A history of the Fender Stratocaster

all images courtesy of Fender.com and Gear4Music (affiliated partner)

Early Conceptions

As Fender’s Telecaster design collected more and more praise, rather than embracing the achievement, Leo Fender and George Fullerton were already working on their next big idea. By the end of 1951 the team had devised a new staggered pole pickup concept and set their sites on an entirely unique and evolved design for a guitar, the Fender Stratocaster. Leo Fender devoted a huge amount of time to visiting guitar players and having them play his prototypes in search of what elements would come together to create the best guitar.

Eric-Clapton 1975

Eric Clapton with a Fender Stratocaster “Blackie” circa 1975 – photo Matt Gibbons

Pursuit of the Dream Design

The result of years of trial and experimenting led to the Stratocaster’s debut in 1954. A truly different experience from the well-known solid bodied Telecaster, instead featuring a smooth contoured body to fit with the player, a double cut away format and 3 pick-ups to allow for a wide selection of tones. Perhaps most importantly though – something that set the Stratocaster leagues apart from other electric guitars – was the fact it featured a vibrato style bridge with individual adjustable saddles for height and intonation. On a solid bodied guitar this potent combination had yet to be developed. Unlike the Telecaster which failed to include a truss rod in it’s early models, Fender really got the Stratocaster spot on from it’s first sale on October 13th, 1954. Attributed to the growing advent of space exploration, Don Randall aptly gave the new design it’s atmospheric name, the Fender Stratocaster.

Pushing Boundaries

Although the new guitar was ready to break boundaries and hit record sales with it’s easily manufactured modular design, the guitar struggled to gain interest from the mainstream. It wasn’t until 1957 when Buddy Holly performed on the Ed Sullivan show that the Stratocaster really hit the ground running with what it could do for the world of Rock & Roll. Taking influence from Leo Fender’s love of cars, Fender began to reach beyond the cream coloured Telecaster and sunburst coloured Stratocaster into custom orders using DuPont’s automobile paint.

A Guitar for the Stars is born

The company continued to experiment with the guitar’s variable including wood types and electronics until they really hit the sweet spot in 1962. Besides the growing charm the Stratocaster had in America, the guitar grew a high demand in Europe. The UK was particularly influential in this as stars of the British Invasion began to sport their own Fender Stratocasters, including John Lennon and George Harrison’s matching sonic blue Stratocaster, Jimi Hendrix’s collection of Stratocasters and Eric Clapton’s ‘Brownie’ Stratocaster.

Eric Clapton 1

Eric Clapton performing with a Fender Stratocaster 2009 – photo Majvdl / CC BY-SA

Return from the Stratosphere

The Stratocaster received a huge welcome from the guitar community worldwide, but as Fender was sold to CBS in 1965 the quality control dropped significantly and began to tarnish the brand’s reputation. The guitars continued to be built and innovated by CBS owned Fender for 20 years until the torch was handed back to Fender royalty when a group of employees and investors re-acquired the company from CBS in 1985. They resumed production with a much higher standard of craftsmanship and began to reissue the most coveted years of the Stratocaster, most notably the 1957 and 1962 models. To this day the tradition of high quality instruments continue to be crafted by Fender employees in Southern California, inspiring guitarists for years to come.

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