Best Year for the Fender Stratocaster

Best Year for the Fender Stratocaster

The only way to describe the Fender Stratocaster is that it is an archetype electric guitar. If you have a conversation with a stranger about playing this instrument, the shape and design that comes to mind are that of a Strat.

It’s such a great guitar because Fender gives it a sound that’s equal to its build. That’s why many of music’s best talents have picked up a Strat over the years.

Names like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and many more have made a name for themselves because of the outstanding features found in the typical Stratocaster.

Most vintage Fender Stratocasters were made before 1965. The instruments built after that year are typically seen as less valuable. That’s because CBS took over control of the brand’s management at that time.

Best Year for the Fender Stratocaster

The best year for the Fender Stratocaster was 1962. It stands out from the other model years because the manufacturer made more changes to the guitar than usual. It uses a thinner Brazilian rosewood for the fretboard to create brighter tones, an Alder body, and a Maple neck.

In 1962, Fender started stamping their Strats instead of penciling the date on the instrument.

The unique combination of Brazilian rosewood, Alder, and Maple creates an instrument that continues to sound better the more that it gets played.

Instead of dealing with wear and tear issues, the resiliency found in the 1962 Fender Stratocaster makes it one of the world’s best instruments.

One might even argue that the 1962 version is one of the best items that humanity has ever produced.

That’s why Fender has done an excellent job creating reissues of this vintage design. If you are thinking about purchasing this instrument, you might need to pay $50,000 to get one in perfect condition.

Even if you purchase a 1962 Fender Stratocaster that has seen extensive work from a luthier, you’ll probably pay at least $30,000 for the privilege of owning the instrument.

In comparison, you’ll pay about $4,000 to get a top-of-the-line reissue of this classic design. It sounds almost as good as the original, which is why it’s such a great find when you can grab one.

What Is the History of the Fender Stratocaster Guitar?

The Fender Stratocaster is a legendary guitar. What makes it such a unique addition to the music world is that Fender never expected to be such an influential force in the industry.

When people asked Leo Fender about his ambitions with his guitar company, his answer was relatively simple. He wanted to create the best instrument possible.

That meant he wanted to improve on what had already been accomplished. When Fender released the Telecaster, it became an instant hit.

There were some expectations that the Stratocaster would have the same result, but what ended up happening took everyone by surprise.

Freddy Tavares is responsible for the distinctive body shape found on the Fender Stratocaster. We can thank Don Randall for giving the guitar its name.

It would be one of the first that offered three pickups instead of the customary two to deliver a greater tonal range and more playing creativity.

The most notable component added to the Fender Stratocaster was the tremolo system. Guitarists would eventually find more uses for this feature than the designers even imagined.

What makes the 1962 version such a unique option is that the Stratocaster hadn’t become popular yet.

It wasn’t until Bob Dylan took to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 that the general population became aware of this fantastic design.

By then, the quality of the guitars was headed on a downward curve because of the change of management.

Fender Stratocaster Options That Aren’t the 1962 Model

The average person doesn’t have $50,000 to spend on an electric guitar. If you’re like me, most of your paycheck goes to paying the mortgage, grocery store visits, school expenses, and a bit into savings.

If I had $50k to spend on anything, it would probably be a car or a house.

Fender realized this fact as an organization in the past decade or so. That’s why they’ve come up with several reissues for their most popular model years so that more people can enjoy the signature sounds without breaking their budgets.

You don’t have to settle for a reissue if you want to play a vintage Fender Stratocaster. Three additional years produced excellent guitars that are just a touch below what you’d get with the 1962 version.

Here is a closer look at each of those model years and why they deliver a standout performance over the 60+ years of production.

  • The 1954 Fender Stratocaster. This guitar comes from the first production year. It’s typically considered the most collectible instrument from the lineup because of the initial release. Some websites have seen authentic models selling for over $100,000 from this year. You can find listed prices topping $225,000, especially if it is still in a playable condition.
  • 1957’s Fender Stratocaster. The Maple necks with the sunburst look make this Strat a highly collectible option. It sounds as great as it looks, although the features are still a bit lacking with this early choice. If you can find one and don’t mind paying the price, it’s a great find for your collection.
  • The 1964 Fender Stratocaster. Although the 1962 Strat gets plenty of well-deserved love, you’ll find legitimate arguments out there about why the ’64 is the best. It comes with more color customization choices, all the features you’d get with previous models, and a tone with fuller tendencies.

The truth is that a Fender Stratocaster before 1965 is an absolute pleasure to play. It really doesn’t matter what year the guitar was made.

Each model lineup has some individual standout guitars that deliver outstanding tone and consistent quality throughout the entire lineup.

Why choose the 1962? Instead of picking and choosing individual instruments, you can almost guarantee that every single guitar from that model year is a winner.

Even if you’ve got a lemon, it’ll still play better than anything else created by Fender.

What Are the Fender Stratocaster Models to Avoid?

Although you can find some decent guitars built by Fender during the early CBS years, they’re still not the best. You can see in 1966 and 1967 how the management emphasized lower quality and costs to create instruments that would be more affordable.

That process started in 1968 when Fender replaced the nitrocellulose finish with polyurethane. Although it had been used in previous years, it became the primary choice.

Since it’s a thicker product, the instrument’s resonance was directly affected by the change.

The poly finish also had more of a shine to it, which changed the primary aesthetics of the Fender Stratocaster.

There was some intense competition in the 1970s from Japanese competitors, producing above-average instruments at prices the industry hadn’t really seen up to that point.

The new-look Fender felt like they needed to be competitive, which created the quality losses that led to the “dark years” for the company.

That’s why the Strats you want to avoid whenever possible are built from 1972 to 1981.

Not only did the quality control become lax during this production decade, but it also initiated design changes that resulted in some heavy instruments.

Many of them came with loose necks because the entire thing weighed more than 12 pounds.

Part of the reason for these problems has to do with the trends at the time. Guitarists wanted something with a natural finish, prompting Fender to switch to heavy ash.

It was a cheaper wood, but its grain is visually pleasing. Only a handful of swamp ash guitars (often from custom shops) avoided this problem.

Even though Fender went from a three-position switch to a five-position one for the pickup selector in 1977, the guitars were in such rough shape that this model year isn’t collectible at all.

Before you purchase a Fender Stratocaster from this era, you should play it first. Even then, the average value of the instrument rarely exceeds $3,000.

Fender Hired Yamaha Staff to Fix Their Problems

Fender knew it was in trouble by the early 1980s. Although the decisions made over the past decade had good intentions, the results led the company to start producing inferior guitars.

That’s when the board decided to hire Bill Schultz, Dan Smith, and John McLaren from Yamaha’s American division.

Smith was the engineer out of the group, so he was given control of Fender’s plant. His first change was significant.

He ordered fewer guitars to be made per day to spend more time improving those that were produced.

He also started listening to the various complaints and opinions of musicians to understand why sales were dropping.

Schulz worked on infrastructure investments, developing a program to modernize the company’s California factory. For a time in 1982, everything came to a virtual halt while the upgrades were made.

That led to the 1982 Vintage Reissue Series after all the changes were made. You could grab something from 1957 or 1962 in style and sound while taking advantage of modern creative techniques.

These guitars don’t sell as well as the pre-CBS era models, but they can still be found for around $7,000.

After that successful relaunch, Fender went to their Standard series. It’s what is now called the Dan Smith Strat, and the guitars have an almost cult-like following. By 1984, CBS was negotiating to sell Fender.

You Still Need to Avoid the Modern Dark Age of Fender Strats

Although Fender experienced a resurgence in the 1980s, their time of innovation and quality improvements ended in 1988. You’ll want to avoid buying guitars built from 1989 to 1998 in the FMIC Era because of multiple issues.

For a brief time, every Fender guitar was made in Japan. In the late 1980s, the new ownership group looked to take advantage of the brand’s growing popularity by building the instruments in Mexico, where things were cheaper.

The American Standard Fender Stratocaster came with a cheaper poplar wood body. They started using Alder veneers, while the black paint for the sunburst finish covers the belly cuts to protect the different joints in the new design.

There isn’t a Strat from the second dark age that holds its value well. Some of them don’t even sell second-hand for more than $400 today.

What about the Modern Fender Stratocaster?

Fender entered a new golden era of guitar production in 2012. Although the instruments don’t match the quality of the 1962 design, you still get excellent electronics, robust quality assurance practices, and legacy niches that create extra collectability for current and future enthusiasts.

It’s fair to say that musicians can buy the perfect Fender Stratocaster to meet their needs today in ways that were never possible before.

If you want to purchase an investment-grade guitar, anything from the pre-CBS era is an excellent choice. Although the first series has the most value, the 1962 delivers the best playability.

When you want something fantastic to play at home, in a band, or even for pro gigs, the Fender American Ultra Stratocaster is an excellent choice.

I highly recommend the look of the Texas Tea, taking you away from the classic white pickguard.

Although the body is made entirely from Alder, you still get a maple neck and fingerboard. It delivers a vintage tone similar to the 1962, but I actually prefer playing the upper frets on this design more.

It’s super simple to play with the fretboard design, allowing your fingers to fly through the notes and chords with ease.

If you’ve been looking for a new primary ax to play, this Fender Strat delivers fantastic results for a reasonable price. You won’t be disappointed.

As long as you avoid the dark years from Fender’s transitionary phases, you’ll typically get a great guitar.

Even when you spot something from the frowned-upon years, try playing the instrument before brushing it aside. There are always a few surprises out there to find.


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