This is the most comprehensive and unbiased review of a Squier Affinity Stratocaster HSS that you will find and includes this accompanying 14 minute video review.
This particular review has been a long time coming. Squiers by Fender are one of the most popular guitar brands available in terms of sales. The market is basically flooded with these lower cost instruments. The Affinity series is Squier’s step-up tier of guitar, after the Bullet series. And Affinity has been know for along time as a decent budget guitar, but the real question is, as always, are they really worth it?
One of the reasons I hadn’t reviewed an Affinity yet is I was waiting to find one used in excellent condition instead of purchasing new. I’d played a bunch of them over the years (a Squier Strat was actually the first electric guitar I’d ever played in my life) but I’d never actually owned one. I finally found a 2019 HSS model (we’ll talk about what HSS means in a moment) in excellent condition in a limited and gorgeous Race Green color for the princely sum of $80. (Watch my video for 10 Critical Used Guitar Buying Tips if you want to know how to buy used.)
Note: You might be wondering, is reviewing a used guitar the same as reviewing a new guitar? Well, no, not exactly. But Squiers like these don’t change much from year to year beyond their color options so the year of production doesn’t matter as much.Quite a few guitar brands are in a similar boat in that their models don’t change all too much from year to year and buying used is often the way to go.
So, let’s get on with it. I will say, before we begin, I do like Affinity Stratocasters! There’s a reason they are so well regarded as budget guitars. (That’s not to say they’re my favorite budget guitars.)
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Table of Contents
Why You Should Trust Us
Hey, I’m Karol (like Karl not Carol). I’ve been playing guitar for 20+ years, but I’m still an amateur and learning every day. In my younger years I played in a band, but nowadays it’s for fun. I’m not a guitar snob, and I think everybody should just have fun with it.
Why should you listen to this Squier Affinity Stratocaster review? Because I don’t care about selling you anything and I want to help you make an informed choice about this and every other guitar I review. I started Art Of Shred because I was unimpressed with the obviously biased paid for guitar and musical equipment reviews online. Keep in mind, of course, that these are just my views. I don’t know everything and my opinions are my opinions.
2019 Squier by Fender Affinity Stratocaster
Squier Affinity Stratocaster in Race Green
Weight: 7.4 lbs
Made in: Indonesia
Nice color options
Not my favorite "Strat style" cheap guitar
Squier quality control is not always great
Squier Affinity Stratocaster Video Review
Don’t want to read? No worries. This 14 minute video review on ArtOfShred’s YouTube channel covers most of what you need to know, including an extensive sound demo. The sound demo includes a semi-produced track with drums as well as guitar-only segments with clean and dirty sounds using the various pickup options.
The Basics of the Affinity Strat
You know everything I’m going to state here. The Stratocaster is so iconic when you ask a non-guitar player what a guitar looks like they’re going to describe a Strat (or a Martin acoustic). These have been used by everyone from Buddy Holly to Kurt Cobain to Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan to … do I really need to continue? It’s probably easier to find a guitarist who hasn’t used a Strat.
But this one isn’t exactly like the iconic Fender Strat for a variety of reasons. First, it’s the HSS. That stands for Humbucker, Single coil, Single coil pickups. The classic configuration is SSS (single coil, single coil, single coil). In guitar snob circles it’s blasphemy to say this, but I’m a big fan of the HSS.
The spec breakdown:
- Poplar wood body
- Maple bolt on neck
- Indian laurel fretboard
- “C” shape neck
- 21 medium jumbo frets
- Synthetic bone nut
- 9.5″ fretboard radius
- 25.5″ scale length
- Sealed die cast tuners
- 1 ceramic humbucker pickup in the bridge position
- 1 ceramic single coil pickup in the middle position
- 1 ceramic single coil pickup in the neck position
- 5 way pickup switch
- 1 master volume and 2 tone controls
- 2 point synchronized tremolo with block saddles
Let’s talk about buying these new before we talk about this particular guitar that I bought used.
When you buy a Squier guitar new online it can sometimes be a crapshoot due to Squier’s quality control. In general I think you should be alright it’s just that your likelihood of QC issues is a little greater than it should be. The biggest problem you might find is fret sprout and/or sharp frets, which, sadly, is not an uncommon problem on even more expensive guitars.
To me a guitar is borderline unplayable if it’s got fret sprout or sharp frets. (Fret sprout is usually caused by temperature changes causing the metal fret ends to “sprout” out of the edge of the wood fretboard.) These things are easily fixable, but if you’re a beginner buying your first guitar it’s not something you should have to do.
One of the nice things about buying a guitar used is not only are you saving money but you can feel for any obvious problems, even if you don’t know how to play yet.
What about this used one I bought?!
Well, it wasn’t perfect. It had a few high frets and it needed a truss rod adjustment. Also, it has a USED stamp on the headstock, meaning it was a factory B-stock.
Cosmetically, though? Excellent condition and if you watch the review video you’ll see I couldn’t figure out why it was a B-stock. (Maybe a customer return?)
Why’d I buy it even though it had some issues? Because I don’t mind doing guitar setups (I even enjoy them!), this gorgeous Race Green color is rare, and it was only $80.
One of the many reasons I implore guitar players to learn how to do basic setups is because it really opens up the used guitar market for you. Guitars are not really complex instruments, and unless something is majorly wrong (a missing fret, or a broken headstock, for example) you can usually fix it up with just a few basic tools. It feels great!
If I’m being honest there aren’t a whole lot of cons if this is the type of cheap guitar you’re looking for. The biggest things are the quality control problems with Squiers new from the factory. I prefer to buy one of these used coming from somebody locally or on a site like Reverb. That way you can either ask questions about it (Reverb also has a buyer guarantee) or inspect it in person.
My other cons are somewhat nitpicking. These are one of the most common guitars available so they’re not unique. If that’s important to you that’s a con. And, of course, the Squier Affinity is not my favorite Stratocaster style guitar in the price range (that’s the Yamaha PAC112V) so that’s a bigger con for me. Yamaha’s quality control is better even in this lower price range so I’d rather buy a PAC112V if I’m buying new.
That said, if I’m buying used and can get a great deal? It’s more of a tossup. These are really nice budget guitars, which brings me to …
Let’s start with the obvious. It’s a Stratocaster! Sure it’s not a made in the USA Fender Stratocaster, but it’s still a Stratocaster. If you want to have a close approximation of your favorite guitarist’s Strat but you’re on a budget then the Affinity series is a solid choice.
Squier Affinity usually also has a lot of different color options, sometimes unique to just one retailer like the Race Green Affinity you see on this page. If that’s important to you then have at it. (If you can find a Race Green I highly recommend this colorway. It’s beautiful!)
Lastly, these sound good! No, they don’t sound phenomenal, but I honestly think you could use these for recordings and very few people would be able to tell the difference. (Assuming you are a good guitar player, of course.) I particularly like the neck pickup and the bridge humbucker. You can really dial in a vary wide range of tones with this guitar and I think for beginners that’s really nice to be able to experiment with.
What King of Setup Did I Do?
This particular guitar had a few sharp frets which needed to be attended to. And it also had a few high frets which needed to be attended to. And if I’m already doing that might as well do a little more. 🙂
All that to say, I did an extensive setup on this guitar that took ~3 hours, and it’s unlikely that you’ll need to do the same if you buy one.
Here is what I did:
- Fixed all the sharp frets with a fret end dressing file.
- Rounded over all the frets (not necessary but makes it play like a more expensive guitar) with the same fret end dressing file.
- Leveled all the frets with a fret leveling beam.
- Crowned all the frets with a crowning file.
- Polished all the frets with 9 grits of micromesh.
- Restrung it with new strings (of course)
- Set the action to ~1.75mm
- Set the intonation (very easy to do)
The most likely setup you would have to do on a new Affinity Strat is setting the action (aka string height) and the intonation.
How Does An Affinity Stratocaster Sound?
It’s got some of that Stratocaster punch, that bite. Does it have it like a Fender Made in the USA or even Made in Mexico Strat? Listen, these are cheap pickups and you’re gonna have to set your expectations accordingly. But does it sound bad? Nope! I quite like it. Check the YouTube video for a bunch of different sound demos using all 5 positions on the pickup switch.
What Would I Upgrade?
If I was to keep this guitar long term I would swap out the pickups. The easiest way to do that is to buy a prewired pickup/pickguard package. DiMarzio has some great sets or you can buy a Fender original and there are lots of other options.
I might also swap out the trem system, although because these Affinity Strats have a thinner body than a Fender Strat it’s not as easy to find one that fits. There are lots of YouTube videos about the process though, so you definitely have options here.
And, of course, if I’m keeping this I’m swapping out the nut and the tuners. Somewhat personal preference but a nice set of locking tuners make string changes a breeze and also have better tuning stability than these cheap tuners. A new GraphTech or bone nut will also help with tuning stability. Overkill on a cheap guitar? Yeah, maybe. But maybe not.
Squier Affinity Stratocaster HSS Photo Gallery
Final Thoughts on the Affinity Strat
This is a really nice choice if you absolutely want a brand name Stratocaster. It’s not my favorite budget guitar (that’s the MS450) or my favorite Strat-style budget guitar (that’s the PAC112V), but it’s a good choice for beginners or modders.
Overall: 7.3 / 10. I don’t think you’ll regret buying one if it’s what you want.
Do you own a Squier Affinity Stratocaster HSS? Please let me know below what you like and dislike about it.