What's the better choice for YOU?
We here at ProAudioLand believe that the best possible way for our customers to find exactly what they’re looking for is by giving them as much knowledge on gear as possible. Through our PAL blog and several unique articles, we give our guests tons of info to get them pointed towards the right direction. Yesterday, we helped our back beat brothers in their quest towards finding the perfect bass; we compared the history, tonal characteristics and other important differences between two of the world’s leading basses – the Fender Jazz Bass and Precision Bass. Although their history is very much rooted in the same spirit of company founder Leo Fender’s commitment towards bringing the music market the best possible innovations and products possible, there are also plenty of unique characteristics that make each instrument their own. You should definitely check that out if you haven’t already.
Today, we will be taking a look at another often asked but not as well-known aspect of the company’s products – the differences between American made and Mexican made Fenders. Although they pretty much look exactly the same, their features and characteristics have some pretty interesting – and important – differences. So, for those of you out there in the market for a brand new Fender axe, what choice is right for you?
What’s the Big Difference Anyway?
Well, the first thing that most people will tell you – and you will undoubtedly notice – is the stark difference in pricing. While an American Standard Telecaster will run you close to about a grand, a Mexican made Tele – such as this FENDER Standard Telecaster with Maple Fretboard – can be grabbed at about half the price. Why so much? Does it mean is only half as good? Is a Fender American Standard Telecaster worth the extra coin? Well, hopefully by the end of today’s article, all these questions will be answered – and then some.
Alright, so we already know the pricing is a bit different, but besides that – to the naked eye – they look pretty much exactly the same. And in more ways than not, they pretty much play very similar as well. So why they big price difference? Well, you might be thinking that it all comes down to the quality of the manufacturing or maybe even the parts used and to that I say – kind of, but it’s a little deeper than just that.
The first major difference between the two – besides the price – is the wood used for the bodies. While an American Fender has a three piece body made of ash, its Mexican equivalent is made either superior choice in wood and build. And if you know electric guitars, you know that the choice and wood can mean a big difference in tone but you should also know that wood alone doesn’t give you the whole story, so let’s talk a few more differences before we get into some specifics on the sound. Another pretty significant difference that should interest you is the number of frets on each. While the Mexican variety comes with 21 frets the American Fender tops it with 22. Although one might not seem like a lot, it actually does add a bit to its tonal range when it’s all said and done.
Taking a look at the inside of a typical Mexican and American Fender electric guitar will also show you that some other interesting variations as well. The inside cavity of a Mexican Fender comes with one humbucking or two single coil routers. With an American Fender on the other hand, the body comes equipped with three cavity routes which allow for many more pickup combination possibilities – a big plus if mixing and matching different pup’s is your thing.
Besides the neck wood**, can you tell the difference?
Next we’ll take a look at the truss rod of both varieties; an American Fender comes equipped with a truss rod that allows for bi-flex headstock adjustment – meaning that you will be able to make both convex and concave modifications using the rod alone. A Mexican Fender’s truss rod meanwhile simply allows for single convex headstock adjustments – meaning that it is up to string tension alone for concave alterations to be made. And speaking of necks, while a Mexican Fender comes with a standard four bolt, an American Fender comes equipped with a four bolt micro tilt that allows for more string adjustments. So essentially, the neck on a Mexican Fender – truss rod and all – simply does not allow for as many modifications as the American variety. If you are someone that constantly likes to switch the gauge and brand of strings as well as fine tune every little aspect on your guitar, the American Fender is most likely what you’re looking for.
As far as looks go – and while they honestly do look very much the same to the naked eye – the body of a Mexican Fender has a polyester finish while an American Fender the again superior polyurethane body finish. Not at all important as far as sound goes* but it’s well known that polyurethane should last you a bit longer, has a nicer feel to the touch and just slightly looks kind of nicer. Even then, Fender themselves claim that nitrocellulose is the “best” lacquer finish available – which they would gladly apply for some extra cash. So with that said, the difference among these finishes is pretty much the cost of the material and their inherent qualities but rest assured that it should not make a difference as far as sound goes.
And finally, both Fenders come in a Synchronized Tremolo style but the American fenders have stainless steel saddles – not much of a difference as far as performance but again, a marked improvement over the Mexican Fender as far as quality in materials goes.
Which One is Right for You?
Well, there you have it; although both the American and Mexican Fender’s pretty much look the same to the untrained eye, there are actually a good number of differences between them. As far as which of the two is right for you depends on a few things – mainly the price difference. It goes without saying that all in all an American Fender is the superior product but if the extra cash is no object. Even with that said, a Mexican Fender – although lacking some of the superior parts and more modification options of the American – is still a great instrument and an outstanding price with several musicians out there who actually swear by them over their pricier counterparts. So, in the end, what will work better for you depends on what you find more important or what you’re willing to part with – namely all of the extra adjustments that can be had with an American – in order to save some cash. Either way though – you can’t go wrong with a genuine Fender electric!
*Yes, there are those who will unabashedly claim that the finishing material has an effect on tone but the only possible way I could see that being even marginally true is that somehow the coat is laid on thicker than normal and that would be equally true for both polyurethane and polyester – and that’s if it were true. Even then, the marked difference would be so negligible compared to something such as the wood or pickups that it wouldn’t even matter anyway.
**The wood used in the fretboard isn’t a unique difference between the American made Fenders and the Mexican as you can get either finish – rosewood or maple – regardless of the maker. Pictured here is a Mexican made FENDER Standard Telecaster with Maple Fretboard and a Fender American Standard Telecaster with Rosewood Fretbaord.