What is a Strat?
Stop someone on the street and ask them to name an electric guitar, and the overwhelming response will be the Fender Stratocaster. Since its introduction in 1954, Leo Fender’s innovative Strat has become a worldwide icon. There are lots of reasons why, but it begins with the Strat’s many breakthrough features, including:
- Double Cutaway “Comfort Contour” Body
- Three Single-Coil Pickups
- Patented Synchronized Tremolo Bridge
- Recessed Jack Socket
- Ease of Repair/Customization
Why a Strat?
The Fender Stratocaster has a long, rich history as one of the first and most enduring electric guitars ever made. So, just what is it about the Fender Stratocaster that makes it so popular? First and foremost, Strats sound great because, well, they sound like a Strat! They are also incredibly comfortable to play. But there’s even more to the Strat’s appeal. Let’s face it, Stratocasters just look cool. Very cool. And it doesn’t hurt that so many great guitarists—from Buddy Holly, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, and more—have made music history with the help of a Fender Stratocaster.
So whether you’re just starting out, or have been playing—or collecting—for years, there’s a Strat that fits exactly what you’re looking for. And how much is a Stratocaster? Well, the great thing is that there are Stratocasters for every budget and level of player, from absolute beginners, to rock stars. They range from about $99 at the lowest, to medium range Strats at a few hundred dollars, to upwards of $1,000 for American-made Strats. Custom and limited edition Stratocasters stretch much higher, into the thousands of dollars.
Classic Stratocaster Features
Before we get to all the variations, let’s take a look at some classic Stratocaster features:
- Ash or Alder Body
- Double Cutaway “Comfort Contour Body”
- 25.5″-Scale, Bolt-On Maple Neck
- Various Fingerboard Woods Including Maple and Rosewood
- 9.5″ Fretboard Radius (Modern) or 7.25″ Fretboard Radius (Vintage)
- Three Single-Coil Pickups
- Synchronized Tremolo Bridge with Vibrato Arm
Common Variations in Stratocaster Features
Today, Fender offers a large variety of features, options, and finishes within the Stratocaster line. Yet all Stratocasters retain the classic design which makes them instantly recognizable. Here are some of the variations that make one Stratocaster different from another:
Wood: The Stratocaster’s solid body is typically made of ash or alder, though other woods like poplar and basswood are also used from time to time on the entry- to mid-level models. Different woods affect the guitar’s tone in subtle ways.
Color/Finish: There are many color and finish options for the Strat. In addition to standard colors and bursts, Fender also offers custom colors, and on occasion, has offered limited edition designs. The higher-end and vintage-inspired Strat models employ nitrocellulose lacquer finishes instead of polyurethane, which allows the wood to breathe for superior resonance.
Neck Profile: A majority of Stratocasters sport a “C” neck shape, with some artist models occasionally using a Modern “C” (Yngwie Malmsteen), “V” shape (Eric Clapton), or a “U” shape (Ritchie Blackmore).
Fingerboard Radius: Most modern Strats have a 9.5″ fingerboard radius, which has a comfortable curvature that provides great playability. Vintage-style Strats have a more curved 7.25″ radius, while a few models sport an even flatter 12″ radius. Several models have a compound radius starting at 9.5″ near the nut and slowly changing to 14″ up towards the bridge. The radius near the nut is helpful for forming chords, while the flatter shape closer to the bridge is ideal for string bending and soloing with increased comfort.
Pickup Configuration: The classic Strat has 3 single-coil pickups, denoted by “SSS.” Some models add a humbucker in the bridge position (HSS), have only two humbuckers (HH), or have humbuckers in both the bridge and neck position with a single-coil in the middle (HSH). There are also different types and series of pickups. Some well-known single-coil pickups include the Alnico 3, the Vintage Noiseless, the Texas Special, and the Yosemite. There are a few variations on humbuckers in use with Fender Strats as well. Notably, American Performers boast the patented Fender DoubleTap humbucker which is capable of a unique method of coil-splitting.
Circuitry: Several Strat models have special circuitry for special results. For example, many models have reverse polarity in the center pickup to eliminate hum and give that “twangy” tone that Stevie Ray Vaughan made famous. Certain Strats have a Greasebucket tone circuit that lets you roll off the highs without adding bass. American Performer Strats also have a push/pull tone pot for a wider option of tonal variations. On the SSS models, the push/pull allows you to use all three pickups at once, or the neck and bridge pickups at the same time, for a total of 7 voicings. The HSS push/pull tone control splits the DoubleTap humbucker to afford single-coil sound.
Hardware: Hardware refers to appointments like the tuning machines, pickup covers, and other parts like the bridge and switch plates. Hardware on Stratocasters are commonly available in nickel and chrome finishes.
Bridge: Stratocaster guitars have a number of distinctive types of bridges. The most well-known bridge is the vintage-style synchronized tremolo found on the American Performer, the American Original Strats, a number of artist models, along side many others. The 2-Point deluxe synchronized tremolo bridge comes on the American Elite models, American Professional models, Player Strats and others, and features tremolo capabilities with two points of contact. Some models sport a non-tremolo hardtail bridge or a Floyd Rose locking tremolo.
Tuners: A number of different style tuners are found on Stratocasters including standard cast sealed, vintage F-stamped with slotted posts, and deluxe cast sealed locking tuners. The American Performer Series introduced ClassicGear tuners, sporting vintage looks with a modern 18:1 gear ratio.
There are four major “families” in the Stratocaster line. The major differences in the families are the places where they are built, the quality of the components, and the build technique. Some are more inexpensively made and others are handcrafted by masters using the finest available materials. The four families of Fender Stratocasters are (listed from lesser to greater quality): Squier Stratocaster, Stratocaster, American Stratocaster, and Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster.
Squier by Fender
The Stratocaster line begins with the entry-level Squier by Fender. These guitars are lower priced, but they aren’t knockoffs — they’re genuine, high-quality Strats made to Fender specs in the Far East (commonly Indonesia).
Squier quality has made huge improvements in recent years and several well-known players have begun to use them. Though Squiers aren’t outfitted with the absolute best pickups or electronics like higher-priced Fender models, they are still made with quality components that will give you a great electric guitar sound. They are also quite comfortable to play, thanks to the classic Strat comfort contour body.
The Squier line starts at Mini Strats for the very young player and goes next to Bullet Strats—a full-sized model, modestly priced for beginners. It’s capped by the most expensive of the Squiers, the Contemporary.
Fender Stratocaster Guitars
Just 200 miles from Fender’s U.S. factory in Corona, California, is Fender’s other North American factory in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. There’s a constant flow of traffic between the two factories, carrying parts, wood, and personnel. Both factories make guitars and amps bearing the Fender name, although the highest quality products are made in the U.S. Nonetheless, Fender’s factory in Mexico produces excellent Fender instruments and amplifiers, at a somewhat lower price. The models produced in Mexico include:
- Fender Player Stratocaster
- Fender Deluxe Stratocaster
- Fender Deluxe Roadhouse Stratocaster
- Fender Classic Player Stratocaster
- Fender Classic Series Stratocaster
- Fender Road Worn Stratocaster
Certain artist models and limited edition guitars are also a part of this Fender family.
Fender American Stratocaster Guitars
Fender American Series Stratocasters are made in Fender’s factory in Corona, California. This is where you’ll find Fender’s master builders and where the most coveted Stratocasters are made. These include:
- Fender American Performer Stratocaster
- Fender American Professional Stratocaster
- Fender American Original Stratocaster
- Fender American Elite Stratocaster
Fender Custom Shop Stratocasters
Built for expert players and fine guitar collections, these instruments are envisioned, designed, and hand-crafted in the United States by Fender’s legendary master craftsmen. These special instruments are unique, valuable, and incredibly playable. Because they are usually offered for a limited time or in limited quantities, they can even increase in value. From authentic vintage-inspired Strat models to exceptionally unique works of truly playable art, the Fender Custom Shop provides players and collectors with the very best that Fender has to offer.
Summing Up The Strat
Regardless of where you fall on the musical spectrum, how old you are, what your favorite color is, how long you’ve been playing, or any other of the countless details with which we characterize ourselves, there is undoubtedly a Stratocaster out there that’s perfect for you.