10 best Strat-style electric guitars
With its stylish tapered contours, three single-coil configuration and elegant six-in-line headstock, the Fender Stratocaster is arguably the most recognisable electric guitar in music history. And since the first Strat rolled out of the factory in 1954, the model has been refined, redesigned and re-engineered – often by brands other than Fender.
In our hunt for the best S-style guitars, we’ve gone for models that not only tick the boxes for appearance, sound and feel, but also bring something fresh to the famed Strat blueprint. Here they are:
Fender American Original ’50s Stratocaster
Fender’s American Original series boasts select features from across a chosen decade. This particular model, as its name suggests, is a ‘true’ compilation of 50s-era Strat specs, including a trio of Pure Vintage ’59 single-coils and a soft V neck profile. These classic trimmings are joined by a modern 9.5-inch fingerboard radius and vintage-tall frets, two components that collectively enhance playability in the higher registers.
Retails at £1,609/$1,999.99. Check out our full review here.
Xotic California Classic XSC-2
The XSC-2 (left) and XSC-1Xotic has opted to add a few new ingredients to this S-style axe’s relic’ed recipe. The standout twists include a roasted and oil-finished maple neck, a modified six-in-line headstock shape as well as a versatile HSS pickup configuration. The latter comprises a single RV-PAF humbucker at the bridge and Raw Vintage RV-60 single-coils at the neck and middle positions, respectively.
Retails at £3,099. Check out our full review here.
Macmull’s S-Classic model is inspired by vintage Strats of the 50s and 60s. The vintage vibe comes from a 60s-era, C-shaped maple neck and a Madagascar rosewood fretboard that has rolled edges for comfort.
These period-specific inspirations carry over to the electronics department, too, with the guitar’s alnico III single-coils designed to produce a sound that’ll “take you to that midrange era of tone”, according to the brand.
And similar to the Xotic XSC-2, the S-Classic has a modified six-in-line headstock that’s more angular in shape than a conventional Fender Strat.
Price varies according to custom order. More info here.
With Jackson/Charvel veteran Grover Jackson on the Friedman team, it’s no surprise that the brand nailed the relic job on this S-style guitar. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that the guitar’s wear isn’t a simple wear-and-tear simulation – great attention is paid to the dings, abrasions and fine checking lines that make this instrument one-of-a-kind.
Despite the instrument’s appearance, it still caters to the needs of the modern player. It sports a 10-to-14-inch-radius compound fingerboard as well as Zero-Shift neck pins that virtually eliminate neck shift from the body.
Retails at £2,599/$2,899.99. Check out our full review here.
PRS Silver Sky
Following his public break-up with Fender, John Mayer shopped around for his next guitar ‘home’ before knocking on Paul Reed Smith’s door. The partnership eventually yielded 2018’s controversial Silver Sky, a guitar that Mayer has dubbed a high-definition Stratocaster.
The Silver Sky has two hearts: one is a vintage Strat and the other, John. The vintage side is represented by a dimensional feel reminiscent of a pre-CBS Strat. The part that’s ‘John’ refers to the warmer, musical highs the 635JM single-coils produce – a personal triumph for Mayer who previously claimed that this tone was unattainable on Fender Strats.
Retails at £2,299/$2,299. Check out our full review here.
Tom Anderson Drop Top Classic
Tom Anderson lauds this model as the ‘apex’ of S-shapes, a claim he backs up with his focus on stylish trimmings and unique craftsmanship. The guitar features a classy looking pickguard that’s not merely aesthetic – its anatomy also contributes to a more “classic” tone, according to the brand.
You’ll also notice that this axe has a swooping forearm contour – perhaps slicker than a traditional Strat’s – that’s created from a bent (or dropped) top over the guitar’s body. As for the choice of tops on offer, you’ll get a pick from these stunning options: flame or quilted maple, koa and walnut.
Price varies according to custom order. More info here.
Vigier Expert Classic Rock
The French brand pays homage to late-60s Strat tones with this model. And that tone in question is achieved by a trio of hand-wound, alnico V single-coils designed by Amber, a boutique manufacturer from Ribnitz, Germany. These pickups are sculpted by a single master tone control – rather than the conventional two – a master volume knob and a five-way pickup selector.
The Expert Classic Rock’s vintage tone is complemented by innovative features such as a sturdy 10/90 neck with a strip of carbon as its truss rod. There’s also dampening material situated behind the Teflon nut that’s designed to mitigate excessive string over-ring when the distortion pedal is stomped.
Retails at £2,269. Check out our full review here.
Fender American Professional Stratocaster
In 2017, Fender rebranded its American Standard range to American Professional. The refreshed line of workhorse guitars saw the introduction of V-Mod pickups – designed by pickup guru Tim Shaw – treble-bleed circuits and a new Modern Deep-C neck profile.
Of particular interest is the alnico magnet blend in each V-Mod single-coil. This is meant to flesh out the sound of each pickup while still preserving the unique tonal character of positions two and four. The neck has a mix of alnico II (wound strings) and alnico III (trebles), the middle is alnico II (basses) and alnico V (trebles), while the bridge is completely alnico V.
Retails at £1,399/$1,449.99. Check out our full review here.
Suhr Classic S Antique
Suhr’s Classic S Antique boasts a wealth of recognisable S-style trimmings, including a 60’s C Vintage Medium neck profile and an Antique Nitro finish that sports natural checking and light ageing.
Adding to the vintage feel are the alnico V “Special” magnets lodged in the V63 single-coils. According to Suhr, these magnets come from the very company that produced the early-60s magnets for Fender, and thus have undergone identical formulation and manufacturing processes.
Lists at $2,999. More info here.
Charvel Guthrie Govan USA Signature
This San Dimas model stands out with a stunning flame maple top and a two-piece flame maple neck that’s been roasted for a well-worn sound. The tonewood treatment is replicated with the guitar’s flame maple fingerboard, which has a thoroughly modern, shred-friendly 12-to-16-inch compound radius.
As for tone, Govan’s signature axe relies on an HSH pickup configuration that comprises specially wound Charvel custom MF pickups. A two-way mini toggle switch that can coil-split both the bridge and neck humbucker further adds to the guitar’s tonal versatility.
Retails at $3,299.99. More info here.
Check out more of our buyer’s guides here.
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