Information on The Fender Stratocaster
The Fender Stratocaster is a part of American History and is know for its bright bell like tone and body shape. It was first issued in 1954 and is still one of the top selling electric guitars. First made popular by Buddy Holly and then later used by the Beatles, Beach Boys, Monkeys. It was Buddy Holly started things off by appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957 playing a Stratocaster. Later a small timer blues player went to England in the mid 60's then came back to the States and put the Stratocaster on the map. That small timer was Jimi Hendrix. Jimi brought the legendary guitar with the release of "Voodoo child" and "Star Spangled Banner". Eric Clapton made it even more popular when he was with Cream. He (Clapton) purchase a number of Strats earlier in his career and gave them to his friends George Harrison, Steve Winwood, and Pete Townshend. Today the Stratocaster is used by a wide number of guitarists from Steve Howe to Mark Knopfler, The Beach Boys, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan, Robin Trower. David Gilmour has a Strat with the serial number 0001 which means its pre 1956. Evidentially however it wasn’t the first one because the neck time stamp said June 1954 which was a few months after the first Strat was introduced.
The Stratocaster is not only the most popular Fender guitar but its
one of the all time most popular guitars in history. Even though the
Telecaster was created before the Strat it wasn't as popular. Both
the Strat and the Tele have their own unique sound and look. The Strat
wasn’t the first guitar Leo Fender came up with. Actually that
honor goes to the Fender Esquire which was the original Telecaster.
The name was then changed to ‘Broadcaster’ in 1950, and
then finally to the ‘Telecaster’ around 1951. The Broadcaster’s
name was changed to the Telecaster because Gretsch (a drum and guitar
manufacturer) already had a drum set named “Broadkaster”.
Other things happening around this time was the beginning of the Korean
War (June 25, 1950) and Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury.
Work started on the Stratocaster about a year after the introduction of the Tele. It was designed by both Leo Fender and Freddie Travares in response to guitarists complaining about the physical edge of the Telecaster digging in to their. The Strat body shape is called 'Comfort Contour Body' and was taken from the Fender Precision bass guitar. Both where influenced by the curvy shapes of the 1950's mainly found in the automobiles at the time. The exact date of the Stratocaster’s creation is not really known but it was probably sometime in the early 50’s.
In 1965 CBS corporation purchase Fender for $13 million and Leo Fender went off to create another guitar company which would end up being called 'Music Man Guitars'. After CBS took over Fender the quality of the guitars and amps suffered and there was little innovation. This lasted until around 1985 when a group of Fender employees decided to purchase the company from CBS and return the company to its original state of quality and innovation. Leo had continued to work on these guitars through out the number of company changes as well as his other guitar companies: Music Man and G&L Guitars.
In April of 1954 from the Fender shop in Fullerton California the Stratocaster guitar was introduced. The cost at the time was about $250.00 US. It had the famous vibrato or whammy bar which was in response to Gibson's Bigsby tremolo which was introduced by Les Paul in 1952. The vibrato (pitch changing) or tremolo proved to be quite a project which included many trial and error guitars and piles of junked prototypes. Production of the first non-tremolo (hardtail) Strats was in April a year later (1955) and 25 guitars where made. The tremolo is usually called a Synchronized Tremolo on Strats. It consisted of a fulcrum and tremolo bar that was held in place with 5 springs that where located on the back side of the body. The strings were also laced through the Synchronized tremolo mechanism. Many guitarists would remove 1 or 2 springs from the tremolo to lessen its stiffness. They could also adjust the tension by turning the adjustment screws located inside where the springs where. The first Fender Strat wasn’t available in England until 1960.
The guitar's shape hasn't changed much since its introduction. The shape was influenced from the original Fender Precision Bass guitar. It was then called 'Comfort Contour Body' that was usually made from 2 or 3 pieces of Ash wood. The Precision Bass body had an elongated double cut-away body which very much looks like a Strat body. Fender also introduced the two-tone sunburst color scheme on the strat. Now most sunburst is done using 3 colors. The body was painted and then covered with nitrocellulose lacquer. There have been improvements made to refining its shape but on a whole it's the same. The colors were somewhat limited at the time but in the early 1950's as it was either 3-color sunburst or blonde. They added a number of colors in the mid 50's using DuPont Duco paints and Lacquers. In 1960 they announced more official colors which included Lake Placid Blue, Foam Green, Dauphine Blue, and Fiesta Red as well as many others. In the 70's the 60's offspring where more into the natural wood finish and started stripping the finish off the guitars. Fender has made a number of natural finished bodies and necks. Today you can get a wide range of solid and transparent colors along with natural wood finishes.
The all Maple neck is bolted on to the body with the tuners located on one side of the head stock. The Gibson Les Paul for instance has a ‘set in’ or glued in neck with 3 tuners on either side of the headstock. Originally the Fretboard on the Strat was maple with the rosewood versions introduced a few years later. The rosewood fretboard (or fingerboard) is simply glued on top of the Maple Neck. Many of the Strat neck lengths where 25.5 inches which was about 3/4 inch longer than most Gibson's of the time. The earlier necks where sealed with lacquer and had 21 frets with the later ones have 22 frets. They were made of Maple and had a metal reinforcement rod running through the neck. This is called the Truss Rod and is also used for adjusting the curve of the neck. If you look at the back side of the neck, where your palm would be, you'll notice a stripe down the center of the neck. This is the truss rod and the stripe is also called a 'skunk stripe'. After the truss rod is placed in the neck it's covered up using dark walnut. The neck was bolted to the body using 4 wood screws. Les Pauls are glued in.
One of the more important aspects to the sound of the Strat is its three single coil pickups. This along with the 3-way pickup selector hasn’t changed much in design since it first used. This was Fender's response to the ever growing Gibson Les Paul guitars. This was one of the main points behind the Strat in that it offered three different tones simply by switching to a different pickup. The pickups leant to the three basic electric guitar playing styles: Rhythm, Normal Tone, and Lead Tone. The Rhythm tone was done using the pickup nearest the neck itself also called the Neck Pickup. This pickup usually by way of being positioned away from the bridge gave the guitar a less bright tone. This made a more useful rhythm guitar tone. The Normal Tone was the Middle pickup. This was brighter than the neck pickup for more aggressive playing. Setting the 3-way pickup selector to this pickup gave a brighter tone. The Lead Tone was done from the pickup nearest the bridge. By way of physical mechanics the sound of the strings closest to the bridge (where you pick the string) is where the tone is its brightness. The actual amount of low bass frequencies was more but the amount of high frequencies surpassed them. This gave the guitar a bright and louder tone that is generally used for playing leads. However in the early 60's Dick Dale and others found that placing the pickup selector in-between settings allowed for two more very different sounds. Guitarists would insert a thin piece of cardboard or match booklet cover in the pickup selector's slot to keep it in place. Some like the Middle+Neck sound while others liked the Middle+Bridge sound. In 1977 Fender introduced the 5-way pickup selector which has added the two in-between settings. If the middle pickup is reverse wound or reversed polarity then positions 2 and 4, the in between positions are used as hum canceling.
The single coil pickup did have some drawbacks in that it was more susceptible to hum and other noise that would be 'picked up' and then amplified by the amp. Gibson came out with the Humbucker pickup which is actually two single coil pickups placed side by side. Placing the pickups side by side cancelled out both the hum and noise. It also changed the tone and sound of the pickup and hence the guitar. Fender has since come out with there noiseless single coil pickups. If you look closely at a Fender pickup you'll notice that the center pole pieces are not at the same height. The pole pieces are round metal protrusions on the top of the pickup. They are what ‘pick up’ the vibration from the string. The reason they are not the same height is that the output of each string was different and this height evened out the volume changes. The output of the string would vary depending upon its gauges (thickness). The 'B' string seemed to be the loudness because its pole piece was lower than the others.
Today the Strat is still one of the most popular, if not the most popular, guitar made. Leo Fender died in 1991 leaving a true legacy for us all to enjoy. I'm sure that there are many other people who have contributed to the Stratocaster design and the actual manufacturing of the instrument. An interesting side note: Leo Fender didn't know how to play guitar, but he new how to design and manufacture them. Over the years there has been a number of one of a kind strats made. One of the more notable ones is the see-through Plexi-glass model and the rhinestone strat. Fender doesn't directly build guitars for guitarists but rather they have a network of authorized Fender custom shop dealers. The dealers give you personalized service, pricing and options. See the Fender Support Page for more info.
Currently there are 13 different types manufactured:
* American Deluxe