Fender American Special Stratocaster
Promo: $1,280

Nobody’s mind should run wild upon the announcement of a new Stratocaster in the market; how else could a Stratocaster be & sound like? The American Special series of Strats & Teles are the manufacturer’s value conscious instruments very much in the veins of the Highway 1 model but these are one tier up the American offering, just before the glorious American Standards. So this year, Fender did the right thing by letting us own an affordable American instead of going the excessive way.

Quality/ Fit/ Finish
Fender got it right with the Highway 1 series when it comes to excess stripping without leaving us with a quasi-useful surplus. The American Special works likewise but it’s a class above the Highway 1 due to a gloss poly finish & Texas Special single coils at the tone helm. All American Fenders prove to be top notch when it comes to QC standards & how things are put together. One just needs to handle the American Special in person to virtually feel its reverence in this aspect. Despite the added gloss, this Strat isn’t massive, it weighs more than the average Highway 1 model but not as profound as the American Standard (not that the Standard is excessively heavy). All in all, there isn’t much penalties to conjure here, in fact, there is none. Fender’s Highway 1, American Special & American Standard models are the manufacturer’s impressive mark in production scrutiny & should be the standard to beat.

Rating: 95%

Playability/ tone
The American Special sounds rich unplugged, the gloss finished body managed to manifest more bass than the Highway 1 but still retain the necessary brightness which makes things very Fender-like. We’d expect similar voicings upon plugging in but this is when the Texas Special trio inject their own influences into the mix. Inherently, these pickups are spanky in the top end, some of us might hear excessive treble but it’s nothing the tone control could not cure. In clean mode the Texas Specials retain Fender’s signature twang without manifesting too much differences but that vintage roundness isn’t quite present- it’s all about the pickups. Similarly, in overdrive mode, the American Special excels in its clarity but should one yearn for a warmer voicing, the Texas Specials’ growl retains the instrument’s contemporary characteristic & would repel the vintage campers. Nevertheless, this attribute should appease the drive-inclined among us as our single notes remain clear & differentiated throughout all pickup combinations. The quirk here is in the tone control wiring; the American Special Strat’s middle single coil is not wired to the tone pot. This is where the instrument’s tone differ from the Highway 1 & the American Standard so upon playing the instrument, one could be taken by the joy of this difference.

Feel-wise, the American Special is as Fender as any American make. The neck’s shallow C-section makes sure proceedings are equally appealing to the fleet-fingered as well as the dig-in-&-let ring players. The audition model set up in neutral mode; neither too low nor too high, just nice to get the job done- any job that is. A word of caution to the whammy excessive among us, the American Special’s vintage type vibrato bridge isn’t meant for wide-ranging displacements, in fact, it feels rather stiff compared to a 2-point unit- be gentle, just wobble.

Tone test equipment:
• Amplifier: Marshall JVM/ Peavey XXL
• Effects: CMat Mods Butah/ Ibanez TS9

Rating: 91%

Final say
The American Special is an American Fender guitar yet it’s made affordable & the details here would (hopefully) quell any suspicions in terms of cost cutting. It’s less laborious finish as well as the absence of a hard case, are key considerations in terms of affordability. The American Special is a product of much listening on Fender’s part; many of us want our Strat glossy with a more established set of hardware & electronics so the Highway 1 models are selections for the less fussy while this range addresses the general calling. This reviewer is rather hesitant to acknowledge the instrument’s tier standing & feels the American Special proves to be a product of high acclaim & should not be overshadowed by the manufacturer’s own American Standard range. The ‘Fender’ allure aside, the American Special is truly a splendid instrument in terms of playability & tone; highly recommended.

Final rating: 92%

Product availability:
• Swee Lee Co
• SV guitars/ Standard Value
• BGW Guitars

• Guitar’s overall quality
• Playability/ tone
• Price

• No hard case, only bag provided
• Limited colours

Worthy competitor:
• Swing: R1