A guitar is a unique instrument. While you sit at a piano or a set of drums, you wear a guitar and that makes your choice of model a more personal thing. The look and feel of a guitar is designed to reflect your personality as well as your playing style. So if you’re looking to buy a new guitar, where do you start?
“One of the reasons you see so many vintage and old or beat up Fender guitars is because they don't break, says Executive Vice President of Fender Products, Justin Norvell. I chatted with him about the latest version of the Fender Player series and what prospective buyers should look for when buying a new guitar.
First launched in 2018, the Player Series is the first level of guitar to bear the Fender name (the beginner series is under the Squire branding). The guitars are built at Fender’s own factory in Ensenada, Mexico, which is only a short drive from the USA factory in Corona California and the technicians work closely with those in Mexico to ensure the guitars are up to standard.
For professionals, the Player series could be the backup or travel guitar that you take on the road but it has become the instrument of choice for many up-and-coming bands due to the balance of quality and price. “The Player series is the first series that embodies that whole spirit and zeitgeist. We worked really hard to find a recipe where we could straddle an affordable price with a rock solid, rock steady instrument,” says Norvell.
The Player Series
Today, Fender offers a wider range of guitar models than ever, and the Player Series is available in classic models like the Stratocaster, Telecaster and Jazzmaster, as well as newer models like the Mustang, Jaguar and Duo-Sonic. The common thread between them is the technology in their manufacturing, from the premium pick-ups to the 3D-modelled neck shapes. “It's really about making that recipe as repeatable and consistent as possible in each of these models,” says Norvell.
The series is under constant improvement though. “We're consistently upgrading what the materials are in those models to make them more like the higher-end ones. Literally every couple of years we’re combing every specification of these to make them as pro as possible,” Norvell adds.
For the 2023 models, Fender has added some new colourways to the Player Series, like the stunning Seafoam green on the new Telecaster model. These new colours are inspired by the old cars of the fifties and sixties and do give the guitars a certain retro feel. “Some guitars are known for the wood grain and their bursts and some are known for colour. The colour is a way to keep it moving and keeping fresh,” says Norvell.
A guitar for pros and beginners
While the Player series is definitely proficient enough to be used professionally, it is equally suited to beginners and intermediate players. For Fender, it was important for the Player Series to have inherent playability. “The guitar is not easy when you're starting out or when you aren't playing that much,” says Norvell. “So playability and tone are two things that we really harp on. It's gotta sound good, it's gotta look good, but it's gotta feel good, as far as the neck shape goes. And then it's gotta have nice low action.”
For beginners or those still improving their guitar technique, having a guitar that’s enjoyable to play is half the battle. And while many purists believe you should start on an acoustic, Justin professes that starting on an electric guitar is actually easier.
“In all honesty, a steel string acoustic, even a good one is much more difficult to play than an electric,” says Norvell. “As far as ergonomics and just the ability to play, even adding effects and having some distortions to the notes so they don't die immediately. I think you can get to a position of a lot more enjoyment faster with an electric guitar rather than an acoustic guitar.”
The combination of thinner strings, lower action and just an ergonomically smaller body make learning on an electric guitar a simpler prospect. Thanks to the range of effects available through modern amps, the sound is often more forgiving too.
Find the right guitar or customise it
So what else should you be looking for in a new guitar? A lot will come down to how the guitar feels in your hands – the ergonomics of the build, which can be personal. Other factors come down to the type of music you want to play. “If you enjoy heavier music and more distorted tones, I would point you towards humbucker pickups. If you like cleaner sounds, articulation and clarity, you can go more towards single coils,” says Norvell.
Leo Fender, the company’s founder was a repairman, and so to this day, Fender guitars are built to be easily repaired. This allows the guitars to have a form of modularity, where just about every part on the guitar is easy to swap and replace for other parts, allowing you to completely customize and upgrade it over a lifetime. “If you decide you want to change the pickups, nothing's more than a few screws away,” says Norvell. You get out of heavy metal and you want to get into jazz, you can totally change the guitar for that. You wanna put a chrome mirrored pick guard on it? You can do that and then you decide that's too much and you go back to something else that's more classic.”
With a starting price of £719, the Fender Player Telecaster is certainly a tempting choice. Other Player models such as the Player Duo-Sonic actually start from just £589. For me though, as an ageing Indie kid, it has to be the Tele, and Justin agrees.
“You know, the Telecaster is a very pure kind of beautiful thing,” says Norvell. “I kind of revolve, I'll be really into Strats and really into Jazz Masters. I guess it's a luxury of the job that I can take these so turns through. But right now I'm really drawn to the elegant simplicity and utilitarianism of the Telecaster.