Fender Mexican Strat vs American Stratocaster Guitar Review
Fender Stratocaster MIM vs MIA
The Fender Stratocaster is a special guitar. Whether you play the American-made classic or the Mexican-made Standard, you know you’ve got a guitar that lives up to the Fender name.
Of course the Fender American Standard Stratocaster is a legendary instrument, sought after by many players from the moment they learn to fret a note. The list of players who have relied on the Strat for their sound reads like a who’s-who of guitar history. From Jimi Hendrix, to Yngwie Malmsteen, to Stevie Ray Vaughan, to Eric Clapton — musicians in every genre and style have squeezed incredible sounds out of the Stratocaster.
Unfortunately, while the asking price is well worth it, the cost of new American Strat may be too steep for some players. So Fender gives us the Standard Stratocaster, a made-in-Mexico version of this iconic guitar. Often referred to as the MIM (Made in Mexico) Stratocaster, it’s a great instrument, and comes in at less than half the price of a USA Strat.
The only problem is that this puts many players in a mental bind. Should you drop the cash on an American Stratocaster, or go with the less expensive MIM Strat? What’s the difference anyway?
I've been playing an MIM HSS Strat for years. I also own and have owned MIA Strats. This article will take a look at some of the reasons a guitarist might choose one over the other. Hopefully by the time we are done, you’ll have a clearer idea of which guitar is better for you, your budget, and your needs.
5 Reasons to Choose the Mexican Stratocaster
For some players, the cost-effective Standard Stratocaster is simply a better choice. Not every player needs or wants the hassle of worrying about and caring for an expensive guitar. Other players simply may not have progressed enough in their playing to justify spending more money on a guitar.
Hey, that’s why Fender makes different models of Stratocaster to cater to every style and ability, from Squier lineup for the beginner who is picking up a guitar for the first time to the seasoned veteran.
Here are five reasons you might choose a Mexican Strat over the American version.
- Cost. Obviously this is the main reason driving most people who choose a Mexican Strat. Standard MIM Stratocasters cost far less that an American Standard Strat. For many players an MIM Stratocaster is a stepping stone to the real deal. The quality isn’t quite as high, but a Mexican Strat is a solid instrument that will last a long time if you treat it right.
- Performance. Is a Mexican Strat as good as an American one? Nope. It doesn’t sound as good or play as well. However for the price, it’s an exceptional instrument, and much better than most other guitars in its price range. Mexican Fenders definitely have that Strat vibe, both in looks and sound. If you’re worried people might think less of you because you aren’t playing an American Strat, don't. Most people can’t tell the difference, unless they know specifically what to look and listen for.
- Expendability. Do you really want to take your expensive American Strat to that crummy club you’re playing at on Friday night? The MIM Stratocaster is a great choice for a lot of working musicians who worry about their good guitars getting lost or stolen at gigs. They record with their American Fender, but bring the MIM out to the bar.
- Modding. Stratocasters are great for modding, and some players have built some really awesome guitars over the years. There are all kinds of aftermarket parts available so you can create a custom instrument right down to the control knobs. But many players aren’t so crazy about tearing apart their American Fender. An MIM Strat provides a solid foundation for swapping out pickups, electronics and hardware without wrecking your sweet American Strat.
- Simplicity. Like the golfer who owns all the expensive, cutting-edge clubs and still shanks the ball into the woods every time, many guitarists worry more about their gear than their skills. If you want to pick up a solid guitar and get down to business, the MIM Strat is a great choice, especially if you are a new or intermediate player. Add in a good, inexpensive amp and you can replace your whole rig if need be for less than the cost of an American Strat.
So, what does this mean to you? It means, if you are looking for an affordable, no-nonsense instrument for playing in a band, recording in the studio or finally taking this guitar thing seriously the is the way to go. You don't have to spend a lot of money, and you still end up with a legendary guitar that sounds amazing. Fender Standard Stratocaster
MIM Strat Options
Made in Fender's facilities in Mexico, the Standard Stat is available in a SSS or HSS Pickup configuration, and a choice of a one-piece maple neck or maple neck with rosewood fingerboard.
Other features include a modern “C” shape neck, standard pickups with 5-way selector, vintage synchronized tremolo, and chrome hardware.
The Fender Standard Strat is a great way for players on a budget to grab a real Stratocaster for an affordable price. But it is also a favorite of veteran guitar players who recognize it as one of the best values out there.
Hear the Mexican Standard Strat
5 Reasons to Go With the American Strat
The Fender Standard Stratocaster is a great guitar, especially for the money. But the is the real deal. For many players, nothing short of the best Fender has to offer will do. The price tag may be higher, but Fender’s American instruments are among the best guitars in the world. Nobody is ever disappointed with a made-in-the-USA Strat. American Strat
Here are 5 reasons to consider the American Standard Stratocaster.
- Tone. Honestly, tone could be reasons one, two, three, four, and five. Mexican-made Strats sound great, and some sound spectacular — but when you choose an American Fender you have a much better chance of finding that Holy Grail of tone you know you’ve always been searching for. American instruments are constructed to higher standards, using better quality control, and better materials. You find that one gem and you may never buy another guitar again. Every note on the neck of a great American Fender just oozes with mojo, at every pickup setting.
- Value. An American Strat will increase, or at least hold, value over time, whereas an MIM probably will not. You may not care about resale, but imagine passing your beloved instrument down to your son or daughter someday. An American Fender is an heirloom that can stay in your family for generations, and it will only sound better with age. Plus, there are few things more beautiful than an aged, well-loved Strat.
- Performance. Yeah, this is listed under the MIM positive points as well, but it means something different here. With an MIM Strat you get a great guitar for the money. With an American Strat you get a great guitar, period. If you’re a professional musician, this might be a big difference to you, especially in a recording situation. You want to get the best sound you can, and an American Strat will deliver that over and over again.
- Buy American. This means a lot to some American guitarists. They feel good knowing the instruments they use were not built in some other country to save on labor costs, and they’re proud to support an American company that still builds their best stuff in America. To be fair to Fender, their factories in Mexico are quite high-quality compared to the shops some guitar manufacturers have working for them. Still, many guitarists will only play American gear, made in America, by American workers.
- The Fender Legacy. Make no mistake: an MIM Stratocaster is a real Strat through and through. However, generally when people talk about Fender Stratocasters, they're talking about the American model. This is the bloodline that streams from Hendrix, Vaughan, Beck, Gilmour, Blackmore, Malmsteen, and countless others.
For many guitarists, being part of that legacy is a big deal. Yes it’s about tone, quality, performance, reliability, and value, but all of that is wrapped up in the Fender name. And Fender puts their best foot forward with their American-made instruments. It’s tradition that’s gone on for over half a century, and not likely to stop any time soon.
The American Stratocaster is available in either the SSS or HSS pickup configuration with the choice of a one-piece maple neck or maple neck with rosewood fingerboard. Most have alder bodies with Urethane finish that allows the sound of the tonewoods to come through.
A modern “C” shape neck, Fender Custom Shop pickups with 5-way selector and No-load Tone Control, 2-point synchronized tremolo and chrome hardware round out the list of appointments.
Building an American Strat
The Fender American Special Stratocaster
So, maybe you’ve read all of this and you’re still on the fence about whether to go for the Mexican-made Strat, or drop the cash on an American-made guitar. Fender feels you, and luckily they offer a very solid compromise.
The is an American-made guitar with more affordable components. It’s one of the best values out there, and a great way to land an American Strat for well under a grand. American Special Series Stratocaster
If you’ve been around a little while, you might remember the Fender Highway One Stratocasters. These things came about a decade ago and have gradually vanished, having been replaced by the American Special Series. But it’s the same idea. You get a great American Fender without shelling out the big bucks.
At the same time, feel free to whip out the wrenches and soldering iron, and mod away. The American Special is a great guitar for upgrading. However, it comes with better components than the old Highway Ones, so you may not feel the need.
Features include Fender Custom Shop Texas Special pickups for the SSS version, and Texas Specials plus and Atomic Humbucker for the HSS. The American Special also comes in some great Urethane finishes like Surf Green and some pretty sunbursts.
If you’re looking for a guitar that walks the line between the performance of an American Strat and the affordability of the Mexican version, the American Special may be just what you need.
Fender American Special Series
Which Strat to Choose?
Choosing between a Stratocaster made in Mexico and a USA-made Fender Strat is a tough decision. In a lot of ways, you can’t lose.
Fender Stratocasters are among the most incredible instruments available, and have stood the test of time going all the way back to the 1950s. They’re simple guitars that give a player everything he needs, and very little of what he doesn’t.
And, of course, they sound fantastic. The Fender Stratocaster has shaped the rock world for decades.
So which to choose: the Fender American Standard, or the Mexican-made Standard? Or should you split the difference and go with the American Special Stratocaster?
Of course you’ll have to make that decision yourself, but hopefully you found this article helpful in your quest.
MIM or MIA?
Which Strat are you going to choose?
Learn More About the Fender Stratocaster
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- Squier vs Fender Stratocaster Guitar Review
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Questions & Answers
Can you have a Stratocaster with a humbucker at both the neck and bridge and, if so, how would it sound?
The classic Stratocaster pickup configuration is three single-coil pickups (SSS), and there are many Strats that incorporate a humbucker at the bridge (HSS). However, there are also stock Strats with a pair of humbuckers, one at the bridge and one at the neck (HH) and even those with a single-coil pickup between the two humbuckers (HSH).
You'll find variations of these models at every price point, from Squier and Mexican-made Stratocasters all the way up to expensive American-made Stats.
The humbuckers give the Strat a thicker, warmer, heavier sound, and they are higher-output than standard single coils. A bridge-position humbucker means better crunch for genres like metal and hard rock. The neck position of a humbucker gives a Strat rounder, warmer sounds for jazz and rock soloing.
The interesting thing is, even with these pickup changes, to me a Strat still sounds like a Strat. In other words, an HH Stratocaster isn't going to sound anything like a Les Paul or even something like a Jackson or Ibanez. That Fender vibe always seems to come through.
Do you agree that what guitar players need more than an American-made Stratocaster is practice? It seems that the "Made in Mexico" Stratocasters are just as good.
Yes, I believe players should worry more about practice than gear. Mexican-made Stratocasters and other Standard Series Fender guitars are very good, and certainly, have what it takes to do the job for most players.
I think it is accurate to say that if you get an MIM Stratocaster you like and dedicate yourself to practicing the guitar, you’ll be just fine. You may never need to think about an American Fender, or any other guitar for that matter.
However, I would also say there are many valid reasons people love American Fenders. They’re beautiful instruments, they sound and play fantastic, and in many ways, they are subjectively better than MIM Fenders. Some would say they are objectively better in certain ways, and I can’t disagree with that either.
The point of my article isn’t to say one is good and one is bad. The point is that guitar players shouldn’t feel like they have to own a certain guitar to get anywhere, and unfortunately, that is often the impression they get. They feel like they must buy an American Strat, because nobody will take them seriously if they play an MIM.
I say hogwash. Buy what you like and can reasonably afford and then go practice.
If you want to buy an American Fender, go for it. They are amazing instruments, and you won’t regret it.
If it means you buy a Mexican Fender, don’t feel bad about it for an instant. They sound fantastic, and they do everything you need to do.
Heck, buy a Squier if you want to – they are good guitars for the money too. Then go practice. If anyone makes fun of your Squier, they’ll shut up when they hear you play.