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In relation to its south-of-the-border brethren, the American Special Strat and Tele both have some subtle yet apparent differences. There are 22 frets instead of the Standard’s 21, and the fret size is full jumbo, as opposed to the medium jumbo on the Standard. Like the Standard, the American Special features a standard truss rod and no micro-tilt adjustment. The neck is finished in a satin urethane and capped off with a large ‘70s-era Fender headstock, but it has a different feel compared to the satin urethane neck of the Mexican Standard. Part of that difference might be due to the extra 1 mm of width at the nut—this might seem like a trivial thing to note, but players used to the 42 mm spacing of other Fenders might wonder why the neck feels a little strange to them. In most every aspect of the neck, the American Special is closest to the Highway One line. Another important detail to point out is that, like the Highway One, the American Special offers only a maple fingerboard on the single-coil Strat (the American Special HSS Strat board is rosewood), whereas the Standard and American Standard models have a rosewood option.
Finish options for the American Specials are minimal compared to those offered for both the Standard and American Standard models, with only two available for each model, compared to the former’s five and the latter’s seven. The American Specials we received for review do indeed display high-quality gloss urethane finishes— as good as any Fenders we’ve seen. Like many players, this pair of reviewers leans toward nitrocellulose finishes, when they’re available, for the sonic qualities those guitars exhibit. In this regard, we think the Highway One models might have a leg up for many, but there’s no lack of guitarists who’d rather have a glossy finish.
The Standard Stratocaster is equipped with a set of ceramic magnet-powered singlecoil pickups, but the American Special Strat ups the ante with Fender’s popular Texas Special pickups, and it shares Fender’s unique Greasebucket circuit with the Highway One line. The Greasebucket wiring allows the player to roll down the Tone control without adding any bass to the sound, a problem that is the bane of many a single-coil guitarist. It works as described—though it’s more effective on the Strat than the Tele, which does drift toward muddiness as you roll the knob down. Another major difference is the bridge: where the American Standard model utilizes a 2-point vibrato with bent steel saddles, the Special comes fitted with a vintage-style bridge that is similar to the one employed on the Standard.
Obviously, the Telecaster is a very different beast from its Stratocaster cousin. The American Special model has a major element in common with its original ancestor, and that is the inclusion of a string-through vintage-style bridge with three brass saddles supporting the six strings. We’re big fans, and we applaud Fender for the decision. In comparison, the Standard Telecaster has a modern style bridge with individual saddles and a string-through body. While the added coupling from the string-through design helps with sustain, the brass saddles from the American Special Tele help it fit more in line with the vintage, bright and twangy sounds of yesteryear. Like the American Special Stratocaster (and the Highway One Tele), it features Fender’s Greasebucket wiring, an additional 1 mm at the nut, Jumbo frets, Texas Special pickups and an additional 22nd fret.