In a perfect world, there’d be a Strat for everyone. Oh wait, here it is. By Peter Hodgson
In some ways, the Fender Stratocaster is the perfect platform for experimentation. That’s why we have terms like ‘SuperStrat’, after all. But the basic Stratocaster concept still holds up in much of the same ways it has since the 1950s. The American Professional Stratocaster doesn’t attempt to redefine what the Stratocaster is, but it doesn’t ignore the last 60-something years of progress, either.
The American Professional Stratocaster has a solid alder body with a gloss finish, and is available in plenty of cool colours: Sonic Gray, Black, Sienna Sunburst, Antique Olive, Olympic White and three-colour Sunburst (yo Fender, where’s red? Everyone knows Strats sound better when they’re red). The neck is made of maple with a maple or rosewood fretboard depending on what finish you opt for: our review model is a Sonic Gray model with a rosewood board, though to be honest, it looks a little more blue than grey to me.
The back of the neck is the new American Professional “Deep C” neck profile, which has more substantial shoulders — somewhere between a “Modern C”- and “U”-shaped profile. This is one of my favourite Fender necks because it’s so adaptable to so many players. The fingerboard radius is 9.5”, which is a little rounder than what we think of as modern necks (which can run all the way up to 20”), but not quite as round as the 7.25” radius of vintage Strats (which can be a bit of a challenge if you’re not used to them). There are 22 narrow tall frets instead of the traditional 21, and they’re finished to a very high standard. They’re very shiny. The inlays are simple dots.
The bridge is a traditional six-saddle vintage-style ‘syncronised tremolo’ type, but with a two-point fulcrum anchor, and there’s a new pop-in tremolo arm that stays securely in position no matter how hard you play. You can adjust the arm tension to your personal preference, too. The tuning machines are die-cast, sealed and non-locking models.
The pickups are designed by Tim Shaw: a trio of V-Mod single coils which are voiced specifically for each position and which mix different Alnico magnet types to produce powerful, nuanced tones with original Fender sonic DNA. The neck pickup has Alnico II magnets for the wound strings and Alnico III for the plain, the middle has Alnico II for the wound and Alnico V for the plain, and the bridge is all Alnico V. Each pickup is designed to have its own voice but also work as a system, particularly in the crucial ‘2’ and ‘4’ pickup selector positions.
There’s also a treble bleed circuit on the volume control so you can roll it back without losing upper-end clarity; Fender has designed each model’s treble bleed circuit differently across the American Professional range so as to get the most out of each pickup. And the tone controls are configured so that Tone 1 operates across the neck pickup, while Tone 2 covers both the middle and bridge together.
MODS VS ROCKERS
The V-Mod pickups sound very warm and full, especially considering they’re single coils. There’s a lot of detail but plenty of oomph to back it up. This makes them especially great for those of us who like to play with fingers instead of a pick because they pick up all those sweet nuances, but there’s also a great attack when you play with a pick, especially for big brash chords on the bridge or bridge/middle pickup settings.
While a lot of players tend to overlook the middle pickup, it’s responsible for some of my favourite tones out of this guitar. It’s just the right amount of sweet and snarl. And those ‘2’ and ‘4’ settings are full of quack and snap, with lots of detail and bounce. The playability is phenomenal too. The rounded fretboard edges feel great and the neck shape is very accommodating. And the guitar itself has incredible natural sustain for a Strat.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is pretty much the ultimate Stratocaster for those who want a very high-quality Strat but without hugely idiosyncratic features. It’s not quite as high-performance as the models with compound-radius fingerboards and noiseless pickups, but it represents very much a pro-level Stratocaster as the players of the 1950s might have imagined a 2017 Strat to be.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Alder body
• Maple neck
• 22 medium jumbo frets
• Fender V-Mod pickups
• Hard case
• Lots of tones
• Great fretwork
• Very high quality case
• No red
• Standard single coil hum