IT SHOULD COME AS NO SURPRISE THAT THE electric guitar would one day become iOS-compatible, but
did you ever expect to see a decent axe being sold in the
Apple Store? The Squier by Fender USB Stratocaster is a
hybrid instrument that can be connected directly to your
computer or iDevice via USB and plugged into an amp like
any other electric guitar. However, the best thing about
this guitar is that the USB connection is bi-directional:
plug it into your computer, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and
jam along with iTunes or YouTube while hearing yourself
through your favorite virtual-amp software. Is this the ultimate
While the USB Stratocaster is not the first guitar to offer
USB connectivity, Fender deserves kudos for releasing an
instrument that is priced low enough for beginners and
intermediate players, yet plays like it cost twice as much.
When you use the digital connection, the USB Stratocaster
acts as an audio interface: it has an onboard 24-bit
analog-to-digital converter (ADC) that sends a digitized
signal to your computer or iDevice. At the same time, the
guitar receives stereo digital audio in return and uses the
built-in 24-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to feed
the instrument’s headphone amp. The guitar’s second
Volume knob (the one closest to the edge of the body)
controls the signal level coming in via USB. Unfortunately
you need a USB connection, which powers the onboard
electronics, to use the headphone amp. The headphone
output is very loud at maximum level, so keep that in mind
when playing for long periods of time.
|This Squier USB Stratocaster has a built-in audio interface so you can play along with songs from your computer or iDevice while using your favorite virtual amp.
Note that this instrument doesn’t send or receive MIDI,
nor does it rely on DSP modeling. It uses Fender-designed
pickups to feed an amp the old-fashioned way, while simultaneously
sending and receiving digitized signals over USB.
The 1/4” jack is in the traditional spot on the body’s lower
bout, while the headphone jack and USB port are on the
bottom next to the strap button.
The instrument comes with two six-foot USB cables
that have a Mini-B connector on one end that plugs into the guitar. One cable has a Type-A USB connector
on the other end, which connects to your
computer. The other cable has a 30-pin connector
that fits Apple devices. If you have an
iPhone 5, fourth-generation iPad, or iPad Mini
with the new 8-pin Lightning connector, you’ll
need a 30-pin-to-8-pin adaptor.
The guitar is USB Class Compliant and supports
Apple iOS, Mac OS X 10.7 and Windows
7. Any application that supports Core Audio
(Mac) or ASIO drivers can accept audio from
the guitar. I used the USB Stratocaster with my
iPhone 4 and MacBook Pro running OS X 10.6.8
without issue. But because I don’t have OS X
10.7 installed on my laptop, I cannot run Fender’s
Firmware Updater for the guitar. Nonetheless,
even with my out-of-spec operating system
and old iPhone, the Strat was completely plug-and-
play over USB, just as it should be.
For example, I attached the USB cable
between my iPhone and the guitar, and
launched the Agile Partners AmpKit app. Right
away I was rocking through virtual amps and
effects. Later, I tried IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube for iPhone and, again, I was up and running
Next, I plugged the guitar into my MacBook
Pro, opened the Audio section of the System
Preferences and selected Fender Audio Device
as the Input and Output. Then, I launched IK Multimedia
AmpliTube 3 and selected my favorite
patch. Finally, I launched iTunes, selected my
practice playlist, and started my workout routine.
This procedure took exactly one minute
(I timed it). Now that’s instant gratification!
Latency—the time it takes for the signal to
go from the pickups, though the ADC to your virtual amp, then return through the DAC and
headphone amp—is exceptionally low on the
USB Stratocaster. The only time I noticed it
was when I was playing single-note lines with
a clean virtual-amp setting, but it was just
When I handed the guitar and earbuds to my
13-year-old son, his first comment after playing
through AmpliTube 3 was “Wow!” Seeing
that it was connected via USB he added “That
would be great for recording.” And the USB
Stratocaster is, whether you use GarageBand
or a pro-level DAW. And because the 1/4” jack
is always live, you can record through an amp
and directly into your DAW simultaneously.
To get the lowest latency when you record,
set your software’s buffer to a small number.
That way, you won’t hear a delay between your
amp sound and what you get in your earbuds.
The biggest surprise was how well the guitar
played and stayed in tune (when I wasn’t using
the whammy bar). The overall setup was great
all along the neck, with no dead spots, whether
I was in standard or open/drop-string tunings.
The only issue was that the frets were a little
rough in spots. Nonetheless, I can’t remember
having a $200 guitar that played this well
right out of the box. And I appreciated having
at least one humbucker onboard, because it
can be tricky to get rid of the noise from single-
coil pickups when recording.
Best of all, the guitar offers classic Strat
tones, including the out-of-phase sounds from
positions 2 and 4 on the pickup selector. Considering
all that this guitar can do, the USB Stratocaster
is an incredible value, whether you use
it to record, practice, or gig.
SQUIRE BY FENDER
PRICE $199 street
NUT WIDTH 1.65"
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale
TUNERS Die-cast sealed
BRIDGE Vintage-style synchronized tremolo
PICKUPS HSS with ceramic magnets
CONTROLS Pickup Volume, Tone, 5-way Selector,
I/O (1) ¼" output; (1) 3.5mm headphone
jack; (1) USB port
FACTORY STRINGS Fender USA Super 250L, NPS (.009
~ .042 Gauges)
WEIGHT 7.3 lbs.
KUDOS Easy to use. Plays above its price.
Bi-directional audio interface.
CONCERNS Headphone amp requires USB