I got this response to my Craigslist ad for a $99 Fender Starcaster via email today –

Is it a real Fender or a China reproduction?

Craigslist ad response

Hi Horace!  I see that you’re new to guitar shopping.  (I can tell by your question.)

Allow me to give you a quick primer, if I may – it will help you to buy the right guitar.

If I were to simply answer your question, I could say “Yes, it’s a genuine Fender.” – and that’s true, cause Starcasters are made by Fender, just like Fender Squiers are made by Fender.  But it would be very misleading.

I could also say that it is not Chinese, because most Starcasters and Squiers are made in Indonesia (though some are made in China).

What we mean generally, when we say “real Fender”, is not a Squier or Starcaster but a Fender guitar made in Mexico or America (by Mexicans!).

Those “real Fenders” cost $599 and up when new.  If you find a used one below $300 (they’re usually between $300 and $400 depending on condition), it is either in poor condition, has a serious but perhaps hidden problem or it is simply not “real Fender”.

By the way, I do have a nice “real Fender” (Mexican) Fender Strat for $349 – but if this is your first guitar (just guessing), I would not recommend that unless your finances are such that it’s just a proverbial drop in the bucket to you.

I would, however, heartily recommend a Starcaster or Squier guitar, or even a Harmony, Silvertone, Yamaha, Ibanez, or Spectrum – IF (and this is the most important thing!) IF it is in good condition (good truss rod & truss nut, level & properly crowned frets, smooth fret ends, decent tuner keys, and a good brand of new strings) and if it is properly SETUP.

When both are properly setup, you’ll be hard pressed to see, feel or hear a difference between a Fender Starcaster, Squier or “real Fender” guitar!  (The difference IS there but much more subtle than you might think!)
How do I know?

I’ve bought and sold (and setup) roughly one thousand guitars in the Pinnellas/Hillsborough areas in the past three years.  I go through every single guitar from end to end, doing any needed repairs, leveling frets, setting up, intonating, etc., etc.

That’s how I know.  But you can know too!  How?  Just come and try some of my guitars out.  Each guitar is in great condition, level frets, properly setup and intonated.

Try a Starcaster, a Squier and a “real Fender” and see if you can tell the difference (other than the price difference!)

Only after you’ve been playing a year or two are you usually able to tell the very subtle differences between these guitars if they’ve been properly setup.

The problem is that even brand new guitars at Sam Ash, Guitar Center, etc. are usually NOT professionally setup.  In fact, they’re not setup at all.  And a “setup” makes all the difference in whether a guitar plays great or it sucks.

I was at one of the big-box stores last week where a customer had come to pickup a new guitar he had ordered. A store employee brought the unopened box out and said, “Just a minute – I’ll stretch and tune the strings for ya.”

That’s right – no setup, no intonating, no checking truss relief, nut slot heights – NOTHING! Just tune it and “Here ya go!”

He’d spent over a thousand dollars and would take home a guitar that was not setup to play or sound right!

I do complete setups and intonation on even my $99 guitars, because someone will be investing a lot of time and effort into learning to play the guitar and I want that instrument to do its part!

I’m a semi-retired professional guitar tech, and I’ll be happy to show you various brands in various price ranges and if you don’t buy one of my guitars, you’ll at least be much better equipped to buy one that won’t be a disappointment to you.