Fender American Strats: Special VS Standard VS Deluxe – The Difference Between Them
Edit: Please note that both the American Standard and American Deluxe Strats have been discontinued and replaced by the American Pro and American Elite Strats, respectively. I’ve updated this comparison so that you can get the most up to date differences between the Fender American Special, American Pro and American Elite Stratocasters.
The Fender Stratocaster. It’s one of the most iconic instruments ever made thanks to its proliferation within popular music in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, everybody uses them, from Nile Rodgers of Chic to Jim Root of Slipknot. There are however, many different variations of the Fender Strat; they look alike, and to those not as familiar with the finer details of the guitar, they may sound and feel the same too. Even within the modern range of US built Fenders, there are different versions of the Strat that can leave even the most experienced players a little confused.
The Strat has been around for over 60 years and in that time, subtle changes have been made to accommodate for players’ ever-evolving needs. The Fender American Special, American Standard and American Deluxe Strat represent the differences between those models and offer players a slightly different feel and sound, whilst still retaining that characteristic ‘Strat-ness’ that we’ve become so accustomed with.
Difference Between American Special, Standard and Deluxe Strat – Sound
Surely a Strat sounds like a Strat? Well, yes it does – all three American models and even the Mexican models share a certain glassy, chimey tone that has helped make the guitar sound so unique. However, there are other tonal characteristics that help differentiate between the models. One of the biggest differences between the Fender American Special, Standard and Deluxe Strats is that they all have different pickups, which help make them all sound slightly different. Also, while there are different pickup configurations, we’ll be focussing on the classic SSS (three single coils) configuration.
The American Special Strat has Custom Shop Texas Specials. These pickups are great for that vintage blues rock sound. Think Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rory Gallagher, that kind of thing. These pickups are slightly overwound and so have plenty of mid range bark as well as shimmering highs. They’re versatile too, so whether you’re playing them clean or with distortion, they’ll sound great. Out of the three, they’ve probably got the highest output so will break up a little sooner. The American Special Strat has got a Greasebucket tone circuit which allows you to roll off the highs without adding extra bass frequencies.
Also, the American Special is the only one out of the three to have jumbo frets which, in theory, will add something to your tone. Slightly larger frets will add a little sustain and general ‘beef’ to your sound, but can compromise some clarity and precision.
The pickups that come in the American Standard Strat are Custom Shop Fat 50s. These pickups give you pure, classic Strat tone. They’re bright and glassy, with plenty of focus and enhanced dynamics. Fender have enriched the bass response a little to cater for more modern needs but if you want a sound that’s bursting with vintage character, then the American Standard could well be the one for you. What’s also worth mentioning is that Fender have given the American Standard Strat a thinner undercoat to improve the body’s resonance. It also has a copper infused high mass metal bridge block which gives you a little more sustain and tone.
The Fender American Deluxe Strat has got more tonal possibilities, compared to the American Special and Strat. Loaded in the guitar are three Noiseless N3 pickups. Single coils can sometimes be noisy, giving unwanted buzz and hum, but not with the N3s; they prevent this kind of background noise and in doing so, help preserve that luscious Strat sound. Thanks to these pickups and the carefully selected alder body, the American Deluxe Strat has a really nice warm, glassy sound, with enormous detail and bell-like chime. Fender use different Alnico 2, 3 and 5 magnets in the N3 pickups; each one carefully selected for the right position for the most balanced response and harmonically complex tonal versatility.
The American Deluxe also features S1 switching, which in a nutshell, doubles the five different sounds you have already (using the pickup selector), to ten. So, in addition to the standard five pickup configurations, you’ve also got another five sounds that come from wiring various pickups in series and out of phase. This helps make the Fender American Deluxe Strat an incredibly versatile guitar. If you want a clear, refined Strat sound, it can do that, but it can do whole lot more on top of that. Whether you’re into pop, rock, blues, jazz, indie, country, the Deluxe Strat constantly performs!
Difference Between American Special, Standard and Deluxe Strat – Feel
All three of these guitars have a modern C neck profile (Deluxe available with a V-neck also) so your left hand will notice similarities. However, a big difference between the American Deluxe and the Standard and Special is that the Deluxe has a compound radius fretboard, so it’s a little rounder towards the headstock end and a bit flatter towards the body end. This hybrid fretboard radius makes fretting chords down the lower end feel really comfortable and quick lead work at the top is just as easy. The Deluxe also features a contoured neck heel, making access to the higher frets that bit easier than it is on the American Special and Standard.
So that’s the Deluxe, but what are the differences between the Fender American Standard Strat and Special Strat, feel-wise? As mentioned, the Special has jumbo frets, and the Standard has medium jumbo frets. It’s not going to make a world of difference but you may well find one more comfortable than the other; try them both and find out which one feels right. The Special Strat also has a vintage style tremolo system, compared to the Standard and Deluxe’s two point trem system so you may notice some differences when using the whammy bar.
Difference Between American Special, Standard and Deluxe Strat – Other
There are other differences between the Fender American Special, Standard and Deluxe Strats aside from sound and feel. First off, the Special comes supplied with a padded gigbag whereas both the Standard and Deluxe come with quality hardcases. The Standard and Deluxe Strats both feature Fender’s Micro-Tilt neck adjustment feature. This allows you to slightly alter the neck angle; something you might find yourself needing to do if you change any bridge parts or after a big set-up. It’s all to do with getting the guitar so if feels comfortable for you.
The select alder used for the body of a Fender American Deluxe Strat usually has a nicer, more defined grain, so if you’re after a translucent colour like sunburst, and aesthetics is an important feature for you, then this is certainly something to consider. It’s also got locking tuning machines, as opposed to regular tuners on the Special and Standard. This helps the Deluxe hold its tuning better.
All three of these Strats, on the surface look quite similar and they’re all made in the US. However, when you analyse the details, you find out that there are quite a few differences between the Fender American Special, Standard and Deluxe Strat. If you want a time tested Strat, without any extra features, then the Standard could well be the one for you. It’s only had a few tweaks here and there since its inception in 1954 and it’s the Strat by which others are judged. The American Special is great too; it’s a slightly beefier but less refined sound, plus it’s got the highest output pickups out of all three. With its 70s style headstock, it’s dripping with vintage character and has the tone to match. The American Deluxe has all the bells and whistles; the neck radius and contour means the fastest lead guitarists will love it just as much as the most laid back rhythm players. You’ve got a huge range of tonal possibilities thanks to the S1 switching system, as well as an incredibly detailed and refined classic Strat sound.
In over 60 years, there has been much tinkering around with the Strat – the various models are evidence of this, but it’s still very much the same guitar it always has been. It’s got such a unique sound and people of all ages and playing styles still want that. Despite their differences, the Fender American Special, Standard and Deluxe Strats will all give you that much-loved sound, and provide you with years and years of enjoyment!
Great read! Just wanted to add American Specials are discontinued and replaced by the American Performer.
American Elite has now been discontinued – you can now shop the new and improved American Ultra Range.