Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special Review and Demo

Combining unique pickup configurations with top of the line specs, the Contemporary Strat Special is a keeper.

Cost: $449.99 from Sweetwater, Fender.com, Amazon.com, and Reverb.com (some affiliate links)

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.

Sound: 7

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.

Playability: 6.5

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.

Value: 8

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

Published by Matt Dunn

Guitar and music journalist for Ultimate-Guitar.com and Guitarsforidiots.com as well as a contributor for Guitarniche.com and Stringjoy.com. Reach out to talk about guitars, commission a partscaster, or ask for a review.

8 thoughts on “Squier Contemporary Stratocaster Special Review and Demo

  1. I found out these were gonna be among the new lineup for 2021 and, after waiting and waiting, bought one as soon as they were available. I got the white hardtail version of the one you show here. Surprisingly, I also have had TERRIBLE problems with fret buzz. Attempting to avoid buzz coupled with the fact that I don’t typically use a tremolo often was my main reason for getting the hardtail to begin with. Even after setup, re setup, fret leveling and polish and still, more setup. None of which helped enough to have been worth the effort. Truss rod adjustments don’t seem to help. Even in steady humidity, the tuning of all six strings will change in less than 24 hours. The tuning does seem to change somewhat consistently across all 6 strings which makes me wonder if something is possibly awry with the “roasting” process or something along that line. I’m still not 100% convinced that the neck is actually fully and legitimately roasted as opposed to some type of brown finish being applied and baked on for a short period. I could be wrong but, you and myself are not the only ones that I’ve heard complain about significant fret buzz with these new models. The only other real complaint I have, as if that weren’t enough, is concerning the saddles. They are thin and due two the distance the frets are above the body surface, the saddles must be set quite high. This leaves them to rest on the spindley little set screws which are extended too far and therefore cause the saddles to be wobbly. Had the neck heel been thinner, the neck pocket cut deeper or the saddles thicker, this would likely help considerably. This has been a waste of money and a great disappointment to me. Especially since I’ve been a Fender player and lover all my playing life which began around 1977. Ultimately, it seems like a missed opportunity. Although it won’t help the guitars suffering from buzz that have and will be sold in the meantime, hopefully the cause of these issues will be identified and resolved soon. Thanks for the review and, thanks to those who took the time to read my rant.


    1. I have to agree 100% with your experience with the white hardtail contemporary model. I’ve been playing for 30+ years and I too prefer a hardtail bridge on a Strat style guitar for the same reasons. When I saw the specs on this model Squier contemporary Strat I was intrigued for the price and I ordered the guitar from a popular online music store and followed the instructions of letting the guitar acclimate to the room for 24 hours before playing it. After playing it for the first day it seemed great and I gave the guitar a rave review taking into account the price, but the next day there was a lot of fret buzzing on the 5th and 6th strings, especially on the frets towards the top of the neck. The guitar fretboard just felt off while playing and I started thinking that I just bought guitar with lemon neck. One of the things that I did notice upon closer inspection was that the nut on the neck didn’t look like it was installed with precision and some of the string grooves looked a tad sloppy. The 5th and 6th strings look like they sit a little too deep in the nut grooves. Since the guitar came with gauge 9 strings, I decided to try a set of gauge 10 strings on it, and that practically solved the fret buzz with the 5th string and improved the fret buzz on the 6th string, but not 100%. Maybe with a trip to a guitar shop for a full setup and possibly a new nut, the guitar might be salvageable, but I have my doubts. I too have to wonder about the “roasted maple” neck for the street price of the guitar model. I know roasted wood necks are supposed to produce a more stable neck, but there are other features that contribute to a highly stable guitar neck like laminated wood composites and embedded graphite carbon rods and I doubt there are any graphite support rods in this guitar’s neck! And on top of the fret buzzing issue with this guitar I purchased, I don’t care for the sound produced by the SQR Alnico single coil pickups in this guitar. Hard to describe, but they sort have a “fuzz box” sound to them, and the seem to amplify the fret buzz even more! I had ultimately expected to replace the stock pickups on the guitar, but now because of the fret buzzing and neck quality concerns, I don’t really want to throw $300 worth of guitar pickups into this thing.


      1. I have not tried 10gauge strings yet. However, I happen to have a set and after reading your post, I’m gonna put them on tomorrow and see if that helps at all. I also agree with you about the stability, or lack of, on these necks. Stratosphere guitars parts buys while guitars and takes them apart then sells the bodies, necks, pickguards, etc individually. I’ve noticed since these models came out, Stratosphere has them for sale. They sell these particular necks for around $150 + or – when I last checked. I had thought about buying one to try but too many people seem to be having similar issues and I feel like it would just be a waste of money to buy another one. I also don’t care for the sound of the pickups but, I didn’t like the way they looked in the pictures and had planned on buying an HSS pickguard and, like you mentioned, changing them over. I found out the the cutout in the pickguard is different from both the standard and Floyd Rose strat pickguards and, at least one of the mounting screw holes on either side of the bridge is off as well. Some modification has to be done to get another pickguard to fit. I hate to lose a lot of money on a new guitar and I would hate to put the problem off on someone else. I’ve just kept in hanging in a stand so far as a very expensive and painful reminder. I have considered buying a Squier Classic Vibe neck to put on it and putting in the work required to fit a new pickguard, buying a generic version of a Hipshot hardtail from Amazon. If I do all that plus decent pickups, I’ll have at least$750 invested. I could have bought a new MIM Strat, a Nick Johnston Schecter or one of several other highly rated guitars for just another $100 or so. This has really been heartbreaking but, live and learn, I guess. I’m definitely soured on all things Fender. At least for the foreseable future. Good luck in whatever you decide to do with yours.


  2. La mia fortunatamente non fa alcun rumore strano, né brusio né ronzii.. ottima l’accordatura e manico molto comodo


  3. I just played one of these today for the first time. First off, while I have owned a couple, I am not really a Strat guy at all, and rarely even bother to pick them up anymore… but damn! This guitar rocks! To me it seemed to retain all the Strat tones that are actually useable, fixed a few of the less usable tones, and throws in a decent humbucker tone to boot. Add in the hardtail and regular cable jack and you’ve got all the Strat charm with most of the anoying bits corrected… once I move that volume down it will be almost perfect. First Strat I’ve ever liked for anything more than some charecter tones on recordings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s incredibly unique, but also very user friendly for sure. I think they did a great job making a Strat for more than just Strat enthusiasts and traditionalists, which is very much in the spirit of Leo Fender


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