How to play guitar like 7 Fender Strat icons

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix in New York, 1969, Strat in hand. (Image credit: Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images)

First appearing in 1954, the Stratocaster has certainly stood the test of time. The double-cutaway body shape has endured, the original three-single-coil layout is the accepted standard configuration, and the five-way selector that evolved in the '70s, well, players had been jamming the early three-way switches into the ‘in between’ positions for years. 

Though the core Strat ideals remain to this day, specs are continually tweaked and literally hundreds of variants on the original template have been made available over the years.  

Here, we’re looking at the playing styles and tones of the greatest Strat players of all time. No Strat? No bother – there’s still loads to learn. Let’s get started…

1. Jimi Hendrix: Blues-Rock Innovator

(Image credit: Future)

Jimi will forever be associated with right-handed Strats, flipped over and restrung to be played left-handed, giving Jimi his trademark tone by reversing the relative pickup/string positions and string tension. Our example combines Jimi’s trademark 7#9 chord (aka the Hendrix chord) and soulful unison bends.

2. Ritchie Blackmore: Influence on Shred

(Image credit: Future)

Switching from Gibsons to Strats in the early 70s, the Deep Purple legend was as early adopter of ‘scalloped’ fretboards, subsequently influencing an army of neoclassical shredders. Our tab example showcases the deep vibrato of a scalloped ’board and Ritchie’s vigorous use of the tremolo arm.

3. Eric Clapton: Dominos and Early Solo Era

(Image credit: Future)

Few players are as synonymous with the Strat as Eric Clapton – Fender even marked the fact with the company’s first signature guitar in 1988. Our tab example, however, harks back to Eric’s early Strat playing on his famed ‘Brownie’, combining string bends and vibrato in an expressive, bluesy lick. Pure Slowhand!

4. Nile Rodgers: The Sound of Disco

(Image credit: Future)

Since the heady days of 70s disco the present day, Nile’s tone has barely changed, with the ‘Hitmaker’ (a 1960 Strat with a ’59 maple neck/fretboard) delivering those position 4/5 single-coil tones. Simply dial in a clean, compressed tone and get strumming those funky 16ths. Thin picks and light strings round off the equipment list.

5. David Gilmour: Melodic Master

(Image credit: Future)

Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Comfortably Numb are iconic examples of David Gilmour’s ‘Black Strat’ tone, the latter paired with an Electro- Harmonix Big Muff via a Hiwatt DR103 amp and Yamaha RA-200 rotary speaker. For our epic Comfortably Numb-style lick we’ve dialed in reverb and delay for a stadium-sized tone.

6. Stevie Ray Vaughan: Uptempo Blues 

(Image credit: Future)

SRV’s ‘Number One’ Strat tones are iconic but sadly near impossible to match as the Texan blues great would generally run a handful of amps together. A Tube Screamer into a Fender Super Reverb will get you a ballpark tone to tackle our uptempo blues lick with.

7. Jeff Beck: Tremolo Arm Licks

(Image credit: Future)

Jeff Beck’s new tonal direction in the 80s came from a switch to playing Strats almost exclusively and employing volume fades, harmonics and whammy bar-inflected fingerstyle technique. We’re demonstrating downward pitch movement with the trem here, but a floating bridge is best for Beck-style playing.

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Chris Bird

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.