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Affordable vintage Fender electric guitars

Fender '70s Stratocaster

Certain Fender guitars that are over 25 years old (generally speaking, if it's over 25, it's vintage) are actually fairly affordable. At the time I write this, that means anything made from 1989 or earlier...

...but you have to watch yourself with vintage so you don't end up with a piece of junk.

The 1980s

Strats of the 1980s are easy to come by and fairly cheap. For example, I saw a 1987 Strat online recently for just 500 bucks. That's a mostly-guaranteed USA model because Fender did not start producing Mexico-made guitars until 1990. Why so cheap? Because in all honesty, late-80s Strats aren't that good. In fact, most of the models from the 80s have a maximum price tag - as in a reasonable price tag - of a top price of $2,000 currently. And that's only if the guitar is in absolutely perfect condition without a single ding on it with everything in perfect working order. Otherwise, 80s Strats can be had for between $500 to $1,500 quite easily.

When I say Strats of the 80s "aren't that good", I am saying that a brand new Classic Vibe Series Squier Strat is built better in every way. Modern machining, proper fit, proper electrics, proper everything. Or if you gotta have the Fender logo, the Standard that's made in Mexico is far and above a much better guitar.

Did everything from Fender suck in the 80s?

No, not everything, but most of it. Remember that in the early 80s, Fender was owned by CBS until they decided to get out of the guitar business in 1984. There was some shuffling about until Fender got back on its feet. During that time, some really crappy guitars were made...

...with one exception. Japan-made Fender guitars on the 80s were spot-on, including the Squier "JV" series; this is why I said Fender guitars of the 80s were mostly-guaranteed to be American. Some weren't. Some even had "Made in USA" on them when they were in fact made in Japan... not that that's a bad thing, because Japan was making them better at the time.

Is it worth it to seek out a Japan-made Fender from the 80s? Not really, because like I said above, today's Squier Strats and Mexico Strats fit the bill nicely - at a much nicer price.

The 1970s

Basically put, nothing from Fender made in the 70s is cheap...

...and I honestly don't understand why.

Okay, actually that's not true. I do understand why for certain models.

For the bass guitars, yes, Fender did some of their best basses in the 70s, and there is no arguing that point.

Regular 6-string guitars on the other hand started getting a lot of cost-cutting, starting in '71 with the infamous 3-bolt neck. Along with that came bodies that were less contoured, cheaper electronics and a whole host of other cost-cutter maneuvers.

The only attraction I see in a 70s model is the larger CBS headstock. On Strats in particular, there was that headstock with the "bullet" truss rod cover, completing a very cool look.

But being you can buy a reissue brand new and built better in every way... (which by the way is the new guitar pictured at the top of this article) I just don't see the point of getting the real vintage because it would be a clunky, creaky mess, whereas the new one will be perfect.

Or better yet, if you want to save even more cash and get that total 70s look, get a new Roadhouse Strat.

And if you really want to save money, get the Squier version.

ANY one of those guitars is better than a real-deal 70s Fender Strat.

70s Strats are bad, and I'm not kidding. Get a reissue or a Roadhouse or a Squier instead. Believe me, you'll enjoy any one of those new offerings much better. You totally do not want to deal with a 70s Strat that was built on Fender's strangled budget of the time.

The 1960s

This is the last decade I'll mention, because it's the one that's still accessible to regular players. Anything from Fender made in the 1950s commands sky-high prices to the point of being totally inaccessible, so that decade isn't even worth bothering with.

Strats of the 60s: All priced too high and totally over-inflated in value. Don't bother.

Telecasters of the 60s: Same problem. Overpriced. Don't bother.

Jaguars of the 60s: Affordable. Certain models can be had for between $2,000 to $3,000.

Jazzmasters of the 60s: Also affordable. I love the Jazzmaster, but most people don't because they think it's "too complicated". They run about the same as Jags in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Sometimes they sell for less when enough potential buyers realize that no, a Jazzmaster is not the frickin' Jaguar Kurt Cobain played.

Mustangs of the 60s: This is the most affordable vintage Fender of the 60s you can get. Fender Mustangs are easy to come by and are routinely found selling for under $2,000. For a Fender built in the 60s, that's about as good as it is for a complete, working electric guitar.

To note, the Mustang did not start production until 1965. Also, A WARNING: Some Mustangs are a 3/4 scale with only a 22.5-inch scale length. Thankfully, not many of the 3/4-scale Mustangs exist (trust me, that's a good thing), but if you're entertaining the idea of buying a real-deal Fender Mustang of the 60s, check that scale length. If it's the 22.5-inch scale, you will hate it because it feels and plays like a toy guitar. The scale length to look for is 24-inch (same as the Jaguar).

Jags and Jazzes are the "safest" vintage 1960's Fenders you could buy

Strats, Teles and Mustangs had the ever-lovin' crap beat out of them. Not so with the Jaguars and Jazzmasters.

People who bought Jazzes and Jags in the 60s usually didn't beat on them, and this is why you can easily find them even to this day in near-mint or mint condition. That being the case, it's probably true the only thing you'll find wrong on either of those guitars is that the electronics will have disintegrated either a little or a lot due to age. Remember, something made in 1964 is HALF A CENTURY OLD at the time I write this. You can't expect 50-year-old guitar electronics to last that long, so it's probably true you'll have to gut the thing and have it redone.

While the Mustang is the most accessible and most affordable, if you get one, it will probably be wrecked. Jags and Jazzes on the other hand will most likely be not wrecked and only need minor restoration (with the electronics more than anything else) to get it back to tip-top shape.

Is it worth it to own the real vintage?

For some it is, but not for me.

I could, if I wanted to, order up a '67 Fender Mustang right now. As in a real one. The price is $1,400, and it's even in a color I like. But I won't buy it, nor will I ever.

I don't see "Wow... cool... vintage..." when I see that '67 Mustang. What I do see is a 47-year-old guitar that's barely playable and probably needs another $1,400 worth of work just to get it in semi-good condition.

The age of an instrument does nothing for me. And why would I bother with something 47 years old and beat to crap when Fender makes one new, as does Squier, with both being complete, working, properly-made and ready-to-rock?

Some guys are all about the vintage. If you are, that's fine. I'm not. But at least now you know which vintage Fender solid-body axes are still in the affordable range.


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