The best Stratocaster players of the 1980s
She bought it for “$120 at three in the morning in 1969”, and Raitt’s hybrid ‘Brownie’ Strat has been key to her weeping slide magic at every show since.
Testament to her talent is that she’s the first woman to be offered a signature Strat – even if she initially sent Fender packing (“I don’t really want to hawk products”).
The Maiden mainstay’s most famous Strat, that he used on the band’s first five albums, was actually owned by a guitar hero before him; the ’57 was late Free legend Paul Kossoff’s (see it when it was white on a Top Of The Pops performance of My Brother Jake), and Dave purchased it in 1976 after it had been refinished in black. He later had a pair of DiMarzio Super Distortions retrofitted.
Through his playing with Dire Straits, solo material and soundtrack work, the Knopf has made his own mark on the world of guitar – and though he’s wielded the odd Tele and Les Paul over the years, it’s the Strat with which he made his name on rock staples Sultans Of Swing, So Far Away and Walk Of Life.
Hank Marvin was the inspiration behind Mark’s own red Strat – and luckily for us, Knopfler got hold of his ’61 just in time to record the Straits’ debut album in 1978. Part of what makes Mark’s Strat sound so distinctive is his fingerstyle approach to the instrument, as well as his heavy use of volume pedals to further control his dynamics. It all adds up to a hugely expressive approach to phrasing, further emphasised by the Strat’s trademark glassy tone.
The neoclassical shred merchant is as synonymous with the Strat as he is groin- grabbing leather trousers.
It was 1984’s Rising Force that brought Yngwie and his 1972 ‘The Duck’ Strat to the forefront of shred-dom, owing to his Paganini-influenced playing and supreme harmonic minor chops. The speedy fretwork was partly down to The Duck’s scalloped fretboard, which came about after a chance encounter with a 17th century lute.
“I was 12 or 13 years old, and I was apprenticing in a luthier shop. I saw a lute that had a scalloped neck, and I was fascinated,” Yngwie recalls. “I took a cheapo, piece-of-crap guitar – one of those things you buy from a catalogue – and I made my first scalloped-neck model. It came out great.”
Nowadays, Yngwie’s more likely to be found wielding one of his signature Fender axes, but there’s still only one model for him. “There’s nothing else. A Strat is the guitar for me,” he enthuses. “Even if I was playing air guitar, it would be with a Strat!”
Stevie Ray Vaughan
The Strat is sometimes cast as the pedestrian choice of the ageing blues superstar. Tell that to SRV.
Coming up on the hard-as-nails Texan circuit, the man in the Stetson went to war on his models, stringing them with heavy 0.013-0.058s and attacking bends and vibrato with such ferocity that he often had to pause sets to superglue the splits in his fingernails.
“I like a lot of different kinds of guitars,” he noted, “but for what I do, it seems a Stratocaster is the most versatile. I can pretty much get any sound out of it.”
By 1983, Texas Flood had made SRV a star, and for the remainder of his career, he would rely on two much-loved models that crowds craned their necks for. The ’65, known as Lenny, has the sweetest story, named in honour of SRV’s wife after she blagged the funds to secure it for him. But for gearheads, it’s the Number One hybrid that’s the real treasure, comprising a ’62 body, ’61 V-neck, ’59 pickups and left-handed tremolo.
Tragically, SRV himself never became an ageing blues superstar – he was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990 – but his soul-in-fingers Strat work still inspires and his Fender signature model continues to shift. Hats off.