The Fender Stratocaster, commonly referred to as the "Strat", is a solid-body electric guitar designed by Leo Fender, Freddie Taveries, and George Fullerton, and first officially introduced by the Fender Electric Instrument company in 1954. The design is of the double cutaway variety to allow full access to the upper registers of the fretboard. The upper cutaway, or "horn", is asymetrical to the lower cutaway, to allow for better balance while standing. The Stratocaster is one of the most enduring electric guitar designs, having remained virtually unchanged in it's basic design since its introduction. It is also, by far, one of the most copied electric guitar designs, with a large number of imitators coming from overseas builders. It is because of this, the term "Strat" is used more so as a generic term referring to guitars of the same basic design.
Birth of the Strat
The history of the Fender Stratocaster guitar can be first traced back to around early 1953, developed mostly in part to the harsh criticism of the then relatively new Esquire and Telecaster guitars. Critics and early adopters of the Telecaster design complained that the slab body of the guitar was uncomfortable and the asthetics were "vanilla" and "plain." Among the biggest critics of the Tele was Bill Carson, who owned a Broadcaster (the Telecaster's first incarnation) and described to Leo Fender that he wanted a guitar with four pickups, six individual bridges that could be adjusted horizontally and vertically, body contouring, a "Bigsby-style" headstock, and a useable, integral vibrato system. Because of this, it can be argued that Bill Carson's criticisms and wish list might have had the largest influence on the Stratocaster in addition to Leo Fender's desire to build an electric solid-body guitar that would make other designs on the market obsolete.
In 1954, the Stratocaster was officially introduced. Pre-production models were given out to various artists in the Spring of that year with full production coming online in the Fall. The new design also had a synchronized, six-point vibrato system, erronously called a "tremolo" by Fender on the guitar's headstock and in the company's literature. The earliest Stratocasters had a body cut from Swamp Ash, a wood known for excellent tonal qualities and a good, light weight. The double cutaway design was, in essence, influenced by the Precision Bass introudced in 1951. The neck and fretboard, like Telecasters and other Fender models from the 1950s, were made from one piece of maple. The new guitar had three pickups that used staggered Alnico magnets for excellent string-to-sting balance and tone. Over 8,300-plus turns of wire were wound around the bobbins of early Strat pickups. Switching between each pickup was done by a three-way switch, which would have to be jammed in order to use the neck/middle and middle/bridge settings. The pickguard was one-ply Bakelite, as were the vibrato cavity cover, knobs, pickup covers, switch tip, and vibrato bar tip. The tuners were sealed Kluson Deluxe tuners with metal "button" style heads. Original prices started at $229.50 for a model without a vibrato and $249.50 for a model equipped with it