Late to the Stratocaster

Over the years I’ve always viewed the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar with a suspicious eye, favouring Telecasters and various Gibsons over the undisputed king of the Fender electric line. Many of my fellow musicians feel the same way about this model. Perhaps it’s the quacking out-of-phase tones so badly abused in funk and easy listening, or perhaps it’s the way the tremolo system morphed into the dive bomb locking system that plagued the metal scene of the ‘80s. Either way, I had avoided making this model my go-to guitar for pretty much my whole music career, besides the odd flirtation here and there. I’ve only used it sparingly in the studio, with it making a lone appearance on the Brothers in Stereo album – the electric rhythm on “Your Voice” – and one song on my latest solo album, a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line.” Otherwise it’s been all Telecaster and humbucker Gibsons on my recordings.

About eight months ago I happened upon an Ash Stratocaster at a local music store. It was Sienna Sunburst, just like the 1962 model Brian Macleod used in Chilliwack. Along with many of my guitar peers, I consider Macleod a hero and one who wielded a thick and mean tone that was not characteristic of a Stratocaster. He seemed to be able to dial in a midrange that was reminiscent of a Gibson yet had that cutting edge only a Fender can produce. Surrounded by guys playing Gibsons during the hair days of the ‘80s, Macleod persevered with his trusty Strat. Of course whenever I played a Strat it never sounded like Macleod. It always sounded sort of hollow and scooped. However, this Strat I plucked off the wall at Reid music was different. First of all, the bridge pickup was wired to a tone knob so I could roll off a bit of spikey high end. This increased the versatility tremendously. Add to this a great neck profile and resonating body and I had a Strat I finally felt comfortable with. I took it home.

Brian with his ’62 Strat:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brian’s Strat in repose:

In the months since I bought this guitar, my other guitars have started increasingly taking a back seat. At first this sort of unnerved me. How was I able to shun my Les Paul and SG all night long while on a gig? Why was I switching to my Gibsons only to switch back to the Strat several songs afterward? Between gigs I would ponder this situation, and after some examination it dawned on me. There is no reason why the Strat shouldn’t be my main axe. Look it its history: Hendrix. Surf. Deep Purple. George Harrison. Stevie Ray Vaughn. It’s everywhere. Look at the artists who have made it their main axe in later years: Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour. Newer artists John Mayer and Keith Urban also utilize it as a main electric.

Perhaps this odd prejudice some players have against Stratocasters comes from the fact that they are so ubiquitous. They are arguably the most recorded electric guitar of all time. Most overseas copies are modeled after the Strat design. It’s the guitar that cartoonists and artists use when they have to draw a generic electric guitar. They are everywhere. But sometimes something is everywhere because it has earned its high-profile position.

The more I play my Strat and the longer I use it throughout a gig, the more I appreciate that it has graced thousands of album tracks and hits in its 60 years on the planet. The Strat is never in vogue because it’s always omnipresent. Therefore, you won’t see it in a hipster’s hands very often. You’re more likely to see a Telecaster or SG because they are the “cooler” guitars. You won’t see Arcade Fire using Strats. They’re too mainstream. But the mistake many guitarists make when avoiding the Stratocaster is that they miss the opportunity to explore the huge array of tones as well as the versatile tremolo system (which can act like all the other brands’ tremolo systems at once). It truly is a swiss army knife of guitars. It can do the LP and SG bite with a tone roll-back on the bridge pickup, and it can capture that scoopy hollowbody tone with the out-of-phase toggle positions and tremolo arm. Sure it doesn’t have that meaty weight of a Les Paul or the majestic looks of a Gretsch, but it can do all of them very efficiently in one light-weight package.

My Strat:

I will never convince Strat haters that any of the above has merit; of course I didn’t believe much of this ten years ago either. But it’s worth a shot to grab one off the wall of a music store every now and then anyway. Somehow it grabbed the hearts of the guitarists who masterminded the music of Cream, Pink Floyd, and the Who. And of course it was always the go-to for SRV and Hendrix. It’s everywhere for good reason. It’s a Strat. It doesn’t need to be cool. Its history speaks for itself.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Late to the Stratocaster

  1. Over the years I’ve always viewed the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar with a suspicious eye, favouring Telecasters and various Gibsons over … sstratocasterf.wordpress.com

  2. Jon LeDrew

    Thanks for this, Chris.

    Sandy’s comment reminded me that all my local heroes played Strats. Sandy Morris, Roger Howse, Denis Parker, Scott Goudie, Cory Tetford, Darrell Cooper, Chris Badcock, Mark Green, Steve Hussey and Karl Peet (apologies for any glaring omissions) all played those guitars during my early years listening to and learning from local guitarists. They were accessible, willing to share and encourage younger players. More importantly I always left their shows motivated to go home and plug in my Strat in an attempt to coax a little more out of it.

  3. Glen Collins

    The one thing I always find about playing a Strat (in my case a G & L)…is that you have to ‘wrestle’ it a bit more than other guitars and the results can be magical. Unlike Gibsons (which certainly have their place)…you can beat on it, spank it, yank it…and it will respond like no other guitar does. For me…the strat demands that you put the energy required into it…otherwise…don’t reach for it.

  4. The first Strat I ever saw was back in the early sixties and belonged to my cousin. It was certainly one of the first in the province. It was a sunburst with and looked to me completely alien and futuristic. The whammy bar, headstock, and body styling didn’t bear any relation to guitars I’d seen previously. Plugged in to an early sixties Fender Concert through an Echoplex it didn’t sound like any guitar I’d ever heard before either. The vibe off it like a souped up sports car. It was life altering. I still swoon….

    • Sandy thanks a lot for your recollections. I had the pleasure of being on stage with you and your Strat for the whole 8-tracks run, and your tone through that concert amp was always tremendous. I love the perspective that it looked futuristic when you first saw one. It still looks that way to me. I love the contour on the back.

  5. Peter Colbourne

    The problem with the strat is the volume of low quality knock-offs that the kids learn on. As these kids develop their skills, and have a little more cash, more options present themselves such as telecasters, semi-acoustic, SG. Brands such as Ibanez, Gibson and others offer a great selections and amazing sound but the damage is done to the reputation of the strat. Best advice I can give to parents is spend a little bit more. Today, the quality and prices have never been better!

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