News Flash!!! : The “Fender Stratocaster” is celebrating the Big FIVE-O this year. In related news: Over indulgent wanking on a Stratocaster is 49 years, 11 months and 29 days old. Just kidding. Sort of…
Back in 1946, Leo Fender opened Fender Guitars in what was once a radio repair shop in Fullerton,CA. at the corner of Santa Fe & Pomona. After introducing “The Broadcaster” line of guitars (changed to the more familiar name ‘Telecaster’ due to a dispute with Gretsch who had a line of drums out under the same name) in 1951, Leo Fender introduced the Stratocaster in 1954.
Due in equal parts to its durability, bright sound and to the fact that as a solid body its feedback quotient was much easier to control than a hollow bodied axe, its popularity soared.
An early advocate of the “Stratocaster” sound was Buddy Holly. His usage of this guitar brought it to the attention of many would be Rock N Rollers the world over. Check out Buddys appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” as an example. Across the tracks, blues greats such as Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Guy were also using the “Stratocaster” to equally devasating effect.
Into the 60′s: Surf guitar demi-god Dick Dale made the Stratocaster the weapon of choice for countless Surf bands up and down the California coast, as well as in many places where the closest and only surf may have been the local swimming hole /gravel pit /canal. As the legend would have it, Jimi Hendrix was inspired in in part by Dick Dale to start playing a Stratocaster. I seriously doubt this to be the gospel truth though. As Jimi had been gigging incessantly through the South and the Chittlin’ Circuit scene, most certainly he was exposed to the numerous R&B guitarists (amongst them Ike Turner, who Jimi backed in The Ike and Tina Turner Revue in the early 60′s) who were playing Fender guitars.
Digging on the sound and look of the Strat he probably latched on to its appeal long before he saw Dick Dale. Mr. Dale is known to be a bit of a self important kind of guy (he likes to lay claim to having invented Heavy Metal amongst other things). Just so we’re still on the same page here, I’m talking about Dick Dale the ‘Surf’ guitarist not long time Lawrence Welk accordionist: Dick Dale. Jimi helped to revolutionize the appeal of the Stratocaster.
It should be noted here that while Jimi is famous for playing a right handed Fender Strat upside down, it was only one of several guitars he used during his too short career. Other guitars used by Jimi include the Gibson Les Paul and Flying V.
Other players using the Strat around this time to great effect were Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Bob Dylan at his groundbreaking 1965 Newport show, used one as he and his band went electric for the first time to a very confused crowd and to a subsequently very mixed response.
In 1965 due to health concerns, Leo Fender sold the company to CBS who would own it until it was bought by William Schultz in 1985. Owning only the name, some leftover parts and the patents, Schultz and a group of investors decided to build, rebuild I should say, the company from scratch. The current US Fender plant was built in Corona, Calif. on 19 acres of land and is approx. 177,000 sq. ft. They also have a large plant in Ensenada, Baja California and plants worldwide including those in Japan and S. Korea.
As popular today as ever, the Fender Stratocaster remains a top choice for guitar players of all genres the world over. Happy B-Day Fender. Here’s to fifty more years of great music!!!