Fender Player Stratocaster Floyd Rose HSS
By Phil O'Keefe |
Fender Player Stratocaster Floyd Rose HSS
A new standard for players looking for their first Fender?
by Phil O'Keefe
Fender's Standard Series of made in Mexico guitars have long represented some of the best values that Fender has offered to musicians. Priced lower than Fender's American-made guitars, they still offered the same classic look, similar sound, and very good playability at a price that made them attractive to neophyte players looking for their first "real" Fender, as well as value-conscious pros and aspiring pros. However, Fender recently discontinued the Standard Series, and has released a replacement called the Player Series. Today we'll be taking a close look at one of the new models from the new MIM lineup and seeing how it compares to its predecessors.
What You Need To Know
- The new Fender Player series replaces the previous Made in Mexico (MIM) Standard Series. I was originally sent one guitar, but through a mix-up at the Fender warehouse, I was sent a second while I was in the process of finishing up this review, so I was able to test one example of this model extensively over a few weeks, and closely examine a second guitar of the same type for a few days.
- The HSS Stratocaster Floyd Rose that I spent the most time with is a 3-color sunburst. The body is alder, and while it's mult-piece, the pieces are so well matched that it appears to be a one-piece body, but it's not.
- The body seems to have smoother contours compared to the previous MIM Standard Series. The bevels for the tummy cut and forearm contour are smoother and less angular, and more in line with the American made models.
- The finish on the body is gloss polyester, and is very well applied, with no visible flaws. In my experience, Fender Ensenada has always been good about the quality of the finishes on their bodies, and the new Player Series features some brand new colors. The four available colors correspond with fingerboard wood options. Sunburst and Sonic Red (the two colors I examined) come with a pau ferro fretboard while the Tidepool and Polar White color options are only available with maple, but retail for $25 less ($749.99 "street") than the guitars with the pau ferro fretboards.
- For those who are unfamiliar with it, pau ferro has similar sonic qualities to rosewood. It's a bit harder and brighter, and it has a similar look that's a little lighter in color, but it's a good substitute for rosewood, which has become more regulated in recent years.
- The assembly and setup from the factory was generally good. Although the action was lower than I personally prefer (especially on the Sonic Red guitar), it was for the most part buzz-free, and low action totally suits an instrument that's clearly aimed at rockers and shredders. The locking Floyd Rose bridge was well-adjusted all the way around, so the intonation was good right out of the box too.
- The Floyd Rose is a double-locking vibrato system that does a far better job of staying in tune than other systems, even when used aggressively. I was able to "dive bomb" to the point where the strings were totally slack, and the system still returned to pitch reliably. The fine tuners on the bridge offer plenty of adjustment for making any necessary tuning corrections, but for the most part I didn't have to use them a lot.
- The frets on the 3-color sunburst could have used just a bit more polishing - they felt a bit gritty on the top when I first started playing the guitar, but this went away fairly quickly. This wasn't an issue with the Sonic Red example. Fortunately, the fret edges are smooth and well-dressed. on both guitars
- The 22 fret maple neck is a new feature compared to the 21 fret necks of the previous MIM Standard Series guitars. It is accomplished with a short fingerboard "extension" that goes past the end of the neck. The neck has a walnut "skunk stripe" and satin urethane finish on the back, while the headstock is gloss urethane. The 22 frets are medium jumbos.
- There are white dot fret markers on both the front and the side of the fingerboard.
- There was a very small dark spot in the satin finish of the neck near the headstock on the sunburst guitar.
- The scale length is the traditional 25.5", but the fingerboard radius is 12", so it's flatter than a vintage-spec neck (as well as flatter than other models in the new Player Series - most of which have a 9.5" radius), which makes string bending easier and fretting out when doing so far less likely, even when the action is set fairly low, as it is here.
- The neck profile has what Fender calls a Modern C shape, and it's very comfortable.
- Nut width is 1.6875", and the guitar comes equipped with a Floyd Rose locking nut. An allen wrench to tighten and loosen it is also included, along with a second one for adjusting the truss rod. Neck thickness measured .810" at the first fret.
- The tuning machines are smooth working Fender-branded Standard cast-style sealed units. They have a 14:1 gear ratio. Of course, with a Floyd Rose installed, once you get the guitar tuned up and the nut locked down, the tuners themselves are out of the equation, and any touch-up you need to do is handled with the fine tuners on the Floyd Rose bridge itself.
- The headstock features a vintage "spaghetti" style Fender logo.
- The standard truss rod adjusts at the headstock end, which is much easier than vintage Fenders, which have the truss rod adjustment at the body end of the neck.
- The neck pocket is nice and tight, with no gaps on either side. The neck is attached with four bolts, and the neck plate features a Fender F logo.
- Fender is using new pickups on the Player Series models. They're a little bit hotter and more refined sounding than the pickups in the previous MIM Standard Series, and they now feature AlNiCo magnets instead of the ceramic magnets of the previous series. The single coil pickups use AlNiCo 5 magnets with staggered polepieces while the humbucker has AlNiCo 2 magnets.
- The controls and pickup covers are white plastic, while the pickguard is a black / white / black 3-ply unit that looks great against both the 3-color sunburst and the Sonic Red finishes.
- A standard five-way switch (with a parchment colored switch tip) is included. In position 1 the bridge humbucker runs by itself, position 2 gives you the outer coil of the humbucker plus the middle pickup, position 3 is the middle pickup alone, position 4 is the middle and neck pickups together, and position 5 is the neck pickup by itself.
- Position 1 is a bit hotter than the others, as you would expect, but the other positions are not unduly weak or under-powered in comparison. Positions 1, 2 and 4 are all hum-free, which means the middle pickup is reverse wound and reverse magnetic polarity (RWRP).
- Like most Strats, the Fender Player Series Stratocaster Floyd Rose HSS has three control knobs. The one closest to the strings is a master volume control. The other two are tone controls.
- The tone controls have received an update on the new Player Series too. Traditionally a Strat has had one tone control assigned to the neck pickup and the second assigned to the middle pickup. On the new Player Series the middle knob adjusts the tone for the neck and middle pickups, while the second tone knob is dedicated to the bridge pickup. It may not be "traditional", but it is a far more practical and useful arrangement.
- Underneath the pickguard the control and pickup cavities are painted with black shielding paint, and the pickguard has a layer of foil too, so the guitar is very well shielded. The wire routing isn't the cleanest I've ever seen, but the quality of the soldering and parts is very good, with a decent quality switch and CTS pots.
- One of the white dot position inlays on the 3-color sunburst guitar had a ding in the center of it.
- The edges of the pau ferro fingerboard are fairly sharp and un-rounded on both guitars, which is an issue I've noticed on the past few MIM Fenders I've reviewed, including the Mustang 90 and the Mustang Bass PJ.
- As was true with the previous Standard series, no case or gig bag is included, so budget accordingly.
All in all, I really like the changes that Fender has made with the new Player Series. The satin-finished neck has a very comfortable profile and I liked the fast-playing, smooth finish. The body feels more comfortable too, with smoother, more gradual contours, and the pickups are a significant step up from the MIM Standard Series, so it sounds better too. The changes to the rest of the electronics, with the reassigned tone controls, makes sense, and gives you a lot more tonal versatility. The new colors offer you some cool looking cosmetic options as well. The switch from rosewood to pau ferro for the fretboard feels more familiar than you might think, and makes sense considering the increasing restrictions on rosewood, although I do wish Fender would do something to round the fretboard edges a bit - the sharpness there is my biggest complaint. The finish blemish behind the headstock and nick to the fretboard dot on one of the two guitars I examined are minor niggles in comparison - neither of which could be felt while playing the guitar. The Floyd Rose worked flawlessly, and it's nice to see Fender offering this, as well as the HSS pickup configuration, as an option. While there's nothing really revolutionary going on here, the improvements made with the new Player Series represent a nice evolutionary step, and will no doubt attract many of the next generation of players, as well as continue to be a popular option for value-conscious professionals. -HC-
Want to discuss the Fender Player Series HSS Stratocaster Floyd Rose or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Electric Guitar forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Fender Player Series HSS Stratocaster Floyd Rose ($774.99 "street" / $749.99 "street", depending on color and fretboard wood)
Fender's product web page
You can purchase the Fender Player Series HSS Stratocaster Floyd Rose from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.