Review: Fender Squier Strat with USB connects directly to computer or iPad
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The list of products that allow you to connect an electric guitar to an iPad seems to grow longer every day. IK Multimedia’s iRig, Apogee’s Jam, Sonoma Wire Works’ GuitarJack 2, Griffin’s GuitarConnect cable, Line6’s Mobile In, and Agile Partners’ Peavey AmpKit Link HD all let you plug in your favorite axe into an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and play and record with an equally impressive list of iOS apps, including GarageBand. But with the Squier USB Strat guitar, Fender cuts out the middleman by incorporating a USB interface directly into their iconic guitar, alongside the standard 1/4-inch input you use to connect to an amp.
The attractive brown sunburst guitar is an upgraded version of Fender’s budget-friendly Bullet Strat line, and feels solid and well built for an entry level model. But with new Squier Stratocasters selling for as much as $600 and new Fender Strats listing as high as $3000, you need to be realistic with your expectations. The standard Bullet Strat has three single coil pickups, while the USB Strat has two single coil and one humbucker pickup near the bridge. A five-position switch lets you select the pickup or pickups to use. The guitar has a basswood body, a rosewood fingerboard, 21 frets and, of course, a tremolo bar.
As for its USB interface, the Strat’s mini-USB connector is bi-directional, allowing you to use the included 1/8th inch headphone jack located next to the USB input to monitor the guitar when used with an iOS device or computer. Most guitar interfaces require you to run the 1/4-inch cable from your guitar jack to an external interface, plug in your headphones into the same interface, and then connect the interface to your iOS device using either the dock connector or the 1/8th inch headphone input on your iOS device. Having the interface built into the guitar means there’s one fewer cable running between the instrument and your iPad. Keeping the headphones close by plugging into the guitar also helps reduce cable clutter and affords a little more mobility.
On the downside, having an integrated interface means less versatility. External interfaces let you decide which guitar or bass to plug in, and some even offer inputs for microphones.
The Strat has three knobs, one volume, one for tone and one for headphone volume. It would be great if you could use the headphone jack to hear the guitar when not connected to an external device, even if it only provided a clean tone, but that would probably require an internal pre-amp and batteries in the guitar.
The Strat comes with a pair of black, two-meter long cables; a Fender-branded mini USB to 30-pin dock connector cable, and a common mini USB to USB-B connector for attaching to a computer. The second cable is a nice touch, seeing how most interfaces have a hardwired dock connector, making it impossible to use with you Mac. A Lightning cable is not included, but I was able to use the USB mini to USB-B cable in conjunction with Apple’s USB Camera Connector to Lightning adapter without any problems, and the Fender branded mini USB to 30-pin connector worked with Apple’s 30-pin to Lightning adapter on an iPad mini and an iPhone 5.
Whether plugged into an amp using the standard 1/4-inch cable or to an iPad using USB, the Squier Strat sounded clean and clear and was fun to play. I recorded some songs with GarageBand, switching between the Strat’s USB input and using the 1/4-inch out to Sonoma Wire Work’s GuitarJack 2 ,and found that the clarity and gain were very similar. From jangly chords to crunchy to riffs, the Fender tone came through and sounded great.
While more expensive than most dock connector guitar interfaces that usually cost between $80 (Line 6 Mobile-in) and $149 (for the GuitarJack 2), $199 for a guitar interface that includes a guitar that plays, sounds and looks nice actually feels like quite a deal.
Updated 12/3/12 with corrections to the color of the guitar and a reference to iRig.