Hillman Guitar No. 15
Fender Stratocaster Plus
Serial No. N3146907
. .Since its official debut in early 1954 the Fender Stratocaster has proven to be one of the most successful, most influential and most cloned electric guitars ever manufactured. This blue Strat was another of Sue-Onís surprise Xmas gifts and it made our first Brandon Christmas away from our country home a memorable one. One of my first guitar heroes was Hank Marvin of Englandís Shadows. I have always been intrigued by his red Strat, but since Sue-On knows that blue is my favourite colour, blue is what I got.
Back in the fifties, I was introduced to many forms of American Blues in a very roundabout way. I became obsessed with the skiffle music of LonnieDonegan and set up many pipelines through which I could import his records (See our Lonnie Donegan Discography here). It was only later that I fully grasped the debt he owed to American Blues artists and that many of the guitar riffs I had learned from his records were actually this Brit's version of the blues. (Ten years later a whole new generation of guitarists would go through a similar experience when they would be introduced to the Blues by the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Cream, etc. - interestingly, most of the guitarists in these groups had been influenced by the music of Lonnie Donegan).
I expanded upon these contacts I had made in England and was soon importing the records of Cliff Richard - Englandís 'Elvis.' This led me into the world of the Shadows, Cliffís backup group, featuring bespeckled Hank Marvin. Since there was a tremendous demand for instrumentals in the groups I worked with, the sounds created by Hank's Strat were soon being imitated by a red-haired, black-hornrimmed, Gretsch playing Canadian. It was to be thirty years before I could try out these songs on a Strat.
My first experience with playing a Strat was not an auspicious one. We were booked for an arena dance at the Oak River Dance Gardens just after my Gretsch had just been stolen. I took along my Silvertone but my rhythm player offered to swap his Strat for the evening. Soon into the performance however, I realized that I was so used to the feel of the Gretsch with its saddle bridge and its well-positioned bigsby lever that I could palm, that I just couldn't get used to the Strat. The whammy bar kept dropping out of reach and my combined picking/strumming technique constantly turned down the volume control by accident. I finished the evening playing trusty ole Sears Silvertone.
As the years passed by, however, many more of the guitars players I admired, and often imitated, showed a preference for the Strat: Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Ventures, Vince Gill, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, etc. In fact, seldom do you see any sort of popular band that doesn't feature a Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul.
Thanks for the present, kid . . . it's a classic.
Down One Step
PLAYERS TRIVIAEric Clapton: Fender Strat (Knicknamed 'Blackie' and made up of several different strats) ~ Telecaster (while with the Yardbirds)
(Work in progress... please send trivia bits)
Jimi Hendrix: Fender Stratocaster (White played upside down with strings swaped around - as left-handed)
Buddy Holly: Fender Stratocaster (sunburst)
Hank Marvin: Fender Stratocaster (Red) ~ Burns 'Marvin' (White and 'Green Burst')
Mark Knopfler: Stratocaster (pink)
Chrissie Hynde: (Pretenders) Telecaster (Blue)
Eddie Van Halen: Stratocaster
Ritchie Blackmore: (Deep Purple)
Harrison & Lennon
Forty Years Of The Fender Stratocaster
by Richard R. Smith
Leo Fender had worked as an accountant and radio repairman before
taking up musical instrument manufacturing during the waning days of
World War II. Riding on the double wave of post-war prosperity and the
guitar's rising popularity, his novel, tradition-breaking designs quickly
became popular with working musicians who played western swing,
country, and rhythm and blues--the roots of rock and roll. He started
designing the Stratocaster in 1953 for these cutting-edge musicians
destined to shape popular music's next forty years.
Fender's intention was more than simply adding a new guitar to his
successful line, which already included the highly popular Telecaster.
Packing his new model with the latest "Fender Firsts," he hoped to outdo
all other guitar inventors and make all other electric guitars obsolete.
Besides looking streamlined and modern, the deep cutaway body
balanced the instrument, made the high frets more accessible, and
reduced weight. Musician Rex Gallion had once implored Leo, "Why not
get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?" The
Stratocaster's contours allowed a snug fit to the player's body.
The Stratocaster's advanced, built-in vibrato put shimmering, sustaining
sound effects at the player's fingertips. The distinctive Fender headstock
design let the strings pull straight over the guitar's nut, minimizing the
only real source of de-tuning friction. Surpassing earlier designs, Fender
made each individual Stratocaster bridge section adjustable for length
and height. To get the best tone, he tested a wide variety of pickup coils
and pole pieces with different lengths and diameters.
Musicians soon discovered that by carefully positioning the Stratocaster's
switch between settings, the signals from two pickups mixed and
produced snarling nasal tones that redefined electric guitar sound. These
unintended tones were reminiscent of a muted trumpet or trombone, but
with the sting of downed power lines. Fender's new guitar offered much
more than he anticipated.
Fender's business partner, Don Randall, came up with the new guitar's
name. Fender Sales shipped the first few commercial units by May 15,
1954. No one envisioned the Stratocaster's eventual commercial success
and historic impact. Considered by many an instrument for
teenagers--bandleader Lawrence Welk often introduced Buddy Merrill as
"our teenager"--the Stratocaster sold well in the 1950s, but did not
dominate the market. Dick Dale first explored the Fender's high decibel
capabilities playing surf music in the early 1960s. Beatles George
Harrison and John Lennon had matching Stratocasters heard on the
single "Nowhere Man" and numerous album cuts recorded after 1965. Of
course, Jimi Hendrix revolutionized electric guitar playing with his
Stratocasters and proved the wisdom of Leo's original design--which
stood up to almost every abuse except a match and lighter fluid. For the
next two decades, the Stratocaster's popularity grew almost unabated.
In 1987 Guitar Player magazine hailed the Stratocaster as the
"undisputed Guitar of the 1980s." The Stratocaster, recognized by
players for its wide-ranging, versatile tone, had become the most
commercially successful and copied electric guitar design in history. The
almost endless list of Stratocaster-playing stars included Eric Clapton,
Jeff Beck, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour
and Mark Knopfler. While many players had turned to vintage
Stratocasters in the 1970s when CBS owned the Fender company (Leo
Fender and Don Randall sold the company to CBS in the mid-60s) an
increasing number of 1980s guitarists discovered new Stratocasters
made by a revitalized Fender company under new ownership.
In 1985, the Fender company was purchased from CBS and in fact, a
new chapter of Stratocaster history was being written. In 1990 the
company offered a single-spaced index that included 31 different
Stratocasters on the first page alone. The 1992 literature pictured 44
different Stratocasters. Players failing to find production models fitting
their needs could consider a top-of-the-line custom-built guitar from the
Fender Custom Shop. John Page, the shop's manager, sums up the
company's philosophy quite well: "Old guitars represent a starting point,"
he said. "Vintage (product) is something you learn from. Then you go on
and design something for tomorrow."
Leo Fender designed the original Stratocaster to outdo all other electric
guitars. In 1954, it was a guitar for tomorrow. Astonishingly, after 40
years, it still is.A former working guitarist, Richard R. Smith has written extensively about vintage guitars and guitar company history. He is guest curator for the Fullerton Museum Center's show Five Decades of Fender: The Sound Heard Around the World. His articles and columns have appeared in Guitar Player, Guitar World, Guitar (Rittor Music, Japan) and Bass (Rittor Music, Japan) magazines. In addition, he is the author of The History of Rickenbacker Guitars (Centerstream) and a forthcoming book about Leo Fender and the Fender Electric Instrument Company.
For most collectors, pre-CBS (pre-1966) Fender vintage guitars and amps are the desirable ones. Although CBS purchased Fender (officially) on January 3rd 1965, it took some time till the guitars changed (though by mid 1964, six months before CBS bought Fender, things were already "on the way down"). By the end of 1965, the general look and feel of the Fender guitars had changed significantly. All collectors feel the quality of their instruments and amps suffered as CBS employed more "mass production" manufacturing processes to the Fender guitars. The "large peghead" (starting in late 1965) as used on the Fender Stratocaster was one example of the (bad) changes to come. The "custom contoured" bodies Fender was famous for no longer were as sculped and sleek. Newer (and less attractive) plastics were used for the pickguards. Pearl fingerboard inlays replaced the original "clay" dots. Indian rosewood replaced the beautifully figured Brazilian rosewood on the fingerboards. And by 1968, polyurathane replaced the original nitrocellulose lacquer that was used from Fender's conception. By early 1971 the party was truely over. Fender now employed the infamous "3 bolt neck" and one piece die cast bridge on the Strat, ruining it's tone and feel. Many other models suffered the same miserable fate of being over mass-produced and cheapened by corporate zealots.
Because of this, Fender's most innocent era of the 1950's is their most collectible. This decade produced guitars with one-piece maple necks, single layer pickguards, thin "spaghetti" logos, and tweed cases that seem to capture collectors the most.
The early 1960's Fenders with "slab" rosewood fingerboards are also collectible, but not to the extent of the earlier 1950's maple-neck era. Of the rosewood fingerboard models, the "slab" fingerboard (mid-1959 to July 1962) variants are more desirable than the "veener" fingerboard (August 1962 and later) pre-CBS models. The "transistion" era (late summer 1964 to December 1965) are the least collectible of the pre-CBS models. This era is known as a "transition" because later summer 1964 to December 1965 was the time when there was a transition from the Leo Fender management to CBS management, and mass-production manufacturing techniques were starting to take a firm hold.
By 1966 (a year after CBS bought Fender), CBS management had really
taken hold of Fender's production facilities and incorporated many changes.
The sum of of all these changes had a serious effect on Fender guitars
as a whole. 1966 brought an era of "large" pegheads, less contoured bodies,
and much higher production numbers. CBS looked for ways to cut production
time and costs, which generally led to much lower quality. Because of this,
1966 and later Fender instruments are considered far less collectible than
vintage pre-CBS Fender guitars.
The Esquire was Fender's first electric spanish guitar. Originally introduced in April of 1950 as a black (and later blond), one or two pickup model, it was discontinued by Fender's marketing arm in September 1950. Only about 50 of these original Esquires were shipped, though Fender had a backorder of hundreds of units. And many came back to Fender to have the neck (and body!) replaced because of neck warpage, from the lack of a truss rod. In October 1950, the Broadcaster replaced the Esquire as their two pickup electric spanish guitar, with a truss rod! The Esquire was re-introduced in early 1951 as a single pickup version of the Broadcaster. The 1951 and later Esquire, because of its single pickup, does not have the value today of its two pickup brother, due to its limited tonal range with one pickup. By February 1951, the Broadcaster was renamed the Telecaster (though the guitars didn't actually have a "Telecaster" decal on them until the summer of 1951), because of a naming conflict with a trademarked Gretsch drum line.
From country, to rock and roll, to surf music, Fender found a niche with its instruments. Especially different for the era was those Fenders with Custom Color finishes. Hence they are more valuable than the standard finish (usually Sunburst, or Blond for the Telecaster/Esquire).
The Jazzmaster, introduced in 1958, became Fender's "top of the line" instrument (though today's vintage guitar market does not hold this view; it's clearly a 3rd class citizen behind the Strat and Tele). Fender truely thought the Jazzmaster would make a sensation in the jazz scene. Instead, it became the main instrument of many Surf-guitar bands of the 1960's.
Likewise, in 1962 Fender introduced another "top of the line" instrument called the Jaguar. Again, this model quickly lost popularity, starting in 1968 with decreased sales. The short scale length of the Jaquar was one of its major flaws. Finally the Jaguar and Jazzmaster were discontinued by 1975 and 1982, respectively. Before the death of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, interest had revived in these models, though no were near the level of Strats and Teles. Now most collectors interested in these models do so because they can not afford a vintage Strat or Tele.
The Low-end Fender solidbodies such as the DuoSonic, MusicMaster, and
the Mustang are not collectable and are considered student models. Even
with the recent popularity of the Mustang, it's still a short scale, entry
level instrument. All these instruments share that basic problem of a shorter
scale length, and lower quality electronics.
from Stratocaster Appreciation Page
The strat is notoriously temperamental with regard to pickup height settings. If set too far from the strings, the sound will be weak and the buzz intolerably loud. If set too close to the strings, the magnetic pole-pieces will interfere with the vibration of higher notes, causing a distortion of pitch. In addition, many people underestimate the influence which pickup height and balance has on your tone. I have developed the following procedure for the correct adjustment of strat pickup heights (this is intended for traditional alnico magnet pickups-other types can usually be set closer to the strings)
1. Set the bridge pickup 3 to 2.5 mm's from the pole piece to the bottom of the string on BOTH the bass and treble sides of the pickup. (Some people like to slant the pickup so that the treble side is much closer to the strings, but if you want your head to remain ON your shoulders, I advise against it) Now play some chords across all six strings on various places on the neck. Listen carefully to the balance between the bass and treble strings. If the bass strings are noticably louder than the treble or vice-versa, raise or lower the appropriate side until a nice balance between high and low strings is achived.
2. Now that the bridge pickup is set, its time to deal with the middle
pickup. Compare the output of the
3. Now the neck pickup. Much the same as points 1 and 2-get the output the same as the middle pickup, can adjust for correct string balance.
Hopefully you will now have all the expected strat sounds at your disposal.
Also, if you want to increase
FLOATING: I'd Just like to say before this section, that you
should BEWARE when messing with the
1. Carefully remove the tremolo backplate on the back of your strat.
2. Observe how many springs are installed in the cavity-if there are
5, remove the 2nd and 4th ones, if
3. When at last your trem is floating, you need to set the tip up angle-the distance between the end of the tremolo and the top side of the body. The gap should be around 3mm. To set this, adjust the tremolo law, tightening the screws if the gap is more than 3mm, loosening them if its less than 3mm.
4. Now replace the backplate, tune to pitch and enjoy your new-found pitch shifting abilites.
CLAMPED: This is advisable if you don't use or like the trem
as it will give you a bit more sustain and
1. Remove the backplate and observe how many springs are installed in
the cavity. If there are 3 or less,
2. Now replace the backplate and enjoy that tad more depth and sustain.
Tremolo tuning tips
There are many supposed 'methods' to stop the standard
strat trem from going out of tune, but in my
Counteracting that Annoying Buzz
You can reduce the buzz that single coil pickups
are prone to by screening the internal cavities with
1. You need to remove the scratchplate and position it so that you can work at the cavitiy easily.
2. Now cut the aluminium tape into sections that will cover the entire
surfaces of the cavity, making sure
3. Earth it all by placing a few centimetres of abare wire underneath
a section of tape and covering it
Why can't I get a really heavy distortion sound?
Speaking of high gain applications, I have found many people go out and buy a strat, or a strat type guitar and a distortion pedal, then go home and wonder why they cannot achieve a really cool and heavy sounding distortion such a la Nirvana or the Smasing Pumpkins. I believe (many may disagree) that the most important factor in achieving a heavy distortion is the pickup output. Of course a good pedal or amp will aid this process, but it eventually comes down to needing a hot pickup to drive distortion. Hot rail type pickups are good because they fit into the standard stratocaster routing, and don't tend to get boomy like some full size humbuckers can. Below is the Seymour Duncan diagram for wiring one of their hot rails pickups in plain full humbucking mode.
Kent Armstrong hot rails can be wired as follows: There should be five wires-red,green,black and white and a thick unshielded earth wire. To wire it up as a full output humbucker and nothing else you should do as follows: Solder together the black and white wires and insulate them. Solder both the thick earth wire and the green wire to the volume pot (ground) finally, solder the red wire to the selector switch.
I can't speak for any other brands, and I am not going
to get into the complications of coil tapping or
Help!!! My Strat isn't working any more!
If you are unfortunate enough to find that one day
your Strat just is not working any more, and the
Always remember that there are many things that can go wrong apart from simply a wire coming loose. In cases like this, where all the connections are correct, you are always better to take the guitar to a good tech, who will be able to tell you what exactly is wrong.
Reference: Fender Stratocaster Site and the Official Fender Instruments Site
There are scores of Fender Stratocaster models. Here are a few of them:
* U.S. Vintage 1957 Stratocaster Maple fingerboard, single layer pickguard
* American Standard Stratocaster [Rosewood fingerboard]
* Strat Plus [maple fingerboad
Japanese / Mexican Stratocasters
The Japanese and Mexican Stratocasters are intended to be the best value for the money. Most Japanese instruments appear to be made with lighter Basswood bodies and the Mexican ones made of Poplar.
v-shaped maple neck and single-layer pickguard
* Reissue 50's Hardtail Stratocaster
The no whammy bar version
* Reissue 60's Stratocaster
u-shaped neck with rosewood-slab fretboard, triple-layer pickguard
* HRR '50's Stratocaster [maple fingerboard ~ heavy metal]
* HRR '50's Stratocaster [rosewood fingerboard ~ heavy metal]
* H.M. Strat [maple fingerboard ~ 1 humbucker, 2 single coils]
* H.M. Strat [rosewood fingerboard ~ 1 humbucker, 2 single coils]
* H.M. Strat [maple fingerboard ~ 2 humbuckers, 1 single coil]
* H.M. Strat [rosewood fingerboard ~ 2 humbucker, 1 single coil]
Japan / Mexico
* Standard Stratocaster [Rosewood fingerboard]
Korean Squier, Squier II Stratocasters
Fender uses the Squier line for their cheap instruments, so as to cash in on the low end of the market, but keeping the business somewhat separate from their main market.
* Squier Standard Stratocaster [maple neck]
STRAT PLUS REFS
Fender Stratocaster Plus Reference Page: xhefirguitars.com
Strat Plus in Wikipedia
Strat Plus Review on YouTube I
Strat Plus Review on YouTube II
Lace Sensor Gold Single Coil Pickups
Fender Stratocaster Site & FAQ
Lonnie Donegan: Legendary King of Skiffle
Skiffle Groups: Lonnie Donegan
What is Skiffle?
Lonnie Donegan and his Skiffle Group
Hank Marvin Guitar Club
Shadows and related musicians
Shadows in Tablature
Saluting the Shadows
Shadows Guitar Club
Guitar World Online
Guitar Notes: Links ~ Lessons ~ Dealers ~ MP3s ~ Tabs ~ Reviews
Stratworld dot Com: Stratocaster Newsletter
Stratocaster Appreciation Page
Eric Clapton and "Blackie"
Jimi Hendrix and "Black Beauty"
David Gilmour Home Page
Fender Discussion Page
Dick Dale: King of the Surf Guitar
International Surfing Museum
The Stratocaster Webpages
101 ways to tune a guitar
Vintage Guitar World
Vintage Guitar Stores Links
Smith's Stratocaster Page
Strats dot Com
Just Jazz Guitar
The Guitarists Network
Strings Attached Internet Guitar Radio Show
Whole Note Online Guitar Community
Online Archive of Guitar Links
Hillman Guitar Contents Page