The Select Stratocaster HSS is a different beast to the previous range-topping American Deluxe Strat.
Yes, we have the compound-radius fingerboard and the staggered locking tuners of the Deluxe, but we don't get the S-1 switching, the Noiseless pickups or indeed the 'passing lane' switch (bridge pickup, no tone control).
"We eschewed all that in favour of great, lightweight, gorgeous instruments with all of the elegant simplicity of their familiar ancestors intact," remarks Fender's marketing director, Justin Norvell.
As a result, the HSS is a simpler guitar to use: the three pickups are controlled in fairly standard fashion with a five-way lever switch, master volume and two tone controls.
The two-post vibrato has graced many a non-vintage Stratocaster yet here, unlike the block saddles of the Deluxe, we have old-school bent-steel saddles and the arm screws in without any tension adjustment - a prime example of this stated 'old-style upgrade' vibe of the Select Series.
But it's in the wood choice that things change more dramatically. The neck here is birdseye maple, and with a nice dark vintage tint it looks very classy. There's a Select Series medallion inset into the back of the headstock while the front logo is very standard.
The alder body, centre-jointed and nicely grain-matched, is more standard fare but it is topped with a thin (under 3mm) flamed maple facing. It's going to have less impact on the guitar's sound than the thicker maple tops used by many and again, its quite dirty-looking Antique Burst finish is posh but classically cool too.
It's all finished in nitrocellulose, another difference from the Deluxe Series, and everything bar the satin-finished neck is gloss. The alder of the body has a mid-brown hue, the maple top, much like the neck, is a more golden-tinted amber.
Fit and finish is of a typically high standard and subtle features such as the chamfer-edged heel and round-cornered neckplate again illustrate the upmarket vibe. While we have behind-the-nut truss rod adjustment, there's no micro-tilt for quick neck-pitch adjustment.
"We went with a non-tilt configuration, for enhanced wood-on-wood contact in the pocket for tone and sustain," explains Norvell.
Using our '62 Road Worn Strat as a reference certainly illustrates that the Select HSS is no vintage-spec clone. Overall it has more fullness; obviously the bridge humbucker is dramatically different, much more rock-ready, fuller and thicker, but so are the single-coil voices.
There's an added thickness that gives cleans added depth and gained tones more body. Yet it's still a Stratocaster, as evidenced by plenty of percussion from the single-coils and the hum-cancelling neck/middle mix with that familiar hollowed complexity.
The solo middle single-coil sounds less in your face; the bridge/middle mix is less 'definitive Strat', and as we've said the bridge humbucker is a game-changer suiting a much broader and easier to dial in gamut of rock, higher-gain blues and jazzier fusion tones.
The slightly flatter fingerboard certainly suits more complex lines and once we had tweaked both set-ups, we were more than happy with the overall playability: fast but still with some fight. The vibrato too seems nicely in-tune and overall there's quite a classic modded-Strat feel, less 'new' perhaps than the Deluxe.
As a middle ground between vintage and the more modern Deluxe specification, the Select fits in well. This early example did suffer from a couple of issues, not least sharp protruding height adjustment saddle screws, which felt a bit too vintage for us.
Also, the Strat's tone controls - in terms of the look, feel and sound - seem standard despite the no-load specification. But there's no doubt that the Select's beefier sonic range will find its admirers.