Fender isn’t just a huge name in the music industry, as a brand it’s a pop culture icon. People who’ve never picked up a guitar in their life can usually pick a Fender out of a crowd, and in many cases, could probably even name some of their most famous players.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll be looking at the 7 best Fender models on the market right now. We’ll be taking a deep dive into their tones, playability, and overall build quality.
To keep the tests consistent, we used the same amp for every test, a Boss Katana 50 in both clean and crunch settings.
So, if you’ve been curious to try a Fender, but weren’t sure which model to go for, you’ll want to keep on reading as we take a look at some of their best models.
- Top 3 Picks
- Best Fender Guitar Reviews
- Buyer’s Guide
- What to Look for in a Fender Guitar
- Final Thoughts on the Best Fender Guitars
Top 3 Picks
The Fender Player Telecaster is our top pick. It offers superb performance and timeless styling, both being key attributes in any guitar. Considering the design’s age, it’s still versatile, and this current iteration comes with the modern conveniences that today’s players demand.
The Fender Player Mustang 90 is another guitar from the player series, and is our best budget option. As it was always intended to be, it’s one of the most affordable Fenders available, but it doesn’t sacrifice on style, sound, or build quality.
Players looking for the best of the best should look at our Editor’s Choice, the Fender American Performer Stratocaster. This is a US made Strat, built using the finest components by some of Fender’s best luthiers. It looks and sounds amazing, and is truly one of the best Fender guitars out there.
Best Fender Guitar Reviews
A classic brought right up to date for today’s player.
The Telecaster was the first mass produced solid body electric guitar in the world, and this latest version takes those decades of innovation, and provides features that the modern guitarist wants, while keeping the vintage styling intact.
The Fender Player Telecaster is the entry level Fender branded model, and it’s one of our absolute favorites.
It featured a 1 piece maple neck and fretboard, which perfectly complemented the sunburst finish. This Tele also featured a modern C neck profile, which was fast playing, comfortable, and because of the ergonomic design, it works really well for players with smaller hands. The fret edges were well finished, and the crowns were perfectly level, which definitely part of the reason that this guitar was so well intonated out of the box.
This Player Series Tele was set up with the traditional 2 pickup layout, with a single coil mounted on the bridge plate, a single coil in the neck position, and a 3 way selector switch. The neck pup gave us good warmth, and down in the bridge position, we got tons of the twang that Telecasters are so famous for.
Playability was good overall. The standard action might be a little high for some players’ tastes, but ultimately it was still well set up. It was equipped with Standard Die Cast Sealed Fender tuners, which we find do a good job on pretty much every guitar they get installed on.
We found the tuning stability to be good, no doubt it was aided by the synthetic bone nut, rounded saddles, and string through design. Telecaster purists may scoff at the 6 saddle bridge, but in reality, this is a far superior design that offers vastly improved intonation over the vintage 3 saddle brass barrel style setup.
Verdict: The Fender Player Telecaster is a great way to get into the Telecaster ecosystem without going overboard price wise. You get all of the classic telecaster tones from the manufacturer who brought them to you in the first place. It offers a comfortable neck, and is a wonderful guitar to play.
Searing tones and effortless playability.
With this guitar you’re getting a lightweight, easy to play instrument that’s built to last. It offers a very simplistic approach without sacrificing quality. The use of P90s gives it a unique tone amongst Fenders, and has a lot to do with why it became such an icon in the punk scene.
The Fender Player Mustang 90, a perennial favorite on the punk scene, is one of the highlights of the modern Fender lineup.
Our test model came in a super retro “Aged Natural” finish. Its alder body showed right through the gloss poly finish, and looked great. The body color was nicely accented by the faux tortoise pickguard and the chrome tail beneath the volume and tone knobs.
It had a standard C neck profile, which lands somewhere in between the modern C and the 60s vintage C as far as thickness goes. It’s a straight profile, so it doesn’t feature the asymmetric contour of the modern C, either. It had 22 medium jumbo frets, which we found to be well finished and properly leveled.
As for pickups, it was equipped with a pair of Fender’s Mustang P90s. These pickups are an absolute riot – they start out very clear, and almost sweet sounding, but they really do growl when you crank the gain, making it easy to see why, like the Les Paul Jr, they found such success with punk artists.
This Mexican made model actually uses the same bridge found on hardtail, string-through Stratocasters. It had excellent intonation thanks to the individually adjustable saddles, and the string through design does wonders for sustain, which is really important in such a lightweight guitar. Tuning stability was good, although it took a little longer to settle than most of the other models we tested, and this was probably down to the increased tension on the neck, as it’s set up with ‘10s from the factory.
Verdict: The Fender Player Mustang 90 offers some of the most unique tones of any Fender model on the market. It’s a great option for smaller or younger players thanks to the small body and light weight, but it really does work well for everybody. It’s constructed with the typical Fender build quality, so if it’s properly looked after, expect it to last a lifetime.
The gold standard of Stratocasters.
In a sea of Stratocasters and S-Style guitars, this particular Strat remains a true standout. Everything about it is of the highest quality, from the fixtures and fittings, to the finish, and the electronics. This model is the Stratocaster of choice for both seasoned professionals and amateurs in the know.
The Fender American Performer Stratocaster carries on the legacy laid down by the decades of American made Strats that came before it. It was a revolutionary design when it launched in 1954, and it has remained in constant production ever since.
First impressions of this Strat were great. Our test model had an alder body, and was finished in Lake Placid Blue, with a satin polyurethane clear coat. The finish was beautifully applied, with no flaws whatsoever, and the satin clear coat gave it a wonderfully tactile feel.
The Lake Placid Blue finish comes with a 1 piece maple neck with maple fretboard. The edges were nicely rolled, and the fretwork was some of the best we’ve ever experienced in an out-of-the-box guitar. The neck had a Modern C profile, which we found to be really comfortable.
It had a classic 3 single coil pickup arrangement and featured Fender Yosemites in all positions. We found that they performed well across a number of styles and genres, and their ability to reduce the 60 cycle hum that usually plagues single coils was remarkable. They’re made with alnico 2 and alnico 4 magnets, so as expected, we got a lot of warmth and depth in the tones.
This particular guitar had the vintage style 6 point trem, which we found worked really well. People seem to rave about the newer 2 point system, but we found that tuning stability remained strong even with heavy use on this vintage style setup. The roller string trees definitely assisted with keeping the tuning stability strong, as did the Fender Classic Gear tuners.
Action out of the box was fantastic, it was low with no fret buzz, and perfectly complemented the 9 gauge strings that came as standard.
Verdict: There are more expensive Strats on the market, but with a Fender American Performer Stratocaster, you’re getting everything you need and nothing more. This is still a pro level instrument that would be as at home on stage as it would hanging on the wall in your home studio or office. It’s a wonderfully dynamic guitar for all occasions, and one all guitarists should aspire to own.
A grunge icon revived and ready to play.
You don’t even have to be a grunge fan to appreciate how special this model is. This faithful replica of Kurt Cobain’s guitar offers exceptional attention to detail, and massive tones, not to mention the iconic looks.
The Jag was launched back in 1962, but this particular example, being a Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar NOS, is heavily modified from the 60s original, with custom elements being added to improve playability.
This model uses the incredibly popular Fender Modern C Profile neck, which we found to offer excellent ergonomics thanks to the asymmetrical design. The fretboard was rosewood, which both looked and felt good. The fret edges were well rounded, and the crowns were nicely polished, both of which made this Jag play like butter.
It was loaded with a pair of DiMarzio humbucking pickups, a DP103 PAF in the neck, and a DP100 Super Distortion in the bridge – exactly to Kurt’s specs. They delivered huge tone, with great clarity on the cleans, and gnarly crunch and distortion with the gain cranked. Instead of the standard 3 switch setup found on the original 60s model, this Kobain signature had a 3 way selector switch, which is again, true to the Nirvana front man’s modifications.
The vintage style synchronized floating trem system was great for playing surf style tones. It isn’t able to deliver Floyd Rose style divebombs, of course, but for adding a bit of texture to the sound, it was just fine. The tune-o-matic bridge provided stellar intonation, and the Gotoh sealed tuners delivered big time when it came to fine tuning and tuning stability overall.
We were impressed with the range of accessories that accompanied the guitar, including a hard shell case, and an exclusive Kurt Cobain book – a must have for die hard Nirvana fans.
Verdict: Of course the Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar NOS excels with grunge and heavier styles of music, but as with all Jaguars, it cleans up nicely, too, for surf and classic rock. The fit and finish were superb, and easily on par with American standard models, and the fact that it came standard with a hard shell case further increases the already great value that this model represents.
Fender’s original offset guitar with some modern refinements.
This guitar is a surf rock classic, delivering crystal clear tones, exceptional playability, and some of the coolest styling you’ll find on any guitar, anywhere. It’s voiced to replicate the original 60s sound, so if you’re into vintage tones, you’ll absolutely love this Vintera Jazzmaster.
Vintera series Fenders like this Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster aren’t reissues, but rather, are guitars inspired by vintage models. This particular guitar is blessed with classic tones, and modern playability, an excellent combination.
After unboxing it, we took a few moments to appreciate how good looking this guitar really was. The Olympic white finish had a creamy hue that really gave it the vintage look, and the faux tortoise 4 ply pickguard really pops against it.
We were big fans of the chunky Mid 60s C profile neck. It wasn’t quite as thick as something like a 50s Les Paul, but it had enough heft that it felt substantial in the hand. It is worth noting that players with smaller hands might not fare so well with this version of the Jazzmaster.
The fretboard was pau ferro. On the fretboard were 21 vintage-style frets, with smooth edges and nicely leveled crowns.
People often look at these single-coil Jazzmasters and mistake them for having soap bar P90s, but in fact, they are Fender’s 60s single coil pups. Up in the neck position we found it to be smooth and warm, and in the bridge position, all hell broke loose when we added some distortion.
It featured the same vintage-style synchronized floating tremolo system as the Jaguar. If you’re new to this type of bridge, you’ll need to note that it’s there for subtle textures rather than big bends. The hardware was all great quality. We found that the 6 saddle vintage style bridge provided the guitar with great intonation, and kept the tuning stability in check while using the trem system. It had Fender vintage style tuners, which performed well, and suited the aesthetic perfectly.
Verdict: The Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster offers a fantastic alternative to the more mainstream Fender options like the Strat and the Telecaster. It has a sound all of its own, it’s comfortable to hold and play, and the thick neck was an absolute joy to play. The fit and finish were excellent, and it’s yet another Mexican made model that is proving that you don’t have to choose a US-made model to get a great guitar.
A dynamic guitar with unique tones and some cool color options.
This is a great guitar for players who love Fender styling, but want to stand out in a pack of Strats and Teles. It features some interesting pickup combinations not found on other Fender models, netting some unique tones you won’t find anywhere else.
We were sent a Fender Player Lead II in what we think is the coolest color it comes in, Neon Green. It came with a maple neck and maple fretboard. The neck was glossy, which isn’t to everybody’s taste, but we never found it to be sticky or slow. It had 22 frets, with low cut horns that provided easy access to the upper frets. We didn’t find any issues with the fretwork, there was no sprout, and there was no obvious fret buzz.
This is another guitar with the Modern C asymmetrical neck profile. In the case of this guitar, it worked really well. The entire concept of the Lead II is aimed at being easy to handle, so the superior ergonomics of the neck combined well with the body to provide excellent playability.
As for pickups, it had 2 Alnico V single coils, both slanted and designed to provide excellent response and a wide variety of tones. It does cleans brilliantly, with excellent clarity, and enough warmth to prevent brittle tones, but flip the phase reverse switch into position 2 and you’ll find much more aggressive, yet thinner tones that really help the guitar to slice through even the busiest mix.
Like the Mustang, it had a hardtail Strat style 6 saddle bridge and a string through body. We found that the guitar was well set up on unboxing, so there were no issues relating to intonation or neck relief that required any attention. Being a hardtail with light (.009”) strings, tuning stability was rock solid right out of the box. The vintage tuners juxtaposed with the contemporary design, and performed well while looking good – a win in our book.
Verdict: The Fender Player Lead II is a definite conversation starter. At first glance, it’s very Strat-like, but after plugging in, it’s plain to see that it has a tone all of its own, and is far more than a budget Stratocaster. We loved the styling, and we were particularly impressed by the reliability. It was an overall excellent guitar that we’d gladly recommend to anybody looking for something a bit different.
A stunning acoustic with classic Fender styling.
This is an acoustic guitar that’s perfect for players who dig the Fender look. From the headstock, to the unique color options, there’s no mistaking this guitar for anything other than a Fender. It’s well made, with good attention to detail and quality components, which is always a recipe for a great sounding guitar.
The Fender Newporter Player is one of the newer models in the Fender lineup. It’s been one of our favorite acoustics since the first time we tried it out, so we were excited to spend some more time with it. In this case, we received it in the “Champagne” finish. Admittedly in pictures it wasn’t our favorite color, but in person we found it to be really attractive.
It had a medium sized concert style body, with a narrow waist that made it super comfortable to play. The neck was a Slim C profile, which made it incredibly forgiving, and really fast playing for the more advanced guitarist. On the walnut fretboard, the fretwork was impressive, with well finished edges, no fret sprout, and nicely polished crowns. We really loved the Strat style headstock, too. It really stands out on an acoustic, and really screams “Fender”.
The top was made from solid Sitka spruce, which is one of the premier tonewoods for acoustic guitars. The back and sides were layered mahogany.
We found the tones to be bright and peppy, and really very complimentary of the whole California vibe of this guitar. It wasn’t booming like a dreadnought, but it’s not trying to be loud, unless you amplify it using the on board Fishman electronics. When plugged in we still really enjoyed the tones; the natural character of the guitar was still present, which is a great sign of quality pickups.
The electronics also included a preamp with adjustable EQ, and even a built in tuner, a feature we found to be very convenient.
Tuning stability was strong, and the sealed Fender tuners performed admirably. There was no wiggle or play, and we rarely had to make adjustments.
Verdict: The Fender Newporter Player is a real gem in the lineup. It strikes a great balance between price and quality, yet it doesn’t doesn’t skimp on any of the important elements. It offers sweet tones with great balance, and is easily one of the coolest looking acoustics on the market.
Why Are Fender Guitars so Special?
One of the things that sets Fender apart in the world of guitars is their time in the game. Leo Fender built the first mass produced solid body electric guitar in the world, and now the brand that he founded has over 70 years’ experience in the manufacture of quality guitars.
Some of the most iconic musicians ever to pick up the guitar primarily used (or still use) Fenders, including the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Ronnie Wood, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hank Marvin, Dave Gilmour, and Buddy Holly to name but a few.
Why Are Fender Guitars so Widely Copied?
Despite their best efforts, Fender was unable to retain the copyright to their own designs, including their iconic Stratocaster and Telecaster bodies.
Fender never filed for copyright protection on their designs until 2003, and after a lengthy application and multiple lawsuits arguing against their case for exclusivity, a judge ruled in a 2009 decision, that they had been on the market for so long, that they had become “generic”. This ruling legally paved the way for any and all manufacturers to make their own versions of Fender’s body shapes.
Which Brands Does Fender Own?
Fender, which does business as FMIC (Fender Musical Instruments Corporation), is a much larger organization than many realize. It’s pretty well known that Squier is their budget and entry level brand, and in fact, many Squier models even feature some Fender branding, but some of the other brands they own may surprise you.
For example, Gretsch, Jackson, Charvel, and EVH are all FMIC brands. Fender even owns the Bigsby Electric Guitar Company, the manufacturer of Bigsby tremolo systems.
What to Look for in a Fender Guitar
Choosing a Fender can be tough due to the sheer number of models they sell. For this reason, it’s handy to understand the differences between the features that each of the models has.
Fender guitars typically come with a Strat style Tremolo system or a Jazzmaster style. The Strat style system offers a greater range of motion, with over a full step bend or slack available. While it is a very versatile system, it also requires a delicate hand in order to use properly and retain musicality.
The Jazzmaster system is used on a number of models and is a vintage style unit. It offers around a half step of string bending and is treasured by surf rock and rockabilly players. It’s less versatile than the Strat system due to having less mobility, but it’s a much more user-friendly system – although it’s worth noting that the arm doesn’t screw in, so it’s quite easy to knock it out and drop it.
There are a number of pickup styles available on Fender guitars. Most Strats have a 3 single coil pickup arrangement, which results in a very bright, clear tone.
Fender’s 60s vintage single coils, as found on the Jazzmaster, are warmer and mellower than Stratocaster single coils when played clean, but with high gain, they can get quite throaty.
Telecasters are known for having a larger bridge pickup than other models. Additionally, because their bridge pickups are mounted inside the bridge plate itself, they sound hotter than standard single coils. This results in the classic twangy sound that Teles are known for.
If you choose to go with a P90 equipped model, like the Mustang 90, you’ll get a much grittier tone. P90s are the go-to pickup for many punk and hard rock players because they have more bite than a single coil, but more edge than a humbucker.
Final Thoughts on the Best Fender Guitars
Love them or hate them, Fender will always have a place in the world of guitars. While they offer unmistakeable tones, and iconic designs, as a brand they continue to innovate, coming up with new models and new technologies to improve their old guitars – yet another reason why they are beloved by many.
To summarize, we think that our top pick, the Fender Player Telecaster is a great choice if you need a blend of performance and value. If you’re looking to get into an electric Fender at the lowest price possible, we’d recommend our Best Budget choice, the Fender Player Mustang 90. If you have the funds, and you’re looking for something special, the Fender American Performer Stratocaster is a phenomenal choice.