It is all too easy to take the Stratocaster for granted. I know for sure that I did. It took several years with other makes and models to realize just how ingenious this design is, how amazingly right Mr Fender got it back in 1954. It is even more unbelievable when you put it into its historical context and conclude that the perfect rock and roll guitar existed almost before there was rock and roll!
The most striking thing with the Stratocaster is that something so beautiful can be so utterly functional and sound so bloody good, all at the same time. There is nothing that is out of proportion on this guitar, and still there is little about it that is merely decorative. The form follows the function – and how! It might have been a space-age instrument back in 1954, but the more “modern” models they brought out to complement and possibly even replace it look hopelessly dated and outmoded today. The Stratocaster is simply timeless. And that’s before you’ve even picked it up! When you do, you find that it just melds into your body. Every control is in the right place – close enough to your picking hand that you can adjust stuff on the fly, but far enough away that you don’t accidentally change settings.
My Stratocaster is a 1996 American Standard with a rosewood fretboard. The finish is called Vintage White, which is a very vintage white indeed, since it has the deep yellow color of butter or vanilla. It was love at first sight, in spite of the rosewood fretboard, which I am not a fan of. (My aunt’s late husband preferred rosewood, and when he went looking for a used Stratocaster, we almost made a deal that if he found one with a maple neck, we would swap necks with each other.) I don’t use the vibrato, so I tighten the vibrato springs as far as I can and put the vibrato arm away. Then I’ve replaced the pickups with a DiMarzio set (Super Distortion S in the bridge, Area 58 in the middle and Air Norton S in the neck), just because that fits my temperament and playing style so much better than the stock Stratocaster pickups. Maybe if I got a second Stratocaster I would restore my 1996 Miss Vanilla to factory specs including setting her up for vibrato arm use.
One of the main reasons why I got so hot under the collar about my Stratocaster was the tiniest, most insignificant detail: that it had the old 50s style logo. It was the missing piece, the final little thing that made a good guitar design great. Personally, I think that the 1986 to 2008 American Standard/Series was the pinnacle of Stratocaster development. Mr Fender didn’t leave much room for improvement (it’s pretty much a matter of taste and application what you think about the single-coil pickups), still they did manage to tweak the Stratocaster just enough to make me prefer modern instruments to their elders. They flattened the neck radius from 7.25″ to 9.5″, added bigger fretwire as well as a 22nd fret. They improved the electronics slightly, including a reverse polarity middle pickup that acts in humbucking fashion when you select the “in-between” positions. My favorite feature, though, has to be the powdered stainless steel bridge saddles. No more snagging your right palm on the protruding set screws, no more rust, no more gathering of dust. And then you eliminate that funky 80s logo and go back to the original. The end result is a modern-speced guitar that looks just like the original to all but the most discerning eyes. That’s why I don’t do vintage reissue. And as for reliced or “road-worn” instruments, I prefer to start from a fresh sheet and be in control of that process myself.
Oh, and one last thing: I thoroughly dislike the ‘Strat’ nickname and consequently try my best not to use it. It’s an ugly word that doesn’t even have the redeeming feature of being inherently funny.