Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Teemu Suomala
Fender is one of the top electric guitar brands around, and when it comes to workhorse guitars, my Fender American Performer Stratocaster is at the top of my list. I’ve owned mine for around six years now and have both recorded numerous albums and played several shows with it.
Not only is it a beautiful piece of American equipment, but it’s also one of the most versatile guitars in my arsenal, which is saying quite a lot. If you’re thinking of picking up an American Performer, you’ve come to the right place, as I’m going to take you through the ins and outs to help you determine if it’s the right choice for your needs (it’s indeed not for everyone).
Note! Both the author and editor of this article own Fender American Performer Stratocaster. We have played this guitar for 100s of hours. We also plan to release videos about this great axe in February 2024 (in-depth tests and more), so stay tuned!
Author: Tyler Connaghan
Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster.
Expertise: music industry, producing, acoustic & electric guitars, songwriting
Bachelor of Science in Music Industry Studies, Music IndustryHide The Rambling▲
Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala
I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.
I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.
I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).Hide The Rambling▲
Fender American Performer Stratocaster
-The tonal versatility is out of this world
-It feels comfortable in the hands
-Extremely easy to play
-Beautiful aesthetics and durable construction
-Stayed in tune well even with whammy use
-Pickups can be very noisy when paired with high-gain amps and pedals (not necessarily a go-to metal machine)
-Just a little bit of rough fret edges in some copies
-Hardware is pretty basic
-Synthetic bone nut might not please everyone
Who is this for?
The Fender American Performer Stratocaster is a great choice for both intermediate and expert players who want a versatile instrument equipped with single coils (the HSS model is equally great). Works for playing live and in the studio.
Who this is not for?
I wouldn’t recommend this guitar for absolute beginners or those who primarily play heavier styles of music like metal and hard rock.
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The unboxing video coming out in February.
Check our favorite Fender electric guitars here.
|0.9 in. at 12th fret
|Number of Frets
Check out our Stratocaster Dimensions article for a more in-depth look.
All photos are from Editors (Teemu’s) American Performer Stratocaster. But here’s the authors, Tyler’s Relic’d Performer Stratocasters:
Build & Finish Quality
The Fender American Performer comes with an alder body, which feels both lightweight and smooth in the hands, perfect for playing whether sitting or standing. You get a standard maple neck with most of the models, as well as a skunk stripe at the back and a beautiful array of finishes to choose from.
Placid Blue Satin, as well as the Honey Burst, come with a rosewood fretboard rather than the maple fretboards you might be used to seeing, which you can also find on the Arctic White versions of the American Performer.
Check out our tonewoods article to learn more about how different woods can have an impact on the overall tone of your guitar. It’s good to keep in mind that woods do not matter the plugged-in tone of electric guitar almost at all.
Overall, the build and finish quality are spot-on. But some copies have suffered from a little bit rough fret edges. Note that when talking about rough here, I do not mean that you will cut your hands playing, but the edges of the fret can decrease the comfortability just a little bit.
There’s a lot to talk about in terms of hardware, so I’ll try not to drag on.
For starters, you have a synthetic bone nut instead of a plastic nut. If you’re a guitar nut like me, you know that synthetic bone is technically supposed to provide your guitar with better tuning, tone, and sustain. But in reality, this might not always be the case. And many players do prefer Tusq and Bone nuts over synthetic ones.
And what strikes me as a bit odd, is the fact that even the cheapest Squiers have Synthetic Bone nuts…so basically I could expect updated nuts to the guitars costing over $1k more.
I’ve never A/B’d different nuts on this guitar, though I can say that it does have quite nice sustain and stays in tune for surprisingly long periods, even with rough playing.
The bridge features bent steel saddles and room to integrate a tremolo bar, which you can get for pretty cheap online (most models right now come with a tremolo arm). I will say that the trem bar can negatively impact the tuning, so if you’re someone who uses it a lot, I would recommend replacing the stock tuners with some locking pegs. (Editors note: my copy with tremolo arm and stock tuners has stayed in tune really well, even with frequent whammy use).
I actually replaced the stock Kluson tuners when I got this guitar, as I’ve never really been a fan of them, even though they have a nice vintage look.Tyler Author.
One of my favorite things about the guitar is how easily it plays. You get a comfortable 9.5 in. fretboard radius and a smooth modern C-neck profile. The 22 jumbo frets help you feel the frets more than your standard medium frets, all while providing a bit more sustain.
This Fender was featured in our popular 9 guitar blind test recently…check the electric guitar blind test out here.
With the Fender Strat body shape, you also get access to the highest frets, making soloing easier than ever.
Compared to my Gibson Les Paul, it’s also super lightweight, making it easy to play with a strap on for extended periods.
It’s hard to compare good vs. bad electronics in electric guitars, so I typically judge them by their longevity. One of the things I’ve noticed is that I’ve had to change out the pots on my volume and tone controls more than a few times over the years, which can get a bit frustrating (it should be noted that I play a lot).
The guitar sounds amazing, though the constant need for maintenance is a drag, especially when it’s your main workhorse guitar.
As you’d expect from a Strat, you get an extremely versatile tonal range, especially with the five-way pickup switch.
This particular model comes with Yosemite pickups, which I believe render the same traditional Fender Strat tone, which is so familiar to guitarists, even better. They have a super transparent sound overall and are noticeably clearer than my old Fender Strat, which used pre-2017 stock single-coil pickups.
When plaid through a clean Fender or Fender-style amp, you can hear that trademark glassiness in tone. However, with a bit of overdrive and compression, things start to beef up a little bit, perfect for leads.
One of the other unique things about the American Performer is the Greasebucket tone circuit, which can be found on the lower tone pot. You get standard tone control with the upper tone pot, allowing you to dial back the top end on the neck and middle pickups like you normally would, though the push-pull tone pot on the bridge pickup reacts a bit differently.
On a regular Strat, dialing back the tone knob on the bridge pickup usually results in a muddy tone that lacks clarity.
However, the Greasebucket pickup works with a unique design that not only attenuates the higher frequencies as you dial things back but also attenuates the lows, resulting in a beautifully balanced sound that still maintains enough presence to sit well in the mix.
The best way I can talk about these pickup positions is one at a time, as they each have their own unique personality.
Check Tyler displaying 3 must-know Strat Tones with his stunning Relic’d Stratocaster: (more sound demos coming soon):
Position 1 – Bridge Pickup
The bridge pickup on the Strat might be its defining tone, as it provides endless snap and sizzle. There are certainly times I think, “Yikes, this is way too bright.” However, paired with the right amp, it does wonders when you need a guitar that can cut through the mix.
I typically pair my guitar with my Keeley Supro amp, which is naturally bass-heavy, so using the bridge pickup position balances things out pretty nicely.
I mainly use this position for country or country-style songs, as it can provide a nice bit of twang (especially with a bit of added compression). Is it as good as a Telecaster for that specific sound? It’s hard to say and might even be a subjective opinion, but it can certainly do it justice.
Add some overdrive in the mix, and it’s killer for rock leads too. I’d just recommend adding a noise gate at the beginning of your chain if you’re getting into serious overdrive and distortion, as the pickups can get quite noisy.
Position 2 – Bridge and Middle Pickup
The second position on the Fender American Performer might actually be the unsung hero of the tonal options. For starters, it’s quite difficult to replicate the tone with any other guitar.
Compared to the bridge pickup, it isn’t nearly as shrill or aggressive, though it offers a nice ‘quack’ that’s perfect for funk and disco. If you’re playing some clean Nile Rodgers-style funk licks or Mark Knopfler-style riffs, it nails those tones.
Plus, because it sits in between the bridge and middle pickup, it offers hum cancellation, meaning you can even add a decent amount of drive and distortion without all the chaos.
Position 3 – Middle Pickup
The middle pickup position truly offers the best of both worlds and even though I don’t utilize it as much as I should, there are many times throughout the life of my Fender that I’ve rediscovered its magic.
How transform into a Party Jukebox everyone Admires in 5 days?
It’s a very complete-sounding pickup with enough warmth to sound full, yet not too much that it sounds muddy. Paired with some compression, you can get a ton of punch out of this thing, too, which is kind of what Strats are known for in the first place.
One band that I would often play with in college would always get asked to play Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” and the middle pickup position always offered the perfect, pure clean tone that matched the guitar in that song nearly perfectly.
Position 4 – Middle and Neck Pickup
The fourth and second positions are a lot like cousins, delivering that same iconic Fender ‘quack’ that people know and love. However, the difference between this position and the second is that it offers much more warmth with slightly less treble and bite.
When I need a bit of noiseless funk without the harsh qualities that can appear with the second position, I’ll use this combo. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a huge fourth-position fan, if that gives you any indication of what you can expect from this option. It also offers an excellent Jimi tone.
Position 5 – Neck Pickup
It’s hard not to love the sound of the neck position all alone, as it offers a buttery, warm thickness with all the definition and clarity you’d expect from a Strat. It’s usually the pickup position that I’ll start out with if I’m working with clean tones, as it provides the full frequency spectrum on its own without any mud.
It might be my favorite pickup position of all, especially when I have a new set of strings.
If you don’t like the noise that you get from these pickups when paired with compression or distortion, you can always switch over the Fender’s noiseless single coils. Many say that they don’t offer the same level of clarity, though they’re great if you want to play heavier genres.
Value for The Money
The American Performer is no doubt an expensive guitar for many beginners. At around $1,400, it’s a definite step above your average Squier Stratocaster. However, as with many guitars in the Fender lineup, you get what you pay for.
The higher price tag gives you access to quality pickups, long-lasting hardware, and American-made Fender craftsmanship.
I’ve had my American Performer for over five years now, and beyond having to deal with a few issues with the pots, I’ve more than justified the purchase with how much I’ve used it.
It’s truly one of the best Fender guitars for the money and such a versatile instrument that I could almost get rid of four or five other guitars in my arsenal and still have as much tonal variety as I did before dumping them.
There you have it! I hope my Fender American Performer Stratocaster review was helpful in your journey to get your hands on a new Strat.
Fender has been reinventing their electric guitars for years, and just about any Strat you get your hand on will sound like a Strat (except for an Acoustasonic Strat).
As such, this guitar offers everything you would expect from an authentic Stratocaster, from the comfortable playability to the tone and beyond. It’s been my go-to guitar for many years now, and unless I’m playing heavy rock or metal, it’s the first guitar I reach for.
Fender American Professional Stratocaster
If you’re an intermediate or expert guitarist looking for a Fender guitar, the Fender American Professional is the top-tier choice.
Not only is it pretty close to the American Performer in terms of price, but it also offers many of the same tones with a few upgrades. The three V-Mod II single-coil pickups have a uniquely clear yet vintage sound, though the guitar itself feels modern and refined. I also love the Deep C neck on the Professional model, as it offers more control than the Performer’s neck (if you can believe it).
Plus, the Penny finish they offer is ridiculously gorgeous.
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Fender JV Modified ‘60s Stratocaster
Just because you don’t get an American-made Fender does not mean you’re buying a low-quality instrument. In fact, the Japanese JV Modified model sounds incredible, giving you a pretty old-school look and feel that is reminiscent of Japanese Strats from the ‘80s.
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Fender Player Stratocaster
If you don’t want to pay above the thousand-dollar mark, yet you still want to get your hands on the classic Strat tone, I recommend checking out the Fender Player Stratocaster. The Player Series Alnico V Strat pickups don’t provide the same level of clarity as those on the Performer and Professional, though you essentially get the same feel and level of versatility with this Mexican-made model.
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Where are Fender American Performer guitars made?
Fender American Performer Stratocaster are made in the United States. More specifically, Fender notes that these models are manufactured at their main facility in Corona, California.
What series did Fender American Performer replace?
The Fender American Performer model hit the market back in 2018 to replace the Fender Americal Special series. To this day, the American Specials can be found on the second-hand market, and are versatile and accessible guitars, perfect for those who want an American-built electric guitar.
Is Fender American Performer Series worth the money?
If versatility and longevity are what you’re after, the Fender American Performer is well worth the money. I’ve used it on countless projects both live and in studio, and the use I’ve gotten out of it has by far justified the cost.
How Fender American Performer Stratocaster is different from Fender Player Stratocaster?
The Player Series Stratocaster is a more affordable, Mexican-built guitar with Alnico V pickups, different from the Performer Series, which is a more expensive, American-made guitar with Yosemite single coils.
The Fender Player also has a two-point synchronized tremolo bridge compared to the Performer’s six-point bridge, and does not have the Greasebucket tone circuit.
How Fender American Performer Stratocaster is different from Fender American Professional Stratocaster?
The Fender American Professional Stratocaster is slightly more expensive than the Fender American Performer Series. Though both of these electric guitars are USA Fenders, the American Professional features V-Mod II pickups for a more vintage tone, as well as a Deep C neck profile for a more substantial feel. Both are one the best Stratocasters available today.