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  • James Bilbo

An Extremely Brief History of the Fender Stratocaster in Rock Music

What impact has the most famous guitar had on one of the most popular genres of music?


Fender’s first solid body guitar, also widely considered the first solid body guitar, was the Fender Esquire, which made its debut in 1950. In 1951, the term “Rock and Roll music” was coined by disc jockey Alan Freed. While the two were close in their debut, it would take another three years for Fender to truly enter the rock world.


Fender Esquire

In 1954, Fender debuted arguably its most famous guitar, the Fender Stratocaster. Guitarist Buddy Holly was an early adopter of the Stratocaster, first using it during an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1957.


Buddy Holly with the Stratocaster on the Ed Sullivan Show

The 60s brought perhaps the most growth for the Stratocaster as by 1961, the Stratocaster had become a staple of the surf rock genre, in no small part thanks to guitarist Dick Dale. Dale’s 1962 song “Misirlou” remains one of the most famous uses of the Stratocaster in popular music.


As the 60s continued, more artists began using the Stratocaster. The British Invasion in 1964 brought many Stratocaster players into the American public’s eye, such as Eric Clapton. One of the most famous uses of the Stratocaster in this era was from the most famous band of all time, The Beatles. For their 1967 album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, George Harrison uses a custom painted Stratocaster nicknamed “Rocky.” The 60s also brought forth arguably the most famous Stratocaster player, Jimi Hendrix. The white Stratocaster he played at Woodstock 1969 became one of the most expensive guitars sold at auction, bought for $2 million.


Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock

The Stratocaster took a dip in popularity in the 1970s, mostly due to CBS’ purchase of Fender, but that’s not to say no notable players arose during this decade. Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour famously used a Stratocaster on every Pink Floyd album, and is most well known for his all black Stratocaster which he frequently uses during live performances. Eddie Van Halen’s “Franken-Strat,” while not officially made by Fender, was made from parts of various Fender guitars, primarily Stratocasters.


Eddie Van Halen's Franken-Strat

In the 1980s, Stevie Ray Vaughan brought about a new era of blues with his custom made “Lenny” Stratocaster. This decade proved the versatility of the Stratocaster as well, as heavy metal guitarist Yngwie Malmsteem and funk guitarist John Frusciante both rose to popularity during this decade.


The 90s introduced Stratocaster players such as Joe Bonamassa and John Mayer, but the most notable player of the decade was Kurt Cobain. During Nirvana shows, Cobain would frequently destroy whatever guitar he was using by the end of the show, usually a Japanese Stratocaster.


Kurt Cobain

The introduction of new Stratocaster players such as Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys and the continued popularity of players such as John Mayer prove that the Stratocaster has lasted past the turn of the century, and will continue to be a staple of music in the future.


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