This guitar won me over the minute I saw it, and it still exceeded expectations.
Cost: $599.99, find your own Lead III on Reverb.com!
Overview & Final Score: 8.5
One of Fender’s best reveals at Winter NAMM 2020 had to be the metallic purple Player Series Lead III. A remake of the original Lead Series that was produced from 1979 until 1982, Fender unveiled only the II and III versions, the dual single coil and dual humbucker designs. This stunning HH model features a smaller, double cut take on the Strat shape. A more modern C-shaped profile is a paired to a 9.5″ fingerboard radius to give the neck a real 21st century feel despite the vintage origins. A hard tail bridge replaces the classic Strat-style tremolo, and 22 medium-jumbo frets grace the neck.
Two overwound alnico humbuckers can each be split by the second of two 3-way switches. The first is a traditional 3-way selector that lets you go between the neck, bridge, and both configurations. The 1st and 3rd positions of the coil split switch give you either the neck or bridge split, with the middle selection turning the split off. A black pickguard contrasts the low-key sparkling purple gloss polyester finish incredibly well. An Alder body sits beneath the Maple neck and Pau Ferro fretboard giving you a lightweight, and familiar feeling six string.
I think the best part of the Lead III has to be the tonal versatility. The dual humbuckers are overwound and incredibly crunchy. Plugged right into my Vox AC15 it took a matter of seconds to find huge, overdriven tones without any pedals involved. The bridge is hot, but never felt too hot or icepick-like despite boasting some big treble. The neck had an almost Les Paul neck pickup feel to it, just with less sustain, but all the volume and richness. The Lead III is definitely better suited for players in the rock spectrum, with punk/garage/low-fi sounds just pouring out of this purple beast. In a lot of ways, this is a very non-Fender guitar, as it works better as a fuzzed out electric guitar than a chiming, crystal clear Strat/Tele.
The coil splits add an interesting dimension. They lead to a drop off in volume fairly noticeably, which made me knock a few points off. On the other hand, it completely changes the dual humbucking guitar into a far more Fender-like guitar. While it doesn’t have the clear bell tones like I mentioned above, it really captures that great percussive, snappy single coil tone. Despite having less definition, it was really easy to go from buzz saw riffs to atmospheric rhythm tones in seconds. The versatility is really impressive, and just fun to play with. It’s certainly not going to give you the crystal clear tones you may expect from a Fender, but it will be a lot more fun than your average Tele.
The back of the neck on the Lead III is very comfortable, no doubt about that. Where it lost me was the fret edges were a lot rougher than I expected. It felt a lot more like a Squier Affinity Series fret job than a Player Series fret job, which was pretty disappointing. On the other hand, pretty much every other feature was excellent to Fender’s credit. The tuning stability was awesome, and the hardtail bridge looks and works great. The tuning machines on these Mexican Fenders have always impressed me, with my longtime go-to HSS Strat barely ever needing a retune. The modern neck is sleek, thin, and fast giving the Lead III a very inviting presence on my guitar rack. While the fretwork may need a touch up either by you or a professional, everything else should be set to impress you.
Finish & Construction: 9
When it comes to looks, the Lead III is not lacking in any departments. The metallic purple finish is just stunning and definitely has gotten the attention of everyone who has walked past it. The smaller body shape is both familiar and just quirky enough to make you want one. Aside from the fret edges, which was annoying, it seems everything else was really well put together and constructed. I loved the look of the hardtail bridge, and the decision to place the two toggle switches where they are was genius, as it makes them super easy to access while playing. I would say the Lead III is certainly gig ready right now as is, though I will definitely be doing some fretwork before taking it out of the house.
For about $600, the Fender Lead III is a nice balance between affordable enough to buy on a whim but expensive enough to retain reliable quality. That’s a tough line to walk, with a lot of these vintage reissues either priced too high to be enjoyed by the mass public or too poorly made to really be fun. The Lead III is incredibly versatile, lightweight, comfortable, and a little weird, which are some of the best features you can find in a production run guitar. I also have to give Fender credit for making this part of their Player (MIM) Series, as those Mexican guitars have a long history of high quality, low prices, and loyal fans. As one of those fans myself, I’m super impressed with the Lead III and cannot wait to make it a permanent part of my rig in the future.
Good for: Indie Rock, Garage Rock, Players Looking For A Versatile Guitar, Vintage Guitar Lovers
Per usual, demos will be up on Instagram soon and the UG review will be right behind them!