I first wrote this entry on February 12, 2007… These are still a strong option for those in need of a Strat and a Humbuckery guitar
Fender Standard HSS Stratocaster (“Fat Strat”) Review
Electric guitar: Effervescent, visceral, emotional, and motivating…
Whether or not you start out as a Fender fan, the HSS Stratocaster is an extremely flexible instrument that is sonically diverse and very playable!
I was looking for an instrument that was comfortable and had a sonic range of sounds, was comfortable and affordable, and would compliment my Epiphones, Parker, Squiers, and Fenders.
I love the feel of a Stratocaster – the light weight, the wonderful ribcage cutaway, the warm rounded shoulder for the picking arm, and a simple, clean neck design.
The Fender Standard HSS Strat is all the things a Stratocaster is – but adds the crunchy, punchy sound (to the bell-tone Strat sounds of the neck and mid pickups) with its bridge humbucker.
At first, I wasn’t really interested in the idea of a humbucker-enabled Stratocaster – Strats have always been “three singles” to me. However, after I played them many times over, I discovered just how sweet they are and how versatile they are.
Quick Opinion: The Standard HSS Strat is a dream to play. It has sounds that crunch like a Gibson and sounds that sing like an old Stratocaster. The 2006 (and later) Standard Strats (including the HSS) are deeply improved over previous years, and it shows. The new tremolo block, pickups, frets, and finishes are outstanding.
Playability: The HSS Standard Stratocaster plays with great ease. It has wonderful string-bending capability, has a body shape that lets you forget that your pick arm is on a guitar body, and has a neck that is medium-broad for pretty good finger-picking capability. (In fact, if you’re a finger-picking or hybrid-picking player, the Fender Strat neck and fretboard are among the most comfortable and easy-to-play on the market.)
As with most any Strat, the pickup selector switch is easy to use and is well within the pick hand’s reach. Since the tonal variety of an HSS Strat is often more interesting and varied than a Standard three-single pickup Stratocaster, you may find yourself hitting the 5-way pickup selector switch quite often – varying your sound has never been so easy.
The subtle, non-gloss neck finish is great for when your hands are damp with sweat – your hands can still slide around the neck pretty well, but you can also get a good grip for those hard-to-finger chord shapes.
Features: The Fender Standard Fat Strat has all the features you’d expect from Fender’s latest Stratocaster offerings. It has the famous Fender 5-way pickup switch, skunk-striped hard maple neck, a fantastic light-weight body, and extremely well-made electronics.
The pickguard is three-ply on most models (for example, White-Black-White). The back cavity cover is pretty standard for this type of Strat, generally a one-ply white cover. All the plastic parts are color-matched to the pickguard.
The tremolo setup is a standard three-spring mechanism, with string-through saddles and bridge. Tuning stability is average for a Stratocaster – although I did use a tremsetter for a while. I’ve since gone back to playing the bridges on Strats as-is… The HSS and standard Fender Strats use the six-screw Fender “vintage style” bridge – different from the slicker, smoother 2-point bridge like Jeff Beck and others use. The two-point is available on select USA-made American Stratocasters.
Sound: Sound, sound, sound. That’s the main reason for buying an HSS Fat Strat over a three-single Strat.
With the neck and mid single-coil pickups, you get the strong, bell-like tones you’d expect from a Stratocaster. In this respect, especially with the 2006 and later Strats, the HSS will not disappoint. These newer pickups seem stronger and clearer – and have somewhat less noise when playing through a strong tube amp.
With the Fender humbucker on the bridge (some models have had the Fender Diamondback for a while…), a whole new set of sounds come out of your Strat. This humbucker is actually pretty hot in output, and is really crunchy. It does blues, country, and hard rock very well (but can be dialed back for super-smooth sounds of jazz, contemporary gospel).
The pickup switch configuration is as follows:
Position 1: (switch all the way towards the bridge) is full humbucker, no tone control in the sound. This is crunchy, can be dialed up loud, and is super-clean (good midranges, too).
Position 2: You get the front coil (split) of the bridge humbucker and the middle pickup in combination – the lead (closest to the input jack) tone control effects this combination. This position is very bright, and is louder than the standard Stratocaster bell-tone. This position is good for cut-through-the-band lead tones, but without all the crunch of the humbucker.
Position 3: This position opens up the middle pickup only, with the lead tone control affecting the sound. This sound is the traditional Stratocaster mid pickup sound – somewhat warmer than the bridge, but not as mellow as the neck.
Position 4: This position sets up the middle and neck single-coil pickups together, with the lead and rhythm (middle) tone controls shaping the sound. Warm, but still lots of belltone.
Position 5: This is for the neck pickup only, and uses the rhythm tone control for sound shaping. This pickup position is the warmest of the single-coil sounds. By far, this pickup selection is the mellowest.
Value:This is an extremely high-value Stratocaster. It is worth more than its street price, probably in the $425 to $450 range in actual value (2006 prices. Inflation sets in and they’re about $499 now… still worth their price!). You get lots of really nice options (humbucker, coil-split combination) to add to the versatility of your favorite Strat sound and feel.
Folks with a one-guitar budget who need/want to play lots of different styles of music should seriously consider this instrument as a front-runner for purchase consideration.
On my HSS Strat, the fret ends are cleanly set, the height of the frets is very good, and the intonation was pretty close (as set up by the factory). It didn’t take very long for me to set the Strat’s intonation to a very serviceable and easy-to-play tuning setup. The body finish is just right, no flaws. The neck is straight and is well-set. The standard Super 250 Fender Bullet Strings are wonderful.
Wishes: There isn’t a lot to wish for with these Strats. I do wish it was offered with a V-shaped neck as an option, perhaps also with a tinted and V-shaped neck as an additional option – similar to the treatment on the 2006-> “50′s Strat” issues coming from the MIM factories. I think all Strats should be offered with optional locking tuners (for those who don’t know how to replace their own tuners).