gear up: taking a look at fender’s player plus stratocaster
By Ian Freeman
September 20, 2021
A couple of years ago, guitar giant Fender retooled its Standard product line welcoming a new generation of guitarists, and dubbed it the Player Series. This line of guitars, made in their Mexico plant, which houses more of their more economical offerings, would serve as an affordable option to established musicians or beginners who are just getting acquainted with the Fender brand. Recently, the brand announced the next step in their revamping, launching the new Player Plus Series.
For those acquainted with the made in Mexico Fender line, the gear math is pretty simple:
MIM Fender Deluxe/Roadhouse – heel carve + Noiseless Pickups = Player Plus. Although that oversimplifies it slightly, and we will get into more of the specs, that works for a cheat sheet.
If you’re not a Fender fan or looking for your first guitar, the first thing to note is that the ones coming out of the Fender Mexico plant are regarded as some of the best import guitars for years. This makes sense as the Fender home base is in California, so keeping an eye on things, quality control, shipping times, etc., might not be as daunting as things from other parts of the world.
As for where the Player Plus line would sit in the Fender product line, it’s easiest to compare to their existing offerings. Though not in cost, the closest conceptually would be Fender’s USA-made high-end modern Ultra Luxe Series. The Player Plus series would be the made-in-Mexico equivalent.
The Player Plus series offers an upgraded experience from the Player series with tweaks made with the more discerning guitarist in mind. The series has something for everybody with a line-up, including active jazz and precision bass, Stratocasters in SSS and HSS, and Telecasters in Nashville and traditional configurations. Features include an assortment of colors, including striking new gradient colors, rolled edge frets usually found on higher-end guitars, and a flatter 12’-radius fretboard for more effortless playing. Also included are Player Plus Noiseless pickups that get you that Fender sound without the hum. And depending on the model, there are Maple or Pau Ferro necks and upgraded electronics with switching options.
The launch of the series highlighted a new generation of artists including Blu DeTiger, Hannah Dasher, Gabriel Garzón-Montano, The Destroy Boys, and Afropunk Alums The Nova Twins, with who we had a chance to chat about the guitars as well. Hearing Amy rave about it, we checked out the Player Plus Stratocaster SSS.
The Player Plus Strat SSS has an alder body. Ours had a lovely satin maple neck which felt amazingly smooth, and the modern C neck felt comfortable in hand. The maple fretboard has a 12’ radius with medium-jumbo frets, and as mentioned the edges are rolled. This immediately gives you the feeling of playing a high-end instrument. The three things that stood out on the neck for me were the choice of a flatter 12′ radius over the typical 9.5, which makes for faster playing and easier bends. The slightly wider nut width, while it might not seem like a big deal, that little extra made it feel better in hand but also gives you a bit more space between strings. And Also the choice of short post locking tuners. A good set of locking tuners is a Godsend on any instrument, but the short post gives the strings a sharper break angle helping stability. Coupled with the flatter radius and wider nut width, you can tell and feel the attention to detail Fender put into making this a guitar you can enjoy playing, bending, etc.…
Fender developed a line of Player Plus Noiseless Pickups for the series and placed a trio in the SSS Strat. I was worried when I heard Noiseless pickups as I have not always been a fan. I find that while if you play with distortion, the hum-canceling is great, but when playing clean, the Noiseless pickups lack dynamics, definition, clarity, and that signature brightness of a Strat. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the Player Plus set. While they don’t knock it out of the park, depending on what you’re asking of them, they can still clear the fence or give you a stand-up triple. They are responsive, there isn’t that typical dip in output around the 3rd string on some pickups, and they are fairly clear. They aren’t as hot as regular pickups, but that is a function of them being noiseless. So with all pickups, there are pluses and minuses and the Fender Player Plus Noiseless Pickups sound great, and if you’re looking for that signature Strat sound, they get you 95-97% there.
While we are on the pickups, an interesting addition is advanced switching also found on the Ultra Luxe series. Though that line used a button, the Player Plus utilizes a push-pull pot that adds the neck pickup to positions one and two. This gives two more configurations that add the warmth of the neck pickup to the bite of the bridge or activate all three pickups at one time. Altogether, seven tonal configurations, and traditionally I tend to lean towards HSS Strats as I like the versatility, so this was a welcome feature. This feature is also on the HSS model but that coil splits the humbucker giving you a single coil.
It has a 2 point tremolo with block saddles that is responsive and smooth. It comes in an array of finishes for the traditionalist a three color burst, or Olympic Pearl, Opal Spark, and our personal favorite Aged Candy Apple and the one we checked out, Tequila Sunrise which is a gradient going from red to orange.
While you can see the attention Fender put into making the Player Plus line a step above, they did overlook some things. The lack of a contoured heel joint. We get it’s not the American Ultra Luxe, so we know we aren’t getting all the bells and whistles, but the Roadhouse and the Deluxe, which the Player Plus is effectively replacing, both had it. Not having that seems to be a missed opportunity. Not a deal-breaker by any means as playing, I could still reach all of the frets, but it would have been a nice touch if this is the high-tier line.
I love the advanced switching. However, I am not a fan of the push-pull pot or at least the knob used for it. It is hard to grasp. If you’re playing and want to activate it, you have to dig your fingers under it to get a good enough grip to pull it up. Even in normal conditions, it was an effort, and I can’t imagine if you had sweaty hands from playing or not the strongest of fingers. One of the best features quickly becomes one of the most annoying unless you use it sparingly or switch out the knobs.
The decision to get the Player Plus is interesting, and the decision depends on the buyer. Are you a beginner with the budget and want something a bit nicer that will stick with you for a long time? The Player Plus is that. Are you a gigging musician and want a versatile workhorse that gives you all the strat sounds you want plus some added tricks in the bag? The Player Plus does that too. Do you just want a fantastic guitar that is beautiful, comfortable, plays well, well constructed and you’ll enjoy? It’s got you covered. Are you looking for a traditional Strat? Are you a strat purist? Are you looking for a vintage strat? This might not be the guitar you’re looking for. Are you choosing between a few options? If money is the main issue, there are cheaper options, including the Fender Player Series. But if you want all these bells and whistles, there are other options, but they aren’t Fenders. And with the Fender name, you pay a premium for it, but that’s because no other guitars hold their value traditionally like Gibsons and Fenders. The Player Plus Strat SSS gives you high performance without a high-end price.
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