The Fender Stratocaster

Today’s trite aphorism is courtesy of Dieter Rams: Good design is long-lasting. I would add to that : Good design is widely copied. The Fender Stratocaster exemplifies both.

In 1954, Leo Fender, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares created one of the most enduring and recognizable examples of industrial design music has ever seen. The “Strat” is still in production today, testimony to the qualities that made it such a groundbreaking instrument back in the Fabulous Fifties. Even Leo Fender was surprised at how the Stratocaster surpassed his expectations. The shape, immediately familiar to us now as the quintessential solid body guitar, was radical and futuristic when first introduced over five decades ago.

Innovations included the two piece body, which allowed owners to replace the neck, and not the entire guitar, if the frets wore out. The contoured form and light weight of the Strat made it comfortable to hold, and the double cutaways gave players access to higher positions on the neck. Guitarists also had the option of setting the bridge into a ‘floating’ position, allowing them to modulate the pitch of notes being played by moving the attached tremolo arm.

Over the years, the pantheon of guitar heroes who have owned Strats has grown considerably.  Arguably, just about every great rock track in the past 50 years has been played on either a Strat, or a Gibson Les Paul (I’ll get to Gibson in a future post). Buddy Holly was one of the first guitar greats to popularise the Stratocaster, along with Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder, Eric Clapton, Dave Gilmour, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ronnie Wood, Pete Townshend and a host of others. Many music professionals prefer the Fender bell-like tone, or “Fender tone”, a trait of the single-coil pickups. Fender also produce a range of signature models. The Eric Clapton Stratocaster is one such guitar from the manufacturer’s ‘Artist’ Series.

Of all the design objects of desire I have admired, I am the least qualified to write on the Strat. Perhaps a reader will let me mash out a few notes on a left-handed Stratocaster.  If that kind of charity still exists, I’ll get to scratch another one from the bucket list.


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