We are pleased to welcome back our ‘Focus on Sound’ YouTube series of review videos this weekend, with the first episode of our second series taking a look into two much-discussed guitars that have received a lot of acclaim, since their respective launches: the Fender American Performer and American Professional Series Stratocasters. Both American-made, USA Fenders hailing from the company’s Corona plant, these are both superb electric guitars, and we encourage you to take a close listen to our video, where we give you the opportunity to hear the differences in an A/B-style setting, so that you can easily make up your mind regarding the tones of each guitar, in case you’re considering one for your next purchase.
At Regent Sounds, we price the American Performer Stratocaster at £949, while the American Professional Strat comes in at £1379. This makes the American Performer Fender’s entry point into USA-made electric guitars, while the American Professional has been toted as the new American Standard of previous years.
So why the price difference? Simply put, there are a few small refinements to be found in the American Professional that aren’t on the Performer. But are they really refinements? We argue that they are simply slightly different instruments, specs-wise; and depending on the player, one guitar might be more appealing to you, than the other.
Before delving into the differences between the two instruments, let’s first take a look at what they share. Unless you opt for translucent finishes, both guitars feature alder bodies, maple necks with the options of maple and rosewood fingerboards. Both guitars also features synchronised tremolo systems, 22 frets and a dot-inlaid fingerboard.
Feel and Playability:
The first difference that is most likely to have the biggest influence on a prospective buyer’s choice, would be the neck profile. The Performer features a ‘Modern-C’ neck profile, while the Professional offers a slightly girthier feel, courtesy of its modern ‘Deep-C’. Realistically, both guitars are extremely comfortable. If you find yourself playing faster licks, and are more at home with a slimmer neck, the Performer may prove a more attractive prospect.
Both guitars have 9.5”-radius fingerboards, and 22 frets, with the Performer utilising Jumbo fretwire, where the Professional sports Fender’s new ‘Narrow-Tall’ frets. Those of you who want solidity under the finger, and easier bending, will undoubtedly prefer the Jumbo frets of the Performer. The Narrow-Tall frets on the Professional seem to have a slightly taller crown to the fret, where they offer the feeling of precision under your fingertips, but demand precision from the player, too. There is no room for sloppy technique with these frets.
Aesthetic and Hardware:
When it comes to aesthetic, the most obvious difference between both guitars, is probably the headstock. The Performer sports the more retro, oversized Fender headstock associated with electric guitars of the ‘70s – it’s quite hip. Whereas the American Professional has an appearance which is just that – a little more refined and professional, with its tamer, smaller headstock profile.
Both headstocks sport different tuning machineheads, too. The American Performer has a vintage-style design, where you poke the string down into the tuning post, as opposed to through it, horizontally. This eliminates the need to trim excess string after tuning, but instead makes it a requirement that you trim the string to the desired length, prior to stringing. The Professional’s design is perhaps a little swifter to restring, in this regard.
Both guitars also sport different bridges. You can probably feel a slight theme emerging, where the Performer takes on slightly more vintage-inspired specs, vs the blatant modernity of the Professional. And this extends to the tremolo systems. The Performer sports the 6-saddle, vintage-style tremolo, whereas the Professional is pivoted on two posts; a 2-point synchronised system. While both offer the potential for tuning stability, if you’re a slightly heavier whammy-bar user, you might appreciate the slightly more advanced performance and reliability of the Professional. They really do stay in-tune very well, indeed.
Aside from aesthetic and feel, perhaps the most significant, tone-altering difference between the two guitars, is the pickups and electronics. The Performer Strat sports Fender’s new Yosemite pickups, which deliver a very neutral, slightly untamed sound. There’s plenty of spike on-tap, and a more pronounced upper-mid character to these pickups that is – again –reminiscent of vintage guitars. They’re raw, slightly unapologetic, and pack plenty of angst and character.
The American Professional Strat, on the other hand, is a bit of a different beast, altogether. Fender’s self-proclaimed pickup guru Tim Shaw – who designed the acclaimed Shawbucker pickup – has worked hard to produce the new V-Mod single-coil pickups, which Fender claims are carefully voiced to sound balanced, and to offer great tones, individually, but also in combination with one another. And we can verify this. Positions 2 and 4 sound absolutely fantastic – none of the bloated lower mids that you can get with lesser matched pickups: they simply sing. This could be, in part, due to the pairs of different Alnico magnets that Shaw has designed into these pickups. By mixing magnet types, Fender claims the V-Mod pickups achieve better balance across the pickups, not only as a set, but across all 6 strings, too.
To our ears, the V-Mods are very balanced, very polished and – unsurprisingly – modern-sounding. There’s plenty of historical Fender Strat character in there, but carefully contained within the veneer of modern demands for precision and balance. They are a truly brilliant sounding set of pickups.
One extra bell that the Performer boasts, however, is the addition of a push-pull switch installed under the second tone knob. Engage this, and the guitar suddenly adds the neck pickup into whatever position you have selected on the 5-way blade selector. This allows you to get a neck/bridge combination that is reminiscent of a Tele’s middle position, or even to engage all three single-coil pickups, at once. This is a cool feature, that adds versatility to the Performer Strat that is absent from the Professional’s conventional 5 pickup positions.
While we can attest to the fact both of these guitars are certainly American-made Fenders in terms of feel, tone and response, we can also verify that they are different guitars, and they are targeted at different types of guitar player. Those of you who are after a vintage-inspired guitar, with a cool aesthetic, that saves you a few hundred pounds – doubtless, the Performer is the instrument for you.
For the modern professional musician, unsurprisingly, Fender have targeted their American Professional Series at you. These guitars are modern-feeling and -sounding, with the right amount of Fender’s heritage and specifications preserved within the shell of an instrument that exudes precision, reliability and comfort. It’s a no-frills, refined workhorse, and perhaps represents one of the finest incarnations of the American Standard that it intends to replace, that Fender have designed in some time. This is a superb electric guitar.
Which one is right for you? That depends entirely on your preference. And that’s exactly why both models cohabit the same product line-up. In case you’re reading this without having watched the video, do click on the player, and have a listen and a watch, for yourself. It might just help you decide. And if you’re in the market for a new American-made Fender, why not let us know, and we can help you choose the right instrument for you. Pop by our Denmark Street store, try them out, and deliberate over your favourite guitar with some help from our friendly staff, and we can guarantee you won’t be disappointed with the instrument you choose.