“No guitar has shaped popular culture like the Strat”: How the Fender Stratocaster ushered in an evolution in guitar design – and a revolution in guitar music

Fender Stratocaster
(Image credit: Future)

The Fender Stratocaster is the most successful electric guitar design of all time. No guitar has shaped popular culture like the Strat. Its double-cutaway design is the acme of guitar shapes, arguably the most copied, the most easily recognisable. The Stratocaster’s cultural legacy, ignited in 1957 when Buddy Holly debuted it with the Crickets on The Ed Sullivan Show, transcends the instrument itself. 

Its story is not just about its impact on guitarists’ imagination. And yet as a musical instrument, a piece of engineered design, it has remained relevant, a fact that rests upon its player-friendly ergonomics, with contouring to accommodate the forearm and to sit better against the body, the versatility of the three-pickup format, but also a subtle but telling evolution in its specifications that has often been led by those who played it.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.