From the beginning, Fender has had a tradition of leading the way in American guitar manufacturing. From the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar to today's famed Custom Shop instruments, they've been at the forefront of both innovation and quality. The new American Performer series brings all that together, creating a line of fine, Made in USA electrics at a price that boggles the mind.
Sneaking a peek at the new line
The American Performer guitars and American Performer basses are not simply pared-down versions of more expensive instruments. Fender has rethought, redesigned, and re-tweaked electronics, hardware and aesthetics to create a line of instruments that will be in demand for years. We've had the opportunity to preview the line, and would like to share with you what we've found.
On the guitar side, the line consists of the American Performer Stratocaster in SSS and HSS versions; American Performer Tele and Tele Hum, which has neck humbucker; American Performer Jazzmaster, which features a Strat Synchronized tremolo bridge; and a new version of Fender's short-scale Mustang guitar, the "student" guitar that became a favorite of many pros. The basses include a Precision Bass, a Jazz Bass and a short-scale Mustang Bass.
New looks for a new series
Let's start with the finishes, since that's the first thing you'll notice. While other manufacturers were sticking with traditional looks and colors in the 1950s, Fender realized finishes that looked great on the flashy cars of the time would work just as nicely on guitars. The tradition of custom-color guitars was born, and the new finishes developed for the American Performer series reflect that. Several of the new finishes are truly eye-catching, most notably the glittering, coppery Penny, the delectable Aubergine, and the rich new Honeyburst. For a slightly understated look, Fender has created satin versions of old favorites Sonic Blue, Lake Placid Blue and Surf Green. Traditionalists will love the Vintage White, Arctic White, 3-Color Sunburst and gloss Black versions. Which finishes are available varies by model and fretboard material.
Ready for modern players
All American Performer necks feature a modern 9.5" radius, which is a great midway point between the vintage 7.5" many of these guitars originally had and the modern, ultra-flat "shred" neck. It's a great blend of comfort, ability to cleanly bend strings, and speed. While the Tele carries its traditional headstock shape, the others boast the oversized '70s-style headstock, and all bear a silver, ‘70s-era Fender logo.
Hardware redesigned for added stability
Most hardware was redesigned to what Fender is calling "Vintage-Modern" specs under the name "ClassicGear." This is especially notable in the split-shaft tuning machines on all guitars, and a redesigned Mustang vibrato bridge. The hardware change on the Jazzmaster, switching from the floating tailpiece style to a classic Strat-type 6-point synchronized tremolo, adds what has been a historically stable platform for whammy bar excursions. The basses all feature F-stamped. lightweight, tapered shaft tuners with vintage-style "paddle" keys.
Versatile electronics for more tonal variety
The biggest advances have been in the electronics. The whole American Performer series has a freshly redesigned line of pickups, done by Fender's talented group of tone experts. These new "Yosemite" single-coil and "DoubleTap" humbucking pickups are voiced to provide a more modern, aggressive tone at full volume. Backing off the volume knob yields a more vintage vibe, with a little extra midrange punch. The addition of Fender's Greasebucket tone circuit to all instruments in the series is another big plus. The Greasebucket uses band-pass filtering to avoid the muddiness that often occurs with traditional treble roll-off controls. This enables the player to dial in mellower tones while still maintaining clarity.
Another American Performer innovation is the addition of new features on push/push tone knobs on select models. On the regular Strat, for example, pushing the tone knob enables you to add the neck pickup to any switch position, allowing players to get the long-sought-after neck/bridge combination, plus the full neck/middle/bridge. The Stratocaster HSS and the Telecaster Hum models feature "DoubleTap" humbuckers with Fender's new coil-tap technology to broaden the available tonality for those guitars as well.
The final question, as always, is how do the American Performers play and sound? The instruments Fender sent us for our brief preview were uniformly excellent, with comfortable neck carves and balance. With a Modern "C" profile across the board, the necks feel great, and the 9.5" radius on the fingerboards is just flat enough for speed, while retaining enough curve for comfortable chording. The new pickups have a pleasantly accented midrange that grows a bit of attitude when full out, but mellows back to classic Fender tones with either a lighter touch or a slight rollback of the volume knob. The Greasebucket circuit does exactly what it was designed to do, keeping balance and clarity in the tone when you turn down the tone knob. These are definitely instruments that are aimed at the performing player, in features, tone and price point.
Wrapping it up, we'll just say that if you've been looking for a new American-made guitar, demand quality, and don't want to overextend your budget, it would be almost impossible to beat any of Fender's American Performer series.