Updated: January 25, 2020 by Richard Cole
Fender Stratocaster is among the most desired guitars in the world.
That has been the case for a long time now. Almost every guitar player, despite the genre of music they play, would absolutely love to have one of these.
There is one problem though. Strats generally cost a decent amount of money. Even the Mexican Strats, which are considered to be lower quality than those made in U.S, can be decently expensive. Fender tried to alleviate this problem in part by making Squier Stratocaster models. But those can’t even compare to the original.
Fender has been making attempts to produce an affordable Stratocaster. One such model is the Fender Highway 1. The release of this guitar raised quite a few eyebrows in the community.
Could they have seriously made an affordable Strat that sounded close to the high end ones?
It appeared so since the price was kind of in that area. But was that really the case?
Let’s find out together
When it comes to American made Stratocasters, you need to be prepared to drop a generous amount of money for a good one. With Fender Highway 1, this changed for a while.
The guitar didn’t step outside of the established Stratocaster framework, but it did bring some solutions many found to be better than what can be found on regular American Fenders. That was pretty odd considering this guitar cost only a fraction of the price. However, there had to be a catch.
The body of the guitar is pretty much the same thing you can find on any American Stratocaster. We are talking alder body and the good old Strat shape. The finish, however was different.
Fender used satin lacquer instead of their usual choices for this particular model. The neck was the standard maple design with rosewood or maple fretboards and 22 medium Jumbo frets.
Hardware came in form of a steel Vintage Style Synchronized Tremolo bridge on one side and a great set of tuners on the other. Electronics were completely redesigned, featuring Alnico III single coil pickups which were much hotter than usual. So far so good, right? There is one catch, though. Quality control applied to Fender Highway 1 completely surprised loyal Fender fans.
Some guitars would arrive with the bridge off axis, while others had similar issues with different components. Even though these instances were rare, that’s the type of stuff that just doesn’t happen to Fender.
Quality control aside, the tone this guitar produces is just incredible. The range of the Alnico III pickups is borderline unbelievable. Whole frequency range is quite dynamic, and you can hear the saturation in every segment of the frequency scale.
Alnico III single coils are hot output pups. They have been purposely overwound and the results are what every Strat fan dreams about.
On top of a great sound, the playability of Fender Highway 1 didn’t suffer compared to the more expensive American Strats. That is something most people were worried about. Maple fretboard with medium Jumbo frets is still the magic combination.
What we like
It seems that Fender created a way better guitar than they planned to. Fender Highway One can go head to head with just about any Stratocaster in production, despite its lower price.
What we don’t like
Questionable quality control is something no one expected from Fender. However, it is what it is. You will definitely have to inspect these guitars closer, and look at every detail.
Fender Highway 1 is one of the best Stratocaster models Fender has ever built. It’s not the best sounding one, but the value for the money ratio is off the charts. It was designed to be a playing man’s Strat, but it turned into something completely different. The guitar is nearly as good as any American Strat you can get at the moment.
It’s way better than Mexican ones, and yet it ended up being cheaper. Considering all the benefits of this guitar, we can forgive quality control failures which occurred from time to time. Getting stuck on those would blind us.