The Squier by Fender USB Stratocaster http://www.fender.com/features/usbstrat is a sensational product at a ridiculously low price–at $199.95 from the Apple Store, it’s priced more like a video game accessory than a guitar, but the moment you hold it in your hands you’ll see it is a real guitar with absolutely no compromises.
Most guitars can’t be plugged into your computer, or at least they can’t be used for recording that way. If you’re not overly familiar with audio equipment you’d think you could do something like plug it into the microphone jack of your computer (if it has one), but sadly that won’t work. To record a guitar directly into software like GarageBand require a separate piece of hardware called a sound interface. Plug the sound interface into your computer’s USB port, maybe install some drivers, then plug in the guitar into the sound interface.
Not too bad, but it’s a shame, especially with a laptop as tiny as the MacBook Air, that you have to carry around yet another box when all you want to do is lay down a scratch track (or something more ambitious). With the Squier USB Strat, that’s a thing of the past. Along with the standard guitar output jack, it has a micro USB connector and an included cable that goes right into your computer’s USB port. It’s a plug and play device, which means you don’t have to install any software. It just works, right out of the box. It works off USB power, so the guitar doesn’t need batteries.
It’s an HSS configuration–the pickups consist of two single coil and one humbucker pickup. Single coil pickups are what give Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters their characteristic sound, but they are theoretically subject to buzzing. Humbuckers are like two single coils together, wound out of phase, and they give a richer sound. A pickup selector switch gives you 5 combinations of pickups of the theoretical 8 possible. All of this gives you perhaps the most versatile combination of sounds you can get out of a Strat. Mine sounded good to great in all settings.
It seems to come in only one style: a sunburst finish with a rosewood (or something like rosewood) fingerboard. No maple option. The fit and finish are magnificent. It feels right. It sounds right. If it said Fender on the headstock and went for 3 times the price, I would buy it in a second. It’s that good.
The ordering experience from the Apple Store was astonishing. I ordered it on the morning of November 14th and got it the afternoon of the 15th. In case you thought the Apple was all about digital goods, think again. Amazon couldn’t beat this level of distribution.
I have a theory that whenever Fender enters a new market, they try to put their best foot forward to start with. This guitar backs up that theory big time. It is ridonkulously beautiful. It was set up perfectly. It sounds, well, exactly like a Strat, and of course that’s the point. If you never plug it into your Mac you’ll still have a first-rate instrument. But the second you want to fire up Garageband, you won’t have to worry about a tertiary piece of hardware.
This is not a new idea. Other manufacturers have beaten Fender to the punch, perhaps most notably Yamaha with their stupendously high quality RGX A2 series. Fender, like Microsoft, tends to let its smaller competitors do market research for them. They have done it honorably here.
If you’re confused about the Fender/Squier thing, most guitarists think of Squier as the “entry-level” instrument and Fender as the top of the line. That’s pretty much how Fender positions them. I stubbornly refuse to take these distinctions for granted, and instead evaluate guitars on a case by case basis. This is one of those times where the distinctions are heavily blurred. I feel like this is a pure Fender quality instrument. Yes, it’s made in Indonesia, but whoever that team is, they sure know what they’re doing. If you took off the branding altogther, I don’t think very many guitarists would call the Squier By Fender USB Strat entry level; I think they’d just call it a player.