My dream and ambition since day 1 of playing guitar was to own a Strat. A decade into my session career, I went through many of them, from the most affordable Squire to the finest reliced US Strat. Yet, the Strat that surprised me the most, and the only one I ever bought off a guitar store wall, is the Fender Vintage Series 70s Stratocaster.
Arguably the best modern reissue of a classic Stratocaster that doesn’t cost a fortune, I stumbled upon it by chance and couldn’t resist writing my story after it changed my perspective on MIM Fenders.
Bottom Line Up-Front: The era when Made-In-Mexico Fenders were not a quality purchase is gone. Like many, I was once a US-made purist, yet that changed as Fender improved at offering mid-range instruments, and series like the Vintera released exceptional recreation of vintage instruments at a reasonable price.
The icon of the era when rock tones started to become aggressive, the Vintera 70s Strat is unique in many ways due to its faithful recreation of what some consider Fender’s ‘worst’ decade.
Right Place At The Right Time
It was the summer of 2020, and my band was opening for John Steel’s Animals. As excited and scared as I was to open for the first time for a legendary band, I went to get the most expensive set of Elixir strings in Town. The rumor was they never broke, so I had to put them on my Mexican Standard Strat.
The new Fender Vintera series on the wall immediately caught my attention, and as you figured by now, I left the shop with more than a set of strings.
I was looking for a new guitar, and I already owned a MIM strat, yet I ended up purchasing the Vintera 70s Fender I put my eyes on. It not only looked like it was from the era with the big headstock design and played great, but it sounded the opposite of the Strat I owned; therefore, I had to get it before someone else did.
This was my first time buying a brand-new guitar from a guitar store. Nobody believes me when I say I owned 30+ guitars, but I only ever bought one from a music store. All instruments find their way to me, friend after friend, and others from online adverts. I know a guy who sells a good Strat is something you often hear when you hang around too many guitar players!
Four years later, I’m glad I picked this guitar up from the shop. Out of all the Vintera series guitars, it’s the only model that features an Ash body and is thus discontinued due to tonewood restrictions. It’s special even in its series and enjoys a few qualities, which I’ll get on later, that make it great for playing with a band.
I have used it extensively for playing live and never had to replace any part to make it more reliable or easier to play. It does use budget-friendly hardware, yet it’s exceptional for recreating classic tones. In my experience, it is the most similar you can get to the mainline for the price.
About The Vintera Series
The Vintera Fender series rightly goes under the slogan vintage style for a modern era. To pay tribute to the golden models of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the guitars bring back period-correct specs and designs at around the 1000$ mark – more expensive than your average MIM strat but far less costly than the actual vintage.
Fender promises it did its best to stay true to everything vintage, from the wiring to neck shapes, with a few modern elements added to the mix. With no way of getting into the electronics and counting the coil wraps, I’m satisfied with what I hear and how the guitar feels. Fortunately enough, you can pick up 6 modified versions of the guitars with more modern features if the 21 vintage replicas feel too ‘old’ for you.
If you ask all the big vintage guitar geeks in the business, all will agree on one thing, the 70s were not Fender’s Best year, and neither Gibson’s, for that matter. That might have been the case for the actual vintage instruments of the era, yet this remake didn’t share the ‘flaws’ as it was based not on the average review of the decade but on one good classic model, like all other Vintera guitars.
Fender Vintage 70s Pros
- Authentic vintage design
- Lightweight and easy to play
- Articulate bright and glassy tone
- Stable tuning and intonation
- Great tonewood combination and craftsmanship
- It can quickly turn into a jack-of-all-trades replacing only the bridge pickups.
Fender Vintage 70s Cons
- You can only find them used or wait until they are back in production
- More sustain than the 50s and 60s era Strats, but still not much
- The pickups can’t handle a lot of gain
The Vintera Fresh Looks
The first thing you notice on the guitar is an oversized headstock typical of the late 60s and 70s Fender guitars. If you don’t know much about vintage instruments, you’ll probably recognize Hendrix’s guitar had a similarly sized oversized headstock.
The best word I can use to describe the looks is vivid, with all the typical details you look for in a Fender and a glossy finish to tell it apart from far away. I don’t usually go for shiny guitars; however, the colors it highlights are natural and appealing.
Unlike the 50s and 60s models, my Vintera Strat has a bullet truss rod, 70s-style tuners, and three-bolt neck joint patterns instead of four. Some find them goofy and less elegant than the golden early 60s Fenders. I do agree that the Fender beauty standard is that early 60s era, yet it’s good to depart from the standard look from time to time.
This guitar’s most prominent advantage over other MIM Strats is the authentic, bright tone with a percussive-pleasing string attack. It sounds just as Strats do in classic records and cuts through the mix of any band exceptionally well. The pickup guru Tim Shaw helped design them to be as authentic to the period as possible.
The pickups have no stagger and are flat, which is why the 70s Vintera sounds distinct compared to the other low-output sets of the 50s or 60s Vintera Strats. They’re not as hot as P90s and probably not as hot as modern Strats sets.
All three pickups are well-balanced, with the neck pickup sounding the best overall. It is woody with a lot of meat, yet it never goes too bassy. You can use it for funky Neil Rodgers grooves or Hendrix rhythm chops. If you blend in some warm tube distortion and know how to play with the volume and tone knobs, you will get that pleasing at the edge of breakup tone all dynamic players want.
Simply put, the pickups respond exceptionally well to the touch, and you can get a crisp, clean, or distorted power with the same tone settings depending on how strong you play.
One of the few things I don’t like tone-wise is the lack of sustain that’s shared by even the best single coils. The bigger headstock doesn’t help with it, and I generally avoid playing this guitar in the studio for intense rock solos. I could never get the David Gilmour long bends to ring out that well without adding some compression or delay.
The 4th position, though, where it blends with the neck pickup, is just as good as the neck, delivering the beloved bell-like cleans. They sound more compressed and rounded than the 50s and 60s Strats, yet not as much as to make them sound too plain, like on hotter humbuckers.
The bridge pickup is good at being crunchy and goes up where AC DC fans will be happy to shred and rock out on power riffs. More distortion than that, and the guitar starts cranking. I suspect, though, that if the bridge pickup had more sustain, It would not be as good for playing other styles. Experimental tones, mainly when used on pop songs, require clear note separation and brightness that hotter pickups usually lack.
With these in mind, it could be a good honky country guitar, rock n’ roll axe, and modern companion, but not a great jack-of-all-trades unless you replace it with a single-coil-shaped humbucker. I choose not to do that as I only reserve the guitar for handling pop, blues, funk, and occasional classic rock.
Everything feels in its right place and doesn’t need fixing – a good setup, and it’s ready to play.
Keep in mind that it’s only made a few hundred miles south of the main Fender factory and falls outside the
I always test a guitar’s built quality by running my hand through the edge of frets and feeling for imperfections and then stress-testing the tuning. The first was an easy pass. For the second, I did not abuse it with dive bombs and neck dives; however, it passed the test flawlessly by staying in perfect tune through a one-hour prog rock set of 1 and half-step bends.
For the rest, I’m keener on experimenting with a guitar with a Floyd Rose bridge and locking system.
The Parts & Tonewoods
The Tonewoods are the highlights of the instrument. It’s the only guitar of the series that uses an Ash body, true to its vintage legacy. Combined with a Maple neck and Pao Ferro fingerboard, it adds both to the aesthetic, weight, and sound.
The 6-point tremolo, tuners, and nut are almost at the level of a US Standard. They might not have that extra reliability of premium hardware but will do well in most situations. If you play gigs, you will only feel let down if you’re playing huge venues or recording in a big studio.
There’s almost nothing to the guitar when you pick it up. I love light guitars, and being able to pick the Strat off the wall with no struggle was the first green light to buy it. I get tired of holding a heavy Les Pauls and am guilty of selling a great one only cause It tired my shoulder carrying it with a strap.
If you like a good Stratocaster, you will appreciate how this guitar feels and plays. I’m a vintage Strat fan, yet I prefer the C-shaped tapered modern neck of the 70s reissue compared to the 50s one. It’s a large thin neck, yet not as much as to be an issue for players with small hands. Just chunky enough to fill the hand.
Compared to my relatively small C-neck Mexican Standard the Vintera 70s Strat feels more like a US-made guitar on the hands.
Fender Vintera Alternatives
I focused most of my attention on the Vintera series, but now I want to leave space for other guitars. All three alternatives in the list are guitars that always reminded me of my Vintera Strat – some for obvious reasons, others just from a familiar tone color.
If the Vintera is the MIM counterpart of the American Original, and the Player series is the affordable version of American Pro.
The guitar goes head-to-head with the Vintera 70s but is more of a do-it-all versatile guitar with 22 frets and hotter pickups. If you want something to play a bit of everything, are not very picky on vintage gear, or are passionate about hot-rodding guitars, the Fender Player Strat is perfect for you.
As my readers know, I always include a PRS in my alternative sections. A PRS can be a makeshift Stratocaster when it wants to, and also much more. Also, the quality and value of the guitars is unbeatable, as If Paul Reed Smith was to inspect them personally.
I choose a Hollowbody model from the affordable SE series on purpose. If you’re a Strat fan and considering buying now, you should know that there are models like this PRS that nail clean and crunchy tones but handle more gain.
Charvel is the modern king of versatile guitars. The Charvel Pro is a Stratocaster on steroids, perfect for technical players that want superb playability and more gain. It costs a few hundred dollars more than the average Vintera Strat, but it’s a much wiser choice for players, rock guitarists, or proggers.
Can We Safely Say Mexican Fenders are “Safe” To Buy?
After trying all the mainstream Mexican Fender models I could get my hands on, I’m convinced the Player and Vintera series are the best MIM series. It all falls down to consistency, better quality control, and a new business strategy.
With previous MIM guitars, you either had excellent value for the money or were left with a guitar that needed a few extra hundred dollars of mods to be playable. I was lucky with my 2007 Mexican Standard, yet friends of mine have the same model that sounds and plays nothing like mine, even with a great setup.
Another reason is versatility and availability. All their most popular vintage guitars, both acoustic and electric, offset or straight classic, have had a reissue made in one of the series. They can be great for beginners and intermediate players, but not only for them.
There’s a pattern Fender has been following in recent years that started around 2017 with a shift towards beginners and intermediate layers. Their lesson platform, Fender Play, which I have heavily reviewed, and their best budget guitars all came about the same time, with often a subscription to the first being offered with every new guitar.
Question: What’s Special About Tim Shaw Designed Pickups?
Answer: Tim Shaw is Fender’s chief engineer responsible for the pickup design of the new Fender American Professional series and Gibson humbuckers from the 80s that became famous for offering PAF tone at a fraction of the price.
Question: What’s The Difference in Tone Between Vintera 50s, 60s, and 70s Strats?
Answer: Putting them in perspective, the 50s Strat is brighter and more mellow, the 60s have more mid-range, while the 70s Strats take the mid-range to the other level making the guitar sound more aggressive.
Considering how music genres evolved in these three decades, with the guitar gradually shifting from a rhythm to a lead instrument, it’s expected that the sound became more present and mid-rangy. The pickups of the three different guitars reflect precisely this in the design.
Question: What Happened to Fender in the 70s?
Answer: The 70s is regarded as a “bad” period for Fender as Leo Fender withdrew from the company, and CBS eventually bought it. This is why the period is often considered the “CBS era” of Fender. During that time, the company made multiple design changes to the guitars that waned the brand’s popularity as players felt they “were not at the same level as before.”
So, Should You Go After A Vintera Fender?
It all depends on your budget and taste for vintage tones. If you are sure about the second but can’t spend a fortune, the Vintera series is perfect for you. Another great reason to go for an affordable Strats is when you don’t use it as a first guitar but occasionally need its particular vintage tone, which the series is so good at recreating.
My 70s Vintera might not do everything at the level of a US model, but it’s a solid second-best I’m glad I got when I could. One thing that’s for sure is that you haven’t missed the window on getting a quality MIM guitar and have far more options today than ever.
Judging by the improvements, this decade could well turn out to be the “MIM golden years,” just like the early 60s were US Fender’s best ones.
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