American Special Stratocaster vs. Squier Vintage Modified '70s Stratocaster
Black-on-black with maple fretboard is a thing right now.
I'm looking around Fender's latest offerings for Strats, and I see this black-on-black with maple fretboard limited run American Special that looks almost identical to my Squier VM '70s Strat, also in black-on-black with maple fretboard.
Are the two guitars drastically different from each other? Yes and no.
The Fender has a body made of alder with a full profile while the Squier is basswood with a slim profile. However, both guitars have the same gloss black finish with urethane coating.
The Fender has a 22 fret neck with jumbo frets while the Squier has a 21-fret with medium jumbo. Both guitars have two string trees. On the Fender are the "t-roller" trees while the Squier has "wing" trees. The Squier has slotted vintage-style tuners while the Fender has sealed tuners, which by the way are the standard non-locking type.
On the back of the neck, the Fender has a satin urethane finish while the Squier has gloss. The Squier has a neck color tint all around while the Fender does not. On the front of the neck, the fingerboard radius is 9.5-inch on both guitars. The nut width is 1.685-inch on the Fender and 1.650-inch on the Squier.
The Fender has a Texas Special pickup set, and those have AlNiCo V magnets in them. However, the way things are wired are different than usual. The specs state that Tone 1 (the "top" tone control) is wired to the neck pickup, and Tone 2 is wired to the bridge pickup.
Also in the Fender is what they call a Greasebucket Tone Circuit; what that does is roll of high frequencies without adding in any bass. Not everyone loves that circuit, but not everyone hates it either.
The Squier has Duncan Designed pickups that do have AlNiCo V magnets in them.
The Squier also has standard Strat wiring. Tone 1 is wired to the neck pickup and Tone 2 wired to the middle pickup. No special circuitry is present.
The bridge and bridge saddles are the same in both guitars, but the Fender has a larger tremolo block while the Squier has a skinny one; this is due to the slimmer profile of the Squier Strat's body shape.
Both guitars have a 3-ply black/white/black pick guard and standard strap buttons.
On the Fender, a small "ORIGINAL Contour Body PATENTED" decal after "STRATOCASTER" on the headstock is present; the Squier does not have that.
The Fender is USA-built while the Squier is Indonesian-built.
Which guitar is better?
It all boils down to what you're willing to pay for.
The Fender American Special Strat is $300 less than the American Standard, and with the Special you get the cool large pegboard with the oh-so awesome "swoop" STRATOCASTER logo. And in fact, I prefer the Special over the Standard. If I were to put down the money for a USA-made Strat, it would be the Special, no question about it. If I should happen to win the lottery while the Special is still in production, I'd be happy to order one.
I do not like those Fender sealed tuners and don't like 22-fret necks either. I suppose I could just deal with it as I'm sure it's a great player, but this is where I give Squier the nod as it has the vintage slotted tuners and 21-fret neck that I prefer.
It's for these reasons I don't consider the Squier a "downgrade" in any way. You're not getting any less of a guitar (other than less in price) with the VM '70s model.
These two guitars are not identical to each other. They may look very similar, but the electronics are different as are the neck finishes, fret wire size, number of frets, nut width and a few other things noted above.
The only thing that is true about both guitars is that it's very unlikely either will be seen in a guitar store. I had to order my VM '70s just to get it, and the same will probably be true for the Special.
All that matters in the end is how much you want to spend. And know that you save money with either guitar. With the Special, it's $300 less compared to a American Standard. With the Squier, it's about $130 cheaper than a Classic Vibe '50s.