This April, PAL will be having a drawing for a BRAND NEW FENDER BLACKTOP HSH STRATOCASTER, and although we know all of you love guitars, some of you might be surprised with the rich history of not only the Fender brand, but the Stratocaster model as well. Those of you looking to enter can do so right here! Read on as we give you a brief history of what would become one of the most popular electric guitars in the history of music.
The Birth of Fender
We all know the name, but do you know exactly how the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation came to be? Let’s go back to Fullerton, California in 1938 where Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender first began repairing radios, phonographs and amplifiers through Fender’s Radio Service. Soon after, Fender began seeing flaws in the design of musical instrument amplifiers and by 1940 he began creating custom built amps using his own techniques. Soon after he partnered with Clayton Kauffman and created the K & F Manufacturing Corporation to design, create, produce and repair musical instruments and amplifiers. Later that year, Kauffman and Fender parted ways after Fender wanted to focus more on manufacturing than repair, convinced that it was more profitable in the long run, and thus, the Fender Electric Instrument Company was born.
The CBS Era (1965-1985)
In early 1965, Leo Fender sold his company to CBS for 13 million and soon after, the dreaded but expected transition to “cost effectiveness” reared its ugly head. CBS began altering the designs of several of Fender’s key products that not only affected the aesthetics of the amps and instruments, but the electronics as well. CBS lauded the changes as improvements such as making a five-way pickup selector standard on most models, although no tangible upgrade in tone quality was achieved by this and in fact led to more frequent mechanical failure.
The peak of the cost-cutting era is marked by most as the introduction of the ’83 Stratocaster redesign. The guitar is infamous for its negative implementation of the barebones mentality. CBS removed the second tone knob, fitted the guitar with less expensive single-coil pickups, and included a lackluster input jack as well as active electronics (required a 9 volt battery to work). Many saw the move as CBS simply trying to sell overstock by implementing changes to their most popular model. Finally, in 1985, employees of the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company bought the company from CBS and began to reinstate the unmatched quality that Fender was and is now again known for.
Just a side note, but don’t worry about vintage Fender reissues from the ‘60s through ‘80s just because CBS owned Fender at the time. All vintage models have been “fixed” by the current company, although even the CBS variations were by no means low in quality and still regarded in their time as top-notch guitars, not to mention a great collectible.
Notice the missing knob on the '83 (left) and flat input jack
Along with the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Stratocaster is the most popular guitar today in terms of sales and design, with multiple upon multiple copies produced by companies around the world (some authorized, most not). The body design alone is regarded by many as synonymous with the electric guitar. Think for a moment about any cartoon you’ve seen with someone using an electric guitar and chances are they’re replicating the look of the Stratocaster.
The original Stratocaster was designed by Leo Fender, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares in 1954 and has remained in constant production since then. The design featured several improvements over most guitars at the time, including Fender’s own Telecaster. The body itself was contoured and more ergonomic (known as the Comfort Contour Body by Fender) in contrast to the Telecasters flat slab design, the cutaways on both sides of the guitar enabled players to reach the highest frets on the neck which was also thinner than the Telecaster’s, and that’s just a few of the marked improvements. All in all, it was a breakthrough for its time, much of which is copied to this day.
The Stratocaster Today
The Fender Stratocaster remains one of the most enduring and popular electric guitars ever made with a professional player list that resembles a who’s who in rock, blues, country as well as several other genres. Although there have been minor tweaks, additions (subtractions even) and plenty of clones along its history, it remains the go-to-guitar for anyone looking to not only to experience a piece of music history, but create some as well.