The best guitars to buy in 2023: 12 best S-style guitars

Looking for a vintage-styled Strat or a sleek shredder? We’ve got you covered.

Best Stratocaster Style Guitars To Buy in 2022
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Stylish contours, three single-coils and an elegant six-in-line headstock: these elements help make the Fender Stratocaster the most recognisable electric guitar in music history.

Since the first Strat rolled out of the factory in 1954, the model has been refined, redesigned and re-engineered endlessly, on top of inspiring a legion of inspired models adding subtle twists to the formula or reimagining the shape entirely.

What to look for when buying a Stratocaster or S-type guitar

There are a few key terms that’ll be thrown around the world of S-types. Firstly, HSS and SSS – this refers to the pickup configuration, with HSS referring to a humbucker in the bridge and single-coils in the neck and middle position. SSS, as you might have guessed, refers to three single-coil pickups. Other configurations such as HSH and HH do pop up in the world of S-types, but when it comes to traditionally-styled, overtly Fender-inspired instruments, HSS and SSS are definitely more common.

Dual-humbucker configurations are also oft-seen in the world of stripped-back rock and metal-focused S-types. These often won’t let you get what’s considered a ‘traditional’ Stratocaster sound, so be aware of that if you want a guitar that does it all.

Some guitars have the option to split their humbuckers for a more overtly Strat-esque sound – this, as the name implies, involves taking signal from only one of the coils of the humbucker, leading to a spankier sound and negating the pickup’s hum-cancelling abilities. Results vary, and those with discerning taste will claim that a split humbucker will never sound as good and punchy as a true single-coil – but, it’s all down to preference.

Another specification that’s important to keep in mind when looking at any guitar purchase – but especially S-type guitars – is fretboard radius. This can confuse beginners, and get lost in a slew of measurements and specs, but it’s crucial to knowing how a guitar feels.

A good way to visualise this is to imagine a guitar’s fret extending out of the sides of the fretboard, keeping the same curvature and forming a circle. The radius of that circle is what “fretboard radius” refers to – a smaller radius means a more curved fretboard, and a larger radius means a flatter ‘board.

The earliest Stratocasters had 7.25-inch fretboards, while more modern-spec’d instruments can have ‘boards as flat as 12 or 14 inches. Is one better than the other? No, but again it’s down to personal preference and playing style. A more curved fretboard is often said to feel more welcoming when fretting open chords towards the lower frets, while a flatter radius is said to make bending and fast runs easier, especially beyond the 12th fret and with a lower string height.

The Strat-inspired body shape is one of the most common guitar shapes out there. To prevent this list reaching the same word-count as War And Peace, we’ve aimed to offer an overview of great options for a spectrum of budgets, and of playing styles – so if we’ve missed one of your favourites, know it wasn’t out of spite.

The Best S-types to buy in 2023 at a glance:

  • G&L Tribute Comanche
  • Sire Larry Carlton S7FM TBL
  • Fender Player Plus Stratocaster HSS
  • Squier Classic Vibe 60s Stratocaster
  • Jackson JS11 Dinky AH BLK
  • Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E
  • Fender JV Modified Stratocaster
  • Yamaha Pacifica 112V
  • American Original 60s Strat
  • Friedman Vintage S
  • PRS SE Silver Sky
  • Ibanez AZ2204-HRM

G&L Tribute Comanche

G&L Tribute Comanche

+ Unique (and excellent) pickups
+ Leo Fender-designed authenticity
– Z-Coils might be too non-traditional for some.

G&L is the brand that Leo Fender, along with George Fullerton and Dale Hyatt, started after leaving Fender. So, the designs certainly have some pedigree, and the Comanche shape is no exception: the silhouette is the classic S-shape, and there are some standard Stratocaster-like features, but it’s got a lot of little G&L touches that set the guitar apart from the crowd.

The most obvious difference is the three pickups, which are the unique Z-Coil design – these are split single-coils as you might find in a P-bass, only adjusted for six-string operation. They still offer an articulate single-coil sound, but due to the split-coil design, they’re naturally hum-cancelling – think of it like having the top bobbin of your humbucker across just three strings, and the bottom bobbin across the other three.

Other features include Leo Fender’s dual-fulcrum G&L vibrato bridge, and a unique set of controls to match the pickups: there’s a five-way blade switch alongside volume, treble and bass controls, as well as a push/pull expander on treble pot which allows additional pickup combinations of neck and bridge or all three pickups together

The Tribute series is also excellent value for money, landing (depending on your choice of fretboard wood) just above or below half a grand.

Price: £449.00 / $699.99
Build: Mahogany body, bolt-on maple neck, Brazilian cherry or maple fingerboard
Hardware: G&L Dual-Fulcrum vibrato
Electronics: Three Z-Coil split-coils, 5-position pickup selector, volume, treble, bass push/pull treble pot for additional pickup combinations
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Sire Larry Carlton S7FM TBL

Sire Larry Carlton S7FM TBL

+ Lots of premium specs for a low price
+ Excellent neck
– “Premium” aesthetics maybe too busy for some

Sire’s collaboration with legendary guitarist Larry Carlton netted a number of interesting and affordable models, but for this lists’ purposes the most interesting is the S7 FM. Here, the pickup combination is HSS, letting you get pretty raucous with the overdriven sounds if you

The impressive thing here is the price – the guitar looks like it could cost three times as much as it does, with a tasteful flamed maple top and roasted maple neck and fretboard, as well as staggered locking tuners. That’s a lot of guitar for £499.

In terms of playing experience, the 9.5-inch radius fretboard should please all camps – this isn’t a true-to-vintage super-rounded 7.5-inch radius, nor is it a compound shredder’s radius. However, if you do want to get your widdly-widdly-woos on, the sleekly thinned-out neck joint should let you shred away with abandon across all 22 frets.

Price: £499 / $659
Build: Double-cutaway alder body with flamed maple veneer, bolt-on roasted maple neck with 9.5” radius roasted maple fingerboard, dot inlays, 22 medium jumbo frets and bone nut
Hardware: Two-post vibrato bridge, staggered-height locking tuners
Electronics: Sire Super-ST pickup set (bridge humbucker and 2x single-coils), master volume and tone, five-way pickup switch
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Fender Player Plus Stratocaster HSS

Fender Player Plus Stratocaster HSS

+ Supremely modern specs
+ Hum-free single-coils
– Not for the vintage-purist

Fender’s Player Plus range landed late last year, featuring a smorgasbord of modern updates to its classic designs. In the S-style camp, the most notable is the HSS Stratocaster, which features a newly-designed wide range humbucker in the bridge position for punchy distorted tones, as well as noiseless single-coils in the middle and neck.

It’s not a Fender Strat for the vintage purist – the fretboard radius is a rather flat 12 inches, and for some, the cleanliness of noiseless single coils is anathema to the appeal of a Strat. However, for those who are happy to embrace modern specifications, the Player Plus Stratocaster HSS offers a lot of welcome updates to the formula – the neck carve is consistently slim and comfy, with rolled fretboard edges to present minimum interference with your playing. The modern two-point vibrato and locking tuners are a nice touch too, helping keep things stable throughout the most judicious of wobbling.

Price: £979 / $1,129.99
Build: Contoured alder body, bolt-on maple neck with 12” radius pau ferro fretboard, 22 medium-jumbo frets, synthetic bone nut
Hardware: 2-point six-saddle vibrato, Fender rear-locking tuners
Electronics: Player Plus humbucker (bridge) and Noiseless Strat pickups (middle and neck), five-way blade selector switch, volume, tone (middle and neck), push/pull bridge tone (coil split)
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Squier Classic Vibe 60s Stratocaster

Squier Classic Vibe 60s Stratocaster

+ Affordable take on the old-school strat
+ No-nonsense, tried-and-true design
– Some comprises for price

So that’s a Strat for the modern-inclined, but what about those who want a no-nonsense take on the vintage Strat formula? Well, Squier’s excellent Classic Vibe range is here for you. The Classic Vibe 60s Stratocaster doesn’t offer anything massively groundbreaking, but hey, if it ain’t broke…

The three alnico single-coils are no massive compromise compared to their pricier Fender equivalents, and the overall faithful construction is hard to beat at this price range. The fretboard radius is a comfy 9.5 inches, with a laurel fretboard – one of the best affordable rosewood alternatives.

Price: £339 / $459.99
Build: Nato body, maple neck, laurel fretboard, 21 vintage tall frets
Hardware: VIntage-style tuners and Stratocaster vibrato
Electronics: 5-way blade switch, 3 Fender-designed alnico single-coils, one volume, two tone controls.
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

American Original 60s Strat

American Original 60s Strat

+ No-holds barred premium take on the old-school Strat
+ Round-laminated boards are rare
– Pricey

If you’ve got a bit more than Squier money burning a hole in your pocket, the American Original 60s Stratocaster is the most reliably authentic and top-of-the-line take on a vintage Stratocaster this side of the Fender Custom Shop.

The Alder body, bolt-on thick-C maple neck and Rosewood fretboard are all carved to vintage specs, with the fretboard being round-laminated rather than slab-laminated. What’s the difference? It’s down to how the fretboard is joined to the neck. The bottom of a round-laminated board is curved to a similar radius on the top and the bottom, with the top of the maple neck carved to accommodate this curve. Slab-laminated is when the bottom of the fretboard and the top of the neck are simply flat planes, glued together. Does it make a difference? Well, some swear by round-laminated ‘boards, and if that’s the attention-to-detail you need, the American Original Strat has your back.

Electronics here are a trio of Pure Vintage ‘65 Gray-Bottom Single-Coil Stratocaster pickups, wax-potted to prevent microphonics and voiced to match the sounds of the mid-60s. Fuzz Face and Marshall stack not included.

Price: £1,849 / $1,949
Build: Alder body, maple neck, round-lam rosewood fretboard, 21 vintage tall frets
Hardware: Vintage-style tuners and Stratocaster vibrato
Electronics: 5-way blade switch, 3 Pure Vintage ’65 single-coils, one volume, two tone controls.
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Jackson JS11 Dinky AH BLK

Jackson JS11 Dinky AH BLK

+ Super affordable
+ Great mod platform
– Stock pickups can be a little harsh

An area of the S-type that this list is yet to encounter is the metal-focused “superstrat”. That changes with the entry-level Jackson JS11 Dinky AH, which has a minimalist, dual-humbucker design with a dual-fulcrum tremolo – all for under £150.

The two humbuckers here are high-output Jackson humbuckers, which are perfect for slamming into the front of a high-gain amplifier and keeping low-end response tight. Especially thanks to the price, the JS11 is also prime real estate to throw in some aftermarket pickups if you’d fancy either lower output or a more premium sound.

In terms of feel, the fretboard has a nice and flat 12-inch radius, meaning big bends at the higher end of the fretboard won’t choke out even with super-low action.

Whether you’re a budding metalhead on a budget, or just want to expand your guitar collection to cover heavier territory – the JS11 is a great no-nonsense option.

Price: £151 / $159.99
Build: Basswood Body, Maple Neck, Amaranth Fingerboard, 12” radius fretboard
Hardware: Jackson two-point tremolo, die-cast tuners
Electronics: Two Jackson high-output humbuckers, three-way blade switch
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E Sassafras

Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E Sassafras

+ Rock-solid riff machine
+ Versatile electronics
– Hardtail might be a negative

Keeping at the heavier end of things, Charvel’s Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSS HT E (catchy name!) brings some rare hard-tail representation to the world of S-types, with a neat, minimalist aesthetic. It certainly earns its slightly more premium price tag, not only with its classy open-pore finish, but also with the electronics on offer: there’s the rock stalwart of a Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 in the bridge, along with a more restrained pair of single-coils in the middle and neck: a Seymour Duncan Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 and a Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 RWRP respectively.

The neck features a sleek feel, as well as a 12-16-inch compound radius fretboard, allowing for comfortable riffing at the lower end and speedy bends up near the top.

Vintage purists might miss the presence of a wiggle stick, however, for those who want the feel and look of a S-type without having to worry about maintaining a vibrato the hardtail may well be a selling point. It just depends on your preferences.

Price: £959 / $1,049.99
Build: Sassafras body, bolt-on graphite-reinforced maple neck with 12-16” compound radius ebony fretboard, 22 jumbo frets, black plastic nut
Hardware: Charvel die-cast locking tuners, Charvel HT6 string-through-body hardtail bridge
Electronics: Seymour Duncan JB TB-4 humbucker (bridge), Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 single-coil (middle) & Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 RWRP single-coil (neck), 5-way blade selector switch, master volume, no-load tone control
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Fender JV Modified Stratocaster

Fender JV Modified Stratocaster

+ Super cool vintage modified style.
+ Extra tones thanks to the push-pull switching
– Might be too traditional for some, despite the ‘mods’

The JV Modified range is inspired by Japanese-made vintage Fender reissues from the 1980s, after some various modifications. On the JV Modified Stratocaster, push-pull pot on the second tone knob for more tonal variety; engaging it adds the neck pickup to positions one (bridge pickup only) and two (bridge and middle pickup) of the blade switch.

The feel is also a little unique, with a thick-V maple neck with a 9.5-inch radius maple board. The Basswood body finished in Olympic White, constranting with aged cream pickup covers and a white pickguard. All in all – dripping with cool vintage Fender style, with some handy extra sounds thanks to the modified wiring.

Price: £1,099 / $1,299.99
Build: Basswood body finished in Olympic White, thick V maple neck with 9.5” radius maple fretboard,
Hardware: 6-point synchronized tremolo with bent steel saddles and vintage-style locking tuners
Electronics: Three Vintage-Style Strat single-coils, five-way blade switch, Push/pull switch on tone 2 adds neck pickup
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Yamaha Pacifica 112V

Yamaha Pacifica 112V

+ Combines classic S-type features with modern playability
+ HSS pickup configuration for versatile tones
– Aesthetics not for everyone

Having been in the market for over two decades, the Pacifica is Yamaha’s gift to all beginners out there. Whether you’re looking for excellent construction, quality tonewoods or enhanced playability, the Pacifica 112V’s got the features to back its reputation as one of the best starter axes around.

Take its body for instance. Like Strats, the Pacifica sports an alder body with contours, albeit upgraded with deeper cutaways. It also has a C-shaped neck with 22 frets (not a Strat’s 21) that make it easy for beginners to manoeuvre.

But the Pacifica’s got unique specs, too. Its pickup configuration of two single-coils and one alnico V humbucker on the bridge yields clear, rounded tones with a boosted midrange. Combine this with a five-way switch, and you’ve got a guitar that not only emulates that shimmering Fender sound, but delivers across a variety of genres, too.

Price: $299.99 / £249
Build: Alder body with bolt-on maple neck, maple fretboard with 13.5” radius and 22 frets
Hardware: Vintage-style tremolo, diecast tuners
Electronics: Alnico single-coils in the neck and middle position, alnico humbucker in the bridge position, five-way blade switch, master volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Friedman Vintage S

Friedman Vintage S

+ Customisable features
+ Great build quality with a Plek’d neck
– Pricey

With Jackson/Charvel veteran Grover Jackson on the Friedman team, it’s no surprise that the brand nailed it with this S-type guitar. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that the guitar’s wear isn’t created by a simple template – great attention is paid to the dings, abrasions and fine checking lines that make every instrument one-of-a-kind.

Despite the old-school appearance, the Vintage-S caters to the needs of the modern player. It sports a 10-to-14-inch-radius compound fingerboard as well as Zero-Shift neck pins that virtually eliminate neck shift from the body.

Price: £2,699 / $2,899.99
Build: Alder body, bolt-on maple neck with ‘Classic Vintage Taper’ profile, 10-14” compound radius slab maple fingerboard with 22 Jescar 47095 frets. Bone nut
Hardware: 2-point vibrato bridge with bent steel saddles, locking vintage-style tuners
Electronics: Friedman Classic+ humbucker (bridge), Classic Single Coil RWRP (middle) and Classic Single Coil (neck). 1x volume, 1x tone (CTS pots, Orange Drop capacitors), 5-way blade selector switch
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

PRS SE Silver Sky

PRS SE Silver Sky

+ Affordable entry point into the world of the SIlver Sky
+ Unique featureset
– Won’t convert Silver Sky sceptics

Regardless of any tribalistic controversy, it’s undeniable that John Mayer’s Strat-inspired PRS Signature model caused a stir when it was released, and another even bigger stir when the affordable SE version was announced.

Luckily, the SE Silver Sky still delivers on the nuanced take on the S-type as the original: a refined guitar that wears its inspiration on its sleeve, but still offers something new. The neck is notably an excellent-feeling one, with a rather unique 8.5-inch radius fretboard that splits the difference between the rounded, vintage feel of a 7.25-inch early Strat and a more modern ‘board.

Pickups are also excellent, voiced for plenty of articulate sparkle on the cleans and plenty of oomph when overdriven. The dedicated bridge tone control is a nice touch, too, letting you tame the ice-pick attack that can occur with a single-coil in the bridge position.

Some players will forever steer clear of the Silver Sky, citing a dislike of the three-a-side headstock, the body shape or just John Mayer himself. But for everyone else, the SE Silver Sky offers an affordable and unique spin on the S-style formula.

Price: £895 / $849
Build: Solid double-cutaway poplar body, bolt-on maple neck, rosewood fretboard with 8.5” radius, double-action PRS truss rod, small birds inlays, signature SE headstock decal
Hardware: 2-point steel vibrato, vintage-style tuners, PRS composite nut
Electronics: 3 635JM S single-coil pickups, volume and two tone controls, 5-way blade pickup switch
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Ibanez AZ2204-HRM

Ibanez AZ2204-HRM

+ Splits the difference between boutique and shred
+ Gorgeous aesthetics
– Pricey

There are countless S-type Ibanez guitars (well, there are countless S-type guitars in general), but a recent addition that stands out is the AZ-2204-HRM. It splits the difference between the super-speedy shredders in the Ibanez catalogue and the broader world of boutique S-types – there are high-end specifications abound, with a roasted maple neck that has a comfy but not overly-slim carve, and an HSS set of Hyperion pickups from Seymour Duncan.

A number of specifications still give a nod to fast and furious playing, such as the generous heel carve, the 22 jumbo frets and the relatively-flat 12-inch radius. However, the finish options and rounded horns evoke a more restrained aesthetic – it’s not begging to be tuned to B and plugged into a HM-2, although it could definitely manage it.

The electronics offer an interesting Alter switch, which engages secondary tones for every pickup, offering a total of nine switch positions – you could get through a full set without having the same tone on two songs.

Price: £1,799
Build: Alder body, roasted maple bolt-on neck with 12”/305mm radius, roasted maple fretboard, 22 jumbo stainless-steel frets
Hardware: Gotoh T1802 vibrato bridge, Gotoh Magnum Lock machine heads with height adjustable posts
Electronics: Seymour Duncan Hyperion humbucker (bridge) and 2x Hyperion single-coils (middle and neck), 5-Way Super Switch with coil-split, volume, tone, dyna-MIX9 switching system with Alter switch
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm


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