There are few guitars as recognizable as Fender’s Stratocaster. Featuring a design that has remained largely unchanged since its initial introduction in 1954, the Strat has proven to as timeless in the looks department as it has been with regard to its performance
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’re covering the 7 best Fender Stratocasters for sale today. We’ve covered models at all ends of the price spectrum, designed for players of all abilities.
For this test we used the same Boss Katana 50 with each guitar. We ran the amp in clean and crunch settings to get a good feel for how the guitars performed in a range of scenarios.
If you’re yet to add a Strat to your collection and you’re wondering which is the best model to go for, you’re definitely going to want to keep on reading.
Features: Noiseless pickups, Soft C shape neck, Alder body
Benefits: Built to Jeff Beck's exact spec, Ultra fast neck, Classic Strat tones
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Features: Alnico V pickups, Alder body, C Shape neck
Benefits: Excellent ergonomics, Great pickup response, Strong tremolo bridge performance
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Features: Poplar body, Flamed maple top, HSS Pickup layout
Benefits: Awesome aesthetics, Versatile range of tones, Strong tuning stability
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- Best Fender Stratocasters – Our Top 3
- Best Fender Stratocasters: Individual Reviews
- How To Choose The Best Fender Stratocasters
- Final Thoughts on the Best Fender Stratocasters
Best Fender Stratocasters – Our Top 3
The Fender Player Stratocaster is our top pick when it comes to the Best Strats. It sits at the entry level of the Fender branded Stratocaster models, but it still offers amazing build quality with superb tone and comes in a massive range of finishes.
Our Best Budget choice was the Squier Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster. This model is available in one of 2 figured finishes and represents a huge leap forward in design for the Squier range. It offers great playability, and the classic Strat tones you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for the best Stratocaster and money is no issue, take a look at our Editor’s Choice, the Fender Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster. This model is made to the most exacting standards and features a number of upgrades focused on providing the best playability possible.
Best Fender Stratocasters: Individual Reviews
The Fender Player Series Stratocaster is the base model in the Fender branded line up. The test model we received had a gorgeous Buttercream finish, giving it some real vintage vibes. The finish was really well applied, and the gloss poly top coat finished the look off well.
It had a maple neck and fretboard, which we found to be a great pairing for the Buttercream body. The neck profile was Fender’s fantastic Modern C shape, which offers a great blend of comfort and speed. It’s slim enough for players with smaller hands, but not so skinny that larger players will end up fatigued. The fret finish was superb, with nicely beveled edges, and well polished crowns.
Our test model had the classic SSS pickup arrangement, complete with 5 way selector switch. We found the Alnico V single coil pups to be a big upgrade over the ceramic models found in the older “Mexican Standard” Strats that pre date the Player series. They were crystal clear in all positions, with bell like bridge tone, tons of quack in the intermediary positions, and tons of warmth with the neck pickup selected.
We found the playability out of the box to be good, with a nice medium height action that will suit the majority of players. The Fender die cast tuners performed extremely well, and overall tuning stability was strong, even with the floating trem.
The overall quality of the hardware was great, with seemingly no corners cut. While this is definitely a guitar that you could modify easily, the components are stage and studio ready out of the box, so there’s no need to worry about upgrades.
Verdict: While the Fender Player Stratocaster couldn’t ever be considered “cheap”, it still offers exceptional value when you factor in the build quality and classic Stratocaster tones you’re getting at the price. It’s a rock solid guitar that could be gigged or set up for studio use, and in our opinion, it’s one of the very best in the Fender lineup.
Squier is Fender’s budget import brand, and in years gone by, their reputation wasn’t exactly stellar – but things have recently taken a huge turn for the better. This Squier Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster, for example, has one of the best looking finishes ever applied to a Strat, with a stunning flamed maple veneer painted in Sienna Sunburst
The neck and fretboard were both maple. The neck had a full C profile, which was chunkier than we’d have expected on a non-vintage style guitar, especially one aimed at new players. Despite the girth, we found that it felt good, and as the back felt almost unfinished, it played fast.
We found the fret finsih to be great considering the price. The crowns weren’t polished, but they weren’t rough either. Fret edges were flush with the edge of the fretboard, with no burrs, sprout, or sharp parts that would cause discomfort.
This particular model had 2 single coil pickups, and a humbucker in the bridge position. We actually find that this is a more versatile setup for a beginner, particularly when it’s their only guitar, as it gives you a bit of the best of both worlds. All 3 pickups had ceramic magnets, and as expected they were super hot. Tones were bright and punchy, but didn’t ever feel brittle.
The setup was once again a pleasant surprise. We’ve played some Squiers that needed a fair bit of work before they were considered players, but there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with the factory setup on this Affinity Strat. The action was set at a medium height, and we found that the tuners performed well, keeping tuning stability strong throughout the test.
Verdict: The Squier Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster is a great option for players looking for a great Strat on a limited budget. It has a slimmer body than a traditional Strat, which makes it lighter in weight, and a solid choice for younger players, and those who might not be comfortable with a heavier guitar.
Fender makes a number of signature models, and given a choice, the Fender Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster is the one we’d choose every time. Our test model was finished in Surf Green, which looked fantastic, but if this color isn’t your thing, It’s also available in Olympic White.
It was fitted with a fantastic Soft C profile one piece maple neck, which is our opinion one of the best fitted to any Strat. It complements the guitar perfectly, and the satin finish felt fantastic. The fretboard was high end rosewood, which felt great under the fingers, and looked amazing with the Surf Green body.
Fretwork was absolutely immaculate. The frets were polished to a mirror shine, and the edges were perfect.
We really loved the pickups in this model – it was fitted with a trio of ceramic Fender Noiseless single coil pickups. Being ceramic, the pickups were hot, and sounded fantastic when pushed hard, but they also cleaned up beautifully with a small roll back on the volume knob.
Right out of the box this guitar was an absolute dream to play. The action was perfect – good and low, but with no fret buzz. The tremolo system was amongst the best non-Floyd Rose setups we’ve ever played, although as. Jeff Beck signature model we weren’t overly surprised by this!
Tuning stability was superb and was no doubt aided by the Fender/Schaller deluxe locking tuners. They were easy to use, and made strings changes incredibly fast. The saddles were stainless steel, and not only did they look great, but they additionally contribute to the trem performance and even string life with their smooth, rounded surface.
Verdict: The Fender Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster is a sensational guitar that offers a tangible step up from the American Performer and even the American Deluxe models with improved hardware and hotter pickups. It is literally the exact guitar that Jeff Beck himself uses, making it a unique opportunity to truly own his guitar. It sounds amazing, and would be more than suitable for players up to and including touring musicians and recording artists.
The Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Stratocaster is one of Squier’s flagship models. It’s available in ‘50s and ‘70s editions, too, but in our opinion the ‘60s version is the best of the 3. The model we received to test came in Lake Placid Blue, and it really looked fantastic. The paint quality was superb, and the overall finish quality was excellent.
It had a maple neck with a gorgeous vintage tint, and an Indian laurel fretboard. The laurel was a bit dry, but we find this is quite common on Squiers using this wood, and of course, it’s an easy fix with a little fretboard conditioner.
The neck was a vintage spec C profile, it was particularly chunky, but we didn’t find it uncomfortable – that being said, fans of slimmer necks might find the Fender Player Series to be a more appropriate choice.
The fret ends were well finished, with a great bevel, making them extremely comfortable. Being vintage spec, they were narrow tall, which isn’t the most forgiving fret size, but we still liked the way they played.
It was equipped with a traditional 3 single coil pickup arrangement, with Alnico V magnets used throughout. The pickups gave this ‘60s CV a much warmer tone than the Affinity Series model on test. The neck position was a particular favorite, giving us some awesome blues tones.
The guitar was set up well for comfortable play. The action was low, which worked well with the thickness of the neck, and like Fender models, the trem system was decked. The bridge and saddles were all nicely chromed, and finished well with no burrs.
We found the tuning stability to be as strong as any of the non-locking Fender models, and not only did the vintage style tuners perform well, but they looked fantastic too.
Verdict: The Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Stratocaster represents incredible value. It’s the most affordable stage and studio ready Strat in the entire Fender/Squier line up, and gives working musicians on a tighter budget a great option for a reliable workhorse guitar.
The Fender Vintera ‘50s Modified Stratocaster has proven to be one of their hottest products after having been seen on stage with some notable artists. It looks just like an original, but is brought bang up to date with modern features.
We were sent a Daphne Blue model to review for this roundup, which was, of course, one of Fender’s original 1950s colors. Combined with the aged white pups and dials, and set off against the bright white pickguard, it looked brilliant.
The ’50s model is available in 2 finishes, a 2 tone sunburst, and the Daphne Blue we received to test. Both finishes come with a maple neck and fretboard, just as the originals did. The neck had a Modern C profile, which is definitely a plus for playability compared to the original full C profiles (like the one on the Classic Vibe).
The frets were medium jumbo, and once again, very nicely finished. They felt very close to those on the Player Series model, which makes sense given that they’re both made in the Fender Mexico plant.
Tones from the Vintera ‘50s were fantastic. The Tim Shaw designed pickups were hotter than those on the Player Series, and they really screamed when played through the crunch channel on the Katana. Despite the hot nature, they did clean up well, and gave all the Strat tones you’d expect, with the right amount of clarity and quack on demand.
The playability was excellent, and this was mostly down to the fact that this was a modified Vintera. The modern neck and frets were a lot more forgiving than a true vintage setup, making it a much more user friendly guitar than the Classic Vibe was. Tuning stability was excellent, and even heavy trem use didn’t seem to have any negative effects.
Verdict: If you love the vintage look, but you’d prefer to leave the downsides of old guitars in the past, the Fender Vintera ‘50s Modified Stratocaster could be the best option for you. It plays well, looks great, and it will easily stand up to heavy duty professional use.
The Fender JV Modified ‘50s Stratocaster came to us in an understated, yet handsome 2 color Sunburst, just as the original Japanese models came in. The pickups and knobs were beautifully aged to a dull cream color, and contributed well to the vintage aesthetic.
Being a 50’s style Strat, the fretboard and neck were both maple. They had a light tint and a satin finish that looked and fantastic. The neck profile was a thick soft V, which was noticeably different from the mainly C shape necks on the other guitars we tested for this roundup. It did take some getting used to, but ultimately, we found it to be quite comfortable.
The Fretwork was well executed, the edges were great, although the crowns weren’t as well polished as we’d have liked them to be considering the price of the guitar.
The tones were where this particular Strat stood out. It was fitted with 2 vintage style single coil pickups and a hot vintage alnico humbucker. The beauty of this setup was the ability to switch between a fantastically warm neck position, and a raucus bridge position that was perfect for classic rock tones. Clarity was fantastic in all positions, with no muddiness at any volume.
Not everybody will like the thick soft V neck profile. It was one of the chunkiest of all of the test models, although the ergonomics were better than we found in the full thickness C profile necks we reviewed.
It held tune fantastically, even with excessive amounts of tremolo use. The tuners were Fender’s vintage style with the small button keys, and they looked perfect on this guitar. As for playability, the action was a little higher than we’d have liked, but with a setup, we’re sure it will play beautifully.
Verdict: The Fender JV Modified ‘50s Stratocaster is a fantastic guitar for those who love vintage styling and feel, but who still want some modern comfort and features. The pickups were incredibly versatile, with everything from bell like cleans and a creamy blues sound, right through to screaming overdriven tones, and the overall build quality was on par with US made models.
The Fender Tom Morello Signature Stratocaster is the “Soul Power” guitar used by Morello during his Audioslave period and is finished in black with the iconic chrome pick guard. It also came with the Soul Power decal that famously adorns the original, but Fender provides this as a sticker so you can choose whether or not to have it on the guitar.
As with almost every Strat, this model came with a maple neck, but in this case, it was topped off with a fantastic rosewood fretboard. The rosewood felt amazing and looked even better, boasting a stunning grain pattern. The neck came in the Modern C profile, and it was consistent with the other guitars featuring the same shape.
One of the big draws to the Morello Signature model is the electronics setup. It has Fender Alnico II Noiseless pickups in the neck and middle positions, and a Seymour Duncan Hot Rail in the bridge. The Noiseless pickups did a great job of killing the hum you’d typically encounter at high gain, and the Hot Rail delivered relentless sustain and performed brilliantly in the crunch and brown settings on the Katana.
Up on the treble horn it even featured a kill switch, just like Morello’s. This let us play around with the stutter effects that the RATM guitarist is so famous for.
The hardware was all high end, with Fender Locking tuners, and a genuine Floyd Rose FRT-O2000 double locking trem system providing effortless divebombs and flawless tuning stability. The overall build quality was excellent, although considering the price we would have expected this to be a US made model, but it, in fact, comes from the Mexican factory.
Verdict: The Fender Tom Morello Signature Stratocaster is the Strat to go for if you’re into heavier styles of music. It doesn’t do cleans quite as well as a Standard Strat, but it’s still a top performer when used as intended.
How To Choose The Best Fender Stratocasters
The Stratocaster has been one of the world’s most popular guitars ever since its first introduction. If you’re planning to buy one of your own, make sure to read through our buyer’s guide before making your decision.
Squier is Fender’s subsidiary and is the brand used to produce lower cost, licensed versions of Fender’s most famous models. They make guitars at various levels, from the basic Bullet series to the mid range Affinity Series, through to the upper tier Classic Vibe Series and Contemporary models.
Squier is an entry level brand, and as far as beginner guitars go, they don’t get much better. It is worth noting, however, that the Classic Vibe models are a serious step up from the Affinity models, despite only a modest increase in price.
Fender branded Stratocasters, like the Squier series, also come in varying tiers, although every guitar made under the Fender name could be considered a tool guitar for a working musician. The entry level models are the Mexican made guitars, starting with the Player Series, jumping up to the Vintera models in the mid range, and the special and signature models at the upper level of the Mexican Strats.
American made Stratocasters are considered to be the flagship models, although even within the US guitars, there are further sub-tiers. The American Performer models are the most affordable, with the American Deluxe series in the middle of the range. Above those models, there are numerous signature and custom shop examples representing the very best versions of the Strat on the market.
Stratocasters are available with a number of different bridge types, each serving a different need depending on your style of play.
Hard tail setups are the simplest bridges you’ll find on any Stratocaster. They are fixed, with no tremolo arm for vibrato effects. They are preferred by players who never find themselves using tremolos and who want stronger tuning stability.
The synchronized tremolo system uses tension springs mounted in a rear cavity on the guitar that counterbalance the tension of the strings.
Tuning stability can be an issue on lower end guitars with these systems, especially with excessive use.
Floyd Roses are known as locking tremolos, and solve the tuning stability issues found on Synchronized Tremolo models. They allow for much bigger bends, and became synonymous with the “dive bomb” effect made popular in 80s metal.
The biggest drawback to a Floyd Rose system is that fine tuning can be difficult, and string changes are far from straight forward.
Depending on which Stratocaster you’re looking at, the wood used for the body will differ. These are the most common tone woods used by Squier and Fender
Alder is one of the most common woods in use by Fender today. It’s known for its medium weight and its strong mid range tones.
Basswood is frequently used on lower cost models and is known for its well balanced tone that pairs well with both single coil and humbucking pickups.
Poplar is another low cost wood that is easily obtainable in the far east, making it a logical choice for Squier models. Like basswood it has something of a neutral sound profile.
Final Thoughts on the Best Fender Stratocasters
The Stratocaster is a real icon in the music industry. It has an instantly recognizable silhouette, and tones that stand out in any mix – in fact, it’s no wonder that it’s one of the most copied guitars on the market.
To recap our reviews, if you’re looking for a phenomenal all rounder, consider our top pick, the Fender Player Series Stratocaster. If it’s pure value you’re looking for, our best budget option, the Squier Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster is hard to beat. Finally, if you’re simply looking for the best Stratocaster and budget isn’t a concern, we’re sure you’ll love our editor’s choice, the Fender Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster.
Whichever you choose, we’re sure you’ll absolutely love your new Stratocaster!
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