Fender Classic Series 50s Stratocaster: A Lot Of Vintage For The Money
An excellent mid-priced guitar.
Bridge screws strip easily.
The Bottom Line:
It's a revival of an older era strat, and a good value for the price. Definitely worth buying used.
The Fender Classic Series 50s Stratocaster came out about the same time as the Player Series 50s Strat, and was sometimes confused with that very different guitar. Both were intended to be 50s style stratocasters but came out on different model lines.
The Player series was part of a set of Fenders that included the 60s style strat, and the Baja Telecaster. All were designed by the Fender Custom Shop, and took that particular era guitar as a starting point, but added modern refinements.
In the case of the 50s strat, the switch positions were different, the neck was thicker, and some of the hardware was more modern. It was an update of a classic design. In the case of the Classic 50s strat, Fender attempted to recreate the vintage model as closely as possible.
For the modern player, this was both good and bad.
For one thing, many guitarists prefer hotter pickups than what was available in the 50s. It's the sound of Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller versus Ritchie Blackmore. Also, most players are used to rosewood fretboards, even on strats, and can find the sharper, harder sound of a maple neck unpleasant.
That said, there's players like me who prefer the 50s style strat. The lower output pickups are very suitable for blues, classic rock, surf, and even old Cuban and African music. It's a classic sound, and one that more than one person has attempted to find in some old Japanese Teisco guitar, or one with the fabled gold pickups due to the high price of vintage strats.
The nice thing about the current guitar market is that there's such intense competition that even the big companies like Gibson and Fender are willing to contest the mid and lower price markets. Even better, they're willing to build guitars that are obviously niche market products.
Decades ago, if you wanted a 50s strat, there was basically only the vintage market and it's high prices. Like I said earlier, all not having a 50s strat available at a reasonable price achieved was elevating the market for the various strat imitiations. Most of which, nostalgia or "lawsuit era" aside, were built cheap to sell cheap.
If you want a 50s style strat now, the price range starts at 700.00. That's a bit high for a guitar made of alder (in my opinion), but realistically in today's market, it's a bargain if the performance lives up to the name.
Which it does. The heart of the Classic 50s guitar is the pickups and neck, both of which are excellent. I ran the guitar through blues, rock, and whatever, and I had a friend run it through surf, David Gilmour era Pink Floyd and 50s rock. For this range of music, the stock pickups deliver a classic sound. No need to buy and replace the pickups (which is a practice I've always felt was wierd).
The best thing about the guitar is it's 50s style V neck, with a 7.25" radius. A great feeling neck that feels easy to play and sits well in the hand. I played a maple neck telecaster for over 20 years, and this one not only feels better, but made me nostalgic for the tele. If you like maple necks, you know what I mean.
Another good thing about the neck, and some may not agree, is that it has the old style wire frets. These feel differently than the jumbo type most are used to, and one has to be very careful cleaning these.
For 700.00, you get an alder body (not sure how many pieces), and your choice of five very cool colors. I chose the Daphne blue, which adds to the vintage automobile paint look. I once owned a deluxe strat with natural finish, and for some reason, never could warm up to seeing wood grain on a strat. Having it a bright 20th century color is what Fenders are all about to me.
The single pickguard does buckle, though I tend to change those out for pearloid at some point anyway. Your own reaction to this cheap touch (though vintage) might vary, though if some are willing to pay double for a relic'd strat, I don't see a problem with thin pickguards.
The rest of the hardware, with vintage style ping style tuners, synthetic bone nut, and a bridge with screws that easily strip is about par for the course. If you want the 50s look, it's part of the package. Those who are less uncompromising can always replace those aspects without losing the soul of that machine.
I've owned the Player's series, a Deluxe strat, and a strat plus. All were great guitars, but what I can say is the it's the Classic 50s Series model that I kept. It did better in the things that count for me...it's a great player, has the classic sound that I wanted, and looks like what I think a Fender should look like. Others might disagree, but thanks for the variety now in the guitar market, we can now agree to disagree.
In my case, when I think of strats, the sound I hear in my head comes out of this one. That's good enough for me.