Fender American Special series Stratocaster…..is there any point to buying an American Standard Strat Anymore?

Its been an interesting 12 months in guitarland in the UK, although VAT dropped down to 15% last year, if you wanted to buy a new guitar you’d think quite the opposite. The fluctuations in the worlds currency markets coupled with the big manafacturers own price increases has added about 25%+ onto the price of many desirable guitars, as guitars are now a measure of inflation in the Retail Price Index I’d wager that this has kinda contributed to the recent rise of inflation in the UK. Who’d have thought it eh?

When I last looked in 2008 the average dealer price in the UK for an American Deluxe Strat was £949.00…..now some dealers are selling old stock at that price …but for many shops the price is nearer £1100-1200.00 now.

Meanwhile American Standards seem to have gone up to about £849.00….considering they’ve been around £650-700 for the last few years thats quite a kicking your wallet would get if you bought new.

What I find curious is that Fender have now almost made the American Standard redundant. The introduction of the new American Special series has seen to that. Priced at a point between the Highway 1 budget US guitars and the American Standard, this is the Fender Ive been waiting for.

Essentially the American Special is a very canny move. The guitar is basically the upgraded version of the Highway 1 guitar, the SSH model has the modern C neck and Jumbo frets, the SSS model has a beefier 57 style neck with Jumbo fretwire coupled with nice gloss finishes (black/red/sunburts etc), hotter pickups (Fenders sublime Texas Specials as used in the Mark Knopfler sig guitar) and the H1′s 70′s style big headstock and logo.

Now Ive played a few Highway 1′s in my time and the neck is superb….the Super Jumbo frets make it such a fast and fluid guitar to play. I found it actually really enjoyable and Im not usually a fan of Fenders skinny modern ‘C’ shape neck believe me.

So great necks, great pickups: All the strat tones will be there as its got a vintage style bridge….so essentially….why on earth would anyone buy an American Standard?

If you want a modern Strat with a trad tone this is it. If you want more contemporary voicings….splash out another £300 and buy an American Deluxe.

Whats interesting is that there are now 2 ranges of US built budget guitars below an American Standard…but spend another £100-150 on a deluxe and you’d get better pickups, hardware, electronics and in some cases a roller nut and locking tuners.

So who on earth buys an American Standard Strat these days?

Thinking of my player friends who own US Standard Strats its interesting to see that a pattern soon emerges as to why they own them.

They were all birthday presents…..usually for landmark birthdays such as 21sts or 18ths or even 50ths!

Only one of the 5 guitarists I know with the Am Std Strat guitar bought it used, and they turned it into a test bed for some pickups they was trying out. So in effect the American Standard is really a “house” guitar….a guitar thats unlikely to be used in anger beyond the odd jam in someones living room.

But my problem is this….of the recent American Standard Strats Ive played since year 2000 none has really lifted my skirt. Its almost like they’ve taken the soul out and made a generic, flat and characterless version of a classic guitar. Its the “pasteurised Strat” one without any real spite… bite…. or character. The only people who gig these are called “Barry”……they’ll be in the function band at your local Walkabout, Miners Welfare, British Legion or Pontins. Barry wears a nice jacket and a bowtie with his American Standard and probably chats up teenage girls in the interval….y’know those fame hungry, doe eyed, puppy fat pleasure units with pushy avaricious showbiz type parents….the ones that talk about auditioning for some dreadful TV talent show but never make it beyond Karaoke once a year and whose only rock and roll experiences will amount to some foul sexual pecadillo on the nightshift at ASDA with the Grocery Manager during unpaid overtime……My God…..how wretched!

But back to the guitar…

In past times…people would buy an American Strat and upgrade it, change the pickups and often upgrade the frets etc…..now Fender are offering guitars with these upgrades already carried out for less money than the base model….I cannot see the point of anyone owning an American Standard anymore.

But in some ways I can see exactly what Fender are trying to do with the American Special.

Its priced at around £660 on the street that puts it squarely in competition with Fender Japans own domestic market guitars, these popular grey import guitars (which coincidentally often have Texas Specials fitted as standard pickups) have attracted many buyers. Two years ago the Yen used to be about Y200 to the GBP which meant for about £600 you could buy a really nice J-Craft 57 or 62 type Strat with a lovely glossy finish. Despite the likes of Ishibiashi being banned by Fender from selling new J-Craft guitars, thanks to Ebay and the internet there is still a thriving market of third party grey import dealers, who can get you anything from Fender Japans domestic market range.

However the Yen is nearer Y145 to the pound now, which has made the grey import guitars increasingly expensive and just not the bargains that they once were. Fender know the most popular price point for an electric guitar is around the £500-600 mark. But Fender also knows that despite the increasing popularity of its Mexican made guitars. Many players would rather go the extra yard and buy a US guitar or instead opt for the Kudos of increasingly cultish J-Craft Fenders (the likes of Music Ground in London and Leeds still bring the odd guitar in).

So in effect the American Special kills two birds with one stone…it plays the patriot card and keeps the US guitar affordable and also enables Fender to compete with its own competition from Japanese domestic market grey imports and ranges from Tokai and Levinson Blade also.

£1100 on gumtree

Above: A used Relic for £1100 on Gumtree

But to me Fenders product line is still a mess, given they make the same basic designs in 6 different countries now at price points between £150-£5000, everything is now about brand values and marketing terms. If one steps away from the hyperbole of a Parchment scratchplate or a “custom shop” design. What we have are simple classic guitar designs that were born for mass production and also modification

The increased gentrification of the Fender Custom Shop ( A Custom Shop that builds more guitars in a month than a real boutique builder like Suhr would do in a year) has only made choosing a Fender guitar a more complex task and in some cases, a financial minefield. If you look carefully (I did find a couple on Gumtree and Loot), its perfectly possible to buy a limited edition Fender US Custom Shop “Relic” Strat on the used market today for the price of a new American Deluxe….Yes not allrelics loose value, if you have a John English masterbuilt relic its probably doubled in value as John English is now sadly deceased, but for the average team built guitar?

Thats a depreciation of 50% on the Relic in just 4 years…and with ever more reissues and marketing strategies of the worlds most popular Electric Guitar. Fender are selling us the same thing over and over again, which begs the question…

Are Fender not now at the point of actually devaluing their own brand?