One question I get asked all the time is “How come this Stratocaster costs so much more than that Stratocaster? Aren’t they both Fender Stratocasters?”. I get asked the same questions about various Gibson Les Paul guitars as well. As a matter of fact, every instrument that you find used in a live band such as drums, bass, guitar or keyboards have huge price ranges for instruments, that on the surface, appear very similar.
The biggest reason that instruments have such a large range of prices is the variation in build quality. The second biggest reason is the number of features or upgrades on an instrument. Other reasons for big price differences include limited edition instruments, general popularity of the instrument and overall collectibility of the instrument.
Today I’m going to talk about the big price range on guitars but the same can be said about most other handcrafted instruments. Keyboards are a little different because their price ranges are based primarily on their capabilities although keyboard construction does play into keyboard pricing as well.
A perfect example to use to illustrate the wide range of instrument pricing is the Fender Stratocaster (although this example could very well be the Gibson Les Paul line as well). Let’s take a look at the guitars that carry the Fender Stratocaster name. There are currently 13 models of the Fender Stratocaster listed on the Fender website. There are another 9 models of guitar carrying the name Stratocaster by Fender on the Squire guitar website. That’s 22 different models of authorized Fender Stratocaster guitars!
The highest priced mass produced Fender Stratocasters are the Artist Series Fender Stratocasters such as the Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster and the Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster. There are higher priced Fender Stratocasters but these are usually limited runs or custom shop guitars and they are not mass produced such as the Yngwie Malmsteen Tribute Stratocaster. All of the artist series guitars are made in America and have features that are unique to the artists that use them. That’s why they’re so expensive.
The top of the line standard production Fender Stratocaster is the Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster which is my personal favorite Stratocaster guitar. It’s also the top of the price list for non-artist series guitars. The reason for this is again, because it’s made in America as well as having the best overall craftsmanship and components of any other American made Stratocaster.
As you work your way down the Fender Stratocaster price list you will find that the lower priced guitars drop certain features such as noiseless pickups. The Fender American Standard Stratocaster, while still made in America, doesn’t have noiseless pickups or locking tuners. The price is lower but you lose the top-end features.
As you move lower on the Stratocaster price list you will find that the guitars will be made in Mexico. These are still good guitars with one of the best Mexican made Stratocasters being the Fender Deluxe Player’s Stratocaster. This guitar is loaded with features but the price is low because of the fact it is made at the Mexican factory. Other factors that bring the price of the Deluxe Player’s Stratocaster down are the useage of older parts such as the original Vintage Noiseless pickups rather than the Samarium Cobalt Noiseless Pickups found on the newer American Deluxe Stratocasters. The Vintage Noiseless pickups are still an excellent pickup but they are an older design.
As you get even lower in the price range for Fender Stratocaster you get into the Squire series with the Squire by Fender Affinity Series Stratocaster being the lowest of the low. The Squire guitars are made in various Asian countries such as Korea, China and Indonesia. It’s been my experience that the Indonesian made guitars are the lowest build quality and I’ve had students that have had a lot of problems with the Indonesian built guitars. The main selling point is the low price of course and if you want a cheap Stratocaster then this is the way to go.
It’s obvious when you type the word “Stratocaster” in the Musician’s Friend search box that there are tons of Stratocasters of every price range available. The thing to remember is that when it comes to buying guitars, you generally get what you pay for. That’s why I highly recommend buying the best and getting a Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster. It’s the guitar I use and the guitar I love. The same price vs. build quality and features breakdown occurs with the entire Gibson Les Paul lineup as well. So shop wisely and make sure you check each respective manufacturer’s model lineup for features before buying.
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