Download Example 1
Strat Clean - Bridge & Middle, vol. 7, tone 6.
Download Example 2
Strat Clean - Neck & Middle, vol. 8, tone 7.
Download Example 3
Strat Dirty - Bridge pup, vol. 9, tone 5
Download Example 4
Tele Clean - Bridge pup, vol/tone rolled off slightly
Download Example 5
Tele/Orange Overdrive 2/Dirty - Bridge pup, volume/tone rolled off slightly.
Clips recorded through Vox AC30CC2 (unless otherwise noted) in Logic Pro on a MacBook Pro with Focusrite Saffire Pro 24, using Sennheiser e609 and Rode NT-1A mics.
The new American Special series represents Fender’s efforts to “bring the full Fender experience of a terrific-sounding, smooth-playing, rock-solid-built US-made Fender guitar to the workingman without emptying his bank account.”

We assume that even the functionally clueless can appreciate what a challenge that must have been, since in practice it means giving players the ability to bring home a new, US-made Fender for a price that is basically (once you’ve adjusted for inflation) a fraction of what a new American Fender electric used to cost, even during the heydey of American manufacturing—and at a time when so many foreign-made guitars have clearly demonstrated themselves as equals to their domestic rivals in quality, even exceeding many of them in value. To have an American-made Fender for the price of a foreign-made Fender in 2010 is some dream, and the fact that Fender appears to have pulled it off is, we think, a testament to the company’s determination to continue satisfying the demands of its customers even as those demands become more… well, challenging.

Finding the Line
Assessing the value these newcomers offer to working guitarists, however, turns out to be quite a challenge in itself. Fender has been very successful at its strategy of offering ever more variations on two of the most archetypal electrics in existence— namely the Telecaster and the Stratocaster— and there are nearly as many iterations of these storied instruments as there are kinds of players. The American Special series, like the Highway One and Classic Player series before it, isn’t out to offer an instrument so particular that it’s totally unlike anything already available in Fender’s lineup, so those looking at this new series will rightly wonder if they have anything new to offer, and if they justify replacing the trusted and well-worn Fender guitars already in their possession.

Quite a large number of players, though, have expressed a desire for an American-made guitar that doesn’t come at a premium price. And supplying that is something new for Fender, even if the instruments themselves aren’t a radical departure from previous offerings. At what point does the trade-off become reasonable? Street price for the American Special Series comes in right around $800, and Fender has numerous Mexican-made instruments at that price point—quite effectively blurring the line between USA-made and foreign-made instruments. So, the real question is: how important is the fact that they’re made in the United States? As we’ve said, props should be given to Fender for answering the call from players and addressing the desire for legendary American-made quality at a price that’s affordable. Indeed, the key ingredient in the American Special recipe is the “made in the U.S.A.” label, but that might turn out to be something of a shibboleth. Some players will only buy US-made guitars for ethical reasons, and want to feel that they’re supporting the American worker. Others purchase them based on the assumption that they’re of a higher quality simply because they’re made in the United States. For those to whom it means a lot, it means a lot, but for the price-conscious buyer looking for a workhorse Fender electric with which to pay the bills (or at least some of them), it’s less clear how important that will be. What is important is how they measure up in quality to their more expensive domestic brethren, and whether they’re on par with Fender’s top-of-the-line foreign-made models.

With the number of models Fender currently produces bearing the Strat and Tele namesakes, it’s best to compare the American Specials to those they have most in common with: the American Standard series and the Mexican-made Standard and Highway One lines.