How cheap can you go to get almost every classic Fender design?
A big decision concerning guitar buying is how a guitar looks. Does it influence my guitar purchases? You bet it does. The finish color matters to me as does the logo treatment.
On my Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster for example, that guitar just looks expensive, and even the headstock logo was done correct with the "swooshes" on either side of the logo.
My list is based on the following criteria. Each must:
- ...look like something that would have been made in the 1950's or 1960's.
- ...be under $500 USD.
- ...be instantly recognized as a classic design.
There are 5 affordable designs people can instantly recognize, given the right color combination:
- Jazz Bass
Jazzmaster is excluded because it's the Jaguar people know. I play a Jazz personally, but I know that non-musician people wouldn't recognize it as "that guitar that Kurt Cobain played", arguably the only reason anyone even recognizes a Jaguar or Mustang to begin with.
Precision Bass is excluded because the most classic P-Bass look, which is sunburst with maple fretboard, is something only Fender makes, and it's over $500 USD.
I'm not particular to the CAR finish on a Strat body, but when it comes to getting the classic Fender Strat look of the 60's, this guitar totally nails it. Even the most non-musician you know would recognize this shape in this color.
A very close runner-up is the Squier CV Strat 50s in Sunburst, as it totally looks like a vintage instrument. However, you may be put off by the fact it has a 1-ply pick guard (no black outline), which is how they did make them in the 50's. If you can get past that, that guitar truly has a classic vibe to it.
It has been said many times by many players that this is the best guitar Squier makes. And it just might be. This guitar absolutely captures everything about what a classic Telecaster is supposed to be and goes far beyond just the way it looks, as many seasoned players on a blind test mistake this guitar as an expensive Fender model.
This is a can't-go-wrong Tele. Butterscotch Blonde finish, maple fretboard, oval button style tuners, brass saddles and black pick guard totally complete the classic look.
Non-musicians recognize this shape as "the guitar Kurt Cobain played" as far as how it looks. When you want to get a recognizable Jag for cheap, you get the Squier version and specifically get the 3-tone burst finish to complete the look.
I'm going to be totally honest here. I don't like this guitar, and that's for two reasons. First, the tuner buttons are a white plastic. But even if I could deal with that, I never liked the Mustang pickup switches (which are above the pickups).
However, this is again a "guitar that looks like one Kurt Cobain played." When you compare the Squier version to the actual Cobain Mustang model, you'll see it's very close in the way it looks, which is what counts here.
One could get a Cobain-like Mustang out of a Squier just by getting a red tortoise shell Mustang pick guard that can fit a humbucker, dumping in a black Seymour Duncan JB bridge humbucker (which is what the Kobain model uses), and you've basically got it while still staying well under $500 USD.
This won't necessarily be recognized by non-musicians, but bass players will recognize it instantly. A Jazz Bass in 3-Tone burst with the tortoise shell pick guard is something a lot of famous bassists have used for a very long time.
How much for it all?
Before taxes, about $1,650 for all five guitars at the time I write this. With taxes, somewhere between $1,700 to $1,780 depending on where you live.
And yeah, this is where you really start to see the value of Squier. Four 6-string guitars and one 4-string bass, two of which are premium grade (for Squier) and three mid-grade, for less than the price of one Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster.
Remember, with the exception of the P-Bass not included, you've got all the classic Fender designs in all the most-known looks that non-musicians can recognize. Furthermore, Classic Vibe and Vintage Modified series are darned good guitars.
Do you need all these guitars?
Of course not. The point of this was just to see how much it would cost to get almost every classic Fender design, and now you know how much that is.
"I know a cheaper brand..."
You probably do, but I guarantee you that it doesn't match the headstock look. The body can be copied, but when it comes to the headstock, that's where the cheaper brands just don't match up. When you want Fender design for cheap, you go Squier and there's just no way around that.
"I can get China copies for cheaper..."
You probably can, but those guitars are absolutely awful. It's not worth it, and you run the risk of having the guitar seized at the border on shipment into the US - where by the way you lose all the cash you spent and don't get it back. Again, not worth it.