Fender have had several attempts at creating US made guitars at a price point to attract those who might even think of a more expensive Squire. The late lamented Highway Ones were a go at this, and now we have the Special.
Picking up a rather lovely Foam Green Strat it was not clear where any corners may have been cut.
The American Special Strat is light, superbly finished and beautifully balanced. All the basic woodwork is as you’d expect from Fender in 2014 (How I wish Gibson had the same approach to QA)
The Special Strat comes with a satin-finished, all-maple neck and late sixties-style large headstock. Adjustment for the two-way Bi-Flex truss rod is from the headstock end, which is much easier than the vintage-style body end location.
The bridge is a basic Fender trem. But this design has lasted 60 years and just needs treating with a bit of respect
Round the back the vibrato cavity cover is the easy-access type, with one large slit instead of six oblong holes. Fender has provided the Special Strat with a wonderful neck. Shaped into a slinky shallow ‘C’-section, with lightly rolled edges to the integral maple ‘board, it boasts 22 jumbo frets and the eminently bendable 9.5-inch radius that’s found on Custom Shop models costing several times more.
It’s an addictive playing experience, as the silky smooth satin finish glides though your hand while the strings seem to give way to the lightest touch, bending to their target notes with ease and inviting the tasty ‘squeezed’ vibrato at which big frets excel.
The action is set low enough for speed, but with enough clearance to keep rattle to a minimum. The neck is really quite magnificent.
Over the years Fender’s Texas Special pickups have received mixed reaction from our reviewers. Some love their spanky, high treble content, while others have found them rather harsh and unsophisticated.
Indeed, this reviewer has seldom warmed to a guitar that carried them. Well, how about this for a turn up for the books? Through a Carvin Vintage 16 amp – and matched against a Masterbuilt Custom Shop monster of a guitar – the American Special is a pure delight.
Whether the three-piece body and urethane finish is somehow tempering the pickups’ inherent brashness we don’t know, but each of the five-way selector’s settings proves magnificent.
We feel that every Strat made should have a tone control on the bridge pickup – and thankfully this one does. Just knocking it back to around six on the pot transforms an otherwise potentially ear-slicing machine into something of sonic beauty.
Indeed, turn it down to three or four, pile on the amp drive and SG/335 impressions abound (this is the Greasebucket tone circuit, named by Billy Gibbons, that reduces treble without adding mush). Turn it back up to full for chorused and delayed chords and the sheer versatility of this one little pickup will amaze you.
Flip across to the neck and it’s instant Gilmour: dynamic and springy when clean, but languid and flutey with more gain added. There’s a lovely top-end here, too, that would make Nile Rodgers impersonations sound very convincing indeed.
The middle pickup has no tone control, so it’s wide open all the time for funky riffs, pseudo Tele (think Stairway) tone and hot country twang. Positions two and four seem more defined than ever; each speaking with its own particular ‘vowel’ sound and both loving it either clean or messed up with a quality distortion pedal in the chain.
We love it when preconceptions are busted and in this case they’ve been blown wide open. This guitar is so willing and versatile that it would be at home in even the most professional situation. What’s more it plays like a dream and literally stunned me with its musicality.
So, the American Special slots in under the long-running American Standard range – for many, Fender’s staple Strat. The more recent, matt-finished Highway One series also fills a spot in the market between the more affordable Mexican-made guitars and the upmarket American Standard and Vintage series, but lots of people want their guitars shiny, not matt.
These American Specials take some of the best features of all the above, add a neat new twist here and there, and come up with a sparsely populated line that should instantly appeal to Fender-heads who don’t have bottomless wallets, but who feel they too deserve full-on American quality – and gloss! – at streetwise prices.
If you’re in the market for a versatile ‘Jack of all trades’ guitar then the Strat, with its five fabulous tone choices, easy-to-use contoured body and purposeful vibrato system, has to be a winner.
Once again Fender has focused its sights, aimed at the target and hit bullseye with its first shot. We’d like to see a more adventurous colour palette and better gig-bag (or form-fit case), but otherwise we can’t fault the guitar at this price point.
92/100 – Tres Cool!