I know most players would prefer an American Strat over a Mexican one, the former are supposedly of better build quality. But is this really so? What I'm trying to establish is: what would be the most economical thing to do: get a Mexican Strat and upgrade the electronics/do other mods or get an American one in the first instance? How about the same argument with the current Japanese ones?
The US models should be better - they are better quality woods and the construction and quality control standards are higher, so you are more likely to get a great guitar than with a Mexican or Japanese model - that's just simple fact.
However, some of the Mexican models (like the custom shop designed Classic Player series) are also built to high quality standards and with better components. Also, even with the cheaper models like the Standards, there will be the occasional "fluke" - where everything turns out perfect and you end up with a guitar that's on a par with the US models. So the only way to find a good guitar is get in there and play them. Ignore what's on the headstock completely and choose based on your ears and hands.
Most guitars below a certain price point will need some upgrading, and even with more expensive models, you may find that there are still one or two small things that you would want to change. About the best production guitar I have played is the Eric Johnson signature Fender, but I'd still change the pickups in it. There's nothing wrong with the stock pickups, it's just down to my personal taste. Having said that, If I were to blow even half that much money on a guitar (R27K!), I'd build one myself and have every last minor detail exactly to my specs.
A good option is to look for an early 80's Jap strat. You might be able to pick them up for about the same price as a secondhand Mexican. The guy I bought my first US Highway 1 from had one. He's is heavier than the US or Mex models, but played brilliantly. Nice neck action and awesome tone. I was really impressed, but then again, I guess it just suited my taste in music. Alan's right about finding an instrument that suites you rather than going with the sticker on the headstock.
The Mexican standard strat I built for my nephew suites him fine and he wouldn't trade it for the world. The nice thing about it was that we built it to his specs. If you're willing to build it, checkout ebay. I built my second US Highway 1 from parts of ebay and it plays brilliantly. The only part I didn't get of ebay was the pickups. I ordered those from Bill Lawrence (Amazing pickups at a decent price).
A good option is to look for an early 80's Jap strat. You might be able to pick them up for about the same price as a secondhand Mexican.
If you're really lucky - the collectors are on to the pre-'84 Jap models these days and they tend to be priced accordingly when they do pop up. But if you can find them, they are great guitars.
I guess you could look for a complete strat on ebay. Unfortunately, there aren't as many on auction as there used to be.
Yeah - they've cottoned on to the fact that it's a buyer's market with the recession, so those that can are hanging on until things improve. On the bright side - those that do get sold may go for less.
I actually like the idea of getting hold of parts and building myself one. I'll watch out for bargain parts and have a go, that should be a good learning experience. Who knows, something good might come from it. At the very least it would look great on my wall... 😉
Let me know if you need a set of tuners. I bought a set of Fender F-Logo tuners, but didn't get around to building the tele I was planning. I'll give you a good price on them. I have a few other bits and pieces that you can have. I'll check what's left tonight and let you know.
I'll watch out for bargain parts
Also check out some of the parts at Guitar Fetish
. He has some nice stuff, particularly the GFS pickups and the Wilkinson bridges. Some of the hardware is absolute crud - especially his own hardware and the electronics, but some real gems in there. DON't skimp on the neck - you'll regret it.
My nephew's MIM Strat has the Llil Killer hot rails in it and I have to say they sound really awesome. Very versatile pickups at a great price.
You know, the parts industry isn't really geared up to build cheap guitars - it's more for building better quality or upgrading cheaper guitars. I spec'ed out a few guitars yesterday and unless you find secondhand body, neck and pickups, a "cheap" but decent Strat works out about R8500 - and that's doing the finishing yourself.
Thing is, all the little stuff adds up too (see * below). While you could shave R1000 off that price by choosing really cheap parts, why bother? You'll only end up with a cheap guitar and should rather buy a Cort or something (for less!).
However, the moment you start looking at a better guitar (from about R15K) you're already into the Fender Custom shop quality range, but at about half the price, as many of those smaller parts, delivery, etc. will all stay the same. For instance, the partscaster I built ended up costing me about R14K, which has features you'd only see in a R30K instrument.
* Tuners, nut, string tree, pickguard, strap buttons, screws, pots, knobs, switch, switch cap, jack, jack plate, neck plate, wire, screening, finish, thinners, sandpaper, strings, case. Plus, don't forget delivery charges and customs charging you VAT.
My black highway 1 worked out to around R6500. The only custom/non standard parts were the pickups and the locking tuners.
So you bought body and neck secondhand?
Yip. Off ebay. I did it more for the fun of it than to build a custom guitar.