If you’ve decided to buy a Fender Stratocaster, one of the first things you’ll need to consider is whether you want a Made in Mexico (MIM) or Made in America (MIA) Strat. There’s a definite price difference between guitars made in the USA, and those made in Mexico, but what are the actual differences between these guitars?
Here’s a quick summary table highlighting some of the key differences to get us started:
|Mexican Stratocaster||American Stratocaster|
|$850-$1200 on average||$1400-$2600 on average|
|Pau ferro fretboards||Rosewood fretboards|
|Usually 5-piece bodies||Usually 2 or 3-piece bodies|
|Polyester body finishes||Polyurethane or nitrocellulose body finishes|
|Pickups made in Mexico or Korea||Pickups made in the USA|
|Second-hand models cost roughly 75% of the brand-new price||Second-hand models cost roughly 80% of the brand-new price|
|Some models include a soft gig-bag||All models include a soft gig-bag or hard case|
There’s quite a lot of misinformation out there which I think stems from comparison between older models. I’ve done a tonne of research on the specifications to identify the tangible differences between current MIM and MIA Stratocasters, and played these models extensively.
This is a very detailed article so I’ve split it into sections which you can navigate using the contents below.
- Prices and Models Available
- Pickups and Tone
- Other Materials
- Resale Value
- Factories and Quality Control
- Gig Bag Inclusion
- Fender Player vs American Performer Strat
- Is the Price Difference Justified?
- Why Choose a Mexican Strat?
- Why Choose an American Strat?
Prices and Models Available
Before we jump into the specific differences between Mexican-made and American-made Fender Stratocasters, let’s take a look at the models available and the average prices.
- In the USA, USA-made Fender Stratocasters start at $1400, whereas Mexican-made Fender Stratocasters cost between $850 and $1200
- In the UK, USA-made Fender Stratocasters start at £1100, whereas Mexican-made Fender Stratocasters cost between £650 and £960
So why are USA-made Stratocasters at least $200 more expensive than Mexican-made Strats? Let’s delve into the differences.
|Fender Stratocaster||Made In||USA Price||UK Price|
|American Professional II||USA||$1700||£1700|
|American Vintage II||USA||$2100||£1950|
|American Ultra Luxe||USA||$2600||£2150|
Pickups and Tone
Okay so the first thing we need to address is how these guitars actually sound.
- The pickups on Mexican Stratocasters are made in Mexico or Korea
- The pickups on American Stratocasters are made in the USA
What I’ve noticed from playing many Mexican and USA-made Stratocasters myself, and listening to countless sound samples, is that USA-made Strats do not sound inherently better than Mexican ones, they just sound slightly different.
But the same goes for different USA-made Strats. For example, American Performer and American Vintage II Stratocasters do not sound the same. In fact, every Mexican and American Stratocaster uses different pickups, so it’s very tough to generalise.
Here is a YouTube video by Rhett Schull where he did a very interesting experiment and compared several Stratocasters. Have a listen and decide for yourself which you prefer the sound of.
If for example, you love the sound of the American Pro II pickups, but only have the budget for the Player version at the moment, then you can always just upgrade the pickups in the future for about $160 (and even make sure money back by selling your current ones on the second-hand market).
This is a simple modification which saves you spending and $850 difference if it’s only the pickups you care about.
I have created the following table showing the different Fender pickups available and how much they cost to purchase aftermarket.
|Guitar||Pickups||USA Price||UK Price|
|Player||Player Series Alnico V||$100||N/A|
|Vintera Model||Vintage Style ‘50s/ ‘60s||$120||£70|
|Player Plus||Player Plus Noiseless||N/A||N/A|
|Vintera Modified||Vintage Style ‘50s/ ‘60s Hot||$120||£80|
|American Professional II||V-Mod II||$160||£140|
|American Original||Pure Vintage ‘59/ ‘65||$200||£150|
|American Vintage II||Pure Vintage ‘57/ ‘61/ ‘73||$200||£150|
|American Ultra/ Ultra Luxe||Ultra Noiseless||$250||£180|
I analysed all the stock Mexican and USA-made Stratocasters available from Fender at the time of writing to find the key differences in terms of the materials used. Here’s what I found:
- Mexican Fender Stratocasters have maple or pau ferro fretboards, whereas American Fender Stratocasters have maple or rosewood fretboards
- Most Mexican Stratocasters have a 5 piece body (but sometimes 3 or 7-piece), whereas most USA Stratocasters have 2 or 3 piece body. However both use alder bodies on most models.
- Most USA-made Stratocasters have steel bridges with nickel plated saddles whereas Mexican-made Strats have chrome dipped saddles and bridges made mostly but not completely from steel
- Mexican Stratocasters have a polyester body finish, whereas Fender Stratocasters have either a polyurethane or nitrocellulose finish. Polyester finishes are glossier and harder.
Out of the 4 tangible differences I found, I have to say I don’t think there’s much of a difference in quality between the materials used on a USA and Mexican Strat.
The rosewood fretboards on USA Strats are seen as more desirable and have a darker finish, however some will prefer the smoother feel of a pau ferro fretboard. Likewise, having a 2 or 3 piece body is also considered more attractive, but most Strats are finished in a way that you’d never be able to tell.
Keep in mind that these are just differences I found between Mexican and USA-made Strats in general. There are of course model specific differences such as the bridge design (2 vs 6 point), nut width, fret number etc. which can be found on both USA and Mexican-made Strats.
Mexican Stratocasters do not hold as much of their value as a percentage when it comes to reselling them compared to American Stratocasters. However, since Mexican Strats are cheaper to buy brand-new, less money is actually lost when it comes to reselling.
Here is a table comparing the resale value of Mexican and American Stratocasters. All the second-hand prices are taken from an average of at least 10 guitars considered in “excellent” condition.
|Stratocaster||Brand New Price||Used Price||Difference ($)||Difference (%)|
|American Professional II||$1700||$1300||$400||24%|
Factories and Quality Control
The Fender USA and Mexico factories are actually only 186 miles miles away from each other.
- American-made Fender Stratocasters are made in Corona, California
- Mexican-made Fender Stratocasters are made in Ensenada
One of the reasons why American-made Fender Strats are so desirable is because the USA has the best reputation for building guitars compared to any other country worldwide. The USA is home to some of the best luthiers and the guitars are extensively QC checked before leaving the factory.
However, Mexico also has an excellent reputation for producing high-end guitars. The Mexican factory is owned by Fender so they control exactly what comes out of it, compared to some other brands which outsource guitars to factories which make instruments for various brands.
Although the attention to detail when crafting an American-made Fender compared to a Mexican-made Fender is on average marginally better, I personally have tried several Mexican Stratocasters and have not experienced any quality control issues.
The main thing you can expect with a USA-made Fender is that it’ll have slightly better (smoother) fretwork, more rolled fingerboard edges, smoother nut edges, and may be set up slightly better out of the box.
With some Mexican-made Fender Stratocasters you do not get a gig bag, whereas with all USA-made versions you either get a soft gig bag or hard shell case.
- Fender Player (Mexican): no gig bag or case
- Fender Player Plus (Mexican): soft gig bag
- Fender Vintera (Mexican): soft gig bag
- Fender American Performer: soft gig bag
- Fender American Professional II: hard shell case
- Fender American Original: hard shell case
- Fender American Vintage II: hard shell case
- Fender American Ultra/ Ultra Luxe: hard shell case
To purchase a genuine Fender gig bag separately, it will cost approximately $120, whereas a hard shell case costs roughly $250.
Fender Player (Mexican) vs American Performer Strat
Now let’s compare the specifications of the most popular Mexican Strat (the Fender Player series model) with the cheapest American Strat (the Fender American Performer series model).
|Feature||Player Stratocaster||American Performer Stratocaster|
|Fretboard||Maple/ Pau Ferro||Maple/ Rosewood|
|Body Finish||Gloss Polyester||Satin/ Gloss Polyurethane|
|Fret Size||Medium Jumbo||Jumbo|
|Truss Rod Nut||3/16” Hex Adjustment||1/8” American Series|
|Pickups||Player Series Alnico V||Yosemite|
|Bridge||2-Point Tremolo||6-Point Tremolo|
|Tuning Machines||Standard Cast||Fender ClassicGear|
Pickups and Tone
The Fender American Performer has Yosemite pickups which sounds brighter and clearer in comparison to the alnico V pickups in the Player series model. I wouldn’t necessarily say one sounds better than the other, but I do think the American Performer version sounds more like a classic Strat.
With the American Performer version you also get a push/ pull tone pot which either activates the neck pickup on the SSS version, or coil splits the humbucker on the HSS version. This adds some more functionality over the Fender Player model.
Feel and Playability
In terms of feel, these two guitars feel basically identical. They both have modern C-shape satin necks, a 9.5″ fingerboard radius, and 22 frets. The only real differences are the fretboard material and fret size:
- The American Performer has jumbo frets, whereas the Player series version has medium jumbo frets.
Since Medium Jumbo frets are not very tall, you will feel the wood of the fretboard more when playing compared to Jumbo frets which are much taller which means you’ll feel the fret itself more than the wood.
Check out my article comparing jumbo and medium jumbo frets for more information.
- The American Performer has a rosewood fretboard whereas the Player has a pau ferro fretboard
Although you can get maple fretboard versions of both guitars, the darker fretboard options differ.
Rosewood fretboards are more porous so feel rougher compared to pau ferro fretboards which feel smoother and have less friction. Rosewood is darker in appearance and a harder wood meaning it is less likely to get damaged.
Check out my article comparing rosewood and pau ferro fretboards.
There are two notable differences here:
- Tremolo system
- Tuning machines
The Mexican Fender Player Stratocaster has a 2-point tremolo, whereas the American Performer Stratocaster has a 6-point tremolo. The 2-point tremolo is considered more modern compared to the 6-point tremolo.
A 2-point tremolo bridge is easier to set up and makes it easier to adjust the guitar’s action compared to a 6-point tremolo. A 6-point tremolo makes the guitar more resonant, although the difference is minimal.
Check out my article comparing 2 vs 6 point tremolos for more information.
The Fender American Performer also model has slightly upgraded tuning machines in comparison to the Player version, although neither of these two guitars have locking tuners.
- The American Performer model comes with a gig bag, unlike the Player model
- The American Performer Strat has a ’70s style oversized headstock, whereas the Player Strat has a standard-sized headstock
- The color options for both guitars are different
Is the Price Difference Justified?
Okay, so between the two guitars we just compared there is a $550 difference in price on average.
Here is a table showing all the differences in materials and how much they cost aftermarket.
|Player Stratocaster||American Performer Stratocaster||Price Difference|
|Player Series Neck = $300||American Performer Neck = $500||$200|
|Player Series Loaded Pickguard = $125||American Performer Loaded Pickguard = $180||$55|
|Player Series 2-Point Tremolo Assembly = $80||American Performer 6-Point Tremolo = $170||$90|
|Standard Cast Tuners = $70||Fender ClassicGear Tuners = $70||$0|
|No Gig Bag = $0||Gig Bag = $120||$120|
The total price difference of these parts = $465
Keep in mind that this is the cost to purchase parts aftermarket. It will cost Fender a lot less than this to make these parts.
Since most of the attention to detail/ QC improvements we discussed earlier that are found on the American models are related to the neck, we don’t need to add on any more as we costed up the difference between entirely new necks in the table above.
The only other differences we’ve not addressed are:
- The Fender American Performer Strat has a 3-piece body and the Player Series Strat has a 5-piece body
- The American Performer has a polyurethane finish and the Player has a polyester finish
This means we have $85 unaccounted for (depending on if you put any weight on the above two points). This really is the premium for purchasing a USA-made guitar and the prestige that it comes with.
Personally I don’t think this is a huge amount to be paying, but it’s important to reiterate that the price difference of the parts is dictated by Fender themselves. Just because the American Performer neck costs $200 less aftermarket, does not mean it’s actually worth $200 less.
Why Choose a Mexican Stratocaster?
- Better value for money
- Still feels and sounds excellent
- Can be upgraded and still works out cheaper than the USA version
Why Choose an American Stratocaster?
- Best possible build quality, hardware and pickups
- More prestige and heritage
- Better quality accessories included
Here are more articles you might find useful:
– Fender Player vs Player Plus
– Fender Player vs Vintera
– Fender American Performer vs American Professional II