The 1980-83 Fender "STRAT"
by Hunter H and Tom Watson
Stratocaster tradition: a blessing and a curse
There is a very close connection between the stories of rock 'n' roll and the Fender Stratocaster. It's hard to imagine one without the other. But in the case of the Fender Stratocaster, history and reputation have often proved to be both a blessing and a curse.
Over the course of its fifty year history, the Stratocaster has faced a repeated challenge - how to retain the classic features that form the basis of its widespread appeal while incorporating evolving technologies and reflecting changes in musical tastes. While the history of the Fender Stratocaster chronicles many such attempts by its manufacturer, one of the more interesting was the 1980-83 model known simply by the Stratocaster's famous nickname, the STRAT.
A nod to the past
The "STRAT", a customized and souped-up variation of the Stratocaster, was introduced by Fender at the 1980 NAMM Show. Designed by Gregg Wilson, then chief of guitar R&D at Fender, with the help of Dan Armstrong serving as a consultant, the STRAT tried to blend classic features with modern electronics to rejuvenate the Stratocaster concept. With the STRAT model, Fender gave a nod to the past by reinstating the smaller 1954-1965 pre-CBS headstock design (however, since the original worn-out tooling was used, the STRAT headstock, though smaller than the CBS era design, was not an entirely accurate re-creation of the pre-CBS model); and, like the 1979 25th Stratocaster Anniversary models, the STRAT was fitted with the popular pre-CBS style truss-rod adjustment and four-bolt neck plate, replacing the CBS Bullet truss rod adjustment and three-bolt neck plate.
An eye toward the future
Looking forward, in addition to offering a matching headstock (the headstock painted to match the guitar's body color), the STRAT incorporated several noteworthy features:
* a hotter lead pickup (branded the X-1) with a much stronger output than the standard Stratocaster pickup (various X-1 pickups tested were between 6.0 and 8.5 ohms).
* a new wiring circuitry delivering 9 different basic tones:
a twin mode rotary selector switch replaced the bottom tone control which when used with the five-way pickup selector switch allowed not only for your standard 5 Stratocaster positions(tones) but also 4 "new" tones never before or since available on a Fender Stratocaster :
neck and middle pickups in series - humbucking
middle and bridge pickups in series - humbucking
neck and bridge pickups in parallel
neck and bridge pickups in parellel, with the middle pickup in series
Thus, the STRAT delivered nine (5+ 4) different basic pickup tones by combining the 5-position switch with the twin rotary selector tone knob. Otherwise the STRAT was fitted with the standard 250k ohm audio taper pots and the "master" tone control carried a regular .05 MFD capacitor. This unique wiring design delivers many tones not usually associated with a Fender Stratocaster and makes the STRAT one of, if not the most, versatile of any era Stratocaster produced by Fender prior to the recently introduced S-1 switching system.
* 22 carat gold electroplated brass hardware including a re-designed extra massive(sustain) bridge and vibrato block, tuners, and volume/tone knobs that were officially dubbed the "Brassmaster Series". According to Fender, the hardware was actually plated with a 100 micron gold coat (the same as fine jewlery) and for that reason it's rumored that the company lost money on every unit sold. Some very early models are missing the gold tuners (same tuners but in chrome) and the gold plated pickup selector tip because of a delay in parts delivery.
The STRAT could be ordered with either a one-piece maple neck or a maple neck with rosewood fretboard. Three uniquely different neck shapes were available for the STRAT:
1. U shape - a very thick early 50s style "U" shaped neck.
2. D shape - a classic oval "D" shaped neck.
3. C shape- a classic "C" wide flat shaped neck with a flat radius typically only found on 1958 to early 1959 Stratocasters.
The availability of several width/thickness/radius variations indicate that there was no standard neck for the STRAT model.
According to Fender pricelists, the STRAT listed for $995 in 1980 ($250 more than a Stratocaster), was raised to $1,095 in 1981 and was priced at $1,150 in 1982 at which it remained until discontinued in early 1983.
From the January 1982 Fender Catalog:
A unique new instrument that combines several of the most popular modifications of the standard Stratocaster developed by independent guitar experts, as well as some exciting developments from Fender engineering.
All the hardware on the STRAT is of the highest quality with a heavy coat of 22k gold plating- the heaviest most durable gold finish ever used on a guitar. In addition, the bridge assembly is extra-massive, to achieve maximum possible sustain. On the STRAT, one of the standard Stratocaster's tone controls have been replaced by a pickup selector mode switch which gives an extra four pickup selections not available on a standard Stratocaster. These extra tonal options provide a "thicker" sound than a standard Stratocaster can produce, making the STRAT one of the most versatile guitars ever designed. Offered in the classic colors: Candy Apple Red, Lake Placid Blue, and Artic White.
The new Walnut Strat incorporates all the custom hardware and electronics of the STRAT in an instrument crafted entirely of selected solid Black American Walnut. The rock-hard finish and extra density of walnut give the Walnut Strat all the great playing qualities of the Fender STRAT, plus a unique custom look. Truly the connoisseur's guitar!
Because of limited production numbers, rumors that they are "boat anchors" (although as heavy as 11 pounds, most are in the comfortable 8-9 pound range and some weigh as little as 7 pounds), and a lack of information available, the STRAT has remained somewhat obscure, under-rated, and undervalued. Although prices are starting to rise for this unique model, until recently it has been relatively ignored by collectors and most can still be had at a very affordable price.
In a fall 1980 John Lennon magazine interview (conducted shortly before his death), Lennon describes a brand new Fender Stratocaster guitar he's using as "the cats pajama's", and is pictured holding a Lake Placid Blue STRAT. Rumor has it that Fender was seeking his official endorsement shortly before his tragic passing.
Strat Collector News August 12, 2004