Based on actual vintage guitars from the period, Fender's American Vintage series claims to offer the most meticulous level of vintage accuracy so far. Tom Quayle looks at the '65 Stratocaster and gives his opinion…
Before Fender was sold to CBS in early 1965, the company had produced some of the most original and iconic guitar designs, that still remain just as fresh and exciting today. The American Vintage series is designed to re-create some of the magic and allure of these vintage instruments with a very high level of accuracy, but without a price tag that would require a lottery win to fund. These are high-end, high spec guitars with all the classic shapes such as the Telecaster, Stratocaster, Jaguar and Jazzmaster on offer. Each model is available in a number of different guises, representing the most revered years of that instrument's production such as '52 Telecasters, '59 and '62 Stratocasters and '65 Jaguars.
The review model we received was a '65 Stratocaster in Olympic White and it arrived in a very impressive custom G&G hard-case, complete with a raft of accessories and accoutrements. This particular model is also available in a three-colour sunburst and Dakota Red opaque finishes. The 1965 Strat was unique in this era due to its return to a thicker C-shaped neck profile with larger dot-inlays and it was the first to feature enamel-covered pickup wire. This American Vintage version features all of these elements, plus many other authentic touches.
The '65 Stratocaster is constructed using an alder body finished with Fender's flash coat lacquer, made up from a thin polyurethane sealer, lacquer sealer and a mist of nitrocellulose lacquer. This is a new finish process from Fender and looks great. The neck is a maple, Mid '60s C-shape with a Round-Laminated rosewood fretboard featuring 21 vintage-style frets and the same Flash Coat lacquer finish. The neck also has a vintage-style heel truss rod adjustment, as opposed to a more modern headstock mounted variation.
Pickups, as you'd expect from a vintage Fender, are all single coils with enamel-coated wire to keep things authentic and are finished in a Parchment colour. Specially designed for this particular guitar, the '65 Grey Bottom Strat pickups are a matched set of bridge, middle and neck single coils with traditional, vintage coloured, master volume and dual tone controls plus a five-way selector switch. The bridge is a chrome American Vintage Synchronised Tremolo with six-screw design and vintage-accurate bridge saddles. Tuners are also vintage style with accurate tuner spacing for the period. A bone nut and three-ply white pickguard with a vintage bevel complete the design. Included in the case is a Vintage '65 Strat strap, cable, cloth, a vintage three-position switch and bridge cover.
As you'd expect for a high-end instrument from Fender, the '65 Stratocaster is superbly constructed with a supremely solid neck and body that immediately feels like home. Fretwork is exceptional and the vintage hardware performs very well, retaining tuning impressively and offering a high level of playability. The 7.25" neck radius and 25.5" scale length make this a very comfortable guitar to play both chordally and for lead work, although the neck may be too big for those with smaller hands and the vintage frets don't lend themselves to more pyrotechnic playing styles. The guitar looks fantastic with its oversized dot inlays and vintage appointments and is every bit as iconic and impressive now as it was upon its original launch.
Strummed acoustically, the '65 Stratocaster has a bright and pleasing tone with lots of sustain and a tight and quick dynamic response across the range. Clean tones were everything you'd want from a Strat, with fantastic bell-like single notes and easily dialled-in Hendrix rhythm tones or cutting, jangly bridge pickup tones. Positions two and four offer funk and R&B tones that sounded great and the pickups have a very good response to volume and pick changes, allowing for a range of expressive tones.
Moving into overdriven sounds, the pickups are impressively quiet, although not noiseless, and have a tight and musical feel that can give you screaming Blues tones on the bridge and second position to very subtle and vocal tones on the neck pickup. I've always thought that Stratocasters are incredibly expressive and versatile instruments and this guitar recreates all of the classic tones we've come to associate with that iconic three single coil set-up.
The American Vintage series '65 Stratocaster is going to be a pretty big investment for most non-professional guitarists but represents a golden period of guitar manufacture at a price that is infinitely more affordable than searching out a true vintage instrument. I think, in most cases, you still get what you pay for in the guitar world and if you are a professional musician, a semi-pro, or even a keen amateur who wants to take your hobby seriously (and you should!) then the American Vintage Series is a great choice. The view in the office was that its recommended price has been pitched high enough to have lost it half a star, but the much more realistic street prices make it, actually, quite a fair price for what is, undoubtedly, a fine guitar from Fender back at the top of its game.