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1954 was a big year for cool stuff. Elvis Presley released his first single. Iconic British comedy series Hancock's Half Hour made its debut on the wireless. Oh, and Fender launched a brand new solid body electric guitar called the Stratocaster. Made iconic by doomed rocker Buddy Holly in the '50s, resurrected and ignited by Jimi Hendrix in the late 60s, the Strat has become, arguably, the most popular electric guitar of all time. Now, it's time to get you wrapped around the best Stratocasters available today...
Leo Fender's drawing board was creaking under the weight of innovation in the 1950s. The Telecaster (nee Broadcaster) the first commercially available solid body electric guitar was already well established by '54. Yet some punters wanted more: three electric guitar pickups instead of two; a usable vibrato; and a less slab like body. The Stratocaster ticked all of those boxes and has been in production ever since.
66 years on, there are currently over 70 Strat models available, not including the numerous Custom Shop editions. That's why you need our handy guide to the ten best Stratocaster models currently available. We've picked, strummed, posed and whammied. From retro to contemporary, not to mention artist endorsed, if you think all Fender Stratocasters are the same, you're in for a big surprise.
With Amazon Prime Day on the horizon, it could be worth holding off on picking up a new Strat until the Prime Day music deals start emerging. We'll be reporting on the best offers right through to Prime Day itself.
- Our pick of the best Fender Telecasters you can buy today
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- 18 of the best electric guitars to suit all budgets
Which are the best Stratocasters right now?
It doesn't matter what budget you’re working with, you're going to get a decent Stratocaster for your cash. That said, a couple of models stand out. For a kickoff, the Fender Player Stratocaster offers a classic look, modern performance, and outstanding value for money. You'll bag one for less than £600/$700 and few competitors can touch it for tone, playability and build quality.
The new Fender American Ultra Stratocaster has been tweaked to make it the most perfectly playable Strat yet, but we're even more smitten by the Tom Morello signature Stratocaster. A compound radius fingerboard (more on that in a minute) and a recessed Floyd Rose vibrato make for outstanding playability and tuning. The slab body and optional 'Soul Power' decal crank up the cool factor to 11.
How to buy the best Stratocaster for you
Before you buy a Fender Strat, we’d recommend sorting out a wishlist. What do you actually want the guitar to do? Do you want vintage looks and feel? Maybe you want something with retro looks combined with bang up-to-date playability?
Here's a few pointers:
- Weight Ash bodies are generally lighter than alder or poplar... but not always.
- Neck shape '50s spec models usually have fuller feeling necks than '60s or Modern C shape loaded Stratocasters.
- Fingerboards Maple produces a brighter, snappier tone than rosewood. You can expect some additional warmth from rosewood substitute Indian Laurel. That other rosewood stand in, Pau Ferro, is tougher than the wood it pretends to be. Some of those 'boards can snap like maple.
- Fingerboard radius The higher the number, the flatter the 'board, the lower the action. Vintage 7.25" radius 'boards are great for chord work but you'll need at least a medium action to achieve choke free bends above the 12th fret. Modern 9.5" radius Fenders are easier on the upper fret noodling. You'll also find 12" radius Strats (Eric Johnson models) and compound radius examples where the flatness runs from 10" to 14". Those guitars will be most welcomed by habitual widdlers and shred monkeys.
The bottom line is, the devil is in the detail. With so many Strats to choose from – and with prices to suit every budget – there's no excuse not to get the right one. You just have to do your homework.
Here’s our top recommendations of the best Fender Stratocasters, ordered by price from budget upwards. Our price comparison software has found the best prices online today, too.
The best Stratocasters available today
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
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.
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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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
If you had to trust one guitar geek to talk you through what makes the perfect Stratocaster, say hello to Texan jazz fusion legend Mr Eric Johnson. The Stratocaster Thinline isn't Johnson's first signature Fender but it is the most radical. This model teams the iconic contoured Strat body shape with the semi-hollow construction of a Telecaster Thinline. The result is a lightweight, highly resonant guitar that Fender describes as "tonal nirvana".
In other news, the neck's big thing is its ultra-comfortable '57 V shape. The Gibson-style 12" fingerboard radius is definitely not vintage correct but it does allow for a lower string action and choke-free bending above the 12th fret. Add in a trio of pickups that Johnson helped perfect and you'll see that the Strat can still break new ground after 60 odd years on the job.
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.