Squier Strat Range Overview – Bullet, Mini, Affinity, Contemporary, Classic Vibe
Squier are well known as Fender’s budget line of guitars and basses, but few people know that the Squier brand started out as the V.C. Squier Company back in 1890. V.C. Squier built banjos, violins and guitars, and continued to do so until 1965 when Leo Fender acquired them. They continued to make instruments until 1975, after which they ceased manufacturing operations.
By the 1980s, Fender, like many other manufacturers, had begun building budget instruments in the far east. In order to maintain the integrity of the Fender name, the Squier brand was resurrected in 1982, and the Asian made guitars were marketed under it.
Squier guitars haven’t always been made in Asia, however. In fact, some Squier guitars have, during certain periods, been made in Fender’s Mexican and even their US plants! The American made examples were produced in 1989 and 1990, and are highly prized amongst Squier enthusiasts.
Today, Squier produces many of the same models available under the Fender name, but the Stratocaster still reigns supreme.
Here are some fast facts about the Squier Stratocaster
- There are 5 different tiers of Squier Strat
- Not all Squier Stratocasters match the dimensions of the Fender models
- These guitars are available with single coil, humbucker, and coil tapping pickups
Squier Bullet Stratocaster
The Bullet Stratocaster is the entry level, full scale Strat in Squier’s lineup. It is one of the most popular beginner guitars on the market, largely thanks to the accessible price point and the widescale brand recognition.
While they simply don’t compare with more expensive models when it comes to component quality, the overall build quality is incredible considering the low cost. Squier has been able to keep costs low, not only by using cheaper electronics, but also by using more budget friendly tonewoods. Bullet Strats have bodies made from Basswood, which is widely available in Asia, and is also extremely lightweight, a factor that helps to keep import costs down.
Bullet Strats are available with either a hardtail bridge, or the classic synchronized tremolo. The trem versions are becoming harder and harder to find – while many new players dream of playing Van Halen divebombs right away, the reality is that cheaper guitars with trem systems have real difficulties with tuning stability. The hardtail version offers good stability, while providing a solid platform for beginners to learn the fundamentals before getting distracted with tricks.
They feature die cast, sealed back tuners, which considering the overall cost of this guitar, perform surprisingly well.
As for pickups, you can purchase a new Bullet Stratocaster in either SSS, or HSS with a humbucker at the bridge. The single coil pickups do produce a noticeable amount of 60 cycle hum, but at bedroom volumes on a practice amp, this shouldn’t be of too much concern. No matter which pickup layout you choose, the Bullet Strat still features the classic Stratocaster 5 way selector switch and tone, tone, volume knobs.
It features a comfortable C Shape neck profile, and the fretboard is finished in sustainable Indian Laurel, which is a member of the rosewood family. There are no maple neck options in the Bullet Range, but the Indian Laurel does look good against both the standard color options and the FSR, or Fender Special Run, editions, too.
Potentiometers are dime sized and unbranded, but that is to be expected at this price point. Despite this, they don’t suffer from too drastic a drop off, and turn smoothly, and without crackle.
Overall, there are cheaper Stratocaster style guitars on the market, but few at that level, if any, come close to the quality of the Bullet Strat.
Squier Mini Stratocaster
The Mini Stratocaster from Squier is the smallest guitar in the lineup. It’s a ¾ scale instrument, making it an excellent choice for younger players, or even as an adult’s travel guitar. Despite the scaled down size, it still has the classic Stratocaster silhouette and the unmistakable Fender headstock.
The body is made from a laminated hardwood. It’s not exotic by any stretch, but it is durable, and it doesn’t appear to have any negative impact on tone. Like the Bullet models, it also features a C shape neck, with an Indian Laurel fretboard and 20 medium frets. On the fretboard you get pearloid dots that add a much more premium look than you’d expect for price point.
The Mini Strat does only come in a 3 single coil pickup option, and because of the scaled down size, there’s only a single volume and a single master tone control, which does slightly reduce the versatility of the guitar compared to the other models. The pickups themselves run quite hot, but they are still clear enough to play clean.
This axe gets the same die cast sealed tuners featured on other low-end Squier models, so tuning stability is good, but fine tuning does take more work than it needs to. Helping out with the tuning stability is a synthetic bone nut, set up for 9 gauge strings. The light stringing really adds to the overall playability, so even bends and barre chords don’t require much effort, making this a great choice for beginners.
Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster
The Affinity series offer a step up over the Bullet Strat. It gets upgrades in both materials and components, and as it only costs a little more than the lower end model, it offers a serious value proposition.
Starting with the overall construction, the body is made from Poplar, which does provide a bit more weight and resonance over the lower end basswood and laminated hardwoods. The Neck is a comfortable maple C shape bolt on with the option of either an Indian Laurel or Maple fretboard depending on the color combination you choose. The 21 medium jumbo frets are well finished, and the edges are noticeably smoother than they are on the Bullet and Mini versions.
All Affinity Stratocasters come with a vintage style tremolo bridge that provides a much smoother playing experience than those offered on lower end versions, although it should still be used sparingly to avoid tuning issues.
You get the choice of a classic Stratocaster 3 single coil setup, or, a HSS layout if you prefer having a higher output at the bridge position. Both offer excellent versatility, and which one you should choose is purely down to player preference.
The Affinity series Strats are also available as a starter kit, which comes bundled with a 15 watt practice amp, strap, cable, picks, a gig bag, and a free 3 month trial to Fender’s excellent “Fender Play” online guitar lesson program. The bundles feature exclusive color finishes, and are also available in HSS or SSS. The individual components of the bundle add up to more than the cost of the bundle itself, so it really does offer excellent value.
Squier Contemporary Stratocaster
The Contemporary series offers a huge leap in performance over even the Affinity models. They make a great choice for anybody looking to take their playing to the next level, or even for guitarists who may have played previously, but are looking to pick up once again and want something a little more special. These Strats are based upon the Special edition Fenders that were built in Japan in the 80s and 90s, and were developed to showcase the cutting edge of guitar technology at the time.
Starting with the looks, even a quick glance tells you that this is a more advanced guitar. Dimensions are Fender standard, including a full 44.5mm, string through body. Like the Affinity, the body is made from poplar, but the full width adds much more heft and more premium playing experience.
Moving on to the neck, the Contemporary features roasted maple, which doesn’t only add great looks, but also extra stability due to the additional strength gained in the roasting process. At the back, the heel is sculpted to provide easy access all the way down to the 22nd fret. The profile is a slim C shape, which adds lightning fast playability.
Headstocks are painted, and are available in a body matched color, or gloss black, and the fretboard finish options include roasted maple or Indian Laurel.
Some of the most significant upgrades are to the electronics. There are a few options available when it comes to pickups:
SSS Squier SQR Alnico
If you opt for the single coil option, you aren’t just getting a plain old Strat sound with upgraded pickups – the middle pickup has actually been moved right down next to the bridge pickup, and this subtle change unlocks a whole palate of new tones that aren’t available on any other Stratocaster.
HH Squier SQR Atomic Coil Tapping
These are fat, hard rocking humbuckers, with an incredible depth of tone. They offer incredible versatility, too – you can unlock single coil tones in the 2nd and 4th positions thanks to the coil tapping options available on the selector switch.
HH Zebra Ceramic
Finally, the dual Zebra ceramic humbucker option. These pickups offer a low end punch that is perfect for everything from classic rock to metal, and crisp, clean tones that suit blues licks perfectly.
All pickup options come with a single master volume and a single master tone knob.
As far as hardware goes, there are once again three options. You can opt for the hardtail, which is perfect for anybody looking for maximum sustain. If you’re looking for an option with a tremolo bridge, you can choose from a classic Fender 6 saddle synchronized trem, or even a double locking Floyd Rose.
The contemporary line really spans the genres, and keeps the classic Strat look while offering something that looks a bit more special for those who want to stand out.
Squier Stratocaster Classic Vibe
If you’re looking for the most authentic Stratocaster feel possible, but your budget won’t stretch to a MIM Fender, then the Classic Vibe Series should definitely be on your radar. These are Squier Strats made to exacting Fender specifications from some of the most popular eras of the Strat – the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
These are, alongside the contemporary models, Squier’s premium line, so tuning stability is excellent, and all hardware all has a high end feel.
Modeled after the very first Stratocasters, the CV50 is equipped with 3 Fender designed single coil alnico pickups with a tone that perfectly replicates the bell like clarity of the Leo’s original. The neck is a slim C profile with a 9.5” radius fingerboard that feels extremely comfortable for players of all skill level. All finishes come with a great looking vintage tint maple fretboard and a one piece maple neck with a slick gloss finish.
Frets are narrow tall, and are immaculately finished. It’s equipped with a quality vintage trem system that will allow for seriously expressive playing without worry about dropping out of tune every time you touch the whammy bar.
The headstock is the smaller of the Strat styles, which is, of course, period correct, as are the headstock decals. The body is made of pine, which is also accurate for Fender models built in the ‘50s.
CV60 Squier Stratocasters are equipped very similarly to the 50s models. The most noticeable differences include the lack of the “skunk stripe” on the back of the neck, and 3 exclusive finishes, which include a 3 color sunburst, Candy Apple Red and the legendary Lake Placid Blue.
Additionally, Classic Vibe 60s models are built with a Nato wood body, and only offer Indian Laurel fretboards.
The 70s Classic Vibe Models perfectly reflect the changing tastes of the 1970s. They feature the large style Stratocaster headstock, with the 70s style decals, and are available with tortoiseshell or pearloid pickguards. Like the 50s and 60s models, this version is equipped with vintage style tuning machines that allow for dialed in tuning precision and rock solid stability.
There is a little more choice available with the 70s guitars as they can be bought with a traditional SSS pickup layout, or a more modern HSS setup. Additionally, the 70s models saw the return of the popular skunk stripe on the neck.
Final Thoughts On The Squier Stratocaster
While some turn their noses up at the thought of a Squier Strat, they may in fact be missing out on some great guitars just because of a decal on the headstock. They may be at the lower end of the price scale, but no matter which Squier you go for, you’re getting a guitar that’s perfectly playable, and in many cases absolutely comparable with Mexican made Fenders and other mid-level guitars from other brands. They offer a way for almost anybody to get their hands on a reliable instrument and make music, and that might just be the very best thing about them.
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