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Electric Guitar

Fender Telecaster Shootout: American Elite to Squier Classic Vibe and Everything in Between

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I have been in the market for a new Tele for a few months now and my local shop has had the American Elite’s in for the past year now and the Thinline in Natural Swamp Ash finish has had my attention since it came in. So I scheduled some time and sat down with 6 different models including:

  • Fender American Elite Thinline
  • Fender American Elite
  • Fender American Deluxe
  • Fender American Standard
  • Fender Classic Player Baja
  • Squier Classic Vibe Custom

I ran all of the guitars straight into a Fender Bass Breaker 15 Tube Amp. I started with the American Standard because that is what I am the most familiar with and dialed in the settings on the amp to what I like then left them the same while trying the other guitars. I spent about 2 hours with these 6 guitars playing a variety of different styles ranging from heavy strumming bar chords to light ambient picking. Here are the results of my findings starting with my least favorite and ending with the one I took home.

6th Place: Fender American Deluxe

I basically went into this trial expecting this one to be my least favorite because I have played them a few times before and just didn’t like the tone that much. The V3 Noiseless pickups are pretty sterile sounding and flat. They lack that signature bite that you want in a Tele. If you played a lot of ambient stuff or wanted to darken up a super bright amplifier like a Matchless or Jackson then it could be a good fit.

Cosmetically I do love the heritage cherry sunburst and white pearloid pickguard, but I dislike the chrome headstock logo and the abalone dot inlays are a bit too much. That is just personal taste though. I did like the weight and feel of this guitar better than the lower end models and the new American Elite telecaster. The neck finish is about the same between both the Elite’s and Deluxe’s which is probably the best finish and feel I have felt on a neck.

Overall I would pay $1000 for a used one and be okay with it but paying full price at $1699 is a bit to high in my book.

5th Place: Fender American Elite

The New American Elite literally came in so close to the American Deluxe that I don’t know that it is my clear favorite of the two but I decided to rank it a bit higher because the V4 Noiseless pickups do offer a bit more character and bite than the American Deluxe V3 pickups. The weight of this instrument is what got me though. It was heavier than most Les Paul’s I have played and was not resonant at all. It felt like I was playing a brick. Cosmetically I love that Fender brought the butterscotch blonde back into the higher end guitars but I absolutely hate the black binding. It looks cheap and over-done.

Again the pickups were much better and plugged in this guitar has a slightly better tone than the American Deluxe. Definitely not worth $1799 in my book though. Will be interested to see different versions in the coming years as I am sure Fender will change things up and make improvements.

4th Place: Fender American Elite Thinline

I sincerely wanted to like this one the most. The look of it is just fantastic. Fender nailed it with the tortoise shell pickguard and top binding. The natural finish is both rustic and subtle while still conveying a bit of elegance. After spending a ton of time with it, it was definitely the best of the Elite series that I tried but it still lacked that Tele sparkle and bite that I want in a Telecaster.

The guitars body was light and comfortable to hold both in my lap and on a strap standing up. The f-hole was finished well with no burrs or finish imperfections which is usually one of the first areas that manufacturers skimp on. The hard-ware is all top notch. I love the locking tuners and the new bridge design is really a great idea. The bridge design, while being a great design, I feel does not transfer enough vibration to the body and makes the guitar react and feel more like a strat than a telecaster.

The other thing that worries me about the bridge is weather or not it stays in place when you change strings. I cannot speak from experience but it looks like you would have to be careful while changing strings as to not bump it loose. Heavy strummers also might have some issues as well. Again I can’t speak from experience but those are just a couple of my concerns with the new suspension bridge system.

The neck on this particular guitar was one of the best necks I have ever played and for that reason I almost bought it. In the end though I just can’t get past the noiseless pickups. While Fender claims to have made them in an effort to be more realistic and like vintage Tele pickups they missed the mark again. They still lack the clarity and bite that other Tele pickups have and they end up just feeling flat.

The last thing I will speak to is the S-1 switch. This is incredible and with the series engaged this guitar roars to life. In the middle position with the series circuitry engaged these pickups are fantastic.

3rd Place: Squier Classic Vibe Custom

This was the second to last guitar I tried and I almost bought it. Tonally it is nearly spot on to the Fender American Standard. There is a little less bass presence but overall for the price this guitar is by far the best value. The part that I didn’t like was the gloss neck finish and the fret job was less than perfect. All to be expected on a Squier. The double body binding and finish quality on the guitar definitely resembles a Korean made guitar instead of a Chinese made one and again the price does not reflect the quality. I would definitely take this over the Fender Standard series made in Mexico models.

At this point in the test I narrowed it down to the Classic Player Baja and the American Standard.

2nd Place: Fender Classic Player Baja

I had this one on the counter ready to purchase until the shop manager told me that I forgot to play an American Standard. The Classic Player feels like a Tele. It has a blocky feeling body, simple cosmetics and that beloved S-1 switch that I fell in love with on the American Elite’s. The custom shop pickups were also what I was looking for. The only downfall was the gloss neck. Not sure why I dislike gloss necks on Tele’s so much. I have a Gretsch Duo Jet with Gloss neck and love it. I just prefer satin finish necks on Fender’s. Again all personal preference. The Classic Player also came with a gig-bag as opposed to a hard-shell case. Not a huge deal and for $699-$799 the Classic Player Baja is a fantastic buy.

1st Place: Fender American Standard

I only played this one for around 5 minutes and knew it was the one. It has a satin finish neck, custom shop pickups and great finish quality/fretwork that I was looking for. The only downfall was that it didn’t have the S-1 switch. In the end while I liked the tone from the S-1 switch in the middle position, for worship sets I end up using the bridge pickup most of the time so I wouldn’t have likely used the S-1 switch that much. In the end playability, american made quality and the fact that Fender is discontinuing the Standard line won out.

It is no wonder that guys like Jeffrey Kunde, James Duke and Jad Gillies rely on the American Standard Telecaster as a staple in their rigs. It is in my opinion the most accurate re-creation of the vintage tele’s while still adding in some modern play-ability and features that guitarists are looking for.

I hope that this gives you some insight into the differences between some of the different Fender models. A lot of this analysis is based on personal taste but hopefully you were able to grab some tonal characteristics and differences in the specs. Happy Tele hunting!

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