History of the Fender Stratocaster
Originally designed in 1954 by Leo Fender, George Fullerton, Bill Carson and Freddie Tavares as a way to build on the previous success of the Telecaster and Precision (P) Bass – the Fender Stratocaster has went on to be (arguably) the most iconic ‘axe of all time. Although many iterations have come and went throughout the years, the “Strat” has been continuously manufactured since its original debut – becoming an archetype to not only the guitar world – but the entire music world altogether.
Introduced as the first guitar to feature three pickups (with a spring tension tremolo system), it also marked Fender’s first six-string model with a sleek, countered body. Originally carrying a 3-way pickup selector switch, it allowed players to engage pickups simultaneously with a few crafty adjustments – causing Fender to redesign the selectors (adding two more) to add a vastly improved amount of versatility and sophistication to the electric guitar. With additional revolutionary designs like double cutaways (elements of design contour that allow the player’s hands to reach higher notes on the fretboard) and a neck that was NOT bolted on, this piece of musical history quickly caught on with the musical elite – creating a long-lasting, oft-imitated legacy in musical excellence.
The tone of the guitar and the styles it’s used in
The Fender Stratocaster’s aforementioned 5-way pickup selector plays an enormous role in its versatility – allowing the player to easily blend sounds and techniques for genres as diverse as rock, pop, punk, jazz, blues, soul, R&B, country and more. Its body, style and wood density allow for searing blues licks, sparkly funk rhythms, jangly strumming or subdued finger-plucked jazziness. The Stratocaster’s longer neck length creates a tighter string tension – predisposing it to be particularly proficient at producing bright, chiming tones while the multitude of technical configurations allow for the player to manipulate the sound into whatever they’re after.
Used in literally millions of recordings by a laundry list of music royalty – the Stratocaster’s chameleon-like tone shapeshiftery is an obvious reminder of why it continues to be one of the most used musical instruments of all time.
How the guitar is constructed and manufactured
In a refreshing change of pace – Fender refers to their flagship location in Corona, California (where many of their prominent guitar lines have been made since 1985) as a “manufacturing facility’ – not a factory. In fact, there’s much less dependence on robots, machines and automated processes than you may think.
Although the amount of variations can be extremely diverse (more on that later), most Strats produced under Fender’s nameplate feature a double cutaway countered alder (or ash) body – a wood known for it’s exceptional resonance and comfort. The 3 single coil pickups are controlled by the 5-way blade switch, situated between a master volume and two tone knobs to further adjust the output and treble frequencies of the middle and neck pickups. A standard, synchronized tremolo bar provides the player modulation at the flick of the wrist. The maple (or rosewood) fingerboard is affixed to the neck for extra strength and stability, while its overall classic lacquer finish gives it a shiny, iconic appearance that’s been long revered.
The considerable level of meticulous, hand-detailed craftsmanship that has remained in Fender’s manufacturing process is one of the main reasons it has remained a mainstay of the musical world.
Different types, styles and variations of the Fender Stratocaster
Fender Stratocasters are manufactured in many, many different ways… and not only in California. With an almost endless amount of variations in design, style, mechanical components, body styles, wood types and more – Fender (and its marque brand, Squier) have unveiled countless amounts of Stratocaster variations throughout the years with prices ranging from department-store-inexpensive to curator-only value. Although many of their flagship models are constructed in California, mass-production factory facilities located in Indonesia, China, Mexico, Japan, Korea, India and more produce inexpensive variants as a means to not only provide product variation – but to also compete with the massive market for Stratocaster copies manufactured by various third parties.
Famous musicians that play the Stratocaster
With over six decades of industry service, the Strat has graced the hands of some extraordinarily esteemed musicians and players throughout history. It has become a go-to weapon for everything from jazz to metal. Virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Nile Rodgers, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Yngwie Malmsteen have exemplified the instrument’s technical capability and prowess. Others like George Harrison, David Gilmour, Ritchie Blackmore, Buddy Holly and even Billy Corgan have shown just how versatile and timeless the Strat’s power can truly be. With an image that invokes nothing but “rock star”, Leo Fender’s humble introduction has become a true staple in the fine art of musicianship.
Want to know more? Want to have a try at playing a Fender Stratocaster for yourself? Get in touch with the team at Lakes Music Tuition.