Differences Between Fender American Stratocaster Models [2019]

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Updated 2019-05-01

We look at the differences between the main Fender American Stratocaster models including the Fender American Professional, American Elite, American Performer and American Special series guitars

differences between fender stratocaster

With the selection of different American Fender Stratocaster series available, we thought we’d take a look at the differences between them all, so you know which option is right for you and why they differ in price.

In this blog we’re going to look at the differences between the Fender American Elite, Fender American Professional, Fender American Special (now discontinued) and Fender American Performer series Stratocaster guitars.

What are the major differences between the Fender American Stratocasters?

Essentially, the main differences come down to pickups, neck shape, headstock size and some ingenious tone circuits. Before we get into the different series we should highlight that we’ll be taking about the classic SSS (3 x single coil) configuration rather than those with 2 x humbuckers HSH and 1 x humbucker HSS configurations.

Here they are in price descending order:

American Elite Stratocaster

The American Elite Stratocaster is what you would call the ‘top of the range’ Stratocaster from the main production lines, not including the Custom Shop models. This has been designed for the modern players who love the ‘Standard’ style Stratocaster guitars but includes a selection of modern appointments to make life easier for guitarists on stage; namely 4th Generation Noiseless Pickups and the S-1 switch for tonal versatility.

The S-1 switch itself is the key feature here, which is located within the Volume knob. When it is engaged the 5 way selector switch opens up a world of different tonal options not previously available to you:

  • Position one: all three pickups wired in series
  • Position two: bridge and middle pickups wired in series
  • Position three: middle and neck pickups wired in series
  • Position four: bridge and neck pickups wired out of phase, with a special tone capacitor
  • Position five: bridge and middle pickups wired in series and out of phase, in parallel with neck pickup

The 4th Generation Noiseless pickups are exclusive to the Elite series and offer the same authentic single coil sound we want without the associated hum that can sometimes creep in. These pickups sound MASSIVE whether you’re playing through a clean amp or throwing some distortion at them with an overdriven valve amp – we recommend trying them!

Here’s the main specs and differences:

  • Pickups: 4th Generation Noiseless Pickups
  • Electronics: S-1 Switch — Offers five additional pickup configurations
  • Neck radius: 9.5"-to-14" Compound-Radius Neck
  • Neck Shape: Modern “C” at the nut morphing to Modern “D” at the updated neck heel
  • Frets: Medium Jumbo
  • Bridge: 2-Point Deluxe Synchronized Tremolo With Pop-In Arm
  • Truss Rod: Double-Action Truss Rod Adjustment Wheel
  • Tuners: Locking Tuning Pegs
  • Controls: Soft-Touch Controls
  • Case/Gig bag included: Elite Molded Hardshell Case

Shop all Fender American Elite Stratocasters here. 

American Professional Stratocaster

The range of American Professional Stratocaster guitars are essentially the upper tier standard models. These guitars feature the new V-Mod pickups which blend alnico magnet types and are specifically voiced for each position to create a higher output tone. There’s also a new modern “Deep C” shaped neck which offers more room for chords and single note solos. The Narrow-tall frets are taller and narrower than the Medium Jumbo style and have been designed to encourage a better bend and intonation.

A treble bleed circuit has been included here which ensures your high end is retained when you turn down the volume knob – no more muddy volume changes!

Here’s the main specs and differences:

  • Pickups: V-Mod pickups
  • Electronics: Treble Bleed Circuit
  • Neck radius: 9.5”
  • Neck Shape: Modern "Deep C"
  • Frets: Narrow Tall
  • Bridge: 2-Point Synchronized Tremolo with Bent Steel Saddles and Pop-In Tremolo Arm
  • Truss Rod: Bi-Flex™ (hidden)
  • Tuners: Fender® Standard Cast/Sealed Staggered
  • Controls: Aged White Plastic
  • Case/Gig bag included: Elite Molded Case

Shop all Fender American Professional Stratocasters here.

American Special Stratocaster

The Fender American Special was a major highlight when it first came out as it included a host of pro level appointments yet still remained in a price bracket we could all afford. Unfortunately, now discontinued, the American Special Stratocaster is still one of the coolest models around featuring a set of Three Texas Special™ single-coil Stratocaster pickups for a higher output. The staggered pole pieces also offer up a tighter bass with more focused mid range and brighter highs. This series also includes the Greasebucket tone circuit which rolls off highs without adding extra bass when you turn down the Tone knob. This ensures your sound doesn’t become muddy when you make a change.

This also includes the classic large 70s style headstock which some guitarists prefer as the extra wood means extra sustain! The Jumbo frets are comfortable to play and really help with bends and vibrato – especially if you have larger hands. Finally, the modern C neck with smooth satin finish offers beautiful playability.

Here’s the main specs and differences:

  • Pickups: Texas Special Pickups
  • Electronics: Greasebucket Tone Circuit
  • Neck radius: 9.5”
  • Neck Shape: Modern "C”
  • Frets: Jumbo
  • Bridge: 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
  • Truss Rod: Standard (hidden)
  • Tuners: Standard Cast/Sealed
  • Controls: Parchment Plastic
  • Case/Gig bag included: Deluxe Gig bag

Shop all Fender American Special Stratocasters here.

American Performer Stratocaster

Finally, we have the most affordable option within the Fender American Stratocaster guitars. The Fender American Performer Stratocaster guitars replace the American Special and include a selection of all new appointments such as Yosemite single coil pickups, a push-pull pot to activate the neck/bridge pickup, Greasebucket tone circuitry and new Classicgear tuning machines for smoother tuning action.

This has definitely been designed for players who want a variety of options whilst playing as the Push-Pull Potentiometer lets you activate the neck+bridge pickup combination or an “all on” feature for a massive sound!

Again, you have the Greasebucket tone system as well as a Satin finished neck and larger 70s style headstock like the Special, but with more tonal options.

Here’s the main specs and differences:

  • Pickups: Yosemite Single Coil
  • Electronics: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck & Middle Pickup), Tone 2. Greasebucket™ Tone Circuit (Bridge Pickup)
  • Special Electronics: Push/Pull Switch on Tone 2 adds Neck Pickup in Parallel For Positions 1 and 2
  • Neck radius: 9.5”
  • Neck Shape: Modern "C”
  • Frets: Jumbo Frets
  • Bridge: 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
  • Truss Rod: Standard (hidden)
  • Tuners: Fender ClassicGear™
  • Controls: Aged White Plastic
  • Case/Gig bag included: Deluxe Gig bag

Shop all Fender American Performer Stratocasters here.

Fender American Performer Stratocaster Vs American Special...What's The Difference?

So which Stratocaster is right for me?

Of course, this is entirely up to you! But the best thing to do is call in to your local PMT store to try a selection out for yourself and see the difference between American Fender Stratocaster models up close! We have massive stock of Fender American Stratocaster guitars across all our stores all ready for you to try out. So call in today or check out the full range over at PMT online now.

shop fender stratocaster

Want to know the differences between Fender Squier guitars, Fender made In Mexico and Fender American Stratocaster guitars? Check out our blog below to help you figure out which Stratocaster to buy.

fender stratocaster buying guide

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