Friday, January 23, 2009
Guitar Fridays: The Stratocaster
by M A N
This is my guitar. There are many like it, but this one is mine (you can tell by the Cthuloid Cephalapod sticker).
The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most recognizable guitars on the planet. Even on the off chance that its double cutaway shape and signature headstock don't look familiar to you, you no doubt have the sounds of this versatile instrument lurking somewhere in your music collection. From the bell-like chimes in blues, twang of country, clackety-clack of funk, full-on shred of metal, to the warm and smooth tones of jazz, you've heard this guitar.
The Stratocaster hasn't changed much in the 50 plus years it's been in production. I guess when you get it right the first time, there's no need to. The body is usually made out of ash, alder, or basswood, though some more exotic woods are used from time to time. It has a maple neck with either a maple or rosewood fingerboard (mine is rosewood) then ends with the most recognizable headstock in history (as you can see, mine has the cool fat 70s style).
Wood, hardware (bridge and tuning pegs) and electronics (pickups, volume and tone pots) can vary in quality. American made Strats are considered a higher quality guitar than those made in Mexico or Taiwan and always fetch a higher price. As a general rule, the more the price goes up, the higher the quality of the components used to make the instrument and, usually, the better the sound. But this is not always true (this goes for any guitar, not just Strats).
I used to work at a music store in Buffalo and one of my duties was maintaining the hundreds of guitars we had hanging on the walls. I got to know those guitars rather intimately and knew which ones felt and sounded the best. And it was never the most expensive ones. Though the pricey guitars sounded and played wonderfully, they weren't necessarily the best in the store (though certainly worth the money). It's also how I was able to tell which customers were the serious players and which ones were just wannabes. The real players would always ask me, if I had a choice, which guitar I would buy. Wannabes (and the occasional collector) always went for the price tag. *
One of the most amazing things about the Stratocaster is how it helps define the musicians who play them. These guitars have become physical extensions of the players themselves to the point where seeing them without a Stratocaster makes them appear naked. The instrument has become such a significant part of their personas that seeing them with another instrument feels like you are staring into a bizzarro world where everything is somehow wrong. Don't believe me? Look here and tell me what you think. Doesn't seem quite right, does it?
I readily admit that my taste in music is not only poor, but also dated. The examples below of Strat players and their Strats in action are pretty one dimensional, so if you know of any others that should be recognized, let's hear about them in comments. Have a great weekend everyone.
Jimi Hendrix ex: "Machine Gun"
Buddy Guy ex: "Sweet Home Chicago"
David Gilmour ** ex: "Marooned"
Eric Clapton ex: "Hoochi coochie Man"
Stevie Ray Vaughn ex: "Little Wing"
Eric Johnson ex: "Cliffs of Dover"
Dick Dale ex: "Miserlou"
Yngwie Malmsteen ex: "Icarus Dream Fanfare with Orchestra" Wanktastic!
Next week: the Gibson Les Paul.
* My favorite story regarding the sound quality of a Stratocaster involves Steve Vai. While recording the song "The Boy From Seattle" ( a tribute to Jimi Hendrix) for his Alien Love Secrets album, he scoured the land for the perfect Stratocaster. After play-testing hundreds of Strats, he finally settled on a cheap Mexican made model he found in a pawn shop because it simply had the best "Strat" sound.
** David Gilmour is the proud owner of the Fender Stratocaster with the serial number 001 (which, incidentally was NOT the first Strat ever made).