Surprisingly, this soapbar-loaded Mustang has completely filled the role of my Les Paul Junior and become a heavy favorite.
Cost: $599.99, find out more on Fender.com
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Overview & Final Score: 8.4
I have been obsessed with this guitar since it was first announced earlier this year, so this is one of my most anticipated reviews, personally, from 2020. Fender’s newest addition to their Player Series, the new Mexican-made guitar line that focuses on more modern specs and designs, the Mustang 90 is quite the sight. The Aged Natural finish, pictured above, and the Seafoam Green are just out of this world Fender colors. I choose to go Aged Natural, with a Pau Ferro fretboard atop the 24″ scale length, Maple neck with C-shape. 22 medium jumbo frets are easy and comfortable to play on the short scale monster, with a hardtail Strat bridge and standard MIM Fender tuners. The MP-90 pickups provide killer looks and versatile tones, even with the simple master volume and tone controls plus 3-way selector switch. The lightweight body is made of Alder, with a gloss Polyester finish that is not lacking in shine.
My love of Fender guitars is well known by this point, but even that bias rarely helps me find a Fender that perfectly captures the vibe and sound of my Gibson LP Junior. So when I say I’m thrilled and surprised at how these MP-90’s sound, I mean it. These pickups are mid-rich, and pack quite a bit of bark and bite. They can go from that vintage honk that Kieth Richards’ pulls from his Les Paul Junior to that biting, hissing punk sound from Johnny Thunders or Mick Jones. Better yet, when I plugged in overdrives and distortions, the neck pickup genuinely sang a lot clearer and with more sustain, than most neck pickups I’ve reviewed this year. You know I hate neck pickups, so if I’m impressed, it must sound really good.
The tones of this Mustang 90 are just so easy to shape with a good tube amp and a few overdrives, which gives it superb versatility in the right rock-centric rig. While I’m sure the Gibson P90 in my Les Paul Junior may be a tad clearer, this guitar does everything that guitar does and more for me. Better yet, it does it in what feels like a much better built package too. I’ll embed a ton of the clips I recorded with this guitar, but the sound to me is best described as fun and inspiring. It makes me want to pickup the guitar and rip through some punk power chords or solo over some improv loop.
Fender’s Player Series has been plagued by a few setup issues and this Mustang 90 is not exempt. It’s nothing major, but tuning stability took a bit of time to dial in, thanks to a questionable string tree decision. The string tree comes really low, without the normal metal expander that raises the height of your strings. This makes the last two strings sit far lower, and approach the nut at a steeper angle than the others. Bends and big downstrokes on those chords quickly put the Mustang 90 out of tune. However, this was instantly rectified by adding that metal ring to raise the strings and lubricating the nut. It’s not ideal that you have to do that to a $600 guitar out of the box, but I will say it was the only real flaw on this guitar.
Fender did a great job with the neck on this Mustang 90, with a smooth, well-finished feel up and down the fretboard. The fretwork was very solid too, with no sharp edges or fret buzz to report. Once the string tree was dealt with the tuning stability improved from average-ish to above average too.
Finish & Construction: 9
The looks are pretty hard to argue with here. Fender’s Mustang 90 is just gorgeous, especially with this aged natural finish and tortoise shell pickguard. Even if this doesn’t do it for you, the Burgundy Mist Metallic or Seafoam Green should be pretty eye catching. The finish came out great on this Player Series guitar, with no chips, cracks, or signs of laziness in the factory. I was really impressed with the Satin finish on the neck and the overall glossiness of the body. The hardware was also really well installed, with no signs of tooling marks or improperly aligned features. Sure, the decision with the string tree was weird, but I ragged on that enough already and the fact of the matter is that every other part of this guitar feels closer to a USA-made Fender than not. The Fender Mustang 90 is just a well built guitar.
For awhile now, Fender’s Mexican-made guitars have been one of the best values on the market. This Mustang 90 doesn’t break that trend at all, providing awesome looks and sounds for a price that is starting to look a lot more entry level than it did when I was a kid. As guitar prices rise, the $500-600 level of MIM Fender stuff continues to be a great value and stands the test of time. Now I’m obviously stating more opinion than fact here, but this gets extra value points because it is the affordable LP Junior I always wanted. It’s a resonant hunk of wood with a buzzsaw-sounding P90 in the bridge. The shorter scale feels great too, and is now something I personally think I’m going to be looking for more and more. Fender killed it with this one, something they’ve been doing all year with through the Player and Paranormal series guitars. I’d argue this is probably my favorite Fender of 2020, even if it isn’t a picture perfect guitar out of the box.
Good for: Punk Rock, Classic Rock, Players With Small Hands, Les Paul Junior Fans, Versatile Players, Any Mustang/Shortscale Fender Fan
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