Classic Guitars, part 1: Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster, in production since 1954, is without doubt the world’s best-selling, most copied and most versatile classic electric guitar.

Traditionally the Stratocaster features a bolt-on (screwed on, actually) maple neck. The very ergonomically designed solid body has originally been made of alder or ash, but these days woods like poplar, basswood or agathis are also widely used.

The Strat’s versatility is due mostly to it being a three-pickup guitar. The five-way blade switch offers each of the guitar’s three pickups on their own, or combinations of bridge-plus-middle and neck-plus-middle for more hollow, glassy sounds. The list of Strat-users is sheer endless, with name players such as Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, Dave Murray, Eric Clapton or Ritchie Blackmore. There don’t seem to be any stylistic boundaries for this guitar model.

From a beginner’s viewpoint the Stratocaster’s wide availability – in original versions, licensed copies and other ”permutations” – as well as its modular nature make for a pocket-friendly price.

But there are also a couple of catches for the rookie guitarist, stemming from the model’s vibrato bridge. Most Strats leave the factory set up with a slight tip-up of the bridge plate. This enables experienced guitarists to use the vibrato to pull notes up as well as push them down. But this type of ”floating” set-up makes tuning an arduous process, and almost impossible for the inexperienced beginner to accomplish.

I’d advise any budding guitarist to ask the shop assistant for a quick change of set-up, before parting with their money. This should be a fast and (most likely) free-of-charge part of every instrument retailer’s service. Have them adjust the bridge so it lies flat on the body, and ask them to readjust the string action (string height) accordingly. This will make tuning noticeably easier.

Some players also complain, that a Stratocaster’s volume control is too close to the picking hand, leading to accidental changes in volume mid-song. On the other hand, others think the position of the volume control is perfect – horses for courses.

If you plan on using the Strat mostly for playing hard and heavy music, you might want to consider one of the models factory-equipped with one or more humbuckers.

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