Monday, April 16, 2012

The Stratocaster: Fender, Fender, Fender!

Wangin' and a twangin, sounding so tough
Fender Stratocaster
And the kids in my corner, they can't get enough
Fender Fender Fender
Like the wind in your hair when the top is down
Like taillights headed for another town
Fender Stratocaster, well there's something about that sound.

Jonathan Richman

Welcome to the Monday Morning Blues—& as you probably have guessed, today’s post is a tribute to a great & iconic guitar, the Fender Stratocaster.

Of course, while I’m posting this in the series on great blues guitars, the fact is that the Stratocaster’s impact isn’t confined to any one genre—it’s also one of the classic rock guitars, & can be heard in practically all genres of popular music. Still, the list of blues & blues-oriented Stratocaster players is impressive: Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Rory Gallagher, Buddy Guy (see first video below), Jimi Hendrix (don’t discount Hendrix’ blues orientation!), Bonnie Raitt (see second video), Ike Turner (again, a player with deep blues roots), & Stevie Ray Vaughn, just to name some of the best known. It’s also worth mentioning that, although he’s not really thought of as a blues player, Ry Cooder’s use of the Strat for slide playing has helped popularize its use in this style.

Leo Fender—who you may recall from my post on the Fender Telecaster—George Fullerton & Freddie Tavares designed the Stratocaster in the early 1950s & began marketing the
model in 1954. Interestingly, Fender himself believed the instrument to be ideal for country music—he designed the instrument with western swing guitarist Bill Carson in mind—the instrument quickly moved into the rockabilly scene, & from there into rock & roll “proper,” with its popularity being aided by Buddy Holly’s appearance on Ed Sullivan playing a Strat in 1957.

The Stratocaster was Fender’s third instrument (if you count the prototypical Broadcaster & the Telecaster as the same); the Precision Bass, another revolutionary instrument, also preceded the Strat. In comparison with the Telecaster, the Stratocaster was designed specifically with comfort in mind—it’s more contoured than the earlier model, which is no small thing as electric guitars can be a bit heavy; after all, the whole principle of how they sustain involves vibration thru a hardwood block that forms the guitar’s body.

But in addition, the Stratocaster also involved two major innovations: a third pick-up was added in the “middle” position to increase the instrument’s tonal range beyond that of the Telecaster (like the Telecaster, the Strat is equipped with single coil pick-ups, which account for its characteristic bright & biting sound.) The third innovation was the Stratocaster tremolo bridge—the “whammy bar”—which was originally intended to allow the player to imitate the sounds of a pedal steel guitar. Of course, as history has shown, the Stratocaster tremolo has been employed for an array of effects far beyond what Leo Fender & his collaborators could have envisioned!

The videos will demonstrate the Stratocaster’s blues power in the hand of master players. By the way, I picked the Raitt song specifically because she’s doing a Stevie Ray Vaughn song—my way of “covering” two fantastic Strat players in one video!

Photo of the Fender Stratocaster links to its source


  1. Ah, the twang bar! The guitar that gave Rockabilly its sound. Thanks for getting my Monday morning off to a good start, John.

    1. Hi Roy: Yes, indeed! Rockabilly, & much else--also, along with the Jazzmaster a major guitar in surf rock--but& of course, the Strat is overall just a rock icon, right up there with the Les Paul.

  2. Love the post, and clips, John.


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