A Strat For Any Budget

Arguably the most popular guitar design ever, the Fender Stratocaster has rocked the world since its inception sixty years ago. With hundreds of production models that follow the Strat template - dozens by Fender alone - deciding on a Strat-type guitar is anything but a simple decision. To help, we've compiled a list of our picks for the best Strat-style guitars at various price points.

Squier Affinity Stratocaster | $$$$

Estimated Used Price Range: $75-140

While it doesn't say "Fender" on the headstock, the Affinity Series Strat has all the workings of some of the pricier models on this list, such as a six-screw Synchronized tremolo bridge and classic Stratocaster electronics, but is manufactured in China and utilizes less expensive components to cut down on cost.

For the price range, the Affinity is a solid instrument with decent hardware, good wood choices and an impressive color palette. Often sold in starter kits along with an amp, tuner, and various other accessories, it's a great choice for someone just starting out on guitar.

Honorable Mentions:

Yamaha Pacifica
Peavey Predator

Squier Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster | $$$$

Estimated Used Price Range: $200-250

One of the higher-end Squiers currently in production, the Classic Vibe '50s Strat is a Squier recreation of the guitar that made Fender a household name. Featuring period-correct appointments such as a classic-style Synchronized tremolo bridge, vintage-style tuners, pre-CBS headstock shape, and a genuine alder body, the CV '50s caters to fans of the originals. However, contemporary players haven't been forgotten, and modern features such as a flatter fretboard radius, modern wiring, and specially designed pickups ensure maximum playability and versatility. With excellent quality control to boot, the Classic Vibe '50s Strat certainly holds its own when compared to more expensive Fender-branded models. Don't let the name on the headstock fool you; this is a serious axe, and would be a superb choice for those looking for something a little more serious than an Affinity.

Honorable Mentions:

Xaviere XV-870
Squier Vintage Modified Stratocaster

G&L S-500 Tribute | $$$$

Estimated Used Price Range: $275-400

Unveiled in 2003, the G&L Tribute Series features versions of G&L's American-made lineup with manufacturing done overseas to save on cost. Punching well above its weight in the specifications department, the Tribute Series S-500 boasts the same fat, punchy, made-in-California Magnetic Field Design pickups found on the Fullerton-Made S-500, as well as G&L's versatile PTB tone control system, a Dual-Fulcrum Vibrato, and a mini toggle switch for the neck pickup.

While not quite living up to the high standards of their American-made cousins, Tribute Series instruments consistently feature high-grade woods and excellent build quality that is tough to find in the price range. Of course, the made-in-Mexico Fender Standard Stratocaster offers solid competition, but the S-500's professional-grade accommodations give it the edge in pure bang-for-the-buck value. If you're looking for a high-quality, gig-worthy guitar with a budget-worthy price tag, look no further than the Tribute Series S-500.

Honorable Mentions:

G&L Legacy Tribute
Fender Standard Stratocaster (MIM)

Fender Highway One | $$$$

Estimated Used Price Range: $400-600

Designed to be an affordable American-made Fender, the Highway One Stratocaster sacrificed some of the features of higher-end Strat models in order to get the coveted "Made in USA" label at a modest price point. Most notably, gloss finish is replaced with a cheaper-to-apply satin nitrocellulose paint job (which may ironically improve tone and relic faster due to its thinness), and the hard-shell case that would come with most American models is swapped out for a gig bag.

Along with the special finish, the Highway One also uses a specially-designed set of hot Alnico III pickups and proudly displays the large headstock design brought back from the inglorious CBS-era, a move that is sure to please all the Hendrix fans out there.

At least in terms of wood choice and overall build quality, there isn't much separating the Highway One Strat from more expensive American Fenders. If you've got your heart set on an American Standard Strat, the Highway One would make a very suitable alternative and leave enough left over for a small tube amp.

Honorable Mentions:

Godin Progression
Fender MIJ Strats
Carvin Bolt

Fender American Special | $$$$

Estimated Used Price Range: $550-750

Essentially the second generation of the Highway One Stratocaster, the American Special retains the same synchronized tremolo and CBS-era headstock design of its predecessor. However, the satin finish is replaced with gloss in favor of a more traditional look (there's even a Seafoam Green option!) and the pickups are upgraded to a set of Fender Texas Specials, the same pickups found on the SRV Signature Strat.

Aside from the finish and the pickups, the American Special remains largely the same as its precursor. As swapping out pickups is a pretty simple job, the decision to go with the Special over the Highway One really comes down to gloss finish versus satin. Either way you go, both are fantastic guitars for the price and you'll end up with a great piece.

Honorable Mentions:

Various Partscasters

G&L Legacy | $$$$

Estimated Used Price Range: $700-900

Featuring a set of beefy Alnico V single coil pickups, G&L's PTB tone control system, a funky-looking Dual-Fulcrum Vibrato, and a unique headstock design, the Legacy definitely veers away from certain traditional elements, which is exactly what Leo Fender intended G&L guitars to do.

Located in Fullerton, California, G&L runs out of a small factory where a majority of instruments produced are custom ordered one-offs and limited-issue runs. Not only does this lead to special attention being given to every guitar, resulting in a final product of insanely high build quality, it also leads to an abundance of one-off guitars with unique specifications appearing on the used market. Looking for a specific neck profile, special feature, or a certain color? Don't blink, because one might just pop up on Reverb.

Honorable Mentions:

American Standard Stratocaster

Fender American Vintage Reissue | $$$$

Estimated Used Price Range: $900-1400

Designed in the image of a specific model year, American Vintage Reissue (AVRI) Strats do their best to emulate the real thing down to the smallest detail. Of course, there are some discrepancies, such as the absence of Brazilian Rosewood and variances in the types of nitrocellulose, but for the most part, AVRI Strats follow exact specifications and nail the look, feel, and sound of the classics. While they're marketed more towards vintage enthusiasts, AVRI Stratocasters are regarded as some of the highest-quality non-Custom Shop guitars coming out of Corona, California, and would make an excellent piece for most anyone looking for a dependable, go-to guitar.

However, if you prefer something a little more contemporary, consider checking out the Fender American Deluxe Strat. Its build quality is comparable to that of the AVRI series, but it features more player-friendly appointments, such as locking tuners, a compound fretboard radius, noiseless pickups, a contoured neck heel, S-1 switching, and a two-point tremolo.

Honorable Mentions:

Fender Artist
Fender Stratocaster Plus

Nash S-57 Heavy Relic | $$$$

Estimated Used Price Range: $1200-1800

Guitarists will always be divided on the subject of relic-ing. Always. However, the Nash S-57 is not on this list because of its kick-ass relic job (which happens to be one of the most authentic in the business). It's on this list because it's a kick-ass Strat. Whether you're for or against relic-ing, you'll most likely agree that the S-57 is one of the best "reissue" Strats on the market, and priced hundreds of dollars below a comparable Fender Custom Shop model.

Built in the spirit of a true pre-CBS Fender, the S-57 captures all of the details that made the originals great, such as a 100% nitrocellulose finish, high grade tonewoods, and a largely hands-on manufacturing process, while also offering the buyer an array of more modern appointments, such as a flatter neck radius, larger frets, and wide array of pickup options from different manufacturers, along with varying degrees of finish distressing. While you can still choose exact vintage specs and recreate the original, the ability to custom-order gives the S-57 a distinct advantage over the AVRI Series.

Honorable Mentions:

Fender Select Stratocasters
Suhr Pro 1

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