With figured wood and premium features, the Select Strat is as close as you can get to Custom Shop at USA production prices.
Earlier this year, Fender released their Select Series—three Telecasters, two Stratocasters, a Precision Bass, and a Jazz bass—intended to bridge the gap between the American Deluxe Series and the company’s wide variety of Custom Shop instruments.
It’s not the first time Fender has tried to take their most classic instruments upmarket. And for lots of players that like a Stratocaster to be a Stratocaster, such efforts confound. But in the case of the Select Stratocaster reviewed here, there’s plenty to suggest that this latest attempt is much more than a branding effort.
Lying there in the lovely tweed case, the Select Stratocaster is breathtaking. The dark cherry burst flame maple top, which caps, and alder body induces covetous thoughts even when you’re not considering the high quality of the materials. The neck and fretboard are flame maple as well, and it’s hard not to be struck by the beauty of the wood on this instrument. The medium jumbo frets and C-shaped neck both feel familiar and fall under your fretting hand in a way that will seem like an old friend to anyone who has played a ’60s-vintage specimen or a Stratocaster inspired by one. I was less accustomed to the neck’s compound (9.5"-14") radius, but once acquainted, I found it fast, super smooth, and much more comfortable to play in the higher registers. It’s a nice, and functional, evolution of an already great neck.
The Select Stratocaster has deluxe locking tuners, which some players will love and purists may feel indifferent about. The contoured neck heel is a smart and potentially invaluable feature—one that, as a long time Stratocaster owner, I wonder how I lived without. Combined with the fretboard’s widened sweet-spot, thanks to the aforementioned compound radius, the neck heel, bi-flex truss rod, and rolled steel saddles can accommodate infinite action adjustments to suit any playing style.
The pickups on the Select Stratocaster are superb—clear and more focused than any Stratocaster I’ve encountered in recent memory. The neck position is warm but with exceptional definition, while the bridge pickup has all the clarity and brightness you’d want from a Stratocaster’s most biting voice with a more civilized air. The second and fourth positions are more finessed and less honky than the tones I’ve encountered on other Stratocasters, but at high volume, they can positively scream. It’s easy to delve into Trower-esqe insanity, but this guitar can also manage a mellower blooming tone when you work with less aggressive tone and volume settings on the guitar. The no-load pot has a subtler effect than I would ordinarily expect, but I find the raw bite of the unimpeded bridge pick-up is still a handy sonic tool for cutting through a cluttered band mix. As a result I found a ton of the tones I wanted with the bridge tone set to 10 and neck tone at 5. The well-defined picking dynamics of these single coils shine, while the extended sustain bolsters this Select Strat’s expressiveness. They make a humbucker-single-single configuration as well, though I haven’t put my hands on that guitar.
There’s no denying that the merits of the Select Stratocaster are much more than superficial. The pickups lend a sense of sonic refinement and audible richness without straying from the tone formula that makes the Stratocaster an enduring work of genius, and the tone controls are not only responsive and fun to work with, but create a genuinely expanded tone palate. The neck too, enhances what’s already a near perfect design in ways that can genuinely expand your playing vocabulary.
If you have never been fond of Stratocasters in the past 58 years, this one won’t do much to change your mind. But if, like me, you’re an unrepentant fan of Leo’s masterpiece, the Select Stratocaster is a true evolution of a great guitar. The price tag puts it out of reach for many players’ means, but given how many improvements in this guitar are more than skin deep, the Select Stratocaster is likely to repay the investment—not only as an exquisite Stratocaster but as a potential front-line, go-to guitar that will reward you as a player for years to come.
Watch our video demo: