The Fender Stratocaster is among the most iconic electric guitars to have ever been produced, and it’s been a major influence on the sounds of modern music. Since it’s introduction in 1954, the Strat has been featured on countless recordings, and played by rock, punk, jazz, blues, soul, R&B, and country artists the world over. During its six-decade history, the Stratocaster has consistently been one of the most popular (and copied) guitars in production.
Table of Contents
A Brief History of the Stratocaster
Why Choose a Stratocaster?
Basic Stratocaster Features
USA Fender Stratocasters
Fender Custom Shop
Which Stratocaster is Right for You
In 1954 California inventor Leo Fender, along with his cohorts Freddie Tavares and George Fullerton, set out to design a guitar that would build on the success of Fender’s Telecaster and Precision Bass. Seeking to create a guitar with more tonal versatility as well as improved playability and comfort, the trio came up with the Stratocaster. Adapted from the profile of the P Bass, its double-cutaway, deeply contoured solid body offered easier access to the higher frets and nestled more comfortably against the player’s body. The addition of a middle single-coil pickup gave the Strat greater tonal versatility than its Telecaster stablemate’s two-pickup design.
The original Strat had a 3-way pickup selector switch. Players soon discovered they could engage two pickups simultaneously by using a toothpick to wedge the switch between the “factory” settings and thus create unique tones. As we’ll see, Fender was paying attention, and over the years switching and wiring grew more sophisticated.
The Strat also had a cavity routed into its back, housing a through-body pivoting bridge that anchored the strings. Strat players began modifying their guitars’ standard fixed bridge by removing two of its five retaining springs and adjusting the anchoring screws allowing the bridge to “float.” By doing this, they could move the tremolo arm that was attached to the bridge up and down, thus modulating the pitch of the played notes. Jimi Hendrix, Ike Turner and Jeff Beck were all notorious for their enthusiastic use of these pitch-bending effects.
But vigorously yanking on the trem bar caused the guitar to go out of tune. In response, guitarists such as Ron Wood and Eric Clapton modified their bridges to remain fixed while retaining the floating tremolo. Others did away with the tremolo entirely leading to what are now referred to as “hardtail” Strats. Here, too, Fender was watching, and as the Strat evolved, new models incorporated many of the modifications pioneered by these artists and their guitar techs.
On January 5, 1965 Leo Fender sold his company to CBS—a move that many Fender fans associate with a change in the quality of Fender instruments. Nonetheless, the business grew, and in 1977 the company introduced 5-way pickup switching and a reverse-wound, reverse-polarity middle pickup. This provided a hum-canceling effect in positions 2 and 4 on the selector switch, creating the tones popularized by iconic guitarist such as Jimi Hendrix, Dick Dale, Eric Clapton, and David Gilmour. Today, the 5-way switch and reverse-wound middle pickup are standard on most Strats.
In 1982 Fender introduced a version of the Stratocaster produced under its Squier trademark—a division spun off to create value-priced instruments. Originally built in Japan, it became one of the company’s most successful models. Since then, Fender has produced Squier Stratocasters in Korea, Indonesia, and China, aiming to provide instruments that retain the Fender heritage and quality standards while being very affordable.
A group of Fender employees and investors bought the company from CBS in 1985 reinvigorating a business largely lacking in leadership that understood music gear and musicians. Following the buyout, Fender initially built its instruments in overseas factories that had the skills to create instruments meeting the company’s standards.
Later in 1985, Fender’s flagship factory began production in Corona, California. This was followed two years later with the opening of its second North American factory in Ensenada, Mexico. That same year—1987—Fender’s revered Custom Shop was launched and began building some of the finest Stratocasters ever.
Since then, Fender has continued to rethink its flagship Stratocaster, introducing dozens of model variations with unique capabilities and cosmetics. Yet the essential shape, playability, and sound of the Strat remains unchanged six decades later.
In this guide we’ll walk you through the many Stratocaster series and models available today. As you browse Musician’s Friend’s huge collection of Strats, we hope you’ll find this guide a useful companion in sorting out all the details and ultimately helping you purchase the best Stratocaster for your needs, budgets and desires.
With all the electric guitars available, why should you choose a Strat? While only you can determine if a particular guitar is a good fit, there are compelling reasons the Stratocaster has proven to be the guitar of choice for so many players. With its 3-pickup array and 5-way selector switch, the Strat offers players a variety of options to achieve the sound they want. From bright and twangy to mellow and moody, the Strat covers many colors on the tonal palette.
Aside from tone, the Strat offers a very smooth, comfortable feel. The contoured body and neck joint make the Stratocaster easy to hold and play, and its deep cutaways give the player ready access to the entire fretboard. With several neck profiles to choose from, there’s a Strat to match just about everybody’s hand and playing style.
Famous Stratocaster Players
Countless guitarists have chosen the Fender Stratocaster as their instrument of choice. Whether playing a tasty blues lick or laying down some righteous funk, the Strat has earned its place among the most revered guitars ever. Some famous Stratocaster players include:
- Jimi Hendrix
- Eric Clapton
- Jeff Beck
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- George Harrison
- John Frusciante
- Dave Murray
- Ritchie Blackmore
- The Edge
- David Gilmour
- Buddy Holly
- Eddie Hazel
- Buddy Guy
- Robert Cray
- Eric Johnson
- Mark Knopfler
- Bonnie Raitt
This is just a short list—if space were no issue, we could fill your screen several times over with the names of notable Stat players.
Basic Stratocaster Features
The Fender Stratocaster comes in many variations, but the following features are generally found on most Strats produced under the Fender and Squier nameplates:
- A double cutaway contoured alder or ash body offers excellent resonance, comfort, and playability.
- 3 single-coil pickups with a 5-way blade switch accesses 5 different pickup configurations: Neck, Neck/Middle, Middle, Middle/Bridge, and Bridge.
- Master volume and 2 tone knobs control the output signal and the treble frequencies of the Neck and Middle pickups.
- A bolt-on maple neck provides strength and stability, while being easily removed for repairs or replacement
- Maple, rosewood or pao ferror fingerboard for tonal definition and durability
- Nitrocellulose lacquer finish (vintage and Custom Shop), Urethane or Polyester finish (modern)
- Synchronized tremolo bar
- 25-1/2” scale length
- 7-1/4” fretboard radius (vintage) 9-1/2” (modern)
- Classic “C”-shaped or “V”-shaped neck
Squier is a division of Fender and its Stratocasters are based on Fender models, sharing many of the same design features at affordable prices. In the company's own words, Squier is the “value brand alternative to its big brother, Fender.” Squier Strats are made in Asia.
Squier Bullet Stratocasters
Squier's Bullet series offers new players access to the classic Strat look and sound without breaking the bank. These beginner-focused models feature poplar bodies, easy-to-play "C"-shaped maple necks and hardtail bridges for extra tuning stability.
Ideal for the new guitarist, the ultra-affordable Squier Bullet Stratocaster offers exceptional tuning stability due to its hardtail bridge.
Squier Affinity Stratocasters
A step up in the Squier line, Affinity Stratocasters offer 2-point tremolo bridges and upgraded pickups for a fuller, richer sound. Fender offers three standard models in their Squier Affinity line: a standard SSS model, an HH model and an HSS model with a flame maple top.
This Squier Affinity HSS Strat has a humbucker in the bridge position to make a sonic impact equal to its knockout looks.
Squier Contemporary Stratocasters
Squier's Contemporary Stratocaster models offer players a bevy of modern, performance-focused features like roasted maple necks, sculpted neck heels and flat 12" fingerboard radii. Three models are available: the Contemporary Stratocaster HH FR, the Contemporary Stratocaster Special and the Contemporary Special HT.
The Squier Contemporary Stratocaster HH FR features a pair of SQR Atomic humbuckers and a double-locking tremolo system by Floyd Rose.
Squier Classic Vibe Stratocasters
Reminiscent of early Strat designs, the Classic Vibe series serves up affordable versions of the vintage Strats from the '50s, '60s and '70s that you’ve always dreamed about with some choice modern touches, most notably a 9.5" fretboard radius and narrow-tall frets.
Dripping with vintage vibe, the Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Strat improves on its forerunner with a modern neck profile and searing alnico single-coil pickups.
Fender Stratocasters have proved to be one of the most enduring electric guitars ever, having been in continuous production in one form or another since 1954. The Stratocasters below are produced in Fender’s Ensenada, Mexico plant.
Fender Player Stratocasters
The Fender Player Series was introduced in June of 2018 as the next generation of budget-friendly Fender electric guitars. The Fender Player Series Stratocaster series offers a variety of different models. Different pickup configurations, color choices and more mean there's something here for everyone, including lefties. Some of the key features and specs that are found on the entire Player Series Strat family are alder bodies, modern C-shaped maple necks and 9.5" fingerboard radii.
The Fender Player Stratocaster HSS includes a humbucker in the bridge position for additional tonal versatility.
Learn more about the entire Fender Player Series family of electric guitars and basses.
Fender Player Plus Stratocasters
Introduced in September 2021, the Player Plus line-up are the most advanced instruments to come out of Fender's Ensenada factory. Designed as the next step up from their Player line-up, these instruments feature a flatter fingerboard radius (12"), new Noiseless pickups and rolled fingerboard edges, among other player-focused upgrades. This series includes a standard Stratocaster model and an HSS model, both available with maple or pau ferro fingerboards.
The Fender Player Plus Stratocaster is available in a number of finishes, including this striking Tequila Sunrise.
Fender Vintera Stratocasters
After a vintage-inspired Fender Strat? Enter the Vintera line-up. Introduced in 2019, the Vintera series includes classic '50s and '60s tributes as well as number of "Modified" models, which build on these vintage platforms with updated features like higher-output pickups, advanced electronics and modern necks.
The Fender Vintera '50s Stratocaster instantly recalls the earliest years of the Strats with its 7.25" fingerboard radius, '50s-voiced pickups and vintage-style tremolo.
Built in Fender's Corona, California factory, USA Stratocasters set the standard for quality, tone and playability. Made with premium tonewoods (usually alder or ash), custom shop pickups, and master craftsmanship, the USA Strats are sure to please demanding players across a variety of styles.
Fender American Performer Stratocasters
Introduced in Winter of 2018, Fender's American Performer Series guitar and basses are a direct replacement for the American Special family. The American Performer Series includes two Stratocaster models: a standard SSS configuration and an HSS configuration. Each model features Fender's Yosemite single-coil pickups, while the HSS features a DoubleTap humbucker, wired up for coil-splitting, in the bridge position.
The American Performer Stratocaster is the most affordable American-made Fender Strat on the market.
Read our full Fender American Performer Series overview.
Fender American Professional II Stratocasters
The American Professional II Stratocaster is the workhorse of seasoned pros and discerning hobbyists alike. Introduced in October of 2020, the APII line-up offers some significant improvements over the prior generation. Re-voiced V-Mod II single-coils and DoubleTap humbuckers provide improved dynamics and articulation, while the fingerboard edges are rolled even more for ultimate playing comfort. The American Professional II line-up includes a standard model as well as an HSS configuration. Each model can be purchased with rosewood or maple fingerboards.
The American Professional II Stratocaster was designed to meet the needs of the working guitarist, from the stage to the studio.
Fender American Ultra Stratocasters
Introduced in 2019, Fender’s American Ultra Series electrics deliver all the proven design features of their forerunners, but up the ante with newly designed Noiseless pickups, advanced wiring and comfortable contouring. The American Ultra Stratocaster is available with maple or rosewood fingerboards, in standard or HSS configuration. These are Fender's top-of-the-line non-Custom Shop instruments.
The Fender American Ultra Stratocaster is the top Stratocaster in Fender's standard, non-Custom Shop offerings.
Fender Artist Stratocasters
Fender's signature artist line-up include Stratocasters built to evoke the sound and look of iconic axes played by some of the world's most important guitarists, from icons like Jeff Beck and Nile Rodgers, to newly emerging artists like H.E.R. and Cory Wong. The pickups, electronics, and cosmetics reflect the choices of the artists whose names they bear. A great example is the Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster with its reversed headstock and bridge pickup that recall the southpaw master’s habit of restringing and flipping over right-hand Strats to play them left-handed. The altered string geometry coupled with Vintage '65 pickups deliver the snap and fire that were signatures of Jimi’s jaw-dropping technique.
The Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster offers easier bends on treble strings and a tighter feel on the bass strings thanks to the “flipped" headstock.
Staffed by a crew of Master Builders, Fender’s Custom Shop has produced a trove of world-class instruments since its inception in 1987. Working with and for some of the greatest guitarists of our age, these luthiers craft instruments of unparalleled beauty and playability. Their talents have been put to work in executing guitars for the likes of Clapton, Beck, Townshend, Gilmour, and many more—a veritable Who’s-Who of guitar wizardry. Fender Custom Shop luthiers have undertaken all manner of commissions from modifying existing guitars to creating entirely new instruments from the ground up.
Many Custom Shop creations are one-offs; designs that will never be repeated. Other designs are retired after limited runs, never to be produced again. Every Fender Custom Shop instrument is a tribute to the luthier’s artistry and is an investment-grade purchase.
And, if you're looking for a vintage Stratocaster but don't have the deep pockets to support that lust, Fender Custom Shop guitars are a great alternative, offering a variety of vintage spec Strats built to exacting standards by Fender's famed luthiers.
Visit our Private Reserve Guitar collection to see the current selection of Custom Shop Stratocasters.
Custom Shop Artist Stratocasters
Custom Shop Artist Stratocasters are based on each artist’s unique specs, executed with master craftsmanship by Fender’s premier luthiers.
Co-designed with the blues icon before his untimely passing, the Fender Custom Shop Steve Ray Vaughan Signature Stratocaster is lightly relic'ed to offer the immediate playing experience of a worn-in Strat.
As you can see in this guide, the Strat is available in dozens of variations in features to provide a huge range of options for the enthusiast.
Pick the Stratocaster that suits your budget and your style. Maybe you don’t want to spend a lot, but you want your Strat to have the look and feel of a timeless guitar. Consider the Squier Vintage Modified Series. Perhaps you want to invest in a true piece of art—not just something to play, but a timeless treasure and heirloom. A Masterbuilt Strat will likely meet that aim. Or, you might be a working pro who needs a Strat that you can play every night, year in and year out. The American Professional Stratocaster is probably an excellent choice for you.
We want you to be pleased with your Stratocaster purchase, and offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee and generous return policy so you can order your new Stratocaster with confidence.
After reading this guide, if you’re still not sure which Strat is right for you, we invite you call to one of our friendly and knowledgeable Gear Advisers.