While Leo Fender and his colleagues were perfecting the ‘Synchronized Tremolo’ unit, 2,000 miles away in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Gibson was developing the Tune-O-Matic bridge.
For the first time, guitarists would have individual adjustment for string length (intonation), but in the Stratocaster’s case, that also meant individual string-height adjustment and a vibrato unit. Blissfully simple when you look at it now, it was nonetheless a revolution in guitar bridge design back in 1954, even if it did take regular maintenance and a deft hand to confidently hold tuning stability.
Many people – including me – would argue that there is nothing better for the optimum blend of tone, functionality and feel to this day.
Back then, if you’d chosen one with the new wobble-bar – non-Tremolo versions were offered a little later – you’d have had to fork out $249.50. The case was $39.95 extra, and: “of hardshell construction, crushed-plush lined... covered in a grain hair seal, simulated leather covering”, no less. The average US wage in 1954 was around $3,000, so a Strat would have been around a month’s wages.