The iconic axe was on hand for some of modern music’s greatest moments
Jimi Hendrix ripping through a distortion-drenched Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. Buddy Guy infusing Chicago blues with his searing electric intensity. David Gilmour weaving a head-spinningly inventive solo on ‘“Comfortably Numb.” Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival riling the traditionalist crowd. Billie Joe Armstrong's slashing attack resurrecting hardcore punk on Green Day’s Dookie. These and countless other pivotal moments in modern popular music share one constant: the presence of Fender’s Stratocaster.
2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the Strat’s birth. Building on his earlier and equally revolutionary Telecaster—the first successful slab-built electric guitar—in 1954 Leo Fender added a third pickup for extended tonal options and contoured the body of the Strat with deep cutaways and bevels for comfortable access to the highest notes.
The Strat fast became a favorite among players—many of them helping shape the templates of modern rock, country, and blues with the futuristic-looking axe slung over their shoulders. Buddy Holly’s 1957 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show singing “That’ll be the Day” and “Peggy Sue” was hugely influential with rock ‘n’ rollers who flocked to music stores to get their hands on a Strat. With Dick Dale and The Beach Boys harnessing the Strat’s trademark single-coil twang to the sound of surf music, garages across the U.S. reverberated with the guitar’s distinctive trebly tone. And it’s been that way ever since. Successive waves of renowned Strat-wielding pop rock, blues, and country players have led to the guitar’s iconic status in the popular music universe.
The Strat’s 60th anniversary has prompted some wonderful memories by a collection of celebrated Strat players as reported in a recent L.A. Times story. Here are some of the choicest:
Keith Richards: "It came out perfected, and ever since then we've been trying to copy it, improve it, enhance it Most things get better over time, but not in this case. Leo did it all in one fell swoop, which is amazing."
The Edge: The first guitar I ever bought was a Strat — it was my first decent instrument ever. When we got our record deal, the first thing I did was go out and buy another Strat. With the Strat, you get this plank of wood with a neck stuck into it. Yet it just sings — it's an incredibly inspiring instrument."
Buddy Guy (on playing anything other than a Strat): "is like putting on a glove that's too small, then putting one on that you've been wearing for five years . . . [I]f you see me change from a Strat, it means I done broke a string."
Bonnie Raitt: "How you feel in the guitar is probably as important as how it sounds. For portability, sexiness and the way it feels on your body, nothing beats a Strat. When you strap on a Stratocaster, you feel just like your heroes. I don't think you can separate how it makes you feel from the memory of other people playing it."
Musician’s Friend is celebrating the Stratocaster’s birthday with a collection of four special 60th Anniversary models. They range from a super-affordable Squier Classic Vibe model to a meticulously crafted Custom Shop American Vintage 1954 Stratocaster.
And stay tuned as we continue to delve deep into the Strat’s ongoing role in shaping the sounds of modern music.
Also check out our Stratocaster Buying Guide for a rundown on every Strat model in current production as well as much more about the music and musicians who made it a legend.