Gear Review: Fender Player FSR Stratocaster

Fender’s Mexican-made Player series instruments are the most affordable guitars with the Fender logo on their headstock. They are priced in between the cheaper Asian-made Squier range and the more expensive USA and Japan made instruments. Every now and then Fender releases some limited edition instruments which they’ve dubbed Fender Special Run (FSR). This particular FSR Stratocaster is one of just 200 made with a very bright Electron Green finish. Does it sound as striking as it looks? Let’s see!

The maple fingerboard is glossy, but the back of the neck has a satin finish.

Background context

While Fender first opened its Mexican production facility in 1989, the Ensenada factory didn’t begin producing complete instruments until 1998. Over the next 20 years, their Mexican Standard Series instruments gained a loyal following of guitarists who appreciated their sturdy build quality and affordable prices. In mid-2018 Fender announced that they would be discontinuing the Standard Series and replacing it with a new range called the Fender Player Series.

On the surface, it might seem that the new range was not a huge departure from the old Mexican Standard Series, as it continued to cover all the classic instruments from Fender’s revered catalogue – Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Precision and Jazz basses – but there are significant differences. Whereas the old Standard Series adhered somewhat closely to the specs of the original 1950s and 1960s instruments, the Player Series features some contemporary upgrades which will appeal to the modern player. For the Stratocasters, that means that the traditional 6-screw bridges have been replaced with a more modern 2 point tremolo system, and the fingerboards now have 22 frets, rather than 21. Also, the pickups have been upgraded and the contours have been reshaped.

The Fender Player FSR Stratocaster

First thing’s first: that colour. Electron Green is bright. Very bright. Certain to divide opinion, it’s a brand new colour for Fender. This limited run of 200 instruments being the first time Fender have used it (they’re also making 200 each of Telecasters, and Precision and Jazz basses in Electron Green). The FSR designation of this particular instrument is a reference solely to the finish colour – in all other respects it is a standard Player Stratocaster.

If you don’t like Electron Green, though, there are plenty of other options. The Player Stratocaster comes standard in nine different colours, including more traditional options like Polar White, black and 3 colour sunburst, and less common options like Tidepool, Capri Orange and silver.

While this guitar features the Strat’s traditional three single coil pickups and a two point tremolo unit, other options within the Player range include SSH or HSH pickup combinations, a locking Floyd Rose tremolo, and even flame maple tops. Fingerboard options are maple, as on this instrument, or pau ferro. Necks are given a clear finish, rather than the yellow stain of more historically accurate models.

It’s worth noting, though, that not all colour options are available with all spec combinations. Some colours are only available with maple fingerboards, some with only pau ferro boards, and some with either. Also, if you want a particular pickup combination, you may find your choice of colours is more limited. There is a left-handed option, but only in four colours, and only in SSS pickup configuration with the traditional two point bridge.

Considering the variety of pickup combinations offered across the Player Series, it’s not surprising that taking the pickguard off reveals the body is routed for two humbuckers and a center single coil pickup. No doubt, all Player Stratocasters are routed this way, regardless of the combination of pickups they are fitted with. This is good news for anyone thinking about modifying their instrument down the track. So long as you’re happy to change the pickguard, you can fit almost any combination of pickups into this guitar without doing any additional routing. Just about the only pickup combination that’s not catered for is triple humbuckers.

The Player Strat comes with the usual control layout of a 5-way switch, master volume pot and two tone controls. The first tone pot controls the bridge and middle pickup, whereas the second tone pot controls the bridge pickup. While not historically accurate, this configuration is practical and has become increasingly common in recent years. Other modern concessions to practicality include the truss-rod which adjusts at the headstock end of the neck, the separate maple fingerboard (as opposed to historic spec one-piece fingerboard/necks) and that 22nd fret.

The fret job is well done with smooth fret ends.

Fit and Finish

The first thing to you notice when you pick up the Player Stratocaster is the neck. The maple neck has a comfortable “modern C” shaped profile and its 9.5″ radius makes bending notes a breeze on each of its 22 frets. But that’s not the thing that immediately stands out. The back of the neck has a smooth satin finish, whereas the maple fingerboard has a shiny gloss finish. This is something I’ve never previously seen on a maple fingerboard neck. Necks usually have either gloss or satin finishes, but rarely both. Gloss finished necks can feel sticky, especially if your hands are prone to perspiration, whereas satin finishes feel smooth and fast – even when you get sweaty. On the other hand, many players prefer gloss finishes because of the hard, glassy sheen it gives maple fingerboards. Compared to unfinished fingerboards (such as are commonly found on rosewood, ebony or pau ferro fingerboards) many players feel that glossy fingerboards reduce friction, enabling faster playing and making bends smoother. By satin finishing the back of the neck while keeping the fingerboard glossy, Fender is giving us the best of both worlds. It makes for a great playing experience, and is a unique feature which I hope makes its way onto more models.

The fret job is well done, and while its not as pretty as I’ve seen on higher priced Fenders, there are no sharp fret ends and the fingerboard edges feel smooth. The frets are nicely leveled and the guitar doesn’t fret out on any of its 22 frets. The pickup cavities are well shielded with ferrous paint, and the wiring is neat and tidy. The fit and finish is excellent over all.

Although this model has three single coil pickups, the body is routed for HSH configuration – a boon to anyone considering modifying the pickups.

Sounds

The three single-coil pickups have Alnico 5 magnets. Fender describes its Player Series pickups as “a modern tweak on our classic sound,” and that’s as good a description as any. They’re a bit louder than most vintage-voiced single coils, and a little brighter too, although they’re certainly not harsh sounding. These pickups have a great clarity across the instrument’s whole range and respond well to differences in pick attack. The pole-pieces are staggered, resulting in a uniform dynamic from string to string.

Played through a clean amp, the Alnico 5s give that glassy Strat tone we’ve all come to love. Positions 2 and 4 on the 5-way switch are hum cancelling. My favourite Strat tone is position 4, with the neck and middle pickups on together, and on this guitar it sounds super fine – funky with just the right amount of quack. These pickups love it when you crank up the gain. They have a throaty mid-range which responds well to distortion, without losing any of their clarity. With higher levels of gain those hum-cancelling positions really come in handy.

The wiring is neat and thoroughly shielded.

Verdict

With a street price of under AUD$1000 this guitar is a great buy. It’s only about $100 more than a Squier Classic Vibe Strat. While the Squier, admittedly, is also a killer guitar for the price, if having the Fender logo on the headstock is important to you, you can get it here with not much additional outlay.

The sounds are great, whether clean or over-driven – those hum-cancelling “in between” positions are particularly evocative – and the neck, with its glossy maple fingerboard and satin-finished back, feels great.

At this price point, the Player Stratocaster might be an attractive proposition for a student looking to upgrade from an entry-level instrument, but it’s such a great instrument for the price that I can also imagine a professional buying one as a backup guitar, or for when they don’t want to take their more valuable instruments to the gig.

And if you just can’t stomach that Electron Green, don’t worry – there are plenty other (more traditional) colours to choose from.

It even comes with a sticker warning purchasers not to throw their new guitar in the trash.

Pros

  • A killer guitar for the price
  • You get that Fender name on the headstock for not much more outlay than a Squier Classic Vibe.
  • Glossy fingerboard with satin neck finish is genius.
  • Great sounding pickups.

Cons

  • Vintage purists may want a more traditionally spec’ed Strat.
  • That bright Electron Green will divide opinion.
  • Not all colours are available with all spec options.
  • No case or gig bag included.
This special edition model is limited to just 200 instruments world wide.

Please note:

I have not been paid monetarily or in kind for writing this review. The thoughts and opinions expressed within are entirely my own.


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