Combining unique pickup configurations with top of the line specs, the Contemporary Strat Special is a keeper.
Overview & Final Score: 7.4 out of 10
Announced earlier this year, Squier and Fender have drastically expanded their popular Contemporary Series of guitars. And it has gotten even weirder than it was before, to the delight of many. The Contemporary Stratocaster Special is a unique twist on the 3-pickup guitar that has dominated the market since its inception. While there are many noteworthy features on this sub-$500 Strat, the coolest might be the new pickup configuration that places the middle “SQR” single coil right up against the bridge pup, with all three slanted. The 5 way switching works like this:
Position 5: Neck
Position 4: Bridge + Middle + Neck
Position 3: Middle + Neck in parallel
Position 2: Middle
Position 1: Bridge + Middle in series
Other premium features of note include the inclusion of a C-shaped Roasted Maple neck with 22 Jumbo frets. For $450, that’s a pretty impressive spec. The Modern 2 point tremolo feels a long way from cheap Squier guitars I grew up with, adding a good bit of user friendliness. And if that hasn’t won you over yet, there is a sculpted neck heel for easy access to those higher frets. For those keeping track at home, the other specs of note include a poplar body with a gloss polyurethane finish, and 12″ fretboard radius.
There are very few guitars in this price range that squeeze so many unique sounds into one package. This is not a Strat in the way that you know it, but it is still a phenomenal instrument any way you cut it. The middle pickup, by itself, is such a cool sound. It’s jangly and bright, but has a bit more body than you would ever get out of another Strat middle pickup position. It sounds great with some light gain for this punk/garage rock/garage pop sound that has always been a favorite of mine. All three pickups engaged is also a strange, but useful combination that yielded some truly interesting rhythm guitar tones. I’m really anxious to record this in a mix and follow up on how it tracked alongside my other Strats.
Overall though, this is just a fun sounding instrument with a very useful and unique sonic fingerprint. This Squier is also a little bit of a blank canvas when you need it to be. It took all sorts of effects really well and can easily be turned into a much more familiar Stratocaster with some of the classic positions still available.
The Roasted Maple neck feels and looks great, providing a smooth experience up and down the neck. This is partially due to the inclusion of the neck contour, as well as the modern approach the C-shaped Strat neck they were going for. So why the slightly lower grade? The fret buzz was a real problem for me on this instrument. It wasn’t unplayable, especially in a live setting with high volume, but just jamming in my apartment, I expected way less. The fret work looks good and feels good, so it is likely a result of the truss rod needing a slight adjustment.
You would think that the somewhat elevated price of this Squier compared to others would allow for a better setup. Instead it seems they used the money to fill out the spec sheet but left a bit to be desired on the QA/QC side of things. Which isn’t a major ding on the playability, because a quick setup from a tech and you’re off to the races! But just something that will definitely keep this from being a superb score despite great tuning stability, a nice tremolo, and an awesome neck.
Finish & Construction: 8
Despite the annoying fret buzz, most everything else on the Contemporary Stratocaster Special is top notch. The finish seems to be close to flawless, certainly exceptional for the sub-$500 price point. And the inclusion of the painted headstock to match the finish is a big win in my book. It helps give the guitar a complete look and attitude that I really love. The choices of jumbo frets, Roasted Maple, and unique wiring are really carrying the weight here, and rightfully so. This is just one of the coolest Squier’s I’ve ever played and it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Otherwise, there’s no improperly installed hardware, no real pickup buzz or hiss that is out of the ordinary, or much else to complain about besides fret buzz.
All things considered, this feels like great value and a strong purchase. Squier’s Contemporary Stratocaster Special is just quirky enough that you can’t really get it anywhere else, but also effective enough that you really will want to play it in any scenario. The spec sheet also gives this a ton of amazing mod potential, as you have killer Strat bones to build around. The rest of the Contemporary line from Squier has been equally well received, so hopefully this will be expanded on further in the coming years. But if you’re looking for a Strat that is so much more than just a cheap copy, this might be the guitar for you. I think comparatively, this would outcompete a lot of Ibanez or Yamaha models in the price range in terms of feel and tone. I’d like to even through up against some of the cooler PRS SE models in the future as well. But this is getting a strong recommendation from me, Fender and Squier knocked it out of the park with this Contemporary Stratocaster Special!
Good for: Indie/Alternative Rock, Garage/Punk Rock, Pop, Stratocaster Fans, DIY Mod Projects, Players Who Want Something Quirky