Why is the Fender Strat the most successful guitar design ever?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by 5F6-A, May 19, 2019.

  1. 5F6-A

    5F6-A Member

    Nov 23, 2013
    Yorkshire, UK
    I'd say that I have a theory/explanation for why I think this is the case:

    In the hands of creative people, Strats (in its many incarnations) can sound great and totally unique. Nothing quite sounds like a Strat, right? (ask Frusciante, Clapton, Gilmour, Mayer, ... )

    But also, the Strat is a guitar that can mimic successfully many other guitars. Can it sound like a tele? Yes, to some degree. Can it sound like a semihollow? Not easily but it can get in the ballpark. Can it sound like a Gibson solidbody? With the right pedals and amps it's not entirely impossible.

    So, summing up, it's an instrument that has being around for ages, can be produced cheaply and can sound unique or derivative (and I'm using that word in a positive sense) depending on the player. Do you agree?
    Dr. Tinnitus likes this.
  2. xmd5a

    xmd5a Member

    Jul 22, 2014
    IMO it's actually easier to make a Tele sound like other guitars, thanks to the single tone knob and the often hotter bridge pickup and the mellow neck pickup, as well as the fixed bridge allowing for a good sustain. I think of Strats as having a rather characteristic sound, with the notch positions, the angled bridge without a tone control and a (usually) floating bridge that limits the sustain.

    I think the reason the Strat body is the most popular is because Leo Fender looked at the Tele and basically made a list of everything that could be better, and then popped out a near perfect solid body electric then and there. Strats aren't perfect though, as evidenced by all of the "super Strats" on the market that involve different pickups and controls and a flatter radius fret board. I think the reason super Strats failed to wholly replace original Strats is because single coils, clean or with slight dirt, are not too noisy and sound beautiful, not as dark as a P-90 and not as tonally ambiguous as a PAF. But also the fact that so many guitar heroes were seen with a spec Strat in their hands, especially Hendrix, to change a single detail is to make it that much different from what Hendrix used. A lot of guitarist aren't buying a Strat as such, they're buying whatever it was that Hendrix used, and it just happens to be a Strat.

    One thing does kind of confound me though, if Strats are the most popular electric of all time, why is the three coil pickup combo not more popular in other solid body styles? Why is the HH pickup arrangement nearly ubiquitous otherwise? Or, conversely, why are HH Strats sort of a niche thing, compared to HSS and HSH? I suspect it comes down to never having seen enough rock stars with these guitars in their hands.
  3. Zado

    Zado Member

    Oct 18, 2012
    Cause the greatest guys out there used them? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    shane8, MkIII Renegade and jm9239 like this.
  4. stratamania

    stratamania Member

    Nov 12, 2012
    UK and Europe
    You forgot the iconic design itself, which also formed the basis of many super strat type offerings over the years.
    jm9239 likes this.
  5. Neverwhere

    Neverwhere Member

    Feb 11, 2019
    First major production guitar that had relatively high quality, pretty wide range of sounds and was really comfortable.
    Tritone likes this.
  6. Gemini2

    Gemini2 Member

    Aug 3, 2013
    South Florida
    Like the "transparent" overdrive pedal everyone seeks, the Strat is the guitar version of that.
    uab9253, myllian, DS007 and 2 others like this.
  7. michael patrick

    michael patrick Supporting Member

    Jul 17, 2004
    Madison, WI
    A combination of price and functionality. It has always been cheaper than the top of the line Gibsons, and it comes standard with a tremolo arm whereas a Bigsby was an add on for a Les Paul.
  8. FLYING V 83

    FLYING V 83 Gibson Geezer Silver Supporting Member

    Mar 7, 2007
    NJ, land of perpetual roadwork
    So a Strat can sound like an LP "with the right pedals and amp"?
    So can a Hello Kitty from Wal-Mart.
    Guess it has competition....

    As for sounding like an ES335....:spit
  9. Emigre

    Emigre Member

    Jan 18, 2017
    IMO the Strat has become the archetypal electric guitar because of the following features:

    1. Better ergonomics for the music of a new age
    2. Tremolo (it’s part of the electric guitar DNA)
    3. Customisable makes it a tonal chameleon AND fits perfectly with the DIY electronic ethos of the era.

    I’m mostly a classical and acoustic player, so the Les Paul with it’s fixed bridge, flatter board and classic lines fits me best on paper. And i’ve tried. But, when I want to reach for an electric it’s going to be a Strat.
    shane8, magnus02, clint and 3 others like this.
  10. Tootone

    Tootone Member

    Sep 24, 2016
    Here's my reasons why...

    - Versatile
    - Clarity
    - Ergonomic
    - Resilient
    - Economic (USA Strats and above)
    - Iconic
    - Elegant
    - Modular (pickups, pickguards, bridges, necks, wiring etc - see photo below)
    - Options
    - Unique tones
    - Reliability
    - Simplicity of design.
    - Functional/Fit-for-Purpose

    shane8, Pick'n'strum, jalmer and 3 others like this.
  11. budglo58

    budglo58 Member

    May 12, 2009
    No question the strat is the most comfortable. Nice glassy tones that are hard to beat. A great wide variety of tones and the term is a plus as many of the early guitars had them. They are easy to modify. Swap pickups , change the wiring or change the neck are all within the realm of possibilities.

    As far as sounding like other guitars? Hmm. What I’ve learned over the years is that most guitars have a unique tone , but some can get close to others. The 335 can get close to the Les Paul but a strat even with a humbucker in the bridge doesn’t , which is why many of us have several guitar types. That being said the strat gets my vote for the best design in the electric guitar category.
  12. rufedges

    rufedges Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Love the Strat neck pickup for blues, no comparison. Excellent ergonomics, and sexy classic design as well.
    killer blues and Thumpalumpacus like this.
  13. 67super

    67super Member

    Apr 15, 2007
    In marketing there is a saying the "who ever is first will capture most of a market". Someone was going to design a versatile, modular guitar and Leo was the first. He also managed to get it into the public's eye and the rest is history.
    Digidog, 22Top and Silver Hand like this.
  14. thebowl

    thebowl Member

    Aug 4, 2014
    New Jersey
    I think there is a flawed premise to your question, which is that the undeniable success of the Strat is solely a function of its design. I think its afforability probably had as much to do with its popularity. To the extent that it has competed head to head with various Gibsons, it had a built-in (pun intended) advantage. The basic sound of a Strat is pretty unremarkable, which is why so many have spent so much modifying it.

    Clearly, the design It is super comfortable and, probably because of that, really easy to play. I own one and I have actual Stratocaster pickups in it. I play it when I need that Strat sound, because it is unique, if somewhat limited.
  15. geek-mo

    geek-mo Supporting Member

    May 4, 2012
    Just turn down the tone knob.

  16. Derek Revell

    Derek Revell Member

    Mar 4, 2019
    Strat= where beauty and style intersect with near perfect form and function.
    shane8, Average Joe, ripple and 4 others like this.
  17. toomanyamps

    toomanyamps Member

    Apr 26, 2007
    It really boils down to only one thing.

    Jimi Hendrix played one.
  18. saltbird

    saltbird Member

    May 1, 2015
    The basic sound of any electric guitar is pretty unremarkable. If you've ever plugged directly into a PA or recording interface (the cleanest most transparent sound you can get), then you already know this. It's the amp that really makes an electric guitar sound like an electric guitar.
  19. fescue

    fescue Member

    Aug 23, 2015
    Out my way....
    Because it was the guitar that made rock and roll what it is. Thanks Buddy Holly. The Les Paul didn’t have any impact until some dudes named Clapton and Page came along.
    openbar and 22Top like this.
  20. Salfordlad

    Salfordlad Member

    Jan 18, 2016
    San Carlos, CA.
    The Stratocaster epitomized design in the 1950's. Sleek, minimalist, futuristic, and like a Jaguar E type timeless. Contrast it to a Les Paul which was basically a solid body shrunk down Jazz box shape. There was a reason that in the late fifties LP's were not popular, they looked old fashioned and had a thick tone that didn't cut through the mix. Combine the Stratocaster ergonomics with the improvements in Fender amps (tremolo and reverb) and you had a platform for the sound of the sixties and later. It's amazing that Leo got so much right the first time. IMO there is no better bass than a P bass, no better amp than a Fender whether it be a Princeton Reverb or a Super Reverb and no better all round guitars for rock, country, R&B and blues than Tele's and Strats.
    Last edited: May 19, 2019
    stratohiker, TXD, adamagain and 13 others like this.

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