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Fender American Performer Stratocaster review: A refined yet energised update

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £1049
inc VAT

A big step up in price from the standard Player model but this vibrant, versatile instrument will make you want to spend the extra


  • Yosemite pickups sound wonderful
  • Still recognisably a Stratocaster in sound
  • Greasebucket tone circuit


  • Big hike in price over Standard Strat

Not previously heard of American Performer guitars? That’s probably because Fender has recently overhauled its naming system. The regular, made-in-Mexico instruments – formerly the Standard series – now constitute the Player range, while the more upmarket models that used to be dubbed “American Special” are now the American Performer series.

The Performer family includes Telecasters, Jazzmasters, Mustangs and basses, but it’s the American Performer Stratocaster that’s sure to be the most popular model, so that’s the one we’ve put to the test.

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Fender American Performer Stratocaster review: Price and competition

At £949, the American Performer is a substantial purchase, and you definitely don’t need to spend this much to get the classic Stratocaster tone. If you’re on a tight budget, check out the £199 Affinity Strat from Fender’s low-cost Squier range: the build quality is more cheap and cheerful, but it sounds pretty darned similar. Or, step up to £519 and you can get an authentic Fender Player Stratocaster – the classic rock and roll guitar.

Indeed, there are hundreds of variations available on the Stratocaster blueprint, from Fender and others, and that’s before you even think about other designs and styles of guitar. However, as we’ll discuss below, the American Performer features a new pickup design and offers extended tonal options that you won’t find anywhere else. Once you’ve tried them out, you may well conclude that it’s worth spending the extra.

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Fender American Performer Stratocaster review: Design

Well, it’s unmistakably a Strat. Fender knows better than to mess with the look of its most iconic guitar. The only really visible thing that distinguishes the American Performer from the Player models is the plus-sized 70s-style headstock, with the word “Fender” coloured silver.

If you’re a guitar geek, you might also notice that it has ClassicGear tuners with slotted posts and rounded knobs, rather than the more angular ones used on the Player series, and a pair of string trees, ensuring that the top four strings all slot into the nut at the perfect angle.

There’s a selection of distinctive finishes to choose from. The SSS can be had in Arctic White, translucent Honey Burst, satin Lake Placid Blue and the oddly coppery Penny, while the HSS is offered in classic translucent Sunburst, Aubergine, Surf Green and plain old black.

The various options are partnered with either maple or rosewood fingerboards – the latter hasn’t been replaced with pau ferro as it has on the Player series – and pickguards come in either black or that strange off-white that Fender calls Mint Green. In short, the same model can take on a decent spread of personalities.

In the hand, however, the American Performer doesn’t feel any different to the Player series. The neck shape is exactly the same, and the balance and weight are identical too. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: it’s a design that’s been honed over the decades and, in my view, it’s one of the most effortlessly playable guitars around.

Fender American Performer Stratocaster review: Tone

What makes the American Performer Stratocaster special is the electronics. The pickups look the same as on pretty much every Stratocaster since 1954, but these are in fact Fender’s brand new Yosemite pickups, every one of them hand-wound (we are assured) in California.

The idea of meddling with a classic sound might sound alarming but don’t panic – the American Performer still has that instantly recognisable Stratocaster tone. In fact, the Yosemite pickups render it slightly better than the regular Strat models. You might not quite be able to put your finger on it in isolation, but in an A/B comparison the Performer’s pickups are noticeably clearer and more transparent.

Play it clean and chords come out with a lovely polyphonic texture, almost hinting towards the trademark chime of a Rickenbacker. Dial up the gain and the chunky, melodious Stratocaster lead tone remains at your fingertips.

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The other thing that’s novel about the American Performer Strat is the lower tone pot. The upper one, which adjusts the neck and middle pickups, is your standard tone control, but the bridge pickup has a Fender Greasebucket tone circuit. What’s that? Well, on a regular Strat, as you dial down the tone, the sound becomes slightly muddy as the treble fades away and the mid-range and bass frequencies remain. The Greasebucket gently attenuates the lower frequencies along with the treble, so you get a more balanced sound that nestles into the mix without losing definition.

That pot has a second trick too: it’s actually a push-pull controller. On the HSS model, you can pull it out to split the humbucker into a single-coil; on the SSS, if you engage it with the bridge pickup selected, the neck pickup is activated in parallel, combining the warmth of one with the bite of the other. Slide the pickup blade into position two and you’re running all three pickups at once, for a big, thick sound. You won’t use this in every song, but it could be just the thing for solos or other attention-grabbing moments.

There’s only one aspect of the design I don’t like. Standard top-hat knobs aren’t really designed for pushing and pulling, so Fender has raised the lower knob up from the body by a few millimetres. This makes it a lot easier to grab hold of, but it’s hardly an elegant solution: at first sight, it looks like a manufacturing defect rather than a premium feature.

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Fender American Performer Stratocaster review: Verdict

The standard Player Stratocaster is a very fine instrument and you can buy one brand new for £519. At current online prices, an American Performer will set you back £949. There’s no getting around it, that’s a steep premium.

But then buying guitars isn’t just about cost calculations. It’s partly about emotion and those gorgeously clean Yosemite pickups add a thrilling touch of sparkle to the playing experience. The extended tonal options create an inspiring sense of added potential, too, even if you never take advantage of them.

And let’s remind ourselves that £949 isn’t an unreasonable amount to ask for a decent guitar. You’ll only get a basic Gibson for that price, and you can easily spend twice as much on other brands, so the American Performer is actually a very affordable way to get an instrument that’s a cut above the norm. Yes, if you’re looking for the classic Stratocaster sound and feel, the Player will absolutely do the job. But compare it with the American Performer and you’re almost certain to come away wanting one.

Fender American Performer Stratocaster specifications

Alder body

22-fret maple fingerboard with satin finish

Modern C-shaped neck with 9.5in radius

25.5in scale length

1.685in synthetic bone nut

3 x Yosemite single-coil pickups (SSS model)

2 x Yosemite single-coil pickups, 1x DoubleTap humbucker (HSS model)

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