In the week that saw the death of the great Charles “Chuck” Berry, the man who invented Rock & Roll and an enthusiastic endorsee of this classic guitar, Dominic Baker straps on his mojo to explore the Fender Stratocaster and its allure for players and fans alike.
I cant think of many modern iconic musical instruments that have been so enduring as this legendary piece. It’s beguiling curves would be the pin ups for generations to come and it also contained some pretty innovative tech, setting the benchmark for most electric guitars today.
This IS the go to guitar when anyone is asked to describe, or perhaps draw, an electric guitar. It is easily the most identifiable and emulated of all the ‘axes’ out there. The classic shape that was born in the 50s is still being produced and sold today in its thousands.
Co-creators Leo Fender, George Fullerton, Bill Carson and Freddie Tavares came up with the design in 1954. The body was made from a variety of solid woods including alder, ash, poplar and basswood but the neck was always made from maple wood. The fretboard was made primarily from maple, rosewood or ebony. The neck also had the classic black dot inlays.
It’s trademark – and it was the first guitar ever to feature – the 3 single coil pick ups with a tremolo system on the floating bridge. It was the first Fender to be contoured (the Telecaster – a notable predecessor -had a flat body) the double cut away design enabled easy access to the higher notes on the neck.
The Stratocaster is an incredibly versatile model and is used in many genres of music from country to rock, heavy metal, blues, jazz and soul.
The floating bridge that housed the tremolo and was controlled by the tremolo arm had springs that could be pulled down modulating the sound of the pitch and then snap the bridge back into place. If done quickly this produced a pleasing oscillating vibrato effect. This wasn’t suitable for all styles.
Certain artist adjusted it with blocks of wood so it didn’t move and alter the sound. Other prominent guitarists – notably Eric Clapton and Ronnie Wood – believed that the floating bridge would detune the guitar – as a result some ‘Strats’ called “hard tails” were made with no floating bridge.
The list of celebrities user and endorsees is dazzling; some who championed its versatile and recognisable sound including Hendrix , Dylan, Van Halen, Hank Marvin, Harrison, Lennon, Bowie, Zappa, The Edge, David Gilmour and Pete Townsend became household names as a direct result. Essays could be written on each one’s unique sound and how they inspired their own cult following. Above all, they each managed to make the instrument sound different. Their haunting melodies will undoubtedly carry you right back to a memorable time and place in your life.
When you think of an electric guitar my bet is that you visualise the Fender Stratocaster. When you hear an electric guitar I am certain that your mind’s eye you will “see” a Fender Stratocaster, it is that ingrained into popular psyche.