Why I get up in the morning
This is a 1982 Fender “the STRAT” Stratocaster and the first time I picked it up I knew it was mine. In almost every respect it’s utterly impractical, while at the same time one of the finest guitars ever made.
We’re often asked to refresh existing brands, sometimes even regenerate fading brands. The STRAT fits nicely into the category of how-not-to case histories.
For a start, the STRAT (note the irritating all caps branding) is insanely heavy – especially by modern standards. But for me anything lighter now feels ephemeral, snowflake, lacking in substance.
At the time the STRAT was designed and launched, it was positioned as a supercharged version of a classic – created to salvage Fender’s declining sales and reputation. In the event, the eye-wateringly high production costs almost sank the company. And it’s easy to see why.
All the hardware on the STRAT is of the highest quality, with a heavy coat of 22k gold plating – the heaviest gold ever used on a guitar. The finish on mine is immaculate. In addition, the bridge assembly is extra-massive, to achieve maximum possible sustain.
In terms of how it plays, aside from the slick rosewood fretboard, the most notable tonal feature is a unique pickup selector which delivers an extra four selections not available on a standard Stratocaster. This helped contribute to the high production costs – due, in part, to the elaborate wiring setup – as well as securing the STRAT’s reputation as one of the most versatile guitars ever designed.
The STRAT was one of the last guitars John Lennon bought before he was murdered. I often think about this. On the other hand, when he first laid hands on it he described it as the dog’s bollocks. Which is just about how I feel each time I pick it up.
Fender discontinued production after three short years. I often think about this, too.
The colour of this iteration of the STRAT is Lake Placid blue, which for the sake of this exercise I’m choosing to see as Kava teal.
In terms of revitalising the Fender brand in the 1980s, the STRAT has to be seen as a failure. And over the years, the shallow and Gibson afficionados have mocked the STRAT’s somewhat frumpy head shape – overlooking the beauty of a body that effortlessly communicates substance rather than seeking to imply it.
These days most regard the STRAT as a misunderstood classic that was way ahead of its time. But then again for a marketing exercise to be right in retrospect is never a good look.