Ever since the Fender company was taken over by employees from CBS around 1983/84 the standard American Stratocaster has been based, in sound and its bodyshape, on the original idease of Leo Fenders early 1950s Stratocaster. This statement is more or less true but you have to take it with a pinch of salt: Fender does make small changes to the design from time to time to suit the taste of modern players and to keep up with current trends.
If one could play an older Statocaster from the early 1950s and compare it to a more modern companion one would be surprised how close they are in sound. The modern Strat may sometimes be a bit hotter in output, but the overal sound is quite close to the originals. Not only American Strats are close to the older 1950s guitars, a lot of copies also remain close in sound to the original as well. Maybe this observation is based on the desire of the Fender company to give people, who play a copy of the American Stratocaster, the idea they play the real thing.
The feel of the older Strats is harder to duplicate in newer Stratocasters, but the Fender company do their utmost to build replicas of 1950s and early 1960s Strats to cater for this need as well.
Reading the above one might wonder:”Do all Strats sound the same since most of them are based on the original, 1950s design?” There is one period where the Stratocaster started to sound very different and this period started from late 1971 until the early 1980s. Stratocasters of 1970 and early 1971 still have the sound, feel and look of the 1960s Strats, the ones after that period started to change in sound, feel and look.
As you are reading this article you may be well aware of all the changes that took place from around 1971. I will not go into detail about some of those changes but will add a few remarks about them and explain what it means:
It was slipping because more and more guitars were ordered, as a result there is a lot of variety in bodyweight, finish, type of wood being used and overal workmanship. They were simply sent out to fullfill the orders, whereas in the past some of those guitars may have been called back for some extra work before being sent off, hence so much variety in feel, look and sound.
Often the 1970s Strat is perceived as heavy. Not all of them are heavy, this may be due to various woods being used. Not all of them are made out of Alder, there are also Ash ones and other woodtypes.
Why did Fender use different woodtypes? Maybe they wanted to use up all the left-over parts, which was a common workpractice during the years Leo was running the company.
Different body weigth may not make a guitar any worse or better, it will make them sound different. A heavier body weight may add more body to the sound of the guitar.
The finish did get thicker and thicker, especially on the later 70s guitars. An interersting obsevation is that finish was applied while they still needed to fine tune the sanding of the body. Maybe this means that some of those bodies were not sanded down as smooth as they could be, and all those little rough edges wear off easily over the years. Maybe an explanation why some of those guitars have that typical wear and tear on the finish?
From the ones I have heard it seems that the output of the pick-ups is lower and smoother compared to any of the 1960s and 1950s ones. More modern Strats, and even the copies as well, certainly have a higher output.
This smoothness of the pick-ups is not wrong, it gives them a unique sound. The typical Strat sound is there, but it seem to have a slightly different tonecolour.
A lot of the facts I have mentioned here can be found in the pages of Tom Wheeler’s book about the Fender Stratocaster. I made a review of this book in an earlier blogarticle a few years ago.
Happy reading and hope to see you soon again,