The Fender price tiers have been confusing for a lot of guitarists since the latest revamp. Today we set the record straight, and explain the different names and quality.
Fender Price Tiers: It Can Get Confusing!
Fender has been doing really well these days, and it is one of the few American guitar companies that seems to always be in fashion. Leo Fender started his company way back in 1946 as a humble radio repair company. Leo spent a lot of time working with electronics, and wasn’t even a guitar player himself!
Through his engineering ideas he produced the Telecaster/Broadcaster without ever actually playing guitar, and this changed guitar forever. But as we all know, he went on to make the first mass produced solid-body electric guitar with his invention.
The small company operation turned into a huge monolith that now owns several brands like Charvel, Jackson, and Gretsch.
Fender has seen tons of changes over the years, some were great…while others were almost complete disasters. Fender has always had the legacy guitars that made the company famous, and these have remained relatively unchanged from the way they were made in the 1950’s.
I often say that you could time travel to the past with a modern Fender, and guitarists of the past would be none the wiser. You can still buy a Telecaster that has the same design and specs of the original.
That’s the main appeal of Fender, you can buy a vintage styled guitar or you can buy a modernized version of the classics. Guitarists can look at someone like Jimi Hendrix, and still buy the same guitar that he played in 1969. We call companies like Fender and Gibson “Legacy Companies” for this reason. The whole point is to maintain the legacy of vintage guitars, while adding the occasional modern appointments. You have a huge array of Fender guitars that can be as modern…or old school as you want.
However, every four years or so, Fender changes its price tiers, and along with the Fender price tiers comes new names for each lineup. One thing has remained the same throughout the years, with Squier being the cheaper side of Fender guitars. Squier has always made affordable versions of classic Fender designs, and that has not changed at all. The regular Fender lineup on the other hand, can be pretty confusing. The latest iteration of Fender has more names than ever, and it has everyone scratching their heads since the prices between models is also a little confusing as well.
Things used to be pretty easy with Fender, about a decade ago. You had the Squier series for the affordable guitars. Then you had the “Standard” lineup, which was the basic “Made In Mexico” guitars, which we all know and love. You then had the American Special, and American Standard Series. Everything after that was either an FSR limited edition model, Artist Model, or a Fender Custom Shop offering. The high end Custom Shop usually made the “relic” guitars, and the historically accurate models. But these days, Fender price tiers have been renamed and rearranged along with the models offered.
Today we are going to look at the Fender price tiers, figure out which name means what, and break down what features exist with the different models. I decided to do this, because I see this question pop up all the time on Reddit, and I figured its time to finally put everything in order. There seems to be a lot of confusion with the newer model names, and to be fair, Fender has added a lot of new names. We are going to look at the Fender price tiers from bottom to top today and explain what each lineup offers in terms of features and specs.
Let’s finally put to rest how the fender price tier works!
#6: Player Series
The Player Series is what we used to just call the “Standard” series. For the most part, the Player Series is the best value if you ask veteran guitarists. These are the original “Made in Mexico” line, and takes the place of the “Standard” series. You won’t find a bunch of features with these, but they did receive a bump up in quality from the original Standard Series. For instance, you get a more modern trem system with the two point pivot bridge and better pickups than before. Of course, this new attention to details comes with a price hike. Combine that with inflation, and even the most basic Fender is pushing $1000.
But just because its basic, doesn’t mean its bad by any means. Many gigging guitarists use the Player Series because a Mexican Strat is still a great guitar. Leo Fender had a rare case of “Getting it right the first time” with these guitars. It may be lowest on the Fender price tiers, but these guitars come in all kinds of pickup options and finishes. These guitars are ready for the stage after a good setup, and they provide an excellent platform for modifying your guitar. The genius of Leo’s original design was the Strat is every piece is modular, and replaceable!
The upgrades that Fender made with the player series are not really a big deal, but just small details that should have been addressed long before, in my opinion. Like finally having a full sized 22 fret neck, instead of the usual Mexican 21 fret models. The Player Series offers some small changes to the “Standard” Series:
- Two Point Trem (Instead of the 6 Screw Vintage)
- Bigger Sustain Block for the bridge
- 22 Fret necks
- Alnico V Pickups replace the Standard ceramic pickups
- New finishes, and Roasted Maple neck options
If you really want a great Stratocaster, this is where the Fender price tiers begin. Most people will tell you that a Mexican Fender will need some work out of the box, and that is definitely true. But once you get it setup the way you like it, you should have a great playing guitar that rivals the American models in terms of playability. The Player’s series has tons of models, from Telecasters to Jaguars. This is perhaps the most purchased out of all of the Fender price tiers, and probably always will be. You get a “real” guitar, at a more affordable budget.
#5: Deluxe/Special Edition Run
These guitars are going to be the next step up in the Fender price tiers list. The Deluxe and Special Edition Series usually have some serious upgrades for a Mexican Made instrument. They feature great pickups, and unique colors that change with each passing year. To me, these are the best value in “import” Fender guitars by a long shot, because you get some really cool features that you usually don’t see from Fender. You get stuff like:
- Different neck carves, Fretboard radius choices
- Different pickup layouts
- S1 Switching system
- Name brand pickups from Seymour Duncan, or Fender
- Special finishes
When I played Fender guitars, these were the models that I would usually gravitate towards. The Deluxe Models have a more modern feel to them, often having a flatter fretboard radius and noiseless pickups. I still think this is the best buy for a professional guitarist when it comes to the Fender price tiers, because you get a lot for just under $1000. The Special Edition Telecaster even has a flame top, and Duncan humbuckers primed for metal. If you want a classic look, with a modern twist then this is where you should start.
#4: Artist Models (Made in Mexico)
The MIM (Made in Mexico) Fender price tiers include a few really great artist models. These are high quality reproductions of some of the most famous guitar heroes axes. For instance, the Jimi Hendrix Model comes with a reverse headstock, and is modeled after the famous white Strat that Jimi played often. These Artist models may have features that you can’t find anywhere else, while some may just have a few adjustments.
For example, the Robert Cray Stratocaster is one of the only ways to get a Strat with a hardtail bridge. Almost every Fender Stratocaster comes with a floating bridge. The Jimi Strat is one of the only Fenders that has a reverse headstock. There are other little details as well, like the way the logos are printed. Most of these models also come with “aged” plastic parts that add to the authenticity of being a replica. In Robert Cray’s case, he actually plays these models on stage all the time!
But Fender Artist models don’t just look to the past for inspiration. The Chris Shiflett Telecaster is the Foo Fighter’s guitarist’s main axe, and it sports a Tele Custom style body with two modern-voiced humbuckers. Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie also has a signature Mustang model, that is tweaked to his specifications for his various different play styles. These modern artist models offer all kinds of variations on classic Fender guitars. If you want a classic shape, but with a modern twist, some of these newer Artist models might be right up your alley.
The Fender price tiers go much further these days when it comes to the more affordable MIM guitars. Again, I have always thought that the Mexican made instruments were a fantastic deal for any level of player. These artist renditions are no exception, and after a quick setup they should play just fine. The Artist Models also come with a gig bag usually that may be specially designed depending on the artist. These are a great value if you want to play the same guitar as some of the past and present heroes that made Fender the company it is today.
#3: Vintera/Road Worn/Noventa Models
This is the newest of the MIM Fender price tiers, and it allows you to step back into the past and experience the golden age of Fender, or step forward. Unfortunately, this is also the most confusing! The Vintera Series offers a “New Old Stock” type of guitar, offering vintage specs that you would find on a 60’s Fender. But the Vintera Standard Series asks the question: “What if you bought a guitar in the 1960’s and never touched it?”. These are brand new in look, but have all of the features and appointments that a vintage guitar would have. These are pristine recreations of vintage Fender guitars, and they come in all kinds of vintage finishes and body styles.
The Vintera Road Worn Series is exactly the opposite. These still have all of the vintage features, but they have been given the “relic treatment” to make them look and feel like a Fender that has been played for the last 50 years. These have been roughed up a little bit to give the guitar the look and feel of a well-played guitar from the past. Relic Treatment guitars are a subject of controversy in the guitar community. Some people think you should bang up the guitar yourself over the years. Personally, I think they look pretty cool, and it gives the impression of a guitar that has seen a lot of shows, and been through a little bit of hell. Relic jobs were once limited only to Custom Shop offerings.
The Vintera Series does have vintage specs though, and these may not be for everyone. The most common complaint is the 7.25 fretboard radius, which can cause problems when playing up high on the neck. Since the fretboard has a curve to it, notes can easily “choke out” if your guitar isn’t set up properly. Everything on these models is vintage, down to the strap buttons. The pickups are recreations of the popular 60’s single coils, and they have that glorious bell-like chime to them. I would love to own one of these, but the neck radius and 21 frets just doesn’t jive with my play style.
The Vintera Series also offers a Modified version, where we take a look at a vintage instrument that may have seen some upgrades over the years. The Vintera Modified offers the same vintage feel in the body shape and pickups, but it has a more modern neck. This eliminates the problem of the classic 7.25 fretboard radius and replaces it with a modern C profile 9.5 radius neck. These also offer the S1 switch that allows you to access even more tones from pushing the volume knob down. acting as a passive boost that you would usually see in active pickups. Basically, this is a hot rodded version of the Vintera Series that has all kinds of modern mods, but retains the vintage style.
The final model in this series is the Noventa Series. These are more of a “what if” type of model, that makes you wonder what Fender would have done with some high output P90 pickups. Gibson had the P90 first, and it wasn’t until much later that the design was allowed to the public. So these Noventa models are special in a way, sporting MP-90 single coil pickups that offer a wide dynamic range of tones. Over the years, many players have stated that the P90 is one of the most perfect pickups ever invented, and to be fair…this might be true! The P90 offers a tone that neither Humbucker or Single coil can really offer. The Noventa comes in several finishes and body shapes.
The P90 pickup was designed in 1946 by Gibson, and it held the patent for many years. If you have ever wondered what is so special about a P90, then the Noventa is a great introduction. The MP-90 pickups designed by Fender are great for all kinds of music, and was favored in the 70’s by punk rockers. It has often been called a “lazy humbucker” because of the tone. It has all of the power of a vintage PAF style humbucker, but the bite of a single coil. These fender versions are a little hotter than your usual P90, and the Noventa series may look vintage, but they sport modern specs:
- C Shaped neck
- 9.5 radius Fretboard
- 21 medium jumbo Frets
- Classic finishes
- 3 body styles (Jazzmaster, Strat, Tele)
- Deluxe gig bag
#2: Player Plus Series
The Fender Player Plus Stratocaster HSS takes the popular Player Series Strat to an entirely new level. Borrowing high-end features from some of Fender’s prestigious American-made Stratocasters, like rolled fingerboard edges, the latest generation Noiseless pickups and a coil-splittable bridge humbucker, these exciting Ensenada-built guitars offer extraordinary value for professionals and enthusiasts alike.
As we go Further up the Fender price tiers, we start seeing some big improvements. The Player Plus Series is still made in the Ensenada, Mexico factory but these have the specs of the famous American-made Fenders. This is also a new part of the Fender price tiers, and it acts as a more professional version of the basic Player Series. Adding more features and detail to the instrument, across all models in the Plus Series:
- 22 medium Jumbo frets
- C shaped modern neck
- 12” radius
- Rolled Fretboard edges
- Rounded, comfort contoured body
- Noiseless N4 Pickups (Single Coil) or Plus Humbuckers
- 2 Point trem system, or modern fixed bridge
- High mass sustain block
- Synthetic bone nut
- Deluxe Gig Bag
The Player Plus series has tons of different models, and they all offer the best that the Mexican factory can produce. These get the same attention to detail that the American models get, and the difference is pretty noticeable. The rolled fretboard edges sounds like something very arbitrary when you first hear about it, but it makes the neck feel worn in and well played…as if you have owned the guitars for years. The 12” radius and medium jumbo frets also add a modern touch that allows you to play faster, and more accurately when you get further up the neck.
All in all, this series may seem a little expensive for what you get. But the Player Plus Fenders that I have played have all been in a league of their own. Some could use a few setup tweaks, but overall these are ready for the more modern player right out of the box. These are perfect for gigging guitarists that want a Fender, but need a guitar that isn’t living in the past. The Player Plus Series is a direct result of Fender listening to its customer base. Guitarists that wanted a classic look, but a more sophisticated modern feel will absolutely love these guitars.
The Player Plus Series features all kinds of body shapes, and pickup styles. From the new Meteora guitars, to your classic Telecaster, Jazzmaster, and Stratocaster styles, the Player Plus Series covers just about every classic Fender model. These guitars are the best value in my opinion, even testing them out back-to-back with an American version. The craftsmanship is top notch, and if I had to recommend any model on this list to the pro/intermediate guitarist, it would be the Player Plus.
Fender HM Strat Reissue (Bonus)
Before we get into the American section of the Fender price tiers, I have to talk about my favorite guitar that Fender currently makes, and one of the few that are made in Japan! The Fender HM (Heavy Metal) is a relic from the past, since the original run was only made between 1988 and 1992. These were Fender’s attempt at making a “Super Strat” and unfortunately this model never really took off with the players. I think if Fender made these a little earlier, they might have won over some players. These are total shred machines, and a blast from the past:
- Basswood Body
- Maple neck
- Narrow C Neck
- 17” radius
- HSS Configuration
- 25.1 scale length
- 24 extra jumbo frets
- Special high-output HM pickups
- Gotoh Tuners
- Floyd Rose bridge
- Locking nut
- Blacked-out headstock
- Easy access heel joint
- F logo knobs
- Coil split for humbucker
People that know me, know that I love gaudy, shred inspired, Floyd Rose equipped guitars…and Fender really nailed it with these models. Japan is known for making brands like Ibanez, which really defined the whole vibe of the 80’s. I think that Fender was just a little to late to the party with the HM Strat. By 1988, Jackson, Ibanez, and Charvel had taken over the guitar market, and Fender was known as the “old man’s brand”. The HM Strat is barely even recognizable compared to a classic Strat, but that was the whole point!
The HM Strat is barely even a Fender in my opinion, since the features veer so far from what you would expect from the usual “legacy” of Fender products. The HM Strat comes in 4 different colors, and sports a lightweight Basswood body, unlike any other Fender! You also get the HSS configuration that was so popular in the 80’s, and a Floyd Rose locking trem system. These may seem like a relic from the past, but these are the exact features that players want these days!
The 17” radius makes for a unique playing experience when you combine it with the slightly shorter 25.1 scale length. I cant think of any brand off the top of my head that has such a bizarre set of build features. The pickups are high output, and the bridge humbucker can be split with the flick of a switch. These play lightning fast with the thin C neck, and the neck feels like a cross between Schecter and Ibanez. It may be thin, but it still has a little bit of girth, unlike an Ibanez.
These Japanese made beauties had to be mentioned in this list, because they are just so unique. If you missed the opportunity to snag one of these the first time, then now is your chance to finally get one. The quality is everything you would expect from a guitar made in Japan. The attention to detail is absolutely impeccable, and the HM Strat is probably one of the most unique and diverse instruments that Fender currently makes. At around $1200, these sit right in the middle of the Fender price tiers, and to be honest…That’s not a bad price for Japanese luthier quality.
The Fender® Limited-Edition HM Strat® sports the same specs that helped the ’88-’92 models compete with the hot-rodded Strat® impersonators of the day.
Built in the same Japanese factory as the original, the HM (Heavy Metal) Strat® features a narrow C-shape neck with a unique 25.1″ scale. The rosewood fretboard has a 17″ radius and 24 Jumbo frets for bending ease.
A Floyd Rose® Special recessed bridge keeps everything perfectly in-tune even after the deepest dive-bombs. The HSS pickup configuration delivers hot humbucker tones from the bridge; a 2-way toggle splits the humbucker for more traditional Strat® sounds. The middle and neck position pickups are HM single coils.
#1: American Models: Confusion Galore
This is the top of the Fender price tiers. The American made Fender guitars are the best that Fender have to offer, but these also can be a tad bit confusing. The Fender price tiers for the American models come in 3 basic forms, and each one is a little bit different. I am going to keep this brief, and try to explain things as easy as possible. I think this is where Fender has really painted itself into a corner, and confused players with the new names. We all know the American models all the pinnacle of construction and features, but they now come with totally different names that may confuse some players. Let’s get started:
The Performer Series is the entry level models, but that doesn’t mean that these are lacking in features by any means. These take the place of the “American Special” guitar that was so popular. They feature Yosemite pickups that are voiced for each model, and a Grease Bucket tone circuit that acts as a “no load” tone system. The hardware is all top notch, and these models come in all kinds of finishes and pickup options. The body styles are varied as well, offering all of the classic Stratocaster, Telecaster, and Mustang models. These are a great value for professional players that aren’t ready to spend a fortune, but want the USA-made reputation.
The Professional II Series is the next step up on the Fender price tiers. This takes the place of the “American Standard” guitars that we all know and love. Fender decided to upgrade its Professional Series this past year, adding all kinds of new options like V-Tone II pickups, a deep C neck carve, and modern bridges for each model. These come is a variety of finishes and pickup combos, as well as all of the classic body styles. Fender has even added roasted Maple as a neck option, and roasted Pine as a body option with these models. This is the “real deal” when it comes to Fender guitars, and they are all outstanding quality across the different models.
The Ultra II Series is some of the best that Fender has to offer, taking the place of the “Elite”. These guitars have features and specs that were usually reserved for the Fender Custom Shop. These are top of the line instruments for the most discerning players. The Ultras have all of the bells and whistles that the Professional lacks… like rolled fretboard edges, upgraded cold rolled steel tremolo block, and Ultra Noiseless pickups with S1 switch mods. These also come with professional locking tuners, and have unmatched quality across the board. The Ultra II Series also has some very unique finishes for each body style. These are meant to be the last Fender guitar you should ever have to buy, made to last for generations.
The Luxe Series is the newest from Fender in the American models, and these are limited to 4 different iterations. The Luxe models only come in Stratocaster and Telecaster body styles and they share a lot of features of the Professional II Series. The biggest difference is something that Fender has never really done; Stainless Frets. These also feature a new D-shaped neck carve, hand sculpted contours, and a compound radius that goes from 10” to 14”. You also get a TUSQ nut specially fitted to each guitar, and a tapered neck heel not found on any other models. The Luxe is in a league of its own when it comes to modern features, and include a German Floyd Rose on some models. Basically, a classic Fender made to shred?
American Artist Models are the final category when it comes to the Fender price tiers, and there are quite a varied amount of artists this year. These USA made Artist models are the same ones that famous guitarists play, and many different styles are represented…from blues to metal. These are the exact same guitars that you see on stage with these guitarists, and they are all amazing quality with vastly different features. The 2022 artist roster includes:
- Jim Root (Jazzmaster/Strat)
- Johnny Marr (Jaguar)
- Troy Van Leeuwen (Jazzmaster)
- Ritchie Blackmore (Strat)
- Kenny Wayne Sheppard (Strat)
- Jimmy Page (Two Telecaster Models)
- Eric Johnson (Strat)
- Brent Mason (Tele)
- Brad Paisley (Broadcaster)
- HER (Strat)
- Lincoln Brewster (Strat)
- James Burton (Tele)
- Stevie Ray Vaughan (Strat)
- Jeff Beck (Strat)
- Cory Wong (Strat)
- Eric Clapton (Strat)
- Ritchie Kotzen (Tele)
All American Models come with a hard shell molded case.
I can see where the confusion really sets in with the American models, and this was a big restructure for Fender as a company. The Fender price tiers have never been more confusing, and it isn’t always as easy as going to a website and sorting by “high to low”. I had to do a ton of research to get all of the facts straight here. The Fender price tiers were a little daunting at first, and I finally had to email Fender to get the company to explain the subtle differences. You simply can’t just go by price anymore, this is a whole new generation for Fender.
The next step would be the Fender Custom Shop, if you wanted something that isn’t available in any other lineup. The Custom Shop will do just about anything you want, but the price definitely reflects this. You will not find any bargains going the custom route, but if you have the money, it is a viable option to get the Fender of your dreams. I didn’t include it, because I only wanted to talk about the production models that are available at all retailers. There is a less expensive option, with the Fender Mod Shop, where you pick out the details of the guitar yourself and Fender makes it in the USA.
The Professional and Performer lineup are great introductions for guitarists that want to really upgrade their instruments. These are still top of the line, just as they were under the original names. These are guitars that will last, and be great for most players. The Ultra and Luxe are definitely more on the luxury end of Fender guitars, but the features are outstanding. Hopefully this clears up any confusion people may have had lately since I see this question pop up in forums all the time. It was a pretty bold move for Fender to totally restructure, and I hope they keep this lineup for a while.
Fender Price Tiers: Which One Is For You?
Choosing the right guitar out of the Fender price tiers is going to rely on your budget, first and foremost. The Fender price tiers start pretty low with the classic designs, and there is even a HUGE SALE going on right now for the Player Series on various models. But budget would definitely come first when deciding which of the Fender price tiers you need to buy from.
But there is also the features, and country of origin to consider. It has long since been known that the Mexican factory is just a few miles away from the main American one. It has been a constant debate as to which is better, and most players ignore the Fender price tiers completely. The rumors have always said that the Mexican guitars are just rejected USA necks and bodies. They may have slight imperfections, and not make the USA grade. So they go to the Mexican factory, and considering that most Fender guitars are pretty simple and share the same features…this is not hard to believe.
I can agree with this sometimes, since I have owned some really nice Mexican Fender guitars. In some cases, I would say that my MIM Fenders might have rivaled an American made one. I think this is still true to some extent, but it has never been more important to actually play the guitars first, and try them out. Like any brand, there are some great playing guitars along with some absolute duds across all of the lineups. The Fender price tiers is a good guide to start with, but playing the guitar will tell you all that you need to know.
However, the new Fender price tiers also help to put the factory myths to rest with the addition of the Ultra and Luxe models. These are clearly superior to the MIM models in almost every way, and that comes down to the attention to detail. You’re not going to have to perform surgery to get these playing well. But you’re going to pay for that, so you need to weigh the pros and cons. I would order an Ultra II Fender sight unseen, from a website. I’m not so sure I would do the same when it came to a MIM model these days. There is a huge leap in quality between those models, and I would need to play any MIM model first.
So which one is right for you? If you know how to do a setup on a guitar, and fix minor issues, then any of the MIM models will be good for you. Even the Player series is a pro-level guitar, and with some upgrades it will be more than sufficient to gig with. However, a more experienced player that would notice details like rolled fretboard edges, and use things like the S1 switch…they might be happier with some of the American models.
The point is, there is a Fender out there for everyone, and hopefully this sheds a little bit of light on the huge array of models. Fender has added so many models, and changed the naming system to the point that it was unrecognizable to me. I wondered why there were so many questions about the Fender price tiers, but I had no idea how completely restructured the lineup was. Maybe this was as eye opening for you, as it was for me!
Bringing touches previously reserved for Custom Shop instruments to a production guitar. Start with a lightweight alder body to build a classic tone. With rolled fingerboard edges, sculpted neck heel and a satin neck finish that feels almost naked, it’s an incredibly comfortable guitar. Freshly revised V-Mod II single-coil pickups add articulation and warmth to classic Strat chime in the neck and middle position, while the bridge boasts a revolutionary Double Tap humbucker. The upgraded 2-point synchronized tremolo with its cold-rolled steel block adds sustain and increases clarity while adding a touch of high-end sparkle.