LEO FENDER'S STRATOCASTER has become an icon of modern design, was important in its field as the VW Beetle or Levi 501s. But what was its history, and how does old compare to new?

To find out we obtained all- original examples of the four main types if Strats from the Fifties to the Seventies: 50's maple neck, '60s rosewood, "Hendrix' wide headstock 4 bolt neck, and a '70s 3 bolt neck, along with present day American Standard. To evaluate them, guitar reviewer Dave Burrluck enlisted the help of Strat maestro Rory gallagher. Richard Chapman details the ground breaking instrument's history and Kent Armstrong unwinds the mystery of the Strat pickup

                                            the stratocaster pickup explained
When I started mending and rewinding pickups in the '70s, if you wanted to know the number of turns and the gauge of wire used, you attached it to a winding machine and slowly unwound the coil by had, letting the counter do the hard work, I base my rewinds on a pickup from the 73rd Stratocaster manufactured. I found it had 8255 turns and, with the lacquer removed, the copper wire measured 0.06334mm in diameter: the same as 42 American standard wire gauge (AWG). After over 20 years of rewinding, I use between 8400 and 8500 turns of 42 wire which seems to give the best results. 

The main feature if a '50s Strat pickup are as follows: the coil is 11 mm tall and is wound directly onto the Alnico pole pieces with an over all pole separation of 57.4mm. The coil is held in place by two fibre board plates: the bottom or mounting plate is 2.5mm thick, the top plate 1.7mm. The six magnets differ in height: E (1st) is 16.7mm, B is 15.7mm, G is 17.4mm, D is 18.2mm, A is 17.5mm, and E is 17.4mm.  All are 5mm in dia with beveled top edges only. The two ends are tied off in the eyelets on the bottom plate when the pickup is hot waxed. The pickup is immersed in low melting paraffin wax for approx. two hours and replaces all the air between the layers of wire with wax. When cold the wires are locked together preventing movement and reducing microphonic feedback.  (Don't try this yourself. The wax can ignite and on some copy pickups the formers can melt.)

Since the '50s, many modifications have been made: For example, in the late '60s and '70s, Fender changed the number of turns to 7600 of 42 AGW wire to give a brighter sound. They stopped bevelling the top edge of the magnets, and for a short period, stopped the hot wax process. The staggered pole pieces are for volume compensation caused by the different output from the strings, as well as the arch of the strings over the pickup created by the original 7" radius. Today's flat pole Standard pickups are probably easier and cheaper to produce, but also a string gauges are typically lighter so there's less volume difference,  cambers are flatter and fewer people can hear the difference.

Other mods include the reverse wound/reverse polarity of the centre pickup on the American Standard. Originally all three pickups were wound the same way with the same polarity. The reverse middle pickup, combined with bridge or neck, gives a parallel humbucking combination.

The normal Stratocaster is one of the simplest pickups ever manufactured. However, this simplicity does create certain drawbacks. The B string magnet tends to lose its magnetic strength as it's the shortest magnet- damage often caused when this slug is pushed upwards to compensate.

Rust can work its way down the pole magnets into the coil causing a fracture- most common on the outer polepieces. The exposed coils and lead wires are easy to snag and break. The  pickups aren't humcanceling and leads not shielded. The pickup height and fixing screws that locate straight into the fibre mounting can easily strip their thread if over tightened.

'Mellowing' of old pickups is caused by magnetic deterioration. In terms of sound, it chops off the high peaks and become less dominant and generally the output drops in the same way as if you screw the pickup away from the strings.

In my opinion, if you don't have a set of vintage originals then Seymour Duncan's 'Vintage Staggered' pickups are as close as you'll get.

Leo Fender's Stratocaster guitar can be described as the pre-eminent electric instrument of our era. Unveiled in 1954, the 'Strat' has established itself as an instrument which embodies a futuristic design with a graceful appearance. Looking at the guitar today, hackneyed phrases such as 'timeless classic' seem entirely appropriate. It's easy to forget just how futuristic the Strat was when it first appeared, but go back to films and photos from the Fifties, and in the hands of the ­ soberly dressed professional musicians of the time, the guitar looks like something from another era or planet! Yet this design was developed almost entirely as a practical solution to the needs of musicians in the post-war period.

The Strat was the culmination of a four year period of outstanding manufacturing creativity on the behalf of Leo Fender, which saw the development of the world's first mass production solid body, the Telecaster, followed by the invention and production of the first electric bass and the addition of what is perhaps the finest electric solid body design in history, the Stratocaster. The Strat was meant to be a sophisticated companion to the rather four-square Telecaster – Stratocaster obviously representing the upper limits of what was allowable in the Company's imagination!

It has to be noted that this guitar has such a mystique that high quality imitations by other manufacturers have often been equally sought after. This is a rare achievement for any type of object, and many of today's guitar designers still base their outline form on this instrument.

There is no doubt that the utilitarian Telecaster did pave the way for the Stratocaster. Key constructional problems were solved by the Tele and its success gave the company the confidence to launch a new guitar model.

The exceptionally talented engineer and designer, Paul Bigsby had a key influence on Leo Fender's products. The guitar he built for Merle Travis in 1947 was well ahead of its time and this solid body with an asymmetric headstock has been sadly overlooked, Fender used a regularized version of this headstock shape, Nevertheless, this type of peghead had been around for many centuries and can be seen on guitars from Staufer in Vienna in the first half of the 19th century and much earlier Renaissance stringed instruments. Paul Bigsby's vibrato units, developed during the late 1940s, started to gain widespread acceptance and Leo Fender felt the need to use some sort of vibrato device on the Strat.

It is interesting to compare Gibson's first solid body, the Les Paul model of 1952. Entirely traditional as a scaled down archtop in its basic format, this instrument represents an evolutionary approach to guitar building as opposed to Leo Fender's revolutionary way of working. Leo's genius lay in inventing, building and marketing a straightforward working item incorporating the latest trends in thinking as well as the objectives of playability and appearance.

The new guitar had a double cutaway giving easy access to the upper register and a 'comfort contour' body with wood dressed away. In competition to the Bigsby vibrato, Fender used a concealed on-board sprung vibrato unit. Intonation could be accurately modified by individual length and height adjustable saddles for each string. The controls gave a wide spectrum of sound and could be reached by the right hand while still playing. The jackplate was recessed for practical considerations and the guitar had a good centre of gravity when used by a player standing up.

Leo Fender and George Fullerton, his right-hand man, started work on the Strat in 1951. Problems were encountered with the first experimental vibrato unit and the company lost $5000 when they had to dispose of redundant equipment used to develop the prototypes and write off labour costs.

By 1953, Freddie Tavares was working on the Strat and towards the end of the year Country and Western guitarist Bill Carson started to take the guitar out to play and test in a professional environment. The Strat appears to have met with consternation and this 'outrageous' instrument was referred to as 'Carson's guitar'.

The Strat finally came out Spring 1954, priced at $249.50. It was also offered without a vibrato, now termed 'synchronised tremolo'. Reaction in sales terms was slow, but gradually picked up during the 1950s. Production rose from a few hundred in 1954 to a few thousand by the late Fifties. As with other Fender instruments there are no production figures and nobody seems to know exactly how many early Strats were manufactured. It's disappointing that American 'experts' have not so far had the persistence to ascertain production figures; we are dealing here with a manufactured commercial item built well within living memory and if there really are no records at all then figures must be quantifiable in relation to fiscal records.

The first Strats inherit the following basic characteristics from the Tele: A solid ash body with  bolt on 21 fret solid maple neck, asymmetric headstock and a related type of Fender single coil pickup.

Built at the small Fullerton plant in California, the standard production Strat from 1954 has the following specifications. The body is made of one or two pieces of solid ash. A deep offset double cutaway has two rounded horns and the treble side is markedly cut in for playing access. The waist is gently curved and opens out down to the balanced lower bouts with understated curvature and a flattened base. The edges of the body are rounded off and the guitar has two pronounced areas of sanded contouring for body comfort: the bass side of the lower bout on the top surface where the right arm rests and the back of the body along the upper rim. A rectangular recess is cut into the back of the body for the synchronised tremolo block and springs. This is covered by a white bakelite covering plate with six round holes to facilitate stringing.

The solid maple 21 fret neck is attached to the body with four screws and a metal neckplate. The headstock carries six individual nickel-plated Kluson tuners in a line on the bass side. The headstock face has a spaghetti transfer gold Fender logo with synchronised tremolo' written underneath and 'original contour body pat. pend.above. A round string retainer holds the B and E strings and a dark spot marks the end of the 'skunk stripe' dark wood infill over the adjustable truss rod. This dark stripe runs down the back of the neck and the truss rod is adjusted at the body end. The frets are set directly into the neck and black fibre dot markers run up the neck, doubled at the 12th fret. The guitar has three single coil pickups with individual staggered polepieces and white bakelite covers. Each pickup has two adjacent height adjustment screws. A large white bakelite pickguard held by eight screws adds to the flowing style with its curved outline.

A three-way switch and three round numbered control knobs with skirted edges control the pickups. Top position on the three-way switch gives the neck pickup - controlled by the single volume knob at the top and middle tone control. Middle position gives the middle pickup with volume and the second tone control; the third switch position gives the angled bridge pickup with the volume control only. Wiring runs to the top mounted recessed jack input. The bridgeplate and tremolo block are held by six screws and the whole unit is under leverage from the tremolo arm. The bridge has six height and length-adjustable saddles stamped Fender and pressed from sheet metal.

The strings run over the edge of the saddles and through their centres down inside the trem block. The tremolo is tensioned by up to five springs running the length of the recessed back chamber grounding wire is attached to the anchor plate and goes into the body. The tremolo arm with its white plastic tip screws into a side extension of the bridgeplate and is detachable. The white material used for the guitar parts is bakelite-type phenolic resin - an early form of plastic. It is brittle and can wear down like a fibrous substance.

Nickel-plated strap buttons sit at the base of guitar and at the end of the bass cutaway horn. Other parts on the guitar are chrome-plated. The body is finished in a cellulose yellow/orange into dark brown sunburst and the neck is sealed with a clear cellulose finish.

Some early Strats have aluminum pickguard and Telecaster style metal control knobs. Headstock transfers reading 'Fender, Fullerton, Calif. do exist and some early Strats are finished in a light milky white blonde finish. A black finish was   apparently also produced, but this is extremely unusual.

In 1955, conventional plastic pickguards were introduced and necks often tend to have a slight V profile until around 1957. A clip-on bridge cover appeared and oval holes on the vibrato backplate. During 1956, plastic replaced bakelite on the knobs and pickup covers, the tuners are marked Kluson Deluxe and gold plated parts become optional. Alder laminated bodies begin to replace ash, which was retained for some models, notably those with a blonde finish. A butterfly clip string retainer is used.

During 1957, custom colours start to appear and in 1958 these become a standard feature. The two-tone sunburst is replaced by a three tone sunburst  with red added. Two tone sunburst finishes continued until around 1960. In 1959, a separate rosewood slab fingerboard with clay dots comes in and a triple layer white celluloid pickguard held by 11 screws with a tortoiseshell option. The skunk stripe disappears and a shoulder appears in the control cavity for screw mounting. A metal screening sheet is used under the pickguard and the back contour of the guitar becomes shortened.

1960 sees the introduction of a fuller range of custom colour options with a 14 colour list as well as many unregistered variations. The sunburst finish has more colour separation. In 1961 two patent numbers appear on the headstock and in 1962 three appear. A thinner curved fretboard is used from 1962 and this is reduced in thickness slightly during 1963, when the clay dot fingerboard markers move closer together. One of the pickguard screws moves closer to the middle pickup. In 1964, the guitar starts to have a less contoured body and the tuners are marked with a double stripe Kluson marking. Four patent numbers appear on the headstock and a transitional Fender logo comes in later in the year. Plastid pearloid dot markers come around 1964/5. 

In January 1965, CBS took over the Fender company and around this time celluloid pickguards are replaced by white plastic. The Fender 'F' appears on the neckplate in mid '65, and a rare bound fingerboard option is brought in. The headstock carries five patent numbers and in December 1965 a larger headstock is used.

Patent numbers reduce to three in 1966 and a circled 'R' registration mark starts to come in. 1967 brings a re-introduction of a maple fingerboard as an option, this time as a separate laminate. Polyester finishes appear and tuners are stamped with the Fender 'F'. The gold plating option is discontinued and in '67/8 a black Fender logo becomes standard.

In 1969 'synchronised tremolo' and 'Stratocaster' are given much larger lettering and late 1969/70 marks the return of a solid maple neck as an alternative choice. In late '71 a three-bolt neckplate with a pitch alignment screw and a bullet-shaped truss rod adjuster at the headstock was introduced. The trem block is a new type of cast unit and the saddles are now also cast. Two butterfly clips are used and one patent number. Around 1972 natural finishes are re-introduced and ash starts to become the main body wood. At this time 'synchronised tremolo' disappears from the headstock and '73/74 sees the introduction of pickups with flush pole pieces. In 1975 black pickguards appear and black knobs and pickup covers are used in 1976, when the patent number disappears and 'Made in USA' appears on the headstock. In 1977 a new five-way selector switch becomes standard and during the second half of the Seventies contouring on the body becomes less apparent.

In 1979, to celebrate the 25th year of production, an anniversary model was brought out. With 'Anniversary' written on the top horn, a four-bolt maple neck with a standard truss rod adjustment Sperzel tuners, the guitar also has a neckplate commemorating the Strat from 1954-1979. An initial 500 guitars were sprayed in an unstable white finish which had to be changed over to silver for the rest of the 10,000 limited edition run.

Fender's Strats are dated as follows. The first 100 or so instruments from 1954 have a numbering system stamped onto the vibrato cover plate. The numbering is moved to the neckplate and stays there until discontinued in 1976. 

From 1954 until 1973, dates were penciled and then stamped onto the end of the neck. They are penciled until 1962, when a rubber stamp system came in. Some guitars from 1959-60 do not have neck dates. Body dates are marked from 1954 until around 1963, and starting in 1964 pickups are also dated. Nearly all body dates consist of the month followed by the year and can be seen in a pickup cavity, vibrato cavity and sometimes even the neck cavity. 

The neck dates consist of the month followed by the year and, from 1962, the stamped system carries neck type, month year and neck width, as in '2 MAR 63 B'. The very early vibrato plate numbers and neckplate numbers run in an uneven rising sequence with many changes and irregularities - around 0100 to 1200 in 1954, four to five digits in '55 and then five and six digit numbers sometimes starting with '0' or a minus sign. Five digits runs through the early Sixties until late 1962 when an 'L' prefix series is used, which was replaced by an 'F' series starting at 100,000 in 1965. This lasted until 1976 when the number coding was moved to a headstock transfer. This runs 700,000 and 76 with five digits for 1976, Then we have 'S' for Seventies followed by the last year digit - S7, S8, S9 for '77, '78 and '79 with five digits! The numbering and dating systems are very complex with many variations. It's well worth investing in one of André Duchossoir's excellent Guitar Identification or Fender Stratocaster books. 

Strat values are an absolute minefield - there are so many sub divisions of periods and many collectors and players have an obsession with the pre-CBS guitars. Accurate pricing is as difficult as dating systems on Fender instruments: an Ai mint 1954 Strat could sell for well over £10,000. Many Fifties Strats would be priced between £3,000 and £6,000 depending on condition. Early Sixties examples can fetch from £2,000-5,000 and post ­CBS instruments can go for anything from a few hundred pounds up to perhaps £1,500: other periods go down to a few hundred pounds. Three bolt neck guitars are in the lowest price range. 

Custom colours open out all kinds of further considerations (see my piece on re-finishing in the Issue 7 of TGM). A real custom colour from the Fifties might fetch a five-figure sum and a rare colour on an early Sixties slab board example could go up to between £6,000 and £7,000, Later Sixties guitars will move up to perhaps £2,000 plus. If by any chance you get your hands on a Hendrix Strat with provenance then the £198,000 attained by Sotheby for his white 'Woodstock' guitar brings this . subject into a whole area of other considerations!

 Most importantly, this great guitar has enabled countless numbers of musicians to express themselves. It has contributed to the development of virtuosity in nearly all styles and expanded compositional vocabulary and texture in a vital way - we would never have heard the same world without it!
Thanks to Simon Carlton, Clive Brown and Donal Gallagher for their assistance with this feature.


 GUEST REVIEWER RORY GALLAGHER is known for his extremely battered '61 Strat and is just about to begin his 15th solo album since 1971, a follow up to Fresh Evidence.

Before Rory embarked on testing, I asked him how he would improve on Fender's design: 'Well, I've never liked the small frets, I always change them for bigger ones. I've also narrowed the guitar down to one tone control at the bottom of the guitar. So many heavy metal players use just a volume control which is fine, but at certain points I like to back off the tone, especially at high volume.

'I'm quite keen on the midrange boost of the Clapton Strat, I always tend to boost the midrange somewhere. My sound isn't rank and file Strat - it's more like an SG. I've also blocked up the tremolo, apart from the Strat I use in the studio. However, I do prefer the sound of a tremolo-equipped Strat, even if it's blocked, you get the extra resonance.

'But 95% of the design I wouldn't change at all, Fender got it right and I've stuck with it. It's also a guitar you can attack - you don't have to treat it like a Stradivarius - it's like a Volkswagen, it works!

'I used to use the middle pickup more than I do now, I tend to use the combined bridge and middle and for a solo I'll use either the lead (bridge) or rhythm (neck) pickup. For slide (which Rory plays in standard tuning on his Strat) the middle pickup is very good: there's a harmonic in that position, if you get it right you get a great little over harmony. I use the tone control a lot especially for wah wah effects, the volume control I sometimes set around '6' but mainly 7-8 always leaving that bit in reserve!'


Serial No. 027144
Finish: 3 tone Sunburst ( Cellulose)

General Condition: Very well used! Excellent set up including tremolo, a lot of worn body lacquer, neck bare on back and worn through on front.
Neck: On piece maple with skunk strip, crosshead truss rod adjustment at body end. Black 6.5mm dot inlays. Full D section at first fret with slightly V'd sides, steeper on the bass edge. Full chunky upper fret position shape, 7" F/board camber, 21 small frets. Small headstock, very worn 'Fender Stratocaster' logo. Small oval truss rod fillet behind nut. Four screw through chrome plated neckplate neck to body join.
String trees: One pressed steel on E/B strings, 64mm from front face of nut. No height spacer
Machineheads: Kluson, single Deluxe logo with slotted shaft. Surprisingly smooth
Body: One piece alder, very deep ribcage contours and generous edge radius
Scratchplate: Single white thing plastic, eight screws. Plate cracked where screws are closest to edge
Pickups & Electrics: Staggered height polepieces protrude through cream covers. Apparent same polarity. Volume, neck pickup tone, middle pickup tone, three position selector switch.
Knobs: Cream ribbed plastic matte cream finish. Colour on indented logos and numbers worn away
Tremolo: Pressed nickel plated steel saddles 'Fender Pat. Pending' machined steel block. Rear coverplate access holes widened to form rectangular easy access (not original)
Sounds & Playability: Rory "This seems very responsive, the neck pickup is great with a real warmth to it - a really good hendrix tone. It doesn't seem to be the original tremolo arm, but it's well set up - better than mine- although the thin frets are hard work. The bass string response on the neck pickup is very strong- it makes a small amp sound like a Marshall! The middle pickup response is great, a bit more distinguished than the US Std., it's a lead sound - a real chicken picken''  tone. As you bring up the volume controls, it seems a lot more alive than the US Std. I'll buy it!
"It's cruel to judge this against the US Std., on the positive side the new one sounded traditional Fender to me. On the '58, the pickups have mellowed, the body is more seasoned, then volume pot feels and sounds really good. It's got an edge over the is particularly responsive. It's lighter than the US Std., but I'd have to change the frets - they're too low!"
The feel of the neck is superb, the fingerboard edges are really round and comfortable and although I'd agree with Rory about those small frets, the '58 reminds me how functional this guitar is: light, well balanced and comfortable.

1962strat.JPGSerial No: 81243
Finish: Olympic White (Cellulose)
General Condition: Body front is quite clean, back is darker almost cream hue. A lot of cracking and crazing on finish. Chipped through to wood clearly showing the beige filler/primer.
Neck: Maple neck with 21 thin fret slab rosewood board (approx. 4.2mm at thickest) 7" camber. No skunk stripe. Dark, dirty white clay dots 6mm in dia. Slightly broader, bulkier sides, less V'd neck shape although virtually identical dimensions to '58. Small headstock relacquered front and back with new Fender transfer devaluating guitar. Four screw through chrome plated neckplate neck to body join.
String trees: Single pressed steel tree with height spacer, 66mm from face of nut
Body: From what's visible appears to be alder. Ribcage contour similar length to '58 though not as wide or deep.
Scratchplate: Classic 'green' celluloid white/black/white laminate 11 screw, lack of edge cracking indicates more durable material than '58.
Pickups & Electrics: As '58 in appearance. Three-position switch very tight- good for jamming 'inbetween' tones
Knobs: Shiny cream plastic ribbed
Tremolo: same as '58. Correct rear cover plate
Sounds & Playability: Rory: 'This one's got a harder more direct lead pickup tone than the '58 which isn't quite as bright, but more brittle. The middle pickup is less distinctive, but the height screw has stripped its thread and is too low.
'The rhythm pickup on Strats is great for Texas Blues or Hendrix-stype things. It's very woody, whereas the bass pickup on a lot of guitars is too mushy to actually have that clean attack.
'I like the feel of maple, but prefer the feel of rosewood. There's a good Luther Allison sound- he plays very staccato- I'm getting used to these smaller frets though, for accurate tuning these lower frets are better.'
While this looks really cool, it generally sounds darker and less resonant than the '58. The neck feels a little chunkier especially in upper fret positions, but like the '58, it is well set up. Both this '62, and more especially the '58, have that beautiful worn-in feel that is virtually impossible to replicate on a modern guitar.

1971strat.JPG Serial No: 305062 on "F' neck plate
Finish: Candy Apple Red (Polyester)
General condition: The polyester lacquer keeps neck in good clean condition, average wear to body although finish looks thinner- more like cellulose
Neck: Maple with rosewood 'veneer' a uniform thickness ( approx. 2.5mm) that follows 7" camber. 21 small frets, pearloid 6.5mm dot markers, small black side dots directly under fingerboard. Virtually identical shaping to '58, but feels far less 'worn in'. No beyond nut truss rod fillet, as with previous models crosshead truss rod adjustment at body end. large headstock, large black on gold logo. Four screw thru chrome plated neckplate neck/body join.
String trees: Single pressed metal on nylon spacer, 65mm from nut face
Machineheads: Chrome plated slot fender heads with 'F' logo, rounded covers with end of worm gear visible
Body" alder, possibly light ash only small amount showing through worn lacquer. Clearly visible is the clear sealer, metallic gold 'undercoat' and red top coat that form the finish, unlike modern metallics.
Scratchplate: white/black/white, 11 screw, round head not countersunk pickup screws as on the '58 and '62.
Pickups & Electrics: old looking cream covers though pickup numbers indicate '71. Five way selector ( not original) electronics rewired, but otherwise standard.
Knobs: again look old, cream plastic with faded logo and numbers
Tremolo: Pressed steel nickel plated saddles. "fender' stamps on chrome plated bridge base.
Sounds & Playability: Rory: "I'm not over the moon about the neck; it's not as oval as the '58. It feels more like a Mustang type of neck, I don't mind the lacquer on the back of the neck, but I don't like what Fender called the Thick kin finish on the maple fingerboards. I had an Anniversary Strat with that, I had it taken off. It gets in the way. This guitar doesn't feel as responsive as the '58, but, as usual, the bass pickup always sounds juicy. It's not as stocky a tone as the '58, a bit harder and maybe 1% down on the  output. It sounds okay, but doesn't have the character of the '62. The sound are more like a Mustang - more a 'surfing' sound, but it's a good guitar."
Although the neck shapes of this and the '58 are really similar, there's more beef at the first fret and the perceived feel, with the thick gloss lacquer, is different. The guitar lacked the richness of the '58 and the neck pickup was a little soggy in the low end, although the bridge pickup has a good attack and bite.

1973strat.JPGSerial No: 328717 on three screws 'F' plate
Finish: Clear high gloss polyester
General condition: Very good, although the top lacquer has worn through to the sealer in places on the body , it looks tidy as there's no contrast between coloured finish and wood
Neck: one piece maple, with skunk stripe, black dots 6.5mm dia smaller black side dots. All heavily clear lacquered. Large headstock and plain black logo 'Synchronised Tremolo' dropped. Shape has more 'V'd' sides than the '71, feels very comfortable and is a lot less bulky in upper fret positions. Bullet truss rod adjustment behind nut, three screw neck joint very rigid also features 'micro neck' tilt adjustment. Replacement brass nut added
String trees: Two, with spacers on E/B and G/D strings 66mm and 61mm from nut face
Machineheads: Appear similar to '71 but covers enclose worm gear
Body: Four piece ash. Main part on treble side. Two thinner pieces to bass side of body, larger fourth part on bass side. Jointing immaculate.
Scratchplate: As '71
Pickups and Electrics: Whiter covers, otherwise same as '62.
Knobs: Look old but unmatched
Tremolo: Cast, as opposed to milled block (no 010347), cast solid saddles with number on underside (027037)
Sounds & Playability: Rory: 'It seems more responsive than the '71, it's a good ringing guitar. It's quite an impressive tone too and you wouldn't always get a neck as well cut as this one. The three bolt doesn't worry me overly, but you do get some dogs that move around. I'm still not crazy about the larger headstock, but I can live with the Normandy beach bullet! I prefer this to the '71, but on instinct I'd probably buy the '62 - I do prefer rosewood necks and it feels a bit like my own '61 - but this '73 is surprisingly responsive. I like the bigger frets on these - it's a very Hendrix sound. I keep going back to him but he made a point that he didn't want vintage guitars and was quite happy with the current model.'
Definitely the surprise of the bunch. Although it lacks a bit of the '58s low end body, the bridge pickup's top is very crystalline indicating that an all maple neck gives more high end than the slightly rounder tone from a rosewood board. While neck and middle pickup seems to lack a little crispness, the guitar provides plenty of the classic 'twang'. However, the guitar looks like a cheap copy.

1991strat.JPGSerial No: N1019065
Finish: Three tone sunburst ( Polyurethane)
Neck: Compare to the '58, the US Standard neck is bulkier in the low fret positions with more of a rounded 'D' shape and slightly asymmetric with a steeper treble side. In the higher positions it spreads to a more comfortable shallow oval thinner in depth than the '58.
Pickups & Electronics: Flush polepieces pickups, master volume, neck pickup tone, TBX for rear and centre pickups. Five way selector.
Sounds and Playability: Rory: I like the matte lacquer finish and I like the jumbo frets - they don't feel oversized to me - but the neck seems broader and the fingerboard flatter. I don't usually like these flat boards, but I like a good chunky neck - it may be too chunky around the first three frets, but I can live with both features.
'The new tremolo is very good though I prefer the look of the old saddles. I'd be curious to know why they've gone back to flat polepieces. I have an Anniversary Strat with those. I use it a lot in the studio and to me it has a smoother sound. I think I can hear the difference, it's probably old fogey talk - a psychological thing - but I prefer the staggered ones!
"The TBX is more sophisticated in terms of top and bottom, but in initially that would throw me, it's a very clean, filtered sound, for soul or funk players it would be a plus. I'd lose the D/G string tree; it's good to hammer on the G string and bend behind the nut.
'In terms of sound I miss a little real high top (with TBX in centre position), it's not quite as alive as the '73. I'd prefer more top, more spike on the back pickup, but it gives, with the volume reduced, a real Hubert Sumlin tone.
'I'd raise the pickups higher even, though it starts playing games on the higher fret low strings. The TBX sounds a little boxy, I'd have to change that from the end position - it may be okay in the centre position, but better still, I'd like the midrange boost from the Clapton Strat.'
Rory was also impressed with the noise canceling offered by the revers wound/reverse polarity centre pickup. Clearly the guitar needs to be heavily played in to approach the feel of the '58, and generally, the guitar lacks the depth and the top end sing ( again, it's a rosewood fingerboard) and 'woody' clarity of the '58.

(in mm unless stated)          
  1958 1962 1971 1973 1991
Scale length 25.5" 25.5" 25.5" 25.5" 25.5"
Width of neck at nut 42.3 42 41.3 41.15 43.3 12th fret 51.3 51 51] 51 52.5
Depth of neck, 1st fret 20.3 20.3 21.2 20.3 20.8 12th fret 24.6 24.8 23.5 22.3 22.4
String spacing at nut 34.5 35 34.5 34 35.5 bridge 55.5. 55.5 55
55.5 52.5
Action as supplied          
at 12th fret treb 1.2 1.8 1.5 1.2 1.8
at bass  2.0 2.5 2.0 2.0 1.8
Weight (approx) 71bs 81bs 81bs 8.51bs 8.51bs
Body thickness 46 45 43.2 45 45.2
Headstock thickness 15.2 13.5 16.5 14.6 14.5
Fret width 2.0 2.2 2.0 2.54 2.59
Fret height 0.5 0.8 0.64 0.9 1.14
Being locked away in a room with these five guitars proved fascinating. People talk of really fat, '50s neck shapes, but the chunkiest is fitted on the '91 which, according to Fender's John Page, is a 'reaction to current market requireme.nts'. Evaluation of sound is highly subjective, but in a situation like this comparisons are easier, and, we hope, more helpful.

Vintage collectors can become bogged down with dates and features, but the point of this test was primarily to look at sound and playability.

'I'd give a lot of marks for the '73,' enthused Rory, 'but the '58 has quite an edge in terms of responsiveness - I'd almost be spoilt. There's quite a tone off the '62 and with a few adjustments to my requirements I'd use the modern Strat, it's a well made, impressive guitar. I'd like them to try the staggered pickups though and it's a little heavy.'

In terms of sound against cost the '73 wins hands down. These guitars are generally considered some of the worst Fender ever made; maybe this was the only good one though somehow I doubt it. The '62 looks really cool, but lacks the extra 'zing' when directly compared to the '58.' But as Rory pointed out, we were spoilt for choice; if he hadn't played the '58 Strat he would have been raving about the '62.

Like Rory I was least impressed with the '71 ­despite the colour ­although it's still a fine guitar, just in very heavyweight company! We both felt the American Standard more than held its own; don't forget it has numerous subtle updates in the tremolo, circuitry
and fingerboard that make it a little more suitable for current playing fashions.

It is for those reasons that I would choose a modern American Standard; you can easily pick one up for way below the quoted retail price, and the older American Standards have smaller neck shapes too. Rory would probably buy the '62 and as much as we both liked the '58... well, maybe when our boats come in.

However, my overriding conclusion is that you should trust your own hands and ears, not dates, as to whether you perceive one Strat (or indeed any guitar) to be better than another.  
­Dave Burrluck

This article comes from the January 1992 issue of The Guitar Magazine
reformatted by roryfan

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