In 2000, the venerable American Standard Stratocaster was replaced by the American Series, which offered a number of structural, sonic and aesthetic improvements. A slightly less beefy neck, non-veneer topped bodies, smoother fret edges and a thinner body finish has resulted in a better sounding, easier playing and a more vintage looking Strat.
Formerly the Big Apple Strat, the American Series Double Fat Strat Hard Tail model tested here ($1,400 retail with hardshell case) is similar to the three single coil pickup American Series Strat Hard Tail, but has custom Seymour Duncan humbuckers for a "bigger" tone. Fender also offers a tremolo version with the same humbuckers.
The Fat Strat in our test featured a beautiful, three-color sunburst finished alder body ($50 extra) with a rosewood neck. Maple board models are available as well. The Fender Schaller tuners are now staggered, which means no need for a second string tree to clutter up the head stock.
The guitar sports a fixed bridge instead of the normal tremolo bridge long associated with the Stratocaster. Not every player likes the "wammy." Since there is no tremolo, the back is solid wood instead of the hollowed tremolo cavity with plastic cover.
The electronics includes a Seymour Duncan-custom Pearly Gates Plus humbucker bridge pickup and a custom Seymour Duncan Î59 neck humbucker pickup. The standard Strat two tone and one volume controls combination are linked to a five-way pick up selector switch.
The Fat Strat offers a number of useful pickup sounds. Position 1 gives you the full bridge humbucker sound. Position 2 combines the single coil side of the bridge HB and the reverse-installed magnet single-coil side of the neck HB for a hum-cancelling single coil sound. Position 3 combines both humbuckers, Position 4 splits the neck humbucker coils, creating a single-coil neck PU sound. Position 5 is the full neck humbucker.
I changed the stock .09-.42 Fender Super Bullet Strings to my personal favorites: Ernie Ball Classic .10-.46 all-nickel wound strings for a less trebly sound. After a quick tuning, I plugged into a 1965 Fender Twin Reverb reissue and checked out the sound.
The first thing I noticed is the big sound of the bridge-mounted, Pearly Gates Plus: pure meaty humbucker. Those who don't like the thinness of the a normal strat bridge PU can't complain. Cranked all the way, the Pearly Gates Plus can gets edgy in the high mid and low treble (thanks to the extra oomph of Alnico 5 magnets). When you want a more mellow, clean bridge sound. Simply roll back the volume to "8" and the result is more traditional "PAF."
The "59" humbucker in the neck offers up a smooth dark tone, good for gothic power cords or blues when cranked up - or smooth jazz when the volume is rolled back.
The in-between positions are very effective. If I wanted an old time strat sound, I dialed in the single-coil modes; position 2 with the in-phase/out-of-phase single coil combo tone was great for funky, hum-free rhythm work.
The guitar fret work was perfect with no buzz and no finger slicing from sharp edge frets. The neck pocket was tight with no room to insert a business card. All in all, the build quality was A+. My guitar tech did notice that the G-string nut slot was cut a little high, which resulted in a slightly sharp pitch when chording on the first couple of frets. He filed it a little and the pitch was perfect.