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Many Mexican Fenders have the same or similar price as the American-made versions. Some of the parts are also the same. Generally what's the difference?

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Anecdotally, the only problem I've had with my Mexican strat is the patch cord jack isn't held in place very well and I have to tighten it up regularly. –  Matthew Read Apr 5 '12 at 16:23
    
My experience: I've played the same Mexico strat for 15 years now. It's now a bit beaten-up looking and I've worn the frets low with use, and I love it. Many people compliment me on the great & smooth sound my guitar has, though different amps as jam sessions. I haven't had any trouble with it at all, except that I break strings a lot which could be a gnarly moulding on the bridge saddles, or I don't change strings often enough, which is likely. I've only played a USA strat in a shop as a comparison. It just felt like another strat, nothing special compared to mine. Must've got a good one! –  user2808054 Jun 27 at 10:17
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What differs generally depends on the relative models and relative years. In general, an MIM Strat will have a body made of more pieces of wood (3 or even 4/5 pieces instead of 2), use poplar instead of alder for the body wood (especially for opaque finishes; trans finishes generally either have 3-piece alder bodies or an alder laminate), have cheaper pickups (ceramic magnets instead of alnico), and have more stamped metal parts instead of die-cast (string trees, bridge saddles). That's in addition to Mexican labor (by far the biggest discount in direct costs) and slightly more lax QA (when you buy an MIM, you definitely want to look at and play a few to make sure you get a good one; an MIA doesn't require AS MUCH of this, but you can get a bad MIA as well).

At least with basses, the MIAs have also generally had more experimentation with new electronics ideas, such as the S-1 tone circuit which allows you to switch tone cap values with the press of a button. The Highway-1 series Strats (basically an American-assembled MIM with 70's styling and a few other tricks) did a little of this (my H-1 has Greasebucket tone circuits which reduce the boominess you get when you roll off the tone), but usually when you buy an American Standard Strat you are getting exactly that.

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This was true until 2006 or so, at least of build quality, when Fender MIA quality went to crap. I suspect this was about the time that marketing people took over management of the company. I bought (and returned) 2 MIA strats (one an SRV) for build quality problems. I've since bought a MIM that was better in all build quality aspects but had some part quality problems. It's much easier to swallow having to buy new pickups for a $300 guitar vs a $1000 guitar... –  JimR Sep 19 '12 at 8:14
    
In my experience American Fenders have three piece bodies too, at Standard level. Generally I think that Fender has good quality on both American, Mexican and Japanese made instruments. Like all huge manufacturers, there will be ups and downs. –  Meaningful Username Mar 14 at 8:40
    
Please can you explain what you mean by "MIM" and "MIA" ? –  user2808054 Jun 27 at 10:08
    
MIM = Made In Mexico. MIA = Made In America. Common jargon among guitarists on the Internet. –  KeithS Jul 2 at 3:55
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I have a 2009 MIM std. Tele. Fantastic w/sock pickups through a variety of amps. Only change I made was straplocks and a matte black pickplate...looks ultra-retro on arctic white! Also have a 2008 MIM std. Strat. It is the discontinued metallic 'Midnight Blue', my all time favorite Fender color. In some light it takes on a slight purple hue. Looks so tasty I want to take a bite out of it! Upgraded p-ups to Carvin AP11s.....better quack than stock! RWFB. Wouldn't trade either one of them for an MIA! Great action on both. Both strung with 11-50s because I switch b&f from acoustic quite a bit. Got strat new on a straight across trade for a jazz bass. Bought the tele on a whim cuz I was p/o'd at my then girlfriend! Now a year and a half later, still loving the tele, plus, now I gotta girlfriend whose not an insane, bipolar psycho!!

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I wouldn't trade my 2008 MIM Strat for a Custom Shop rig. It plays and sounds just right for me. To my ears, has more of a classic sound/tone than the newer U.S. models. Of course, with so many options these days, what does a Strat sound like? And, why would you take a Strat and swap out pups, electronics? When you do that, it is no longer a Strat, IMO. Just a pet peeve of mine. Of course, I am obviously not a gear snob. I mean, is Eric Clapton playing a "real" Strat anymore? Nope. Once you start modding, it is no longer a "real" Strat. Or Tele. Or Jag. etc.

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Wood, electronics, pick-ups, basically all of the parts of the guitar can be different in Mexico and American made fenders, depending on model and build date.

The Made-In-America ones are higher quality, both in parts and build.

Made-In-Mexico ones are still Fender products, and quality instruments. The general complaint against Made-In-Mexico Fender's is the build quality is a bit hit or miss.

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I don't know that a side-by-side comparison really bears that out. –  VarLogRant Apr 6 '12 at 10:10
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Some of the Mexican ones are amazing, and better than American ones, it's just the variation in quality is wider, as @KeithS said. –  Dr Mayhem Apr 6 '12 at 12:01
    
Yes, there are musicians choosing Mexican ones over American. It's a matter of taste, as everything related to music is. –  Hakan Deryal Apr 6 '12 at 12:18
    
I have had 2 mexican strats: one about 350$ price point and the other about 600. The more expensive of the two is quite different in weight, feel, and tone (unplugged). They are so different that it is hard to say that any particular quality is a result of it being Mexican made. –  horatio Apr 6 '12 at 17:23
    
@HakanDeryal: Totally and completely disagree with the build quality statements. See my comment to KeithS's answer for details. –  JimR Sep 19 '12 at 8:15
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