The Big Shootout: Our Favorite Fender Stratocasters

Because the Fender Strat is such a popular model, it’s also one of the most copied guitars in history, which is why choosing the best Fender Stratocaster is key if you want both great tone and excellent playability. Your first port of call if you’re looking for a great Strat is the Fender Player Series Stratocaster. This is the entry level Fender model, but it still delivers everything this classic model is so well loved for. It’s loaded with a trio of Player Series single coil pickups, delivering a wide range of tones from crisp cleans to gritty overdrive. It features Fender’s modern “C” neck profile, resulting in an incredibly comfortable, and dynamic playing experience. As standard, it comes with a modern 2 point tremolo system, allowing for expressive pitch bending and vibrato effects. It comes with an ergonomic alder body that contributes to a balanced, resonant tone with great sustain, all while staying lightweight and comfortable. The Fender Player Series is a fantastic choice for players of all ability ranges, and because of that, we’ve named it as our best Fender Stratocasters Top Pick winner.

For anybody looking for a high end Strat, we don’t think they come much better than the Fender Artist Series Jeff Beck Stratocaster. This particular guitar is designed for performance, and is built to the late Jeff Beck’s exact standards and dimensions. It offers a comfortable C shaped neck and, unlike most Strats, a contoured heel for easier access to higher frets. Being a US made model, it’s built to the highest standards that Fender offers. In terms of pickups, it gets Fender Special Design dual coil Noiseless pickups, which retain the traditional Strat SSS look, while offering humbucker like performance. The two point synchronized tremolo bridge is one of the best that Fender offers, and allows for expressive playing while still retaining reliability and tuning stability. This guitar doesn’t come cheap, but if you’re looking for a serious Strat, they don’t come better than this, which is why we named it as our Best Fender Stratocasters Editor’s Choice.

This Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster is one of the best ever in a long line of Affinity series Strats, not only in terms of aesthetics, but performance, too. This is an HSS model, meaning it has a humbucker in the bridge and single coil pickups in the middle and neck positions. This results in extremely dynamic performance, allowing guitarists to experiment with practically every genre. It offers a very similar C neck profile to the Fender standard, making it extremely comfortable and forgiving to play for newcomers. Despite being the most affordable choice in the whole roundup, it still comes with a quality 2 point trem system, rather than the clunky 6 point units found in the majority of affordable Strats, which really shows Fender’s commitment to making great instruments available for players at all level of the budget spectrum. For these reasons and more, we handed our Best Budget award to the Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster for the Best Fender Stratocaster.

Read more about our review process.

Editor's Choice
Fender Jeff Beck Stratocaster

Fender Jeff Beck Stratocaster

Features: Noiseless pickups, Soft C shape neck, Alder body

Benefits: Built to Jeff Beck's exact spec, Ultra fast neck, Classic Strat tones

Best Value
Fender Player Stratocaster

Fender Player Stratocaster

Features: Alnico V pickups, Alder body, C Shape neck

Benefits: Excellent ergonomics, Great pickup response, Strong tremolo bridge performance

Best Budget
Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster

Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster

Features: Poplar body, Flamed maple top, HSS Pickup layout

Benefits: Awesome aesthetics, Versatile range of tones, Strong tuning stability

Individual Reviews

Top Pick
Fender Player Stratocaster

Fender Player Stratocaster

A workhorse Strat for players of all ability levels.

Working musicians looking for an affordable and reliable Strat with great tones and bulletproof build quality should keep the Mexican made Player series model high on their list. It offers everything you need in a Strat with nothing less, and nothing more.

The Fender Player Series Stratocaster is the base model in the Fender branded lineup. 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 topcoat finished the look off well.

It had a maple neck and fretboard, which we found to be a great pairing with 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 cut corners. While this is definitely a guitar 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. 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.

Best Budget
Squier Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster

Squier Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster

One of the very best beginner Stratocasters, period.

Getting your hands on a quality Stratocaster doesn’t have to cost a fortune any more. Squier’s Affinity Series models are built to a high standard, and offer the looks and sound the Strat is so famous for, at a wallet friendly price.


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 finish 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 fantastic 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.

Editor's Choice
Fender Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster

Fender Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster

A faithful reproduction of Jeff Beck’s actual guitar.

This American made Stratocaster is one of the finest examples of the model. It’s made to the exacting standards of one of the world’s best loved guitarists, Jeff Beck, and offers incredible fit and finish, as well as some of the sweetest tones you’ll hear from any Strat.

Fender makes a number of signature models. Given the choice, we’d go with the Fender Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster every time. Our test model was finished in Surf Green, which looked fantastic, but it’s also available in Olympic White if green isn’t your thing.

It was fitted with a fantastic Soft C profile one-piece maple neck, which in our opinion is 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 rollback 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 among the best non-Floyd-Rose setups we’ve ever played, which isn’t overly surprising for a Jeff Beck signature model!

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, their smooth, rounded surface contributes to the trem performance and even your string life.

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.

Also Consider
Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Stratocaster

Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Stratocaster

Real Fender tones and feel at a price to suit all budgets.

With this Squier you’re getting a true vintage spec Stratocaster, built to the same dimensions as the Fender branded models. This model is a clear step above the average Squier, and offers the performance that working musicians demand at an unbelievable price.

The Squier Classic Vibe ’60s Stratocaster is one of Squier’s flagship models. It’s also available in ’50s and ’70s editions, 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, which 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. 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. Not only did the vintage-style tuners perform well, but they looked fantastic.

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 lineup. It gives working musicians on a tighter budget a great option for a reliable workhorse guitar.

Also Consider
Fender Vintera ‘50s Modified Stratocaster

Fender Vintera ‘50s Modified Stratocaster

A throwback to the infancy of the Stratocaster.

Fans of vintage Fenders will love the Vintera ‘50s model. It’s not quite a reissue, but it absolutely pays homage to the original Strats of the mid 1950s, and even comes in the original colors. It oozes vintage cool, in both aesthetics and tone.

The Fender Vintera ’50s Modified Stratocaster has proven to be one of their hottest products after having been seen onstage 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 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 like the originals. 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 similar 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.

Also Consider
Fender JV Modified ‘50s Stratocaster

Fender JV Modified ‘50s Stratocaster

A modern interpretation of the highly sought after Japanese reissues.

This is the perfect Strat for fans of the 1980s Japanese made models. It’s a meticulously made ‘50s style model, and it offers huge tone with its bridge mounted humbucker complimenting the vintage single coil pickups.

The Fender JV Modified ’50s Stratocaster came to us in an understated yet handsome 2-color Sunburst, just like the original Japanese models. The pickups and knobs were beautifully-aged to a dull cream color, and contributed well to the vintage aesthetic.

Being a ’50s-style Strat, the fretboard and neck were both maple. They had a light tint and a satin finish that looked and felt 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 we ultimately found it to be quite comfortable.

The Fretwork was well-executed and the edges were great, although the crowns weren’t as well-polished as we’d have liked them 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 raucous bridge position that was perfect for classic-rock tones. Clarity was fantastic in all positions, with no muddiness at any volume.

Not everyone 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 to screaming overdriven tones. And the overall build quality was on par with US-made models.

Also Consider
Fender Tom Morello Signature Stratocaster

Fender Tom Morello Signature Stratocaster

One of the hottest Strats ever made by Fender.

This signature Stratocaster is the ideal guitar for mad scientists looking to experiment with their tone in the same way that has made Tom Morello stand out throughout his career. It’s pre hot rodded, with upgraded pickups, a Floyd Rose bridge, and a unique kill switch.

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 pickguard. 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, in this case 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.

It even featured a kill switch up on the treble horn, 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, instead of coming 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 Right Strat For You

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 midrange Affinity Series 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 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, 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. They start with the Player Series, jump up to the Vintera models in the midrange, and the special and signature models are the upper level of Mexican Strats.

American-made Stratocasters are considered to be the flagship models, but even within 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 bridge types, each serving a different need depending on your style of play.

Hard Tail

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.

Synchronized Tremolo

The synchronized tremolo system uses tension springs mounted in a rear cavity of the guitar to counterbalance the tension of the strings.

Tuning stability can be an issue on lower-end guitars with these systems, especially with excessive use.

Floyd Rose

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 straightforward.

Tone Wood

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 midrange 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

The Stratocaster is a real icon in the music industry. It has an instantly recognizable silhouette and tones that stand out in any mix. 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, it’s hard to beat our Best Budget option, the Squier Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster. 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!

  • Simon Morgan

    Simon is an Orlando based musician, but originally hails from Newcastle, England. He started playing bass and guitar in 1998, and played the local scene throughout his teen years before running away to work on ships. These days his passion is budget guitars, amps and pedals - though he's not afraid of the finer things.