Let’s talk about the Fender Stratocaster and call it a lesson, shall we?

I have no shame. None. I sold that, probably long before you were born. In the 1980s, I played a keytar – on stage. I didn’t just play it – I played it like a fucking rock star. I’ve played Madonna’s Material Girl, live and on stage.

I shouldn’t quite say I have no shame ’cause. if I had recordings from that period of my life, I wouldn’t share them with you. Wait… No, I have no shame ’cause I’d giggle like a little schoolgirl and share them with you. I’d even track the number of times they were listened to.

I’m not sure, now that I think about it. It may be that I have no shame – or that I’m incapable of being embarrassed. When it comes to music, I “sold out” long ago. When it comes to being embarrassed, I can (and will) tell corny jokes on stage. Not just corny jokes – but the kind of jokes you get from a Popsicle stick. Worse, if I’m inebriated, I may make bad puns – for the whole show.

Sort of related, I once had a drummer (everyone say hello to Wog) who knew me very well. He’d punctuate my bad jokes with the drum.

Because I have no shame, I seem to have recently taken the platform of my blog to write about any damned thing I want. That’s fine – but the shameless part is that I call them “lessons.”

Today is no different. I want to talk about an iconic guitar and I am going to. I’m even going to call it a lesson. It’s my blog, I’ll touch it if I want to!

The Iconic Legendary Guitar Known As the Fender Stratocaster!

1958 Fender Stratocaster – Sunburst

It’s probably a bad thing that I learned how to use the keyboard to embolden and italicize things. It’s also probably bad that I’ve learned how to schedule things. I’m actually writing this on Tuesday! Hello, future me!

I digress, but there’s a method to my madness! I’m slipping meta updates into the article in hopes of not having to write more mushy stuff.

Also digression: Strange but true, we used to have newspapers that (mostly) on paper. You could actually get them “over the wire,” including in your own home, but that’s just silly talk and double-double digression. Anyhow, during my university years, I actually worked as a freelance journalist and word-count had some sort of unknown algorithmic affect on my pay. Now you can guess why I’m so wordy! (It’s also weed.)

This article is going nowhere. I should scrap it and start over. I’m almost a third of the way though my estimated length and I’ve not yet shared a damned thing interesting about the Fender Stratocaster. As if writing isn’t hard enough, I have to go and make it even more difficult!

Let’s see if I can salvage this?

In ye olden times, back in the early 1950s, they were still working out how to play a bitchin’ solo. That’s probably partially because they hadn’t really invented a guitar that was built to make bitchin’ solos. There was the Telecaster, which is a Spanish-style guitar, and it’s not a bitchin’ solo if the whole thing is bitchin’. That’s just bitchin’ and distinct from a bitchin’ solo. I’m sure that’s in a book or a famous quote, or something.

Enter Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares. Carson played swing music and thought the Telecaster had issues that needed to be fixed and, well, the rest is history.

The history books don’t tell us what conversations they had, so I’m just going to assume that I’m right and their actual intent was to create an iconic, lasting for many generations, guitar that was designed to facilitate the art known as ‘playin’ a bitchin’ solo.’

Because, in 1954, that’s exactly what they did. They created a legendary guitar and, by most accounts, they got it fairly much correct on the first shot. Well, at least the first production model.

They included three single coil pickups and a floating vibrato system. (Whammy bar.) It also has a cutaway portion so that you can reach the higher frets more easily. There’s only one reason to do that – ain’t nobody playing (most) chordal patterns on the 19th fret. The only reason to do that is so that you could more easily play a bitchin’ solo. See? Reasoning and logic. It works!

Side Note: You can call it a tremolo bar, if you want – but you’re wrong. I’ll formalize/edit my previous writing and include it as an article. It’s vibrato, not tremolo. Trust me, I’m an expert. I’ll better explain it sometime. In the meantime, read this.

Players soon discovered that you could cram the pickup selector switch ‘tween the first two and get a pretty bitchin’ sound – perfect for making bitchin’ solos. What it does is it enables the first and second (bridge and middle) pickups and the middle one is wired in reverse.

You’ll recognize that sound immediately. It’s pretty distinct. Hendrix, Vaughan, Knopfler, Dylan, Wood, Clapton, etc. all make use of this technique. (You will get a slight voltage drop. That’s fixed by turning everything up loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss.)

The neck just bolts on. If you have one made in the US, it has four bolts. If you have one made in Japan, it’s possibly just got three bolts. That’s okay, three seems to hold it well enough. The great thing about ’em being bolted on is that you can just throw ’em away when they crack.

Seriously, the Strat takes a ton of abuse and, more importantly, can be repaired by anyone with a passing familiarity of soldering, hexagonal wrenches, and a screwdriver. If there’s one thing good about being the go-to guitar then it’s the vast amount of modifications, supplies, and used parts available.

And you can modify the hell out of them. I’m pretty sure I could draw an analogy between the Fender Strat and the AR-15. They’re both like Barbie Dolls for adults!

You can dress your Fender up in all sorts of ways. People put stickers on ’em, change necks, scallop their necks, change switches, change vibrato systems, modify their vibrato systems, etc… The list goes on!

By the way, Ol’ Leo Fender started Fender Musical Instrument Corporation in 1946. In 1965 he sold it to CBS (the broadcasting company) for a cool $13,000,000 USD. This was a horrible idea.

They kept quality up for five or six years and then they went downhill. If you’re going to buy a used Fender Strat, or any Fender gear, exercise extra caution if they’re between maybe 1970 and 1990. They aren’t so bad that I’ll say don’t buy them – I’m saying use extra caution. CBS owned them from 1965 to 1985. Figure on five years after the purchase and five years after the sale for potential quality issues.

The used Stratocaster market baffles me. A 1970 Strat (made while owned by CBS) will run you up to $8,000. A 1980 Strat (made while owned by CBS) will be in the $2,000 range. You can grab one from 1990 (less rare, I suppose) for $500. And, confusingly, a 1960 Strat can be had for maybe $12,000. Those numbers just don’t work, at least not in my head. You can pick up a used 2000 Strat for like $1,000! None sense. None!

You know how I mentioned that you can dress your Strat up like a Barbie? Well, you can. Underneath, it’s still a Strat but it means there’s so many models. I’m not going to do the math, but with color choices included, there’s a ton of options.

What I’d like to do is tell you about all the different models. I won’t. I can’t. I lack time and they produce (factory only – not counting custom shop or end-user modifications) some 59 distinct models of the Fender Stratocaster – in the United States alone. Add their Japanese manufacturing arm, do some math, and I’d be here for about 1.0×104 years.

(Note: WP has a bug, sub and superscript are backwards!)

I have neither time nor inclination to list them all and your favorite search engine will show you someone who suffers from autism and has written extensively about each model. (Well, I’m assuming such exists. I haven’t actually looked.)

The point is, there’s a model out there for you.

I rag on the Strat, much preferring my Gibson Les Paul guitars, but I own a number of them, play them frequently, and legitimately like them. (I’m probably going to deny that I wrote this, or claim it was written under duress.) They’re not just iconic, they’re serviceable workhorses.  If you want to make noise, a Stratocaster is an excellent, excellent choice.

There aren’t just the Stratocaster guitars, there’s a billion clones – with varied qualities. There’s some complaints about the Strat and, as such, there’s guitars that take their cues from Fender and make their own version. I recently wrote about a “superstrat” called the Ibanez JEM. Math disagrees, but reality insists – there’s limitless choices for your Strat playing needs. You’ll be able to find one that suits your needs.

There’s so much more I could write, but I’m approaching the soft-limit I imposed on myself for word-count. Someday, I’ll write about Fender and I’ll almost certainly get time to write about the predecessor to the Strat, the infamous Telecaster. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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