playability

Fender’s 70th Anniversary American Vintage II 1954 Stratocaster has the feel, tone, and look of a genuine heirloom guitar.

Two Strats celebrating the iconic solidbody’s 70th Anniversary excel from different ends of the price spectrum.

Tones, dynamic range, and playability that showcase the expansive potential of a great Strat. Lively, blooming pickups. Near-flawless build. Great neck if you don’t mind a little thickness.

Thick neck may be too much for folks with smaller hands or conditioned to slimmer modern profiles.

$2,599

70th Anniversary American Vintage II 1954 Stratocaster
fender.com

5
4.5
4.5
4

As a kid, my aesthetic leanings—particularly where guitars were concerned—were a little anachronistic and specific. In a time when canonical classics and shred machines ruled the collective guitar consciousness, I lovedcustom colors and odd shapes, so a sunburst Stratocaster, particularly one with a maple neck, was, to my eyes, downright uptight and institutional.

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This $500 solidbody may look like a no-frills machine, but it’s a rock-solid player with features that elevate it above most guitars in its price category.

A flat-out bargain. Great vibrato system. Excellent fretwork. Fast playability.

Some midrange clutter in the output at wide-open volumes.

$499

PRS SE CE 24 Standard Satin
prsguitars.com

4.5
4.5
5
5

PRS makes some of the best affordable electric guitars in the world. They also have a talent for making those instruments look expensive. They achieve this trick thanks to quality control standards and practices that better most companies at the accessible end of the price spectrum. But PRS also built their reputation on immaculately crafted and very exclusive guitars. And once that association is burned into the collective consciousness of the guitar playing public—and you figure out a way to cop high-end design cues in down-market versions—well, you can make an inexpensive guitar seem very expensive, indeed.

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An extroverted and beautiful version of BilT’s most affordable model showcases the guitar’s core strengths and the company’s knack for creative onboard electronics.

Ultra playable. Great pickups. Superb build quality. Cool style. Collaborative design options.

Expensive as tested.

$3,200 street as tested, $1,799 for base model.

5
4.5
5
3

The folks at BilT guitars and I share a lot of design influences and affinities, so I might be a little prejudiced. But I can’t think of many small builders who bring more fun to the non-major manufacturer market than BilT. They are reverent about quality and customer collaboration, but often irreverent about mixing, matching, and deviating from the forms, shapes, colors, and details that inspired their core models. Take a quick look at the company’s gallery and you’ll see mutant variations on Fender, Ampeg, and Rickenbacker themes, sparkle paint, Fender Antigua-style finishes mixed up with Gibson Trini Lopez details, and pickup combinations of every conceivable stripe.

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