Fender listened closely to performing musicians to update its entry level, US-made guitars
- Fender has substantially updated its American Performer lineup, formerly known as American Special.
- The new line is the entry point to Fender made-in-USA instruments and now includes basses in addition to guitars.
- The American Performer line was developed with significant input from performing artists.
A Fender guitar can be obtained for a very reasonable price, but for many players, it's the American-made instruments that are the beginning of their serious journey into the 72-year-old brand.
That journey used to commence with the American Special lineup, but now Fender has updated that offering for the first time in a decade and rechristened it "American Performer" to highlight a combination of value and excellence intended to appeal to gigging musicians.
"The American Performer Series blends traditional Fender design with new elements for modern tone and performance," Fender said in a statement. "Together, the updates deliver sonic versatility, tonal flexibility and ease of use for performers, helping them create the perfect sound for every musical genre."
Fender upped its game for the new instruments.
"We put a lot more into these than in prior iterations," Justin Norvell, executive vice-president of product, said.
As with any update to Fender's iconic designs, there were challenges. "A Stratocaster from ten paces looks like a Stratocaster," Norvell said.
Input from performing artists was imperative, and Fender spent two years both refining stalwarts such as the Stratocaster and Telecaster while refining the Jazzmaster and the Mustang and introducing a Jazz, Precision, and Mustang bass. What Norvell described as "quirks" were addressed, such as the Mustang's notorious tremolo arm.
Plenty of input from performersThe range of advice that Fender received was thanks to location: with an office in Hollywood, near numerous recording studios, the company could rely on a steady stream of musicians providing opinions. According to Norvell, their preferences in Fender instruments ranged from "super modern to super vintage."
Pickups were of particular interest. New "Yosemite" units are intended to combine muscle and finesse in a single instrument. A double-tap humbucking pickup enables a player to switch between the single-coil cut that Fenders are known for, yet also access humbucking beef, without have to compromise volume.
Tuners also got an update, with a modest, vintage look, but more precise and stable tuning.
Overall, the revamped American Performer range seeks to continue Fender's process of improving its classics for musicians who aren't as indebted to styles of the past and might want to treat the six-string (as well as the bass) as a sort of synthesizer, creating sonic textures through the use of effects pedals and a wide variety of amplifiers (both of which Fender also makes).
When it came to personal favorites from the new range, Norvell highlighted the Stratocaster HSS, which replaces the traditional single-coil bridge pickup with a humbucking unit, solving the problem of Stratocaster players avoiding the bridge and favoring the guitars legendary neck pickup. The new Performer Strat HSS is about $1,000.
He also enthused over the Jazzmaster, a guitar that was a failure for Fender when introduced decades ago, but a massive success much later when cheap axes were taken up by punk-rock musicians in the 1980s. A new trem system borrowed from the Strat provides a simpler way to whammy. The new Jazzmaster is priced at about $1,200.