Fender has announced the new American Professional II lineup, their latest family of American-made electric guitars and basses. Replacing the American Professional line initially released in 2017, the APII features several refinements geared toward improved playability and better sound, as well as a range of new colors. We reached out to Max Gutnik, Fender’s Vice President of Electric Guitars, Basses and Amplifiers, to learn more.
The HUB: As you approached American Professional II, how did you make the decision on what needed an “upgrade” versus what was a preferential change?
Max Gutnik: Our mindset when creating the American Professional II Series was giving players more tonal options, robust playability and more ways to express themselves through their instrument. This drove decisions like push/push pots for advanced pickup switching options and the new sculpted neck heel for greater ease of play, while the inclusion of tortoise pickguards or new colors like Miami Blue are about making these guitars visually exciting and distinct.
The HUB: Was there any American Professional feedback from artists that impacted AP II?
MG: Absolutely. In our never-ending pursuit to advance the state of the art of the instrument, it’s essential to work with the professionals who use and abuse them each and every day. American Professional Series is played by thousands of artists and working musicians all over the world, so we had a lot of opportunities to meet, discuss, observe, jam and incorporate all of those experiences into American Pro II.
The HUB: Let’s talk about the neck design. You stuck with the Deep “C” design found on American Professional but made a number of refinements. Can you break them down for us, and why you made each change?
MG: The Deep “C” has proven to be wildly popular with players, so we wanted to maintain that profile while making it better. Two of the key changes were the degree to which the fingerboard edges were rolled and the finish on the back of the neck. The more rounded fingerboard edges on American Pro II make the neck more comfortable for chording and bending while the new “Super-Natural” satin urethane finish feels more like natural wood, reducing friction when moving up and down the neck.
The HUB: You made some pretty significant updates with regards to bridge and trem designs. Let’s look at the Strat first. The trem system now has a cold-rolled steel block. What does that mean for players as far as tonal impact and performance of the tremolo?
MG: The cold-rolled steel block on the American Pro II Stratocaster is a great new feature that adds sustain and extra definition to the guitar’s high-end presence, creating a more expressive-sounding instrument.
The HUB: Looking at the Tele bridge, it offers top-loading and string-through, which provides quite a bit of flexibility, including the option to mix methods. What are the benefits of each stringing method, and why might someone want to mix the two?
MG: Stringing through the body of the guitar gives players the resonance, sustain and string tension they’re used to on a Telecaster—articulate attack and twang. If players top-load their strings, the Tele shifts to offer a springier feel with less twang and more complex low-end harmonics. Players now have the choice to mix and match depending on their preferences, creating a ton of tonal flexibility.
The HUB: What impact does the “bullet”-shape saddles have on the bridge performance?
MG: The “bullet” ends were shaped to improve the playability of the American Pro II Telecaster bridge by offering rounded edges for more comfortable palm muting and picking near the bridge.
The HUB: You’ve introduced the Panorama Jazzmaster Tremolo. What’s different about it?
MG: Jazzmaster tremolos are loved for their expressive pitch vibrato. The Panorama design improves upon the original trem by increasing the range and tuning stability. At the same time, we added a pop-in arm, similar to the American Pro II Stratocaster unit, which provides more solid action with less “play.”
The HUB: Let’s move on to the pickup and electronic system updates. At a high-level, what was the sonic “goal” as you approached this project?
MG: Dynamics, flexibility, and ease of use. American Pro II needed to be even more versatile and capable than its predecessor, which is why we evolved the pickup design, created new Double Tap™ humbucking pickups and incorporated push-push knobs.
The HUB: Both your V-Mod and Double Tap™ pickups were updated with new voicings. For someone who is used to the sound of the pickups on American Professional, how are these going to sound different?
MG: Each pickup set has been fine-tuned for optimal voicing, balance and response with their associated instrument to achieve the tonality and versatility we were striving for. V-Mod II pickups build upon the foundation of the V-Mod family for improved articulation and dynamics. You’ll hear the difference instantly when you play them.
The HUB: How would you sum up the key differences? Is it a different magnet mix, or something deeper?
MG: We added a newly voiced Double Tap™ humbucking pickups to the Strat HSS and Telecaster Deluxe. Fender’s patented Double Tap™ Humbucking technology makes it possible to get two completely different sounds from a humbucking pickup, beyond the traditional sounds achievable by simply splitting a normal humbucking pickup.
We added a tappable single-coil bridge pickup to our Jazzmaster that offers players both a higher-output sound and a jangly, vintage-voiced tone with the press of a push/push pot.
We continue to experiment with magnets, wire, tension, and more in our search for the perfect voicing.
The HUB: Can you speak about the switchable pot design and how it’s implemented? Why would a player want to change pot values from a humbucker to a single coil?
MG: Our HSS Strat model is equipped with a dual 500K/250K pot that operates automatically depending on the position of the 5-way switch. What makes this so cool is the 500K pot is selected when using the Double Tap™ and the 250K pot is selected when using the middle or neck single coils. Higher value pots let more high-end through. Bright single coil pickups typically sound better with 250K pots and humbucking pickups with 500K pots, so this Fender dual-pot design really gives you optimal tone for whichever pickup you’re using!
The HUB: Why did you choose to go with push-push rather than push-pull?
MG: Since so many artists will use American Professional II in performance situations, push-push pots are easier to engage on-the-fly, without missing a beat.
The HUB: Let’s talk about the use of Roasted Pine. Earlier this year, Fender announced that ash would gradually be withdrawn as a tonewood due to increasing scarcity. This was attributed to the two-prong attack of the aggressive Emerald Ash Borer beetle and climate change.
Can you speak to what players can expect out of roasted pine, particularly compared to ash or other tonewoods?
MG: The reduced moisture content from “cooking” the pine enhances all of the things players love about the early 1950s prototype Telecasters and Esquires – rich tone, stunning resonance and striking grain patterns.
The HUB: As a business so reliant on the availability of specific woods, how is Fender anticipating coming changes and what measures are Fender taking to be a better steward of the environment in the long-term?
MG: Whether we are utilizing reclaimed woods or researching the use of sustainable material sources, we are constantly evaluating how to move forward as leading caretakers of our planet.
The HUB: Are there any features that you think might be more appreciated by gigging players versus session or at-home players?
MG: Enhancements ranging from the sculpted neck heel to the Super-Natural neck finish to the V-Mod II pickups and more, each spec was carefully chosen to improve the playing experience for all players in studio, on stage, and every situation.
The HUB: Alright, little bit of a personal question here. What’s your favorite update to the line?
MG: It would have to be all of the neck improvements. The rolled edges and new finish make AM Pro II play like a neck that’s been broken-in over years of playing and the neck heel is super comfortable in the higher register.
The HUB: Do you have a preferred color or model in the line-up?
MG: It’s hard to narrow it down to just one, but Dark Night is the winner for me. I love the way the metallic blue halo plays off of the black center, creating this sense of the guitars glowing. It’s a modern-looking guitar without crossing too far into space-age aesthetics.
The HUB: What are you looking for players to take away from these instruments after they play them for the first time? What is the “ideal” American Professional II experience for you?
MG: We hope players of widely different backgrounds, generations, genres and skill levels can find their voice in this new lineup and further their musical journey. Every dollar spent on gear is hard-earned — it’s important to us that these instruments are rock-solid tools that inspire players to push the envelope of self-expression.
The HUB: Awesome. Thanks for your time, Max!