The 1950s were a hotbed of innovation for the electric guitar. The post-war boom in music, art and culture brought about the need for engineers like Leo Fender to step up to the mark and move technology forward. One such innovation which has undoubtedly stood the test of time is the Fender Stratocaster. The model is just as popular today as it ever was, so here we take a look at the best Stratocasters out there right now.
After the introduction of the Fender Esquire in 1950, which then evolved into the Telecaster, guitar players started wanting a little more. They wanted something different to the fairly bulky, heavy Telecaster with two pickups. Leo’s response to this was the Fender Strat - an electric guitar with three single-coil pickups, a tremolo (technically vibrato) unit and a slightly more thinline body.
Concerned about buying a guitar online without playing it first? You needn’t be. Online music instrument retailers like Thomann, Guitar Center, Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend offer hassle-free returns as standard, so you can purchase a guitar, play it in the comfort and privacy of your home and, if it’s not for you, send it back with ease. Most offer between 30-45 days to return an item, as long as it’s in original condition.
Over the years, the Fender Strat has taken on an iconic status and is arguably the most recognisable electric guitar ever made. It has been used by an enormous range of players, covering pretty much every genre imaginable - Buddy Holly, Jim Root, The Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hank Marvin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton - the list really does go on. It’s really versatile, and usually features a five-way pickup selector offering a variety of different sounds.
Since it was revealed in 1954, the Strat has undergone many changes. Anything that could have changed on Strat probably has been - pickups, neck profiles, finishes, hardware - everything! As such, today, there are lots of different Strats on the market, but which is the best Strat for you? We’ve put together this handy guide so you can see what’s on offer right now.
Models produced in certain years are highly regarded by many players and have since become collector’s items. However, you don’t have to be an investor to get the same sort of look and sound - Fender and Squier produce a bunch of guitars that replicate the specs found on vintage Stratocasters. However, if you’re looking for a more contemporary sound, fear not - there are Strats out there that have you covered too.
We’ve looked at all the options - vintage and modern alike, as well as signature models from some of the biggest players in the world, and covering all budgets. There are all sorts of differences between the various models on the market at the moment, including the price, so we’ve listed the guitars in order from the least to the most expensive. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, this guide to the best Stratocasters will be sure to help you find the one that’s right for you.
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There are so many great options out there at the moment, but the Player Strat is the way to go if you want amazing bang-for-buck. The Fender Vintera and American Original series offer players vintage specs, without the vintage price tag, so are great if you want to keep it traditional.
The American Ultra Strat has modern features and super smooth playability in mind, plus there are some pretty cool signature Strats from the likes of Tom Morello and Ed O’Brien.
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Available is SSS and HSS pickup layouts, the Squier Affinity packs in a lot of Strat goodness for such a low price. Ok, you're never going to mistake every Affinity in a lineup for a USA built Fender but these are serious giggable guitars that'll set you on the road to brand loyalty, just as crafty old Fender intended.
There's a great range of finishes available but the best news is the comfortable C shape neck and option of Indian Laurel or maple 9.5" radius fingerboard. If you like a bright, snappy response, choose maple. Yields get a tad more warmth from the Indian Laurel timber. 21 medium jumbo frets make for a playing experience that punches a few notches above the price tag.
Look, it's no secret that Fender made some of its worst guitars in the 1970s. Anchor heavy bodies, toffee apple thick finishes... it wasn't pretty. Thing is, Fender guitars of the '70s looked really cool. The big CBS headstock shape screams hard rock, funk, leather jackets, getting juiced up on Spangles and hijacking your dad's souped up Ford Cortina.
The Squier Classic Vibe '70s Stratocaster HSS gives you all that old school aesthetic loveliness at an impressively low price. The contoured poplar body plays host to a slim bolt-on maple neck with a tinted gloss finish for an aged vibe. The HSS branding means you get a humbucker in the bridge position and a pair of single coils in the middle and neck slots. A SSS version is available at the same price. Trust us. This guitar is built way better than many of its original '70s American ancestors.
There's a bunch of these Player Strats on offer. You get the standard three single coil loaded item as shown in the pretty picture above. Then there's the same guitar with either a HSS (humbucker/single/single) or HSH (humbucker/single/humbucker) pickup layout for a little more cash. Need more eye candy? The Player Plus Top comes enhanced with a maple veneer top and the choice of a SSS and HSS pickup format. Finally, there's the double locking Floyd Rose vibrato and HSS pickup spec model.
What all these options have in common is a well sorted alder chassis and a slick, satin finish maple neck with a comfortable C profile and easy to navigate Pau Ferro or maple 9.5" radius fingerboard. Even if you can't afford a high price tag Fender, the Player's modern sounding pickups won't leave you feeling shortchanged.
Read the full Fender Player Stratocaster review
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You might already know this but the Fender Vintera guitars come in two formats: regular and modified. The idea is you get a vintage looking Strat but you can choose original or modern spec.
Original spec gets you a Soft V profile neck, 21 vintage frets, a 7.25" radius fingerboard, '50s voiced pickups and an old school six point Synchronized vibrato. Modified scores you a Modern C shape neck, 22 medium jumbo frets, a flatter 9.5" radius fingerboard, hotter output pickups and a modern 2-point vibrato unit. The latter guitar also has the S-1 switch for expanded tonal range.
Which one's for you? The clue’s in the spec. If you prefer a lower action, a bit more grunt in your dirt channel and more tuning stability, go modified. The locking tuners will make all the difference when you take a dive. For those that like the look and feel of an old guitar, a few Vintera models are now available in a Road Worn finish.
The Fender Boxer Strat harks back to the Superstrats of the ‘80s. With its two hot humbuckers, it’s better suited to heavier styles of music than its single-coil equipped counterpart. That said, it does come fitted with a two-way switch that enables coil-split for some more traditional Strat tones. As there are only two pickups, you do miss out on the classic ‘positions 2 and 4’ Strat tones, but if you’re more into the heavier side of things, that probably won’t matter too much.
The tone control features Fender’s Treble Bass Expander, which, between 1-5, acts as a regular tone control. After that, it actually decreases resistance, sending more output to your amp.
The Japanese-built Fenders are superb quality, and this Boxer Strat, with its nice Medium C neck profile and 12” fingerboard radius, plays beautifully. It’s not a super thin neck like some other shred-centric guitars, but it’s comfortable enough for both quick leads and chord work. The Boxer Strat blends modern playability and sounds, with one of the most classic body shapes of all time.
The Performer is the most affordable USA built Fender Stratocaster you can buy. The thing is absolutely bursting with features including the Greasebucket tone circuit that allows you to dial out the treble without causing muddiness or losing gain. There's also a push/pull function that gives access to a Tele-style neck and bridge pickup combo, or all three pups engaged. Speaking of pickups. The Yosemite single coils were specifically designed for this model. Note: there's a HSS version in the catalogue with Fender's Double Tap humbucker in the bridge position.
Playability is enhanced with a pleasantly plump Modern C neck profile, 9.5" fingerboard radius, and 22 big ass frets. The neck has satin urethane finish to keep your sticky mitts moving even if the stage lights are melting you down.
Read the full Fender American Performer Stratocaster review
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This signature Strat comes courtesy of one of music’s most unassuming players. Ed O’Brien has spent years with Radiohead creating everything from luscious soundscapes to chunky distorted riffs, and his signature Strat is capable of doing it all. It’s fitted with a very interesting combination of pickups - a Seymour Duncan JB Jr in the bridge, giving you beefy humbucker tones in position 1, a Texas Special in the middle, and a Sustainer in the neck position.
Whilst the EOB performs incredibly well as a regular Strat, it’s capable of creating sounds that you simply wouldn’t be able to on most other guitars. The idea behind it was to have the ability to create a sonic palette almost akin to a keyboard or synth, and it’s used by Ed himself on some of the biggest stages around the world. This is definitely one of the best Strats for players that want to experiment with different sounds, whilst retaining all the guitar’s functionality.
Read the full Fender Ed O’Brien EOB Sustainer Stratocaster review
Yeah, we know. 'F@&k you, I won't do what you tell me!' Fair enough, but you might be missing out on a great guitar. Spec'd by Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and The Nightwatchman guitarist Tom Morello, this new Stratocaster isn't your average rock star vanity project. A lot of thought has gone into the pickup selection, the hardware, and the playability.
The 9.5" to 14" (241mm to 355.6mm) compound fingerboard radius makes for easy chord fretting over the first few frets, and a super low, choke-free action beyond the twelfth fret. The bridge-mounted Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Strat crams a lot of humbucking firepower into its single coil-size frame yet cleans up beautifully when you want to lay off the aural terrorism for bit. The package is completed by a 'Soul Power' and Morello's signature on the headstock. Just so you know who you're, ahem, riffing in the name of...
The Ultra couldn't look cuter if it was wearing an Easter bonnet and licking a big lollipop. Look a bit closer however and you'll see this thing is the guitar equivalent of a muscle car. Fender has tweaked and tuned this thing to be the best playing Strat since whenever. Extra contouring on the back of the body gives access all areas, er, access for your fretting hand. A 10" - 14" fingerboard radius offers a combo of old school chording comfort and super slick above octave noodling.
Modern sounding pickups work in cahoots with custom spec wiring including a treble bleed to prevent muddy tone when you dial back the volume. Fender's S-1 switch is also present to add more tonal options. We'd expect to see a nitrocellulose finish at this price but Fender has chosen harder wearing polyurethane and urethane for the body and neck. This guitar isn't about recreating the past.
Read the full Fender American Ultra Stratocaster review
Back in the mid '60s, Fender began installing some of its lowest output pickups into Teles and Strats. These pups are described by tone junkies as "Gray Bottom" single coils. Why? Well, Sherlock... if you turn them upside down, they're grey... on the bottom. The upshot of all this lack of output was tone, lots of sweet tone. You can really hear the wood of the guitar with these pups. And you'll find a repro set of '65 Gray Bottoms on the Fender American Original 60s Stratocaster.
This model doesn't so much replicate a given year as the whole decade itself. The major concession to modern times is the 9.5" fingerboard radius. Aside from that, this guitar represents the best if it's era with accurate Pure Vintage hardware and your classic Olympic White as one of three available nitrocellulose finishes.
Read the full Fender American Original 60s Stratocaster review
Yeah, something's not quite right here. That body looks suspiciously like a Fender Jazzmaster. Welcome to the world of the Parallel Universe Volume II guitars. A sequel to 2018's 'Marmite' range of oddball DNA splices, this latest batch makes flesh guitars that never actually were. That's why our Strat Jazz Deluxe has the body and neck of a Jazzmaster, and the pickups and vibrato of our old mate the Strat.
If you've not scuttled off in horror, cast an eye over this guitar's impressive spec sheet. The body is alder capped with a flame maple top. The neck is solid rosewood. Not just the fingerboard. The whole thing. The Custom Shop Texas Special single coils have more bite than a shark sandwich when the overdrive is engaged, yet are all sweetness and light if you happen to, for a few minutes at least, decide to play clean.
Best Stratocasters: Buying advice
The Fender Strat has had nearly 70 years of tweaking and tinkering so there is quite a lot to consider when looking to buy one. Think about the style of music you’ll use it to play mostly. Do you want something with low output pickups that give you a nice clear, clean sound, or something with hotter pickups that will break up a little quicker? Many players find that a humbucker in the bridge position gives them the best of both worlds as they can switch from a big, beefy sound to a more delicate, chimey tone at the flick of a switch.
Neck profiles can be pretty important too - how comfortable a guitar is for you will have a huge impact on how much you want to pick it up. Finding the best Stratocaster for you will be just as much about how it feels, as well as how it sounds. Necks tended to be thicker in the 50s, and got thinner in the 60s. Their most popular one nowadays is the Modern C profile, which lends itself nicely to any and all playing styles.
The guitar’s fingerboard has a huge impact on how it looks, but it also imparts a little tonal flavour too - maple tends to be a little brighter than rosewood, or pau ferro as is often found at the more budget end of things. There’s also the fingerboard radius to think about; more vintage models are likely to feature a 7.25” radius, and more modern guitars tend to have either 9.5”, 12” or a compound 10-14”. While it all boils down to personal preference, the general consensus is that a smaller radius lends itself better to chord work, and a larger, or wider radius can be more comfortable for lead players. This can all be adjusted with action tweaks and playing style though.