1955-58 Fender Stratocaster
60 DAYS OF STRAT: The plastics changed progressively to ABS from the previous, more brittle polystyrene; bodies became predominantly alder from mid-1956.
Pickups moved gradually from Alnico III magnets to Alnico V, the ‘V’ neck shape was introduced, then phased out by 1958 when the Three-Colour Sunburst was brought in. Clapton’s 1956 ‘Brownie’ sold at auction in 1999 for $497,500. His retired and iconic ’56/’57 ‘Blackie’ sold in 2004, for a record $959,500.
1959-63 Fender Stratocaster
1959 was a watershed year, as slab-rosewood fingerboards arrived along with three-ply celluloid pickguards.
The ’board became a ‘round-lam’ veneer in 1962. During this period, Fender’s Custom Colour chart expanded, and it’s from this period you’ll find the most desirable models in Lake Placid Blue, Fiesta Red, Sonic Blue, Surf Green and so on, and of course, good old Three-Colour Sunburst. Fans include SRV, Rory Gallagher, Mark Knopfler, Hank Marvin...
1964-65 Fender Stratocaster
The last of the pre-CBS Strats are often referred to as ‘transition’ Strats.
During this period, the headstock logo changed from gold spaghetti-style to block gold. Clay fingerboard dots changed to pearloid, pickguards changed gradually to white plastic, and the ‘grey-bottom’ pickups arrived, still with alnico V magnets.
Robert Cray’s famous Inca Silver Strat is a ’64, while Bob Dylan’s Sunburst 1964 Newport Strat sold in 2013 for $965,000 (with all pre-transition specs).
1968-71 Fender Stratocaster
By now, the Strat’s headstock had enlarged considerably, and the blocky black logo had arrived. Bodies became less contoured and heavier, finishes got thicker (both more so in the mid-1970s).
Three-bolt necks appeared in 1970, and it was all a bit regrettable... except many artists had great success with these guitars! Hendrix’s ’68 ‘Woodstock’ Strat (that sold in 1990 for £198,000 and again for $1.3m in 1993), Blackmore’s ’68, Malmsteen’s ’71... those guitars made history in good ways, too.
1982 Fender Squier Series Stratocaster '62
Facing immense competition from the Asian makers and seemingly unable to make great Strats in the USA, Fender Japan was established.
The results were the first Squier Series instruments, harking back to original Strat specs and aesthetics in many respects. There was a ’57 maple neck variant and a ’62 rosewood ’board model: genuine Fender copies, by all accounts.
1987 Fender American Standard Stratocaster
Following years of turmoil, Fender regained its vision and proudly released the American Standard Strat in ’87.
This was a sea-change: four-bolt neck, 22 frets, 9.5-inch radius ’board, two-pivot trem, TBX tone control – it was a Stratocaster that was respectful of the early models, but also had more modern, player-friendly features. Though the spec has evolved, it remains the staple of Fender’s American production to this day.
1988 Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster
This was the first official Fender signature model that kicked off a highly successful artist program.
The collaboration with Clappers took his famous ‘Blackie’ ’56/’57 as basic inspiration, with a V-shape neck profile and more modern tweaks, including Gold Lace Sensor pickups and a 25dB mid boost circuit. EC used prototypes in ’86 on the Eric Clapton & Friends shows, and it became Fender’s most successful signature guitar.
1997 Fender Relic Stratocaster
Hailing from Fender’s Custom Shop, you might have wondered if the company had lost its mind when the first artificially aged guitars started appearing.
Over 15 years later, Fender is still churning out Relics by the truckload from its hallowed Custom Shop in Corona, California. The Strats have generally vintage specs with a twist or two here and there, and they’re beaten up to look and feel like old workhorses.
2006 Fender Classic Series 50s Stratocaster
Fender Japan established a market for high-quality, lower cost, vintage-style Stratocasters through the 1980s and 1990s.
Fender took that model and applied it to its wholly owned operation in Ensenada, Mexico, with the Classic Series. They’re the affordable ‘vintage reissue’ Strats of choice to this day, sitting way below American Vintage in terms of price. In 2013, Ensenada debuted its first nitro-finished Classic Series guitars.
2014 American Vintage 1954 Stratocaster
60 years since those first, history-changing Stratocasters, Fender has honoured them with a replica (for 2014 only).
The American Vintage Series in which it sits was upgraded in 2012, and now makes the most historically accurate reissues of old models ever produced outside of its Custom Shop. It’s a neat, full-circle journey for a guitar that is all at once timeless, and yet ever-evolving.