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The New Fender American Original Series of guitars brings modern playability to Fender’s vintage line of guitars.

Check out our full video review of the series!

The New Fender American Original Series of guitars brings modern playability to Fender’s vintage line of guitars.

For many years Fender has offered a variety of vintage inspired guitars to meet the needs of players that wanted to own a vintage guitar like those that initially made the company famous and ushered in the sounds of rock and roll. However, the sometimes exorbitant price tag associated with true vintage instruments placed those guitars out of the reach of many. In response Fender decided to produce re-issues of those famous guitars. Over the years those offerings have changed based upon the desires and needs of the players wielding these fine instruments. For 2018 Fender has replaced its long running American Vintage line with the new American Original line. While these new guitars are also vintage inspired instruments there are some modern changes that owe a lot to the Fender Custom Shop and to understand the reason for the change it is important to re-examine the American Vintage Series guitars.

The American Vintage Series was a product of former Fender CEO Larry Thomas’s desire to have accurate reproductions of Fender’s most famous guitars of the past. Himself a guitar collector Larry sought to ensure that every measurement, neck carve, pickup and piece of hardware was vintage accurate. What resulted was a true to the promise reissue of the original guitars. The 1952 Fender Telecaster Reissue was a true re-issue of the original with every effort made from the pickups and wiring to the case being as close to the original “spec” as possible. In fact, given the more modern tooling and production methods available, one could argue that these guitars were more consistent than Fender’s instruments in 1952. This eye for detail continued with other models like a ’56 Stratocaster, ’59 Stratocaster, ’62 Stratocaster, ’58 Telecaster, ’62 Telecaster, etc. Each model was essentially a lovely copy of a reference guitar from those specific years, for better or for worse; and for the most part it was for the better.

The only drawbacks to producing a “year” accurate reproduction method were two fold. Many customers knew they liked a 50s or 60s era guitar but were often lost on the difference between specific year models like the ’56 versus ’59 Stratocaster. The larger concern with being so true to the original specs was the playability. Here is where the discussion dives into a bit of geeky guitar lingo that has a great impact on the playability of a guitar. Let’s talk about fretboard radius for a moment.

The radius of a fretboard is the curvature of the nut, frets and underlying wood. With the exception of classical guitars most guitar fretboards are not perfectly flat, instead there is a curve to the fretboard that makes it more comfortable to fret chord shapes. The measurements that we utilize to measure this are based upon the radius of a circle. A circle that has a 7.25” radius has a more rounded cross section than a larger circle does. When felt on a fretboard a smaller radius is rounded with a more pronounced middle section. This is comfortable for making chord forms but it can cause issues when playing single note riffs, particularly when attempting to bend the note. Because of the more pronounced middle peak of a tighter radius bending a B string up on the neck will cause the string to hit the peak of the fret higher on the neck, stopping the string from vibrating and choking out the note. As music progressed musicians continued to push the envelop of what electric guitars could do. This lead manufacturers to respond with flatter radius measurements; attempting to find the sweet spot between chording comfort and searing single note speed and versatility. While each manufacturer is a bit different, Fender landed on 9.5” as its radius of choice. For those professional musicians that had purchased vintage guitars and were trying to bend into the stratosphere, there were two common solutions: they either played with high action to prevent the string from choking out, or they took their guitars to a luthier and had the radius changed.

Following this trend, the most common option for vintage reissue guitars coming out of the Fender Custom Shop is to have a more modern radius rather than the more vintage accurate 7.25”. This being the case, it makes perfect sense for Fender to introduce the American Original series as a vintage inspired series of guitars that looks to eras rather than specific years and offers a modern 9.5” radius on top of the vintage neck carves of yesteryear. The new series features 6 electric guitars and 4 bass guitars that represent the golden age of vintage Fenders from the early 1950’s to the mid 60’s before the purchase of Fender by CBS.

The Guitars

The American Original 50s Telecaster is essentially the same as the ’52 Telecaster that it replaces but with the flatter radius. Features unique to this model include: Pure Vintage ’52 pickups, Butterscotch Blonde Ash Body, U shaped one-piece maple neck and brass bullet saddles. Expect a warm mid-range rich neck pickup and a loud and bright bridge pickup that has made this guitar a country and rock legend.

The American Original 50s Stratocaster shares the bright nature of the telecaster but the three Pure Vintage ’59 single coil pickups deliver the typical Stratocaster chime that the instrument is famous for. Rather than a vintage correct three-way switch, Fender has wisely utilized a five-way switch that allows the in-between founds on positions 2 and 4. The ash body is available in 2-color sunburst, Aztec gold or a very attractive transparent white blond that allows the wood grain to shine through. Finally, the “Soft-V” has a thicker but comfortable feel to it that fits the hand nicely.

Moving into the 60s era adds warmth, new color options and two additional models. The American Original 60s Custom Telecaster is quit the looker with a double bound body. Steel saddles and True Vintage ’64 pickups along with a rosewood fretboard provide a wonderful warmth to the character of this Telecaster. The neck features a “Mid-60s” C shaped neck that is familiar to Fender players but a bit thicker than its modern counterpart. Available colors are the following: 3-Color sunburst, Fiesta Red and a crowd pleasing Lake Placid Blue that particularly pops against the crisp white binding.

The American Original 60’s Stratocaster also features a rosewood neck and has a warmer character to the overall tone. Eagle eyed guitarists will notice the thicker 60’s Fender logo on the headstock above a rosewood fretboard. The Pure Vintage ’65 pickups has a roundness as a bit more drive to them that defined blues and rock music. Colors include 3-color sunburst, Olympic White and Candy Apple Red.

Your offset dreams are realized with the new Jazzmaster and Jaguar that Fender is offering with this new series of guitars. Originally designed to appeal to jazz guitarists, the Jazzmaster found its true audience in the hands of independent artists from surf, punk and indie rock. The combination of its unique Jazzmaster pickups and switching options as well as the offset body screamed “this isn’t your Dad’s Fender!” The American Original 60s Jazzmaster features an off-set Alder body, maple thicker ‘60s C shaped neck with rosewood fretboard, Pure Vintage ’65 Jazzmaster single coil pickups and vintage hardware with a locking floating tremolo bridge. Colors include: 3-color sunburst, Olympic White and Ocean Turquoise.

In 1962 Fender introduced the Jaguar as a top of the line electric guitar with a host of new features and a shorter scale neck. However, like its offset counterpart the Jazzmaster, the Jaguar found its home with punk and alternative rock guitarists who enjoyed the sounds and feel of this unique instrument.  The American Original 60s Jaguar features two Pure Vintage ’62 single coil Jaguar pickups connected to the unique lead/rhythm circuit; bass-cut “strangle” switch. The maple neck has a thicker ‘60s C shaped profile and is topped with a rosewood fretboard. The vintage hardware and locking tremolo bridge carry over along with the unique bridge-mounted mute.

The American Original Series is now available and represents the opportunity for guitarists to enjoy everything that made the tone of those vintage guitars so wonderful and sought after without having to make any compromises in their playability.

Check out our full video review of the series!

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