Fender Stratocaster

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Fender Stratocaster
Manufacturer: Fender

Period: 1954 — present


Body type: Solid

Neck joint: Bolt-on


Body: Alder or Ash

Neck: Maple

Fretboard: Maple, Rosewood


Bridge: Synchronized Tremolo

Pickup(s): 3 Single-coil

Colors available: (Standard Series, as of 2005) Black, Sunburst, Sage Green Metallic, Blue Agave, Midnight Wine, Arctic White (other colors may be available)

The Fender Stratocaster is a model of electric guitar designed by Leo Fender in the early 1950s, and manufactured continuously to the present. The Fender Stratocaster has been used by many leading guitarists and on many historic recordings: Along with the Gibson Les Paul and the Strat's older cousin, the Fender Telecaster, it is one of the most enduring and common models of electric guitar in the world.

The Stratocaster has been widely copied, such that 'Stratocaster' or 'Strat' can also denote a type of guitar, by various manufacturers, showing the same general features as the original (see strat copy). But properly, and to all legal intent, a Stratocaster is always a Fender; and the guitar's popularity shows no sign of waning.


The Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company (now known as Fender Musical Instruments Corporation) developed the first commercial solid-body 'Spanish' (as opposed to 'Hawaiian,' or lap steel) electric guitar in the Telecaster, a simple design whose earliest models were offered under various names like Broadcaster or simply Esquire, beginning in 1950.

Though the Telecaster and its variants were successful, many guitar players of the day insisted on using a Bigsby unit, a fairly primitive spring-loaded vibrato device with which players could bend notes up and down with their pick hand. Instead of adding a Bigsby, Fender decided to produce a new, more expensively-made ash or alder line of guitars with his own design of vibrato (see tremolo arm for more on the evolution of such mechanisms).

His decision was also influenced by guitarists Brook Kerr and Lindsay Hartley, Bill Carson, who requested a contoured body to temper the harsh edges of the slab-built Telecaster; the new ash body design was based on that of the 1951 Precision Bass.

The name, 'Stratocaster,' was intended to evoke images of newly emergent jet-aircraft technology (such as the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress), and to express Fender's modernistic design philosophy. In designing the Stratocaster's body, a significant area of the back of the guitar, and the area where the strumming arm rests, were beveled to accommodate the player's chest and arm.

The upper bouts featured two cutaways, for easier access to the higher frets. The new 'Custom Contour Body' and 'Synchronized Tremolo' bridge made the Stratocaster a revolutionary design. The guitar also featured more complex electronics than the Telecaster: three single coil pickups, each with staggered magnetic poles; a three-way selector switch; one volume knob, and two tone controls. (A three single-coil pickup design was an innovation already in use by Gibson in their ES-5 model since 1949. However, Fender's pickups were much more compact.)

Patents were applied for all these new designs, and production line Stratocasters reached the market in early 1954 for $249.50. The basic production model had a two-tone nitrocellulose 'sunburst' finish, an all-maple neck, ash body (1956-later alder), chrome hardware, and Bakelite-like plastic parts.Other manufacturers began imitating these innovations immediately.

An early-model Fender Stratocaster, along with his black-rimmed glasses, was a key component of Buddy Holly's signature look, and he was among the first players to popularize the Stratocaster in rock music. Both his gravestone and his walk-of-fame statue in Lubbock, Texas feature his Stratocaster.

Sound and playability

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock with a 1969 Stratocaster, a right-handed model played left-handed, with the strings in the standard order relative to the guitarist.

Much of the popularity of the Fender Stratocaster can be attributed to its versatility.The neck, middle, and bridge (in the original manual, labelled "rhythm", "normal tone", and "lead", respectively) pickups provide a wide range of tones; the Stratocaster has been used for a variety of purposes, from the classic "Fender twang" to the slicing solos of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton to the fat, crunching tones in Ritchie Blackmore's "Smoke on the Water".

The bone-simple Telecaster also remained in production, and both the Stratocaster and the Telecaster flourished into diverse families of guitars, with many variants. Each continues to enjoy its own following among guitarists.

Design and popularity changes

Eric Clapton plays his signature model at the Tsunami Relief concert, January 22nd 2005.

In 1959-1967, the Fender Stratocaster was refitted with a rosewood fretboard, as well as color choices other than sunburst, including a variety of colorful car-like paint jobs that appealed to the nascent surfer and hot-rod culture, pioneered by such bands as the Ventures and the Beach Boys.

Dick Dale, the godfather of surf-rock, was a prominent Stratocaster player who also collaborated with Leo Fender in developing the Fender Showman amplifier. In the early 60's, the instrument was also championed by Hank Marvin - guitarist of the Shadows, a band which originally backed Cliff Richard and then produced instrumentals of its own.

So distinctive was the Hank Marvin sound that many musicians - including the Beatles - initially deliberately avoided the Stratocaster and chose other marques.

However, by 1965, George Harrison and John Lennon of the Beatles both acquired Fender Stratocasters at about the time of the Rubber Soul recording sessions. It was Jimi Hendrix who widely popularized its use once again in the late 1960s.

The maple fingerboard, discontinued in 1959, was reintroduced as an option in 1967; the guitar could be purchased with either a maple or a rosewood fretboard.

Many artists (including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Mark Knopfler) discovered that the pickup selector could be lodged in between the basic three settings for further tonal variety; since 1977, Stratocasters have been fitted with a five-way switch to make such switching more stable.

Other, often subtle changes were made to the guitars over the years, as though in the spirit of tinkering for which Leo Fender was famous, but the basic shape and features of the Strat remained unchanged.

In the 1980's some popular guitarists began modifying their Stratocasters with a humbucker pickup in the bridge position. This was intended to provide a more suitable sound for the heavier music of the day.

The popularity of this modification grew and ultimately Fender began releasing factory built models with a bridge humbucker option.

Players first perceived a loss of the initial high quality of Fender guitars after the CBS takeover in 1965. So-called 'pre-CBS' Stratocasters are, accordingly, extremely sought-after and expensive. In recent times, original 1954 to 1958 Stratocasters have sold for as much as $30,000 (and for well over $100,000 for authentic celebrity-owned Strats).Many now reside in Japan, cached away as collectible pieces of Americana.

The Stratocaster fell out of fashion in the mid-sixties, to the point where the Fender company (Leo Fender had sold it to CBS for $13 million in January 1965) reduced its price and considered removing it from their production line. However, Jimi Hendrix and many other blues-influenced artists of the late '60s soon adopted the Stratocaster as their main instrument, reviving the guitar's popularity.

Both George Harrison and Eric Clapton used Stratocasters in the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh, giving the Strat additional high visibilty in rock circles.

After a peak in the 1970s, driven by players such as David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, another lull occurred in the early '80s.

During that time, CBS-Fender cut costs by deleting features from the standard Stratocaster line, despite a blues revival that featured Strat players such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, and Buddy Guy. (Buddy Guy had actually been a Strat player since the mid-1960s, and is sometimes credited with influencing Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan in their choice of the Stratocaster as a primary blues-rock guitar.)

However, this lull abated once the company became independent of CBS, and a rise in mainstream popularity for vintage (and vintage-style) instruments resulted.

Current models

Fender now offers an extensive line of vintage Stratocaster reissues and more modern variants (with the same basic shape and features)—built in California, Mexico, Japan, and Korea—as well as maintaining a Custom Shop that builds guitars to order.

Those who wish period-accurate replicas can obtain Strats and other Fender instruments with original-style cloth-coated wiring, pickup and electronics designs, wood routing patterns, and even artificial aging and oxidizing of components using the Custom Shop "relic" process.

Billy Joe Armstrong of

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day before 1991.

Fender also offers both Custom Shop and regular production Artist Series guitars, featuring replicas of the Stratocasters played by famous guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Adrian Belew[1], Bonnie Raitt,Eric Clapton,Mary Kaye, Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Eric Johnson, Dick Dale, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ritchie Blackmore, Richie Sambora and many others.

Other notable Fender Stratatocaster players include Buddy Holly, Mark Knopfler, The Edge,Dave Murray, Hank Marvin, Rory Gallagher, Mick Green, Bob Dylan, George Harrison (in the later years of the Beatles), David Gilmour, Jean Pierre Danel, John Mayer, Rivers Cuomo, Robin Trower, John Frusciante, Ed King, Craig Nicholls, Brian May, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike McCready, Jimi Hendrix, Pat Smear, Albert Hammond Jr and Terry Kath (early in Chicago's career). Very few electric guitarists, amateur or professional, have not played a Fender Stratocaster at some point in their careers.See the article on the Fender company for further details on the Stratocaster's various designations and countries of manufacture.


• The Stratocaster with serial number 0001 is owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.
• As of 2000, there were "thirty-one distinct factory-made Stratocaster models available" (Bacon).
• Leo Fender, the guitar's designer, could not play guitar.
• Eric Clapton's "Blackie" fetched a record $US 959,500 at a charity auction in 2004.


• Bacon, Tony. 50 Years of Fender: Half a Century of the Greatest Electric Guitars. Backbeat Books, 2000.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Fender Stratocaster".