The Stratocaster is still one of the most popular guitars available, 59 years after launch – but why buy a Strat?
There are some guitars that were ‘born perfect’. From the moment they appeared, they were so well crafted that they’ve remained pretty much unchanged ever since.
Leo Fender designed a disproportionate number of these guitars. He got off to a perfect start with the Telecaster, then, as if to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, followed it with one of the most popular and enduring guitars ever: the Stratocaster.
This iconic guitar has been the tool of choice for so many legendary guitarists that it’s, frankly, a little bit ridiculous. Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Kurt Cobain… the list is seemingly endless.
The Stratocaster has been available for 59 years, yet its modern equivalent is pretty much the same as the original guitar. What is it that makes this guitar so special? Why buy a Strat?
The most comfortable guitar to play ever?
When the Telecaster was released, it was born from Leo Fender’s crude pickup test guitar that he used in his electronics shop. As such, its design was pretty basic. The body was simple slab of alder or ash, with little in the way of ergonomic design.
This changed with the Stratocaster. Fender’s second guitar featured the ‘Comfort Contour Body’. This was far more rounded and contoured, with a body recess on the reverse, to avoid the guitar digging into the player’s torso. It also featured a double cutaway, making it easy to access upper frets.
This led to it becoming one of the most copied designs in the entire of guitar history.
Even now, the Strat’s design stands apart from its peers as one of the most comfortable to play.
The most versatile guitar ever?
The Strat’s seemingly simple combination of 3 pickups, two tone controls and a master volume hide an astonishing tonal palette.
Even when it was only offered with a 3-way pickup selector switch, it had a great range of tones. The bridge has a characteristic ‘bark’ and power, the middle pickup a glassier and more ‘jangly’, whilst the neck provides a punchy, snappy, woody tone that is unmistakable.
The two additional ‘in-between’ pickup selection positions provide tones that are even more shiny and glassy.
Add in some overdrive, and a Strat will produce tones from crunching chords to screaming leads. It is, perhaps, better known for the just-on-the-verge-of-break-up tones employed by countless blues and rock legends…
It looks amazing
The Stratocaster is built in a similar manner to its sibling, the Tele, with a solid body and bolt-on neck. But despite this, it has a slightly less ‘functional’ look than its predecessor.
The contoured body gives the guitar an altogether more ‘organic’ feel. The body shape is in itself, iconic.
But combined with the distinctive, contrasting pick-guard, shaped to follow the body shape, the unique, recessed chrome jack socket, and instantly recognisable headstock. It’s a perfect example of Fender’s design approach: simple, but devastatingly effective.
Fender famously used automotive paints to finish its guitars during the early years. It was this that led to the slightly ‘hot-rod’ look of some of its guitars, and also some of its most famous finishes (Candy Apple Red, Surf Green, Lake Placid Blue, Sonic Blue…)
These never look better than when covering the curves of a Strat. Just ask… well, nearly any guitarist ever.
To return to the question, why buy a Strat? It remains one of the most comfortable, versatile and just plain playable guitars available to this day, and all with the sort of looks that other guitars would kill for.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.