Skip to Content

American vs Mexican Stratocasters: What’s the Difference?

The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most iconic electric guitars to have ever existed. It’s been played by countless electric guitar legends over the years, and is a staple for beginner guitarists too.

Many guitarists dream of owning their own American-made Stratocaster but are put off by the high-prices and instead turn their attention towards the more affordable Mexican-made Strats.

Over the years, there’s been a lot of discourse about the differences between American vs Mexican Strats., and whether it’s worth buying one or the other.

As an owner of both a Fender American Standard Stratocaster and Mexican Standard Stratocaster, I wanted to share my opinion on the great American vs Mexican Strat debate.

In this article, I’ll help you to understand the differences between American and Mexican Stratocasters, and share my own experiences. I’ll also show you why it isn’t as simple nowadays to just compare an American Strat with a Mexican Strat.

What is a Mexican Stratocaster?

A Mexican Stratocaster is any Fender Stratocaster built in Fender’s factory in Ensenada, Mexico.

Until a few years ago, Fender used to have a range of guitars called the “Fender Mexican” series. So, you might see the terms “Made in Mexico” or the shortened “MIM” used a lot online.

Fender discontinued the Fender Mexican series in 2018 and replaced it with the “Player” range of guitars, which are still made in Mexico.

Here’s a list of the current mainline Fender Stratocaster models that are made in Mexico:

  • Fender Player
  • Fender Player Plus
  • Fender Vintera
  • Some Fender Artist models

Fender Stratocasters that are made in Mexico are designed to be an affordable entry point for players to access the mainline Stratocaster series, especially the Fender Player and discontinued Fender Mexican series. The combination of cheaper labor and materials helps keep the price down.

Any Fender Stratocaster that’s been made in Mexico will have a “MX” at the beginning of the serial number.

What is an American Stratocaster?

An American Stratocaster is a Fender Stratocaster that’s been made in the USA.

Nowadays, Fender uses “American” in the line of these guitars, most likely as a sign of prestige and quality. These guitars use higher quality parts and, as a result, are much more expensive than the Mexican-made Stratocasters.

But, not all American Stratocaster’s are made equal. In fact, there’s a few similarities between the cheaper USA-made Stratocasters and the Mexican-made Strats.

Now, the USA Stratocasters will most often use better parts regardless, but it’s important to be aware that there’s a large range of quality in the American Stratocaster line.

Here’s a list of the current mainline Fender Stratocaster models that are made in the USA:

  • Fender American Original
  • Fender American Performer
  • Fender American Professional II
  • Fender American Ultra
  • Fender American Ultra Luxe
  • Fender American Vintage
  • Some Fender Artist models

American-made Stratocasters are made mostly for professional guitarists, dedicated hobbyists, or collectors.

Most modern American Stratocasters have a “US” at the beginning of the serial number. However, older models will vary.

Differences between American and Mexican Stratocasters

As you can see, there are quite a few models in both the Mexican and American ranges. So, it’s not as simple as comparing “Mexican” with “American” Strats.

The exact differences between American and Mexican Stratocasters will vary between model to model, regardless of where they’re made.

I happen to own both a Mexican Standard and American Standard Stratocaster, which means I can compare them like-for-like. So, I’ll share my experiences where appropriate.

Otherwise, I’ve highlighted the broad differences between American vs Mexican Strats, so you can know what to expect.

American vs Mexican Strat


The biggest difference between the two is that Mexican-made Stratocasters are cheaper than American-made Stratocasters. This is down to labor costs and the materials used.

Labor is cheaper in Mexico compared to the USA, meaning that it costs much less to build something. So, Stratocasters made in Mexico cost Fender less to produce, which means they can charge less for it.

The second key part of this is the quality of the materials used for each guitar. I’ve covered this in the respective sections below, but the MIM Stratocasters use cheaper materials than USA models for the most part, which also helps keep the cost down.

Though they’re more expensive, American Stratocasters retain their value better over time. So, it might give you peace of mind knowing that you can get more of your money back if you wanted to sell it later down the line.

Build quality

Fender don’t share their quality control guidelines to the general public, so it’s hard to quantify any difference between quality checking process in the two factories.

It’s worth pointing out that both Mexican and American Strats are mass produced, essentially on an assembly line. This means that there are likely to be quality control issues with both at some point that slip through the net.

In my experience, I’ve never noticed a quality difference between my two Strats. The Mexican Strat is as solidly built as the American Strat. The hardware is aligned, the electronics are secure, and everything works as it should.

If you’re worried about quality control issues, I’d recommend checking the guitar out in store before buying it!

Body material

Fender uses two types of wood for their Stratocaster bodies: ash and alder.

Mexican Stratocasters, and most American Stratocasters, use alder wood. Ash, being the more expensive wood, is reserved for more premium models like the American Ultra Luxe Stratocaster.

According to Fender, alder is more “resonant” with “excellent sustain and a sharp attack”, whereas ash has a “bright” and “warm” sound.

My American Stratocaster has a semi-transparent finish, so you can see the wood grain

In my experience, other factors like the pickups, hardware, electronics, and strings make so much more of a difference to the sound of your guitar that wood-type feels largely irrelevant. But, some people swear by the tone differences.

To me, the most notable thing about the two types of wood is that ash is heavier than alder. A lot of people (myself included) favor a heavier guitar.

Neck material

The necks on both Mexican and American Stratocasters are made from maple. The main difference between the two is their fretboard material.

American Stratocaster use either maple or rosewood for the fretboard. But, all Stratocasters currently in production in Mexico use either maple or Pau Ferro.

Pau Ferro is a rosewood alternative that’s become more common since 2017, due to regulations that restricted the trading of rosewood (which were lifted as of 2019).

Despite being similar to rosewood, it does have its differences. Pau Ferro is a slightly lighter color than rosewood. It’s also denser, which affects how the string resonates, making it sound a bit brighter.

At the time of writing, I’m not sure whether the Mexican-made Strats will go back to using rosewood. What I can say is that it shouldn’t be a deciding factor in which one you buy. They’re comparable enough that it really won’t be that noticeable of a difference, especially once you’re plugged into an amplifier.

In terms of neck shape and fretboard radius: it varies a lot depending on the model, so it can’t be compared.


The Mexican-made Stratocasters use cheaper materials for the bridge and tuning pegs. The USA-made Strats use more premium materials, though this varies from model to model.

A general rule is: the more expensive the model, the more premium the parts used.

In my experience, with my Fender American Standard Stratocaster and Mexican Standard Stratocaster, I’ve not really noticed a difference in quality between the bridge and tuning pegs.

Sure, the American Strat uses a better quality metal. But, the tuners on both guitars work well, the saddles intonate well, and the bridge works as needed.

It’s unfair to compare the pickups, as it varies greatly depending on which type of model you buy. So, there’s no “standard” set of pickups. Likewise, more premium models will come with extra controls like coil-tapping and such.

Again, it’s best to check the specifics of the models you’re interested in to get a better understanding of the quality of their parts. You can find this for each guitar on Fender’s website by clicking on the guitar and going to the “specs” tab.

Final thoughts

So, when it comes to an American vs Mexican Strat, the real difference is the quality of the materials used, and the price.

For what it’s worth, I think the Mexican-made Stratocasters are great guitars. I actually prefer my Mexican Stratocaster to my USA-built one. I think it’s well built, rugged, and a solid piece of gear for the price. Most importantly though: I prefer the sound of my MIM Stratocaster.

But, my point here isn’t that Mexican Stratocasters are better than American Stratocasters. It’s that you need to find what’s right for you.

For some of you, a Mexican-made Stratocaster might be exactly what you’re looking for. Well priced, well built, and good to go. Others might want the higher quality features and prestige that comes with owning a “Made in America” Strat (I know I did when I bought mine).

But, I don’t think it’s as simple as comparing “Made in Mexico” with “Made in USA” Stratocasters anymore. There’s so much variance in the different models in the USA range nowadays.  Some might be happy with the simpler and more affordable American Performer, while others might want the top-of-the-line American Ultra Luxe.

At the end of the day, you need to take the time to find the guitar that works best for you. The best way to do that is to head down to your local music store and try it for yourself!