A Brief History of the Stratocaster
Fender Stratocaster 1954
The Stratocaster Fender was designed by Leo Fender and Freddie Tavares, with help from amongst others musicians Bill Carson and Rex Gallion. It was full of innovations in design. The unique and in the same time ergonomic contours of the solid body were perfectly fitting to the player, and the deep cutaways balanced its reduced weight and made access to the highest frets equal to the lower ones. Easy access to the strings and low weight of the guitar encouraged dynamic stage performance and showmanship. Stratocasters twin-horned look was astonishing and its not just guitar that looked great but the player holding in his hand too.
The Fender Stratocaster recognizable headstock differed from the previous traditional pattern with its six machine heads placed on one side and without headstock angle. Main purpose of this design was to minimize de-tuning friction from the strings over the nut by reducing the angle of the strings to the nut.
Six separate bridge saddles (one per string) could be adjusted individually for length and height. There was a 'tremolo' arm (which is actually a vibrato arm since its not producing amplitude variation but rather frequency variation) allowing player to use quivering and sustained sound effects bending the pitch of all six strings and returning them to more or less accurate tuning at once. Fender's device was inspired by Bigsby's, an earlier tremolo design invented by Paul Bigsby.
Stratocaster had three pickups comparing to most of the guitars of that time with one or two, and guitarists soon accidentally discovered that by jamming the switch in between the positions such as 1st and 2nd position, both pickups could be selected. Fender responded quickly by installing 5-way pickup selector in it's Stratocaster guitars which allowed these combinations and provided more versatility. These tone choices redefined the electric guitar sound and Fender's new guitar, Stratocaster, offered much more than even he had anticipated.
At the time, other guitars had the traditional carved tops (archtops) and fretboard inlays. Early Fender Stratocasters comparing to competition looked modern and cool, and using advantage from the automobile industry and newly developed paints, Fender was offering new palette of colors D aphne Blue, Surf Green, and Fiesta Red.
The Stratocaster triggered creation of a lot of new companies which produced custom replacement parts. Fenders bolt-on neck was not only cheaper to make but easier and simpler to service. It's drop-in pickguard and whole pickup assembly was easier to mass produce, customize, and repair. Today, most of the components of the Stratocaster are offered by various suppliers from standard to custom including huge choice of alternative pickups. Stratocaster is most probably the most copied guitar in the electric guitar history. A lot of different manufacturers copied Fenders design with subtle changes to avoid patent infrigiments and today, you can build your own Strat from custom parts entirely and from bunch of different manufacturers.
Plagiarism is the main reason why Fender started production of Squier series basicaly produced at the Far East. These models were initially made in Japan and later in Korea but soon became collectable by themselves. The Fender Squier series were very successful at the lower end of the market and this range of instruments is now made in China or Mexico too. There is also Fender's custom shop which will build and assemble Stratocaster to your own specification for several thousands of dollars.
Today, lucky ones that were fortunate enough to get their hands on one of the Strats which appeared in Selmer's catalogue from March 1963 and cost around £160, could easily make a small fortune since the similar instruments in mint condition are now fetching prices over 100 times higher.