The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation is the largest guitar manufacturer in the world. The historic guitar giant currently makes countless instruments, from exquisite small-batch Custom Shop offerings to its Made in the USA, Japan, and Mexico lines, and, finally, to its entry-level brand, Squier.
Squiers have traditionally been regarded as great starter options for any novice guitar or bass player. It probably wouldn’t be too far off to guess that at least half the experienced players reading this article have owned a Squier at some point in their lives, and for many in that group, it all began with a Squier starter pack that included a matching amp.
While for decades, Squier’s product catalog mostly consisted of basic low-end takes on core Fender models, their offerings have diversified in recent years to include dozens of unique models, including some that were traditionally only available from the Fender Custom Shop. A lot of these new and exciting designs have people wondering about the real differences between Fender’s core lines and the Squier spin-offs. Today, that’s exactly what we’re going to explore.
For our purposes, we’re going to focus mostly on comparing Fender’s well-regarded Made in Mexico (MIM) line with Squier instruments of predominantly Chinese and Indonesian origin. Like our recent Gibson vs. Epiphone piece, the goal of this article is to give an overview of the main differences between the two for those who are simply curious or for those looking to purchase one or the other.
The Cost of Buying a Fender or a Squier
As you’d expect, price varies widely in every category. New Squiers top out at around $450, whereas the same amount of money can usually get you a used MIM Fender. Used American-made Fenders are even more expensive, typically starting at around $600.
Across the board though, we highly recommend looking at used options when trying to find the best value on any Fender or Squier model. You can look at used Fender and Squier guitars here.
Fender ’60s Jaguar
Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar
Below is a chart of some common price comparisons between new MIM Fenders and their Squier counterparts to give you an idea of the price spread. For our purposes we will be focusing on the standard Squier line, including the Vintage Modified and the Classic Vibe series.
Average Price Difference: $486.11
This range of prices makes for some hard choices about whether to save up for a more expensive stock instrument or pay a little less and use your excess budget for potential upgrades down the line.
Bottom Line: If buying new, Squiers will always be cheaper than comparable Fenders. However, savvy shoppers can often find deals on used Fenders that will fit any budget.
Previously, the core of the Squier line was mostly made up of bare-bones Strats and Teles, Precision and Jazz Basses. But recently, the line has expanded to include Jazzmasters, Jaguars, Tele Thinlines, signature models (J Mascis, John 5, and others), Bass VIs, baritones, Strats and Teles of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, and nearly all of the basses Fender has ever made.
Squier has also further defied convention by diversifying finish choices and now offering custom colors like burgundy mist, seafoam green, and Lake Placid blue.
Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster Burgundy Mist
The Fender MIM line—also known as the Standard line (which includes some recent Asian production)—has been gaining players’ respect for decades. Fender’s recently introduced Modern Player line and some of the Vintage Modified line also fall into the same price bracket as the Standard line. Though these models are of a higher-quality than their Squier counterparts, some of them—like the Starcaster and custom set-neck Telecaster—are made in some of the same production areas as Squiers, like Indonesia, China, and Korea. To keep things simple, we’ll include these newer models in the discussions of the Made in Mexico Standard line.
Once exclusively Strats and Teles, the current Standard line includes fewer overall models than the Squier catalog, but with more variety within each model. The Standard Strat, Teles, offsets, and basses come in a variety of pickup and bridge configurations, from the most 1950s-inspired models to HSH models, with their flame maple tops and Floyd Rose trems.
Also, a large number of signature models (Troy Van Leeuwen, Kurt Cobain, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Root, Brad Paisley, Dave Murray) have recently been introduced. In previous years, the Standard line has included some diverse models, including limited runs with rare colors like shell pink, swirls and splatter paint, and other unique features.
A clear standout from the Standard series is the “Classic Series,” which exhibits models with the best suite of traits from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. This kind of product diversity makes it easy to find an instrument that is exactly—or at least most of the way toward—what you’re looking for.
Bottom Line: Both brands offer a wide range of models, but more and more, Squier’s lineup includes unique instruments that aren’t available as Fenders.
Wood Selection and Composition
Early Japanese Squiers were known for being made with quality woods, while later models became known for just the opposite after manufacturers started constructing cheaper models from plywood. More of the recent, higher-end Squiers have had special runs of instruments made of pine, alder, and other woods.
Many Squier models are made of basswood, agathis, poplar, and other cheap woods as well. While some players may discount basswood, many high-end Ibanez models are proudly made of basswood.
Squier Vintage Modified ’72 Tele Thinline with an Ash Body
The body wood of a Squier can be hard to determine, as the finish is, in many cases, quite thick on these models. But overall, material is a matter of taste. I have personally found that many of the Squiers not made of basswood are very heavy when compared to similar MIM models of the same wood.
For Fender Standard models, traditional Fender tonewoods have generally been the focus, with most models being primarily made of alder or ash. Maple necks generally have the choice of rosewood or maple fingerboards for most models.
The bodies are generally formed by gluing many more pieces of wood together than is the case with USA-made models. Opaque finishes also indicate that the instrument’s body is comprised of more pieces of wood than a clearly finished instrument. Early MIM Fender necks were actually made on CNC machines in the USA and finished in Mexico, as opposed to today, when all wood components are made in the Mexico factory.
Bottom Line: Squiers tend to use what are considered to be inferior woods, though the degree that this actually matters is ultimately up to the buyer.
Hardware is where you’ll find the largest difference between models and production centers. The overwhelming amount of hardware for the Squier series are sourced from other factories and the parts are generally lower in quality.
Replacing parts on a Squier can be a tricky undertaking. Not only are there imperial and metric size differences, but there are also several differences within the Fender models themselves.
Fender Standard Stratocaster Bridge
Fender brands much of its hardware, while a majority of Squier hardware is unbranded and of dubious origin and quality. Generally speaking, Squier uses lower-quality metals for most of its hardware. The quality of Squier tuners and bridge saddles are a common complaint.
Fender’s Standard line has generally been considered to have higher quality parts all around. Tuners are usually upgraded and of a sealed variety, and those on reissue models are generally similar to their vintage counterparts—for better or worse.
While replacing parts on a MIM Fender is always a viable option, potential modders should proceed with caution as many of the models use a mix of US parts and overseas parts. One example is the ‘72 Tele Thinline reissue, which has some MIM parts with USA-made bridge saddles. The newer, non-MIM Standards generally use metric-sized parts of varying quality.
Bottom Line: Squier uses inferior parts generally speaking. Due to differences in measurements, upgrading stock parts may not be as simple as it seems.
Pickups, like parts, are generally where you can hear the biggest difference between these two lines with Squier generally using lower-quality pickups. Some of the single-coils are made with bar magnets instead of pole magnets, for example, making the sound fundamentally different from the classic Fender design.
Bar magnet single-coils are more similar in construction to P90s than Fender single-coils and lack the clarity of traditional Fender single-coils. Many of the humbuckers used in Squier instruments are ceramic-magnet-based, with more emphasis on output than tonal clarity.
Fender Dave Murray Strat with Seymour Duncan Pickups
The Fender Standard series has upgraded pickups, but again, are generally considered inferior to USA models. Different styles with each model also features a different set of pickups. Vintage-style models are outfitted with ‘50s-style pickups, for instance, while top-of-the-line signature models that are also MIM—such as the Dave Murray Stratocaster or Jim Root models—are outfitted with USA-made pickups by Seymour Duncan and EMG.
Because the Standard pickups are considered to be of decent quality, this all comes down to your personal taste. I think that the stock pickups in the Fender Standard ‘50s Strats sound great, so I personally wouldn’t upgrade them. Many players choose only to upgrade one or two of the pickups in a Fender Standard model which is also an option for any Squier.
Bottom Line: Pickups, like hardware, will be superior on Fender-branded guitars out of the box. You can, however, always upgrade pickups to whatever higher-end option you prefer.
Fit and Finish
Fit and finish can be very model-dependent across all price points. Vintage-style Squiers have glossy necks and bodies, while more modern or low-end models tend to have a satin neck. From recent personal experience, the satin neck finish on some Squiers was too rough for my taste, but this is a personal preference.
Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster
The glossy urethane finish on most of these models tends to be quite thick, which is off-putting to many players. Fret finishing on many Squiers—especially the lower-priced models—is consistently less precise than on more expensive models, fret ends are not as neatly rounded, and frets are less polished.
For the Fender Standard line, I have found that finish is thinner and with fewer imperfections than Squier, especially in key areas such as the neck pocket and neck. The satin finish necks also feel smoother in the hand. Fretting is also generally taken to a higher stage of buffing, and fret ends are much more extensively treated—although, generally, not to the same level of USA models.
From my personal experience, I have found that the MIM models tend to weigh less than the Squier models.
Fit and finish will vary guitar-to-guitar for both brands, and is largely a matter of personal preference.
Long Term Cost and Value
For nearly all guitars, there will be a cost to upkeep and to upgrade. For both brands, this is easy, as Leo Fender’s instruments are one of the finest examples of manufacturing with interchangeable parts ever achieved. For nearly every Fender model, it’s relatively easy to swap pickups, pickguards, change saddles, replace tuners, and even swap necks and bodies.
Initially, the long-term cost of a Squier will be more, as more elements will be in line for replacement, such as pickups, tuners, and most metal parts. Also, a setup and fret-dressing will be needed in most cases for the instrument to play optimally. When owning a Squier long-term, unless you love the model as is, you are paying for the wood, paint, and shape, and one can easily spend more in upgrades than on the entire cost of the base instrument.
If you’re just starting out, the sound of your pickups or the thickness of your finish might not matter as much as it would to someone who has been playing for years and is familiar with the alternatives.”
But remember that things like upgrades and feel are matters of personal preference, so the most important thing here is to know what you’re looking for. If you’re just starting out, the sound of your pickups or the thickness of your finish might not matter as much as it would to someone who has been playing for years and is familiar with the alternatives.
That said, models from the Fender Standard Series are generally more playable right out of the box. Setup and minimal fretwork will be needed, but often, not to the extent that a Squier model would require.
Also, the stock hardware and pickups will have a longer life and may not need replacement at all. As stated previously, many only choose to upgrade some of the pickups in these models. The higher quality parts and build will allow the instrument to age better and let one be more selective on what to change and keep. The initial cost will be higher, but the long-term cost will be lower.
Value is a trickier question than one might initially think. More expensive models will, of course, have higher resale value, but both Squiers and Standards have consistently high demand. Many will buy a Squier for necks and bodies, which may have a faster resale value than a complete Standard model.
Bottom Line: If owning a Squier long term, you may need to invest more money in upkeep and upgrades than you would with a Fender. Both will have similar resale value relative to the original purchase price.
While it would be easy to simply say that you get what you pay for, I don’t think that’s the case when comparing Squier and Fender. With the rising quality of Squiers and their continued low price points, I would consider buying a Squier in many scenarios.
For example, if you’re looking to try out a less common model—like a Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Bass VIs, baritone, or vintage reissue of some kind—the Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe series are an affordable way to do so. Until recently, these body shapes and era-specific designs were scarce and expensive, but the newer Squier variations offer an easy way to explore what you like and dislike.
On the other hand, if you’re sure about what you want and are looking for in an affordable, gig-able instrument that doesn’t require any upgrades, the Standard series—especially on the used market—consistently provides some of the best deals around. There’s a reason the Fender Standard Strat remains one of the most frequently recommended guitars in the world.
As always, your mileage may vary and you should look to your ears and hands to make a decision. Do you have experience comparing Squier and Fender guitars? Let us know in the comments.