Posted Tuesday, 13 February 2007 by Gudmund in Icon of the week
No instrument has had such a profound influence and iconic status in the history of post-war popular music as the Fender Stratocaster. The characteristic Stratocaster head-stock and body design is a shape that has come to intrinsically represent the electric guitar in most people's minds.
Image by Joachim Hensel-Losch
The 'Strat' was not the first electric guitar ever made, musicians had been amplifying their guitars for several decades when the Stratocaster saw the light of day in 1954. The main problem with these early amplified guitars was their traditional hollow-body design, which caused all kinds of problems with poor acoustics and (unintentional) feedback. The solid-body Stratocaster on the other hand, produced a clean, truly 'electric' sound for the first time. Gone was the feedback – although Jimi Hendrix was to bring that back with a vengeance, playing a Stratocaster.
It is interesting to note that the development of the Strat was not a labour-of-love by a musician, nor was the iconic shape so much a product of design as of excellent engineering. Perhaps it was exactly Leo Fender's engineering background that gave him the unbiased approach needed to create a tradition-breaking instrument of such longevity and versatility. Free from the restraints of a hollow body design, the shape of the guitar could be moulded to provide better ergonomics as well as better sound. Deep double cut-aways at the neck provided un-paralleled access to the higher frets, and simultaneously gave the guitar a streamlined and modern look that has been copied ever since.
The timing of the Stratocaster's introduction could hardly have been better, coinciding both with post-war prosperity and the Rock & Roll revolution. Available in lively colours, with paints sourced from the burgeoning American automotive industry, the Strat fit the zeitgeist perfectly. Despite this, it was not an instant success-story, it sold well in its first decade, but it was not the market leader. It was an expensive instrument, so most guitarists would have had to be well on their way to stardom before they could afford one. But with such stars as Buddy Holly and Dick Dale at the end of the 50s, and later on Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and a whole host of other musicians all having their music and image inseparably linked to the Stratocaster, its success was secured.
The popularity of the Stratocaster has ebbed and flowed over the half-decade since its inception. It has not always been the flavour of the season, but at those times when it looked like the Stratocaster was ready for retirement, another Strat-donning star usually stepped into the limelight, reviving its popularity.
Some famous Stratocaster players:Buddy HollyDick DaleJimi HendrixMark KnopflerEric ClaptonDavid Gilmore Stevie Ray Vaughan
» Icon of the Week: The Leica Model IThanks to Richard R. Smith
Vignette image by Steve Ford Elliott