Buying Guide: Stratocaster Guitars


Stratocaster Buyer’s Guide

How to Choose the Strat That’s Right for You

Contents

Introduction

Why do you want a Strat?

Basic Stratocaster features

The features that help you tell one Strat
from another

Stratocaster families

Stratocaster models

Additional models

Fender Custom Shop

Price ranges

When most people think of an electric guitar, they think of a Fender Stratocaster. Designed by Leo Fender and his team and introduced in 1954, the Strat, over the years, has become the template—the standard—for electric guitar design. Here are just a few of the innovations that have helped create the Stratocaster legend:

Stratocaster Knobs
  • 3 single-coil pickup array
  • Original designed and patented Synchronized Tremolo tailpiece
  • Double-cutaway, Comfort Contour Body
  • Individual string length/height adjustment bridge
  • Recessed jack socket
  • Ease of repair/customization

Introduction

This Stratocaster Buyer’s Guide will give you the information you need to make the best choice by covering these topics:

  • Find out why Stratocaster guitars are so popular and who plays them.
  • Learn about Strat families and models so you can tell an American Deluxe from a Custom Classic.
  • Become familiar with the features that go into a Stratocaster, so you can decide which guitar has the features you want.
Stratocaster

Why do you want a Strat?

Here are the main reasons the Strat is so popular:

  • The Strat is a part of music history
  • The Strat looks cool
  • The Strat feels good
  • The Strat plays and sounds great

You may be just getting started as a guitarist and want to play a guitar that’s well known. Almost every notable rock guitarist has used a Fender Stratocaster—from Buddy Holly through Jimi Hendrix on up to John Frusciante.

You may be a performer who wants a guitar that plays and sounds great. Or you may be a collector who appreciates the history and the beauty of a classic Strat.

Bolt-On Neck
Bolt-On Neck

Basic Stratocaster Features

Although there are many variations and exceptions, let’s start with a list of typical Strat features:

  • Double cutaway "Comfort Contour Body"
  • Solid body - made of ash or alder
  • Bolt-on neck made of maple
  • Maple or rosewood fingerboard
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer finish (vintage), Urethane or polyester finish (modern).
  • 3 single-coil pickups
  • 5-position pickup switch
  • Synchronized Tremolo (Vibrato arm/tailpiece)
  • 2 tone, 1 volume control
  • 5-position pickup switch
  • 21 or 22 frets
  • 25-1/2" scale length
  • 9-1/2" fretboard radius (modern); 7-1/4" (vintage)

C Neck (left) and V Neck (right)

The features that help you tell one
Strat from another

The materials used, and the decorative and functional features are all used to tell one Strat model from another. Here is a list of features and options for most Stratocaster guitars.

Stratocaster Features:

  1. Solid Body - Double cutaway "Comfort Contour Body" made of ash or alder (poplar and basswood also used)
  2. Finish color - Choices vary according to model. In addition to sunburst, there are a number of what Fender calls Custom Colors.
  3. Bolt-on Neck—usually maple
    • Profile - choose shape of neck:
      1. C-shaped neck
      2. V-shaped neck
  4. Fingerboard (also called fretboard)
    • Rosewood or maple
    • Dot inlays
  5. 3 pickups (usually single-coil or combination of single-coil and humbucker) SSS/HSS/HSH
  6. Hardware
    • Plating finish choices:
      1. Nickel
      2. Chrome
      3. Gold
    • Bridge/Tailpiece
    • Vibrato (tremolo)
    • Tuners
      1. Vintage/oval button
      2. ’70s F Key (octagonal button)
      3. Standard Sealed Modern Key (pin mounted)

 

Squier by Fender Affinity Strat
Squier by Fender Affinity Strat
Standard Strat
Standard Strat
American Strat
American Strat
Time Machine '66 Strat
Time Machine '66 Strat

 

Stratocaster Families

Strat models can be broken down into several main families:

 

Stratocaster models

Squier by Fender Stratocaster Guitars

Since 1982, Squier by Fender has been making high-quality, low-cost, entry-level Strat and other Fender guitars and basses. Squier Stratocaster guitars are made to Fender design and specifications and are not copies, but genuine Strat guitars.

Squier Standard Strat
Squier Standard Strat
  • Bullet
  • Designed for beginners and students
  • Mini (20 frets)
  • Bullet (21 frets)
  • Laminated hardwood body
  • Maple, C-shaped neck
  • Rosewood fretboard
  • 9.5" fretboard radius
  • Hardtail bridge
  • Chrome covered machine heads
  • Large, ’60s style headstock
  • 1-ply white pickguard
  • Made in Asia
  • Affinity
  • Solid alder body; thinner: 40mm depth
  • Maple or rosewood neck
  • 9.5" fingerboard radius
  • 21 medium jumbo frets
  • Large, ’60s-style headstock
  • 1-ply white pickguard
  • Made in China
Lite Ash Strat
Lite Ash Strat
  • Standard
  • Solid agathis body; 45mm depth like most Fender models
  • C-shaped neck
  • 9.5" fingerboard radius
  • 22 medium jumbo frets
  • Large, ’60s style headstock
  • 3-ply parchment or 4-ply tortoise shell pickguard
  • Made in China and Indonesia
  • Deluxe Players
  • Alder body
  • Flame maple or quilted maple top
  • Maple neck with rosewood fingerboard
  • Two-point tremolo
  • Hello Kitty
  • Agathis body
  • 21 medium jumbo frets
  • 1 humbucking pickup (bridge)
  • Hardtail string-thru-body bridge
  • Hello Kitty logo artwork

 

American Standard Series Strat
American Standard Series Strat

Fender Stratocaster Guitars

  • Standard
  • The industry standard for an electric guitar and basis for all other Strat models.
  • Alder body
  • Modern C-shaped maple neck
  • Choice of a maple or rosewood fingerboard
  • Satin polyurethane neck finish
  • Chrome hardware
  • White plastic parts
  • Ping standard cast/sealed tuning machines
  • Made in Mexico
  • Standard Roland Ready
  • Built-in Roland GK-2A pickup system allows control of peripherals directly from the guitar

The features that help you tell one Strat from another

American Deluxe
American Deluxe
  • Deluxe
  • Hot-rodded Strat guitars that have special pickups, active electronics, or vary from standard or traditional Strat models in some way.
  • Factory-fitted after-market modifications
  • Imported vintage-style hardware
  • Made in Mexico
    • Deluxe Powerhouse
    • Unique 12dB active mid-boost circuit
    • Powerhouse pickup system featuring dummy coil for quieter operation.
    • Maple, modern C-shaped neck with satin polyurethane finish
    • 9.5" radius
    • Deluxe Power Strat HSS
    • 2 Tex-Mex single-coil pickups in the neck and middle positions with a Tex-Mex humbucking pickup in the bridge position
    • Special 5-way switch
    • Fishman-equipped Powerbridge tremolo for acoustic tones.
    • Deluxe Players
    • Revised version of the former "Super Strat"
    • Upgraded with U.S.-made Vintage Noiseless pickups
    • Maple, modern C-shaped neck
    • 12" fretboard radius
    • 21 medium jumbo frets
    • Super switching - push-button switch for 7 different pickup combinations
    • Vintage-style six-point rocking Synchronized Tremolo
    • Gold-plated hardware
  • Classic
  • Each individual instrument is the result of collaboration between Fender’s world-renowned Master Builders, and the company’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, offering Custom Shop features at a modest price.
  • Alder body
  • 7.5" fretboard radius
  • Aged knobs and switch tip
  • Offering more colors than ’57 and ’62 American Vintage
  • Vintage-style pickups, frets, tremolo, and tuning machines
  • ’50s Strat
    ’50s Strat
    • Classic Player ’50s
    • Soft V-shaped neck
    • 9.5" fretboard radius
    • Reverse-wound/reverse-polarity middle pickup
    • Custom switching
    • 2-point vintage custom classic bridge
    • Gotoh Vintage locking tuners
    • "Custom Shop Designed" neck plate
    • Classic Player ’60s
    • C-shaped neck
    • 12" fretboard radius
    • Custom ’69 Strat pickups
    • "Custom Shop Designed" neck plate

  • Special Edition
  • Special Edition guitars offer unique features on a Strat while remaining affordable and offering great value for the money.
  • Made in Japan or Korea.
  • Special Edition Koa - the only non-Custom Shop Stratocaster constructed with exotic Hawaiian koa
  • Aerodyne - unique radius figured maple top
  • Lite Ash - the tonal quality of lite ash body joined to a highly figured birds-eye maple C neck, Seymour Duncan pickups

USA Stratocaster guitars

  • Highway One
  • Entry-level U.S.-made Strat
  • Alder body
  • Modern C-shaped neck, big headstock
  • 22 jumbo frets
  • ’70s styling
  • Greasebucket tone circuit
  • Upgraded hot alnico 3 pickups voiced for more modern distortion-friendly tones
  • Reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup
  • Thin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
  • Deluxe gig bag
  • American Standard Series
  • An American icon redesigned
  • Alder body
  • Polyurethane finish
  • Thinner undercoat for improved body resonance
  • Tinted, modern C-shaped neck
  • Satin finish on back, gloss finish on front of neck
  • 4-bolt neck attachment with Micro-Tilt adjustment
  • 9.5" fretboard radius
  • 22 medium jumbo frets
  • Copper-infused high-mass 100% metal bridge block
  • 2-point Synchronized Tremolo
  • New American Standard bent steel bridge saddles
  • Hand-Rolled Fingerboard Edges
  • 3-ply parchment pickguard
  • Single-coil Alnico pickups with modern stagger
  • Delta Tone system – high output bridge pickup/no-load tone control for middle and bridge pickups
  • Staggered tuning keys
  • SKB case with TSA locks
  • American Deluxe
  • Everything you could want in a Strat: The traditional look and feel of a classic Stratocaster guitar with a little extra juice under the hood.
  • 3 Samarium Cobalt Noiseless Strat pickups
  • S-1 switching system
  • Alder body
  • Modern C-shaped maple neck
  • Maple or rosewood fingerboard
  • Satin polyurethane finish
  • 9.5" fretboard radius
  • 22 medium jumbo frets
  • Imported vintage-style hardware
  • 2-point synchronized tremolo with polished stainless steel saddles
  • Pop-in tremolo arm
  • Chrome appliqué logo
  • Aged plastic parts
  • Abalone inlays
  • Highly detailed fret and nut work (LSR on some models)

American Vintage

 

  • Vintage
    Replicas of original vintage ’57, ’62 and ’70s Strat models made to same specifications:
  • Neck shape: ’57 - V, ’62 - C, ’70s - U
  • 7.25" fretboard radius
  • 21 vintage-style frets
  • Vintage body radius
  • Vintage pickups and electronics
  • Vintage six-point Synchronized Tremolo with Ash Tray bridge cover
  • Vintage hardware
  • Lacquer finish
  • Vintage Hot Rod

    Hot rodded versions of vintage ’57 and ’62 Strat models


  • Neck shape: ’57 - modified flatter soft V-shaped, ’62 - thick C-shaped
  • Satin finish on the back of the neck
  • Modern 9.5" fretboard radius
  • Modern wiring (tone control for bridge pickup)
  • 21 medium jumbo frets
  • Vintage body radius
  • Modern pickups (SCN Noiseless/DiMarzio) and electronics
  • Thin nitrocellulose lacquer finish

Artist

Designed in collaboration with the artist who endorses the guitar. The signature of the artist appears on guitar and usually contains some unique specs that provide part of the artist’s "special tone recipe." Made in USA, Japan, or Mexico.

Jeff Beck Stratocaster (Artist Series)
Jeff Beck Stratocaster (Artist Series)

Fender Custom Shop

Hand-built by craftsmen in the United States. The goal is to create "the best playing-, sounding-, and looking-guitars the world has ever seen."

 

Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster (Custom Artist Series)
Jeff Beck Signature Stratocaster (Custom Artist Series)
Fender Time Machine ’66 Stratocaster Closet Classic
Fender Time Machine ’66 Stratocaster Closet Classic
  • Custom Artist

    The Fender Custom Shop produces two lines in the Custom Artist Series, Signature and Tribute.


  • Custom Artist Signature: A guitar created with the input or specifications of a famous artist is called a Signature model. The Fender Custom Shop has produced a number of Signature Stratocaster guitars in its Custom Artist series that are handcrafted to the exacting personal preferences of famous guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and **** Dale.
  • Custom Artist Tribute: The Custom Shop faithfully replicates a famous guitar that was used by an artist who is no longer living. The actual instrument the artist played is loaned to, or acquired by, Fender to reproduce the guitar.
  • Time Machine - a limited edition series of guitars from the Fender Custom Shop. Each model from the Time Machine Series re-creates a classic guitar from a specific year. Examples include Strat models from ’56, ’60, and ’66. For each year, there are three variations to choose from:
    • NOS (New Old Stock) - As if the guitar had been discovered in a warehouse after many years, never played, and showing no signs of age or wear.
    • Closet Classic - Built to resemble a guitar that has been hidden away for years in a closet. Slightly worn and yellowed from age, the finish has minor checks and cracks.
    • Relic - Shows natural wear and tear from years of heavy use-nicks, scratches, worn finish, rusty hardware, and aged plastic parts.

 

Price ranges

Given what we now know about the various Stratocaster families and features, we can break them down into several rough price categories, working our way up from basic, introductory guitars to more fully-featured guitars.

  • Examples:
  • Inexpensive - Squier, Standard
  • Mid-Priced - Deluxe, Classic, Highway One
  • High End - American, American Deluxe, American Vintage, Artist
  • Collectible - Custom Shop