As you would expect from a top-of-the-range model, the build quality is excellent here, bearing no discernible flaws. This review unit sported an Ice-Blue Metallic alder body with a Satin Polyurethane finish, with a similar Satin Urethane finish on the neck. The pale maple neck was a breeze to play with its compound “C” to “D” back shape, and allowed frictionless transitions from one end to the other. This is mimicked on its dual-toned ebony fretboard, sporting a compound radius of 9.5” to 14” as you move further up the neck, allowing maximum playability on higher-pitched solos.
Several modern appointments can be seen on the hardware side of things. A two-point tremolo bridge equipped with a convenient pop-in tremolo bar allows smooth, hassle-free vibrato at all times. Tuning stability isn’t an issue here – Fender’s locking tuners retain their classy look from both front and profile angles, and offer superior performance over traditional tuners. A textured rubber coating lines the knobs of the volume and two tone knobs, providing accuracy and tactility when performing swells or rolling off the high end.
Sonically, the American Elite Stratocaster covers way more ground than a traditional Stratocaster ever could. Fender’s fourth generation Noiseless pickups offer plenty of glass, warmth and slightly mid-scooped tones in the neck, with plenty of clucks and quacks found from the in-between positions. The zebra Shawbucker in the bridge is incredibly balanced with plenty of low end, and absolutely screams with some overdrive. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of these pickups – while not being the biggest fan of most stock Stratocaster pickups, I have to admit that Fender have done a laudable job with these.
The onboard electronics and wiring are what sets this guitar a world apart from the rest. The S-1 switching system makes its return on the Elite Stratocaster – for those who aren’t familiar, the S-1 switch resides on the volume knob itself, and completely changes the guitar’s pickup wiring when depressed. In a nutshell, the switch allows the player to select an in-between position in series (simulating a humbucker of sorts), and with or without the addition of Fender’s special capacitor. The middle selection even permits all the pickups to be activated at once. While technically impressive, some S-1 positions sound too muddy and uncharacteristic of a Strat. Although activating the special cap allows some of that single coil spank to shine through the overly thick bottom end, it seems slightly impractical and troublesome, especially in a live situation. Finally, an additional button comfortably located near the tone knobs sends the single Shawbucker directly to the forefront, bypassing the S-1 system, volume, and tone knobs – perfect for busting out solos.
Fender weren’t kidding when they mentioned that the American Elite Stratocaster was “the ultimate combination of innovation, materials and design for the most discriminating player.” This guitar can similarly be compared to a robust Swiss army knife. It will definitely appeal to the players who want all their bases covered, and then some. Stratocaster purists will love what Fender have done with their latest generation of noiseless pickups, while the more experimental players will find an endless tonal experience waiting for them within the S-1 switching system.