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Playability and Tone
Any player with some real mileage on the odometer, who’s not a newcomer to Fender, will have developed some preferences where the Stratocaster and Telecaster are concerned, and it’s for certain that one of the trade-offs that makes the American Special series possible is a limited set of options. For players who find these guitars chock-full of their favorite features, they’re sure to be more satisfying than for those who gravitate toward different specs. In the interest of full disclosure, this pair of reviewers has to admit we find ourselves a little more in latter camp. We do tend to be more finicky about Strats than Teles—a disposition that is not uncommon. It may be simply the fact that the Tele is in many ways a much simpler instrument, while the Strat has always been, in the succinct words of one of our colleagues, “a delicate balancing act.” We tend to prefer rosewood boards on our Strats, but we like maple just fine on our Teles. Neither of us is crazy about the super-size frets, though we’re more agnostic when it comes to the larger headstocks and the differences between the 2-point and vintage-style tremolo systems.
Both American Specials did require significant setup work upon arrival, but both yielded gracefully to the undertaking. They are as accommodating and playable as any of their like, and the modern C-shaped neck is comfy and familiar. The fretwork is good, and the Texas Special pickups on both guitars obediently delivered the signature tones we were looking for when we plugged them into a Vox AC30CC2. The Strat has plenty of quack in the notched positions; the bridge pickup has just the right amount of cutting bite without the harsh brightness; and the neck pickup offered up a characteristic bluesy swagger. All three are balanced well with each other in terms of output, and they clean up nicely when you roll the Volume knob off. Our only reservation here is with the taper of the Strat’s volume pot, which leaves a little to be desired in terms of its evenness and usefulness for volume swells.
Like the Strat, the American Special Tele’s pickups are on the hot side, with plenty of sizzle. They too are well balanced, though they tend much more toward modern sounding even with the traditional bridge. The brass saddles do seem to provide all the snap and bite we like to hear in a Telecaster, and they didn’t frustrate our efforts to achieve a workable intonation. We didn’t like the sound of the bridge pickup with the Volume and Tone knob maxed (a go-to setting for both of us) as much as we wanted to, but we have to admit we’ve been fairly spoiled by the sound of the Mexican-made Road Worn ‘50s Telecaster we acquired last year. It has bona fide vintage tone and a degree of subtlety and tonal versatility that’s hard to compete with. Despite that, the American Special Telecaster does have what it takes to satisfy many, if not all, Tele afficionados.
The Final Mojo
We found the build quality, fit and finish of the American Special Stratocaster and Telecaster to be on a par with many of Fender’s top Mexican-made offerings, but we can’t say they’ve exceeded them. For the price, that means a good, solid value—provided buyers aren’t set on having a wider variety of options available to them. Those who do know exactly what they want in an über-reliable Fender axe would probably do well to consider the long-term benefits of stepping up to an American Standard, even if it means a little more money.
these specs make your heart go pitter-patter, and a “Made in the U.S.A.” label is essential.
you’re looking for a number-one Fender electric that’s just the way you want it.
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