“When that first one came off the line, I grabbed it… and it was terrible”: The first Fender Stratocaster builds had to be junked due to their horrendous tremolos

1954 Fender Stratocaster
(Image credit: Future / Paige Davidson)

2024 marks 70 years since the most iconic electric guitar of all time first entered production. Yes, we’re talking about the Fender Stratocaster

As we all know, following its launch, it quickly became the most popular electric guitar on the planet – a position the Strat or, at least derivatives of the Strat, have maintained pretty much ever since.

Now, a new piece on Reverb shares selected quotes gathered by guitar historian/writer (and sometime GW contributor) Tony Bacon from various Fender executives and employees of the 1950s.

In the process, he reveals that the first production-line Stratocasters were discarded due to their “terrible” vibratos.

According to quotes from Fender legend George Fullerton (who sadly passed away in 2009), Leo Fender’s first take on the floating bridge design was left somewhat lacking.

“The first vibrato unit on the Stratocaster was all designed... It was decided it would be built, and tooling was purchased, parts made,” explained Fullerton. 

“And when that first one came off the line, I grabbed it… and it was terrible. Sounded terrible, sounded tinny, wouldn’t sustain sound. I rushed down to the lab there and said to Leo – it was all set up for production – I said: ‘We’ve got to stop this.’”

1954 Fender Stratocaster

A 1954 Fender Stratocaster (Image credit: Phil Barker / Future)

As Fullerton explained to Bacon, the initial design had gotten as far as the production line, so correcting it was not without cost.

“That whole thing was thrown out!” Fullerton said. “All the parts, all the tooling, many thousands of dollars. The vibrato had to be redesigned, not only to sustain notes, but also to give a solid sound.

“And that’s why the Stratocaster didn’t come out as soon as it should have, even though it was already advertised. There was a lapse between that time until it actually came out, because they were re-tooling the vibrato.”

It’s fair to say the disruption was worth it. If Fender had kicked the guitars out of the door in their initial shape, the guitar landscape would look very different today. 

To check out the full piece on the birth of the Stratocaster, head to Reverb.

Despite its reputation as the quintessential production line guitar, the earliest Strat builds were surprisingly varied – as Guitarist’s profile of the unusual 1954 Fender Stratocaster pictured at the top of the page attests…

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.