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, 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 most styles of 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 tremolo 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 heads. 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 shipped with five tremolo springs, with the bridge set up to 'float,' with the pull of the strings in one direction countering the pull of the springs in the opposite direction. In this floating position, players could 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 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 modern Stratocasters ship with three springs. While the floating bridge has some advantages, some musicians find that these are outweighed by the tendency of the guitar to temporarily go out of tune during double-stop string bends, and many Stratocaster players tighten the tremolo springs 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. (As the pitch can be raised through string bending, this can be a good compromise, depending on a player's style.) 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. 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 Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour, Rory Gallagher, Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, Scott Thurston, Ronnie Wood, John Mayer, Ed King, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Robert Cray, can be obtained by using the pickup selector in positions 2 and 4. Since the pickups of 5-way switch-equipped guitars are wound with alternating polarities (N-S-N or S-N-S), some amount of phase cancellation occurs, effectively creating a spaced humbucking pair, resulting in a characteristic sound. 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 affects the neck pickup; the second tone affects the middle and bridge pickups; on some Artist Series models (Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy signature guitars), the first tone is a presence circuit that cuts or boosts treble and bass frequencies, affecting all the pickups; the second tone 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. These three guitars formed an important part of the American Vintage Series line since July 10, 1998.
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 is remains in production as of 2017. 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.
Fender has also manufactured guitars in the Far East, notably Japan, and in Mexico, where the affordable 'Standard' series guitars are built.
The Squier Stratocaster is manufactured and sold by Squier, a marque of Fender.
A standard Squier Stratocaster is mass-produced in factories located in Indonesia or China. For its construction, Squier usually uses woods readily available in those countries, such as agathis and basswood. They also use stamped metal hardware and multiple pieces of wood in construction to reduce waste and to lower costs. In some cases, the body is laminated, much like a plywood, rather than consisting of two or three solid pieces glued together.
After Fender's decision in 1982 to switch Squier's production from strings to guitars, the Stratocaster was one of the first models put under the Squier production line in Japan. It was the most commercially successful guitar Fender had produced. Originally in 1982, the headstock had a "Fender" name written in large script, followed by "Squier series" in smaller script. In 1983, this was later changed to the current 1970s large headstock featuring "Squier" in larger script, followed by "by Fender" in smaller script. Since then, there have been several variations of headstock size and Squier logos, typically based on what series the guitar is.
From 1996-1999, "Made in China" Squier Stratocasters carry the "Affinity" decal on the smaller ball end of the headstock and have serial numbers as NCXXXX with the first number the year of manufacture, e.g. NC6XXX (Made in China 1996). NCXXXX is also used for Squier Strat Bullets of the same vintage. The Affinities are practically the same as the Japanese-made Squier Bullets of the mid-1980s; the same alder bodies, same rosewood-type fretboard and maple necks. Tuners and electronics are also very similar. Common modifications are more stable tuners, larger potentiometers, better capacitors, and pickups. They had single-ply 8-hole pickguards like the 1950s Fender Strats giving them a classic look. Colors were typically black, white and red.
In 2000, for the anniversary of the Squier line of Stratocaster guitars, that year's model was offered in a limited-edition green finish. The "Crafted in China" Squier Affinity Strats are different from their immediate predecessors; most have alder bodies, larger headstock shapes, and somewhat inferior small parts. The pickguards generally now have 11 holes and screws, departing from the original 1950s style.
In 2008 Squier released its Classic Vibe series, a series of electric guitars and basses mirroring classic Fender designs of the 1950s and 1960s—each roughly reflecting the hardware, woods, color variations, finishes, body contours, and tonal characteristics of their respective era; Squier states that they did not intend the series as completely era correct, but wanted to impart the 'vibe' of a classic Fender design—the vintage-quality feel, look, and sound of their first series of guitars in 1982.