5 Factors to Consider When Buying a Fender Stratocaster

Fender Stratocaster

When it comes to electric guitars, few are as iconic as the Fender Stratocaster. Designed by Leo Fender in 1954, the Stratocaster (often referred to as "Strat") has become the go-to electric guitar for countless professional musicians and amateur enthusiasts alike.

Whether you're a new player looking to buy their first axe or a seasoned veteran hunting for a new workhorse, you can't go wrong with a strat. That being said, now two strats are created the same, so it's a good idea to have a rough idea of what you're looking for. Here are five factors you should consider when buying a Fender Stratocaster.

1. American vs Mexican vs Japanese Models

Fender produces Stratocasters in different countries; the price and quality can vary depending on the origin. American-made Strats are often considered the top-shelf product, second only to the Fender Custom Shop regarding high-quality components and craftsmanship.

Mexican-made Strats (also known as MIM or "Made in Mexico") are more affordable and still offer excellent quality for the price. Japanese-made Strats are less common but known for their excellent build quality and attention to detail. Consider your budget and desired quality when choosing between these options.

2. Vintage vs Modern Features

Fender Stratocasters come with various features depending on the model year or series. Vintage-style Strats (often known as reissues) may have a smaller headstock, vintage tuners, and a 7.25-inch radius fretboard, affecting playability and tone. 

Meanwhile, modern Strats often have a flatter fretboard radius (9.5 inches or higher) for easier string bending, larger frets, and updated electronics. Consider the features most important to you and your playing style when choosing a Strat.

3. Pickups and Electronics

The type of pickups and electronics in a Stratocaster will significantly impact the guitar's sound. Traditional single-coil pickups offer a bright, clear, and bell-like tone that Strats are known for, but they can also produce some hum. Meanwhile, noiseless single-coil pickups and humbuckers are available for those who want a quieter performance. 

Some Strat models also have features like a built-in preamp, coil-splitting, or a blend control for added versatility. Research the various pickup options and choose the one that best suits your desired tone.

4. Neck Profile and Fretboard Material

The neck profile and fretboard material can affect the feel and playability of a Stratocaster. Fender offers various neck profiles, such as the classic "C" shape, the modern "D" shape, or the vintage-inspired "V" shape. 

The fretboard material is typically either maple or rosewood, with maple providing a brighter tone and rosewood offering a warmer, slightly mellower sound. Your neck shape and fretboard are the parts of your guitar that will have the greatest impact on your playing, so be sure to try to choose carefully by trying a guitar in person before buying it. 

5. Vintage vs New

Specific model years are known for their exceptional craftsmanship and quality. Vintage Stratocasters can command a high price due to their rarity, collector's value, and sometimes superior tonal qualities. These tonal qualities are usually ascribed to hand-wound pickups and resonant qualities of aged wood. 

Some players also love the look of worn nitrocellulose paint, which some players and guitar makers say lets some sound frequencies ring out better than modern enamel paint. Furthermore, many guitar players prefer the "broken-in" feel of fretboards and necks with years of playing on them. 

On the other hand, new Stratocasters benefit from modern manufacturing techniques, quality control, and updated electronics. Fender continually improves and refines their designs, ensuring that new models meet the standards set by their vintage counterparts.


In conclusion, buying a Fender Stratocaster ultimately comes down to personal preference, budget, and the importance placed on factors such as a vintage appeal or modern advancements. Regardless of whether vintage or new, a Fender Stratocaster remains an iconic and highly sought-after instrument that will satisfy a wide range of guitar players.

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