woods, etc, The Fender Player Series Stratocaster offers 90% of what the American Strat offers, but at a fraction of the price!

Not to say that you’d be disappointed with an American Stratocaster. It’s a proven guitar, and I’m sure you’d be happy with it. Just know that you are paying a premium.

In terms of value, the clear winner is the Fender Player Series Stratocaster

Fender Player Series Stratocaster Alternatives

  • Squier by Fender Standard Stratocaster​ – Budget Option
    • This guitar is a favorite among many beginners. It’s the same classic design, sound, and stylings, but made with a more budget-friendly goal in mind. 
  • Fender Classic Series ’50s Stratocaster
    • A solid guitar all around, the 50s era of Strats are a favorite among Strat fans, and bring you back to this iconic guitar’s beginning with its style and features. 
  • Yamaha Pacifica PAC611HFM
    • This is a very underrated guitar, and a great guitar in its own right in many ways. Yamaga did a great job creating a guitar that gives you a lot of what Stratocaster fans want but in a slightly different style. 
  • Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas
    • Charvel has made custom guitars for a long time, signature models for a number of professionals, and unique guitars of all kinds. This guitar is a great choice if you’re looking for something similar to a Stratocaster, but want a unique spin on it.

Is the Fender Player Series Stratocaster Right for You?

If you want one guitar to play pretty much anything, and you like the tone, look and feel of a classic Stratocaster, then I’m positive you’ll be happy with this guitar.

If you play heavier music, need higher gain or like to dive-bomb the tremolo, this might not be the best guitar for you like the stock model.

Many people do play heavier styles on Stratocasters, and there are many aftermarket parts you can buy to upgrade and customize this guy in pretty much any way you can imagine. 

I play a lot of heavy music, and I have two main Strats. My Standard is totally stock, and I consider this my classic Strat. I play a lot of blues, country, indie, ambient, and some classic rock on it. 

My American Standard is highly-modified: refinished body, locking tuners, custom pickups (Seymour Duncan JB Jr, Lace Silver, Lace Blue), custom wiring, several custom pickguards, blocked bridge, hand-smoothed contours. I consider this my modern Strat. I play a lot of blues, classic/modern rock, grunge, metal, djent, and jazz on it. 

So, because this is such a versatile and customizable guitar, it’s hard to think of who WOULDN’T love this guitar. Just know that this guitar can and will evolve and grow with you, and (like mine) will be a lifelong friend, through all phases of your playing, through any style of music, and with any level of customization, you might want to throw at it. 

The Verdict

Overall, I can confidently recommend theFender Player Series Stratocaster. It captures everything you would expect from a Strat at an affordable price. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better value in a guitar.

You can never go wrong with a Stratocaster. Although the American Professional is considered to have better-quality components, electronics, and other details, this Standard version is by no means a “lesser” guitar. Through many years of live performances, I’ve never been let down by this guitar, and always enjoy picking it up. 

I was a major metal head when I started playing and had no interest in Strats. After hearing Stevie Ray Vaugahn and a few other Strat players, I knew I had to have that tone, and my metal guitars at the time couldn’t get that sound. I bought a Fender Player Series Stratocaster and never looked back.

Loving it so much I bought a 98 American Standard a few years later, and I can’t imagine anything else I’d ever want in a guitar.

You can cover so many tones and styles, it’s just enjoyable and inspiring to play. If you don’t already have one, I really feel you need to look into a Stratocaster, and this Mexican Strat is the perfect introduction to the world of Strats.

If you already have a Stratocaster, or maybe a few, this would be another great addition to your guitar stable, either to keep stock or to customize as you see fit. 

Whether you keep it stock or customize it, just having this workhorse guitar is a great feeling. I can tell you that as a guitar player, this guitar has opened up so many possibilities and ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

My playing became more diverse because of its tones, my technique became better, my ear got better at tweaking tones, and I found myself often playing with lesser gain than I usually would because I loved the tone so much. 

Another example of this guitar being a solid, versatile workhorse is Ike Willis. Ike was Frank Zappa’s right-hand co-writer and bandmate. For years they wrote, recorded and performed together. Ike is a great guitar player as well and can play any guitar he wants.

I’ve met Ike a few times and have two friends that were in his touring band. Most of the time, you will see Ike playing this stock Player Series Stratocaster on stage, and he gets some amazing tones out of it.

There’s a reason that Stratocasters have been so popular for decades, in nearly every style of music. Do yourself a favor and look into this Player Series Strat. The only warning I would have is that you could very well become addicted to Strats and let your other guitars collect dust. 🙂

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