The Stratocaster was designed from 1952 to 1954 by Leo Fender along with help from George Fullerton and Bill Carson. The project was completed by Freddie Tavares. The first Stratocaster was made available in 1954 and it has been in production ever since and has become the flagship model of the Fender catalogue.
The iconic design of the Stratocaster was not fully committed to until Spring 1983 when Freddy Tavares sketched a twin cut away body that resembled the iconic Precision Bass. Before this sketch, the new guitar design was closely related to the Telecaster. This sketch launched the most recognisable guitar body shape of all time.
The Stratocaster was designed to fulfil feedback from Fender players who owned Telecasters. Many players said that it wasn’t comfortable to play due to the hard edged, slab body which would dig into the ribs of the player and the forearm of the picking hand. To enhance the players comfort, the body was contoured at the arm contact point and along the back where the guitar would sit against the players body.
The very first Stratocasters were also the first guitar that Fender ever used a sunburst finish for. The Telecasters of the previous few years were all a solid colour. The black ring faded into the centres golden brown burst which gave the guitar a high end look.
Another innovation for Fender was the launch of their bridge, the Stratocaster style tremolo unit has become one of the most widely copied, modified and inspirational bridge systems of all time. It might not have been perfect, but it paved the way for so many other innovations.
Unlike other tremolo units available at that time, Leo’s design was the only one that moved the entire bridge system with the strings instead of utilizing rollers like other systems. Leo’s tremolo worked off a pivot point with springs in the rear cavity of the guitar bringing the guitar back to it’s original tension. The underside of the bridge was fitted with a heavy steel block to improve the sustain that was lost by removing the wood for the cavity routing.
The top of the bridge was home to six, bent steel saddles, each one fully adjustable to achieve perfect intonation for individual strings. There wasn’t a single thing on the Stratocaster that couldn’t be fully tweaked or customised to suit the player.
This tremolo could be set as a “floating” tremolo, allowing the user to bring the pitch up and down using the tremolo arm, or it could be set to sit on the body and work as a dive only tremolo. By adding additional springs to the claw in the rear cavity, the user could set the amount of resistance they want to bridge to have, or even screw the claw all the way back to make the bridge act as a hardtail unit.