|Scale||25.5 in (648 mm)|
|Bridge||Usually proprietary 6-screw Tremolo
Floyd Rose locking system
|Pickup(s)||Usually 3 Single-coils (SSS) or 2 Single-coils with Hot Bridge Humbucker (HSS) on certain models. Other pickup configurations (H/HH/HSH/HHH) are also available|
|Various 2- or 3-color sunbursts
Other standard or custom colors, blue, pink, red, yellow.
The Fender Stratocaster is a model of electric guitar designed in 1954 by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares. The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has continuously manufactured the Stratocaster from 1954 to the present. It is a double-cutaway guitar, with an extended top "horn" shape for balance. Along with the Gibson Les Paul and Fender Telecaster, it is one of the most-often emulated electric guitar shapes. "Stratocaster" and "Strat" are trademark terms belonging to Fender.
The Stratocaster is a versatile guitar, usable for all styles of complete music and has been used in many genres, including country, rock, pop, folk, soul, rhythm and blues, blues, jazz, punk, and heavy metal.
The Fender Stratocaster was the first guitar to feature three pickups and a spring tension vibrato system, as well as being the first Fender with a contoured body. The Stratocaster's sleek, contoured body shape (officially referred to by Fender as the "Comfort Contour Body") differed from the flat, slab-like design of the Telecaster. The Stratocaster's double cutaways allowed players easier access to higher positions on the neck.
Starting in 1954, the Stratocaster was offered with a solid, deeply contoured ash body, a 21-fret one-piece maple neck with black dot inlays, and Kluson tuning machines. The color was originally a two color sunburst pattern, although custom color guitars were produced (most famously Eldon Shamblin's gold Stratocaster, dated 6/1954). In 1956, Fender began using alder for sunburst and most custom color Stratocaster bodies; ash was still used on translucent blonde instruments. In 1960, the available custom colors were standardized, many of which were automobile lacquer colors from DuPont available at an additional 5% cost. A unique single-ply, 8-screw hole white pickguard held all electronic components except the recessed jack plate—facilitating easy assembly.
Original Stratocasters were manufactured with five ‘tremolo’ springs, allowing the bridge set up to "float". In the floating position, players can move the bridge-mounted ‘tremolo arm’ up or down to modulate the pitch of the notes being played. Hank Marvin, Jeff Beck and Ike Turner have used the Strat's floating tremolo extensively in their playing. As string gauges have changed, players have experimented with the number of tremolo springs, and as the average gauge has decreased over the years, modern Stratocasters are equipped with three springs as a stock option in order to counteract the reduced string tension. While the floating bridge has unique advantages, the functionality of the "floating" has been accepted and disputed by many musicians. As the bridge floats, the instrument has a tendency to go out of tune during double-stop string bends. Many Stratocaster players opt to tighten the tremolo springs (or even increase the number of springs used) so that the bridge is firmly anchored against the guitar body: in this configuration, the tremolo arm can still be used to slacken the strings and therefore lower the pitch, but it cannot be used to raise the pitch (a configuration sometimes referred to as "dive-only"). Some players, such as Eric Clapton and Ronnie Wood, feel that floating bridge has an excessive propensity to detune guitars and so inhibit the bridge's movement with a chunk of wood wedged between the bridge block and the inside cutout of the tremolo cavity and by increasing the tension on the tremolo springs; these procedures lock the bridge in a fixed position. Some Strats have a fixed bridge in place of the tremolo assembly; these are colloquially called "hard-tails". There is considerable debate about the effects on tone and sustain of the material used in the tremolo system's 'inertia bar' and many aftermarket versions are available.
The Stratocaster features three single coil pickups, with the output originally selected by a 3-way switch. Guitarists soon discovered that by jamming the switch in between the 1st and 2nd position, both the bridge and middle pickups could be selected, and similarly, the middle and neck pickups could be selected between the 2nd and 3rd position. When two pickups are selected simultaneously, they are wired in parallel which leads to a slight drop in output as slightly more current is allowed to pass to the ground. However, since the middle pickup is almost always wired in reverse (and with its magnets having opposite polarity), this configuration creates a spaced humbucking pair, which significantly reduces 50/60 cycle hum. In 1977 Fender introduced a 5-way selector making such pickup combinations more stable.
The "quacky" tone of the middle and bridge pickups, popularized by players such as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour, Rory Gallagher, Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, Scott Thurston, Ronnie Wood, John Mayer, Ed King, Eric Clapton and Robert Cray, can be obtained by using the pickup selector in positions 2 and 4. This setting's characteristic tone is not caused by any electronic phenomenon—early Stratocasters used identical pickups for all positions. This "in between" tone is caused by phase cancellation due to the physical position of the pickups along the vibrating string. The neck and middle pickups are each wired to a tone control that incorporates a single, shared tone capacitor, whereas the bridge pickup, which is slanted towards the high strings for a more trebly sound, has no tone control for maximum brightness. On many modern Stratocasters, the first tone control affects the neck pickup; the second tone control affects the middle and bridge pickups; on some Artist Series models (Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy signature guitars), the first tone control is a presence circuit that cuts or boosts treble and bass frequencies, affecting all the pickups; the second tone control is an active midrange booster that boosts the midrange frequencies up to 25 dB (12 dB on certain models) to produce a fatter humbucker-like sound.
Dick Dale is a prominent Stratocaster player who also collaborated with Leo Fender in developing the Fender Showman amplifier. In the early 1960s, the instrument was also championed by Hank Marvin, guitarist for the Shadows, a band that originally backed Cliff Richard and then produced instrumentals of its own. In 1965, George Harrison and John Lennon acquired Stratocasters and used them for Help!, Rubber Soul and later recording sessions; the double unison guitar solo on "Nowhere Man" is played by Harrison and Lennon on their new Stratocasters.
After the introduction of the Fender Stratocaster Ultra series in 1989, ebony was officially selected as a fretboard material on some models (although several Elite Series Stratocasters manufactured in 1983/84 such as the Gold and Walnut were available with a stained ebony fretboard). In December 1965 the Stratocaster was given a broader headstock with altered decals to match the size of the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar.
During the CBS era, particularly the 1970s, the perceived quality of Fender instruments fell. During this time, vintage instruments from the pre-CBS era became popular.
When the Fender company was bought from CBS by a group of investors and employees headed by Bill Schultz in 1985, manufacturing resumed its former high quality and Fender was able to regain market share and brand reputation. Dan Smith, with the help of John Page, proceeded to work on a reissue of the most popular guitars of Leo Fender's era. They decided to manufacture two Vintage reissue Stratocaster models, the one-piece maple neck 1957 and a rosewood-fretboard 1962 along with the maple-neck 1952 Telecaster, the maple-neck 1957 and rosewood-fretboard 1962 Precision Basses, as well as the rosewood-fretboard "stacked knob" 1962 Jazz Bass. These first few years (1982–1984) of reissues, known as American Vintage Reissues, are now high-priced collector's items and considered as some of the finest to ever leave Fender's Fullerton plant, which closed its doors in late 1984.
In 1985, Fender's US production of the Vintage reissues resumed into a new 14,000 square-foot factory at Corona, California, located about 20 miles away from Fullerton. Some early reissues from 1986 were crafted with leftover parts from the Fullerton factory. Fender released their first Stratocaster signature guitar to Yngwie Malmsteen in 1986.
As well as the vintage reissues, Fender launched an updated model in 1987: the American Standard Stratocaster. This was tailored to the demands of modern players, notably having a flatter fingerboard, a thinner neck profile and an improved tremolo system. This model line has been continuously improved and remained in production until late 2016. The model line received upgrades in 2000, when it was renamed as the American Series Stratocaster, and again in 2008, when the American Standard name was restored. In 2017, the American Standard Stratocaster was replaced by the American Professional Stratocaster, with narrow frets, a fatter 'deep C' neck profile and V-Mod pickups. Various other modern American-made Stratocasters have been produced. As of 2017, these include the more affordable American Special Stratocaster and the more expensive American Elite Stratocaster.
Fender has also manufactured guitars in the Far East, notably Japan, and in Mexico, where the affordable 'Standard' series guitars are built.
Notable Stratocaster players
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- "1954 Limited Edition Stratocaster Owner's Manual (Catalog Copy)". FMIC. Archived from the original on 27 June 2012. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
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- Balmer, Paul (2007). The Fender Stratocaster Handbook: How to Buy, Maintain, Set Up, Troubleshoot, and Modify Your Strat. MBI. ISBN 978-0-7603-2983-2. Archived from the original on 2013-12-31.
- Bacon, Tony. The Fender Electric Guitar Book: A Complete History of Fender Instruments. 3rd edition. Backbeat Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-87930-897-1.
- Wheeler, Tom. The Stratocaster Chronicles: Celebrating 50 Years of the Fender Strat. Hal Leonard, 2004. ISBN 978-0-634-05678-9.
- U.S. Patent No. 2,741,146 (Tremolo device for stringed instruments; Stratocaster Tremolo system)
- U.S. Patent No. 2,960,900 (Utility patent for offset body styled guitars (Fender Jaguar/Jazzmaster))
- U.S. Patent No. D186826 (Design Patent for Fender Jazzmaster)
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