Hillman Guitar No. 15
Fender Stratocaster Plus
Serial No. N3146907

Since its official debut in early 1954 the Fender Stratocaster has proved to be one of  the most successful, most influential and most cloned electric guitars ever manufactured. This blue Strat was another of Sue-Onís surprise Xmas gifts and it made our first Brandon Christmas away from our country home a memorable one. One of my first guitar heroes was Hank Marvin of Englandís Shadows. I have always been intrigued by his red Strat, but since Sue-On knows that blue is my favourite colour, blue is what I got. Back in the fifties, I was introduced to many forms of American Blues in a very roundabout way. I became obsessed with the skiffle music of LonnieDonegan and set up many pipelines through which I could import his records (See our Lonnie Donegan Discography here). It was only later that I fully grasped the debt he owed to American Blues artists and that many of the guitar riffs I had learned from his records were actually this Brit's version of  the blues. (Ten years later a whole new generation of guitarists would go through a similar experience when they would be introduced to the Blues by the Beatles, Stones, Animals, Cream, etc. - interestingly, most of the guitarists in these groups had been influenced by the music of Lonnie Donegan). I expanded upon these contacts I had made in England and was soon importing the records of Cliff Richard - Englandís 'Elvis.' This led me into the world of the Shadows, Cliffís backup group, featuring bespeckled Hank Marvin. Since there was a tremendous demand for instrumentals in the groups I worked with, the sounds created by Hankís Strat were soon being imitated by a red-haired, black-hornrimmed, Gretsch playing Canadian. It was to be twenty years before I could  try out these songs on a Strat.

My first experience with playing a Strat was not an auspicious one. We were booked for an arena dance at the Oak River Dance Gardens just after my Gretsch had just been stolen. I took along my Silvertone but my rhythm player offered to swap his Strat for the evening. Soon into the performance however, I realized that I was so used to the feel of the Gretsch with its saddle bridge and its well-positioned bigsby lever that I could palm, that I just couldn't get used to the Strat. The whammy bar kept dropping out of reach and my combined picking/strumming technique constantly turned down the volume control by accident. I finished the evening playing trusty ole Sears Silvertone.

As the years passed by, however, many more of the guitars players I admired, and often imitated, showed a preference for the Strat: Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Ventures, Vince Gill, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, etc.  In fact, seldom do you see any sort of popular band that doesn't feature a Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul.

Thanks for the present kid . . . its a classic.

There are countless other ways to tune a guitar - here are a few.
Another good source for tunings is 101 ways to tune a guitar.
Standard Tuning

Drop D

Double Drop D

Down One Step

Up One Step

Standard D

Standard C

Open E

A Soundgarden Favourite

A Soundgarden Favourite

The Shadows
(Work in progress... please send trivia bits)
Eric Clapton: Fender Strat (Knicknamed 'Blackie' and made up of several different strats) ~ Telecaster (while with the Yardbirds) 
Jimi Hendrix: Fender Stratocaster (White played upside down with strings swaped around - as left-handed) 
Buddy Holly: Fender Stratocaster (sunburst) 
Hank Marvin: Fender Stratocaster (Red) ~ Burns 'Marvin' (White and 'Green Burst')
Mark Knopfler: Stratocaster (pink) 
Chrissie Hynde: (Pretenders) Telecaster (Blue) 
Eddie Van Halen: Stratocaster 
Ritchie Blackmore: (Deep Purple)
Jeff Beck 
Dick Dale
Harrison & Lennon
Forty Years Of The Fender Stratocaster
 by Richard R. Smith

                    Leo Fender had worked as an accountant and radio repairman before
                    taking up musical instrument manufacturing during the waning days of
                    World War II. Riding on the double wave of post-war prosperity and the
                    guitar's rising popularity, his novel, tradition-breaking designs quickly
                    became popular with working musicians who played western swing,
                    country, and rhythm and blues--the roots of rock and roll. He started
                    designing the Stratocaster in 1953 for these cutting-edge musicians
                    destined to shape popular music's next forty years.

                    Fender's intention was more than simply adding a new guitar to his
                    successful line, which already included the highly popular Telecaster.
                    Packing his new model with the latest "Fender Firsts," he hoped to outdo
                    all other guitar inventors and make all other electric guitars obsolete.
                    Besides looking streamlined and modern, the deep cutaway body
                    balanced the instrument, made the high frets more accessible, and
                    reduced weight. Musician Rex Gallion had once implored Leo, "Why not
                    get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?" The
                    Stratocaster's contours allowed a snug fit to the player's body.

                    The Stratocaster's advanced, built-in vibrato put shimmering, sustaining
                    sound effects at the player's fingertips. The distinctive Fender headstock
                    design let the strings pull straight over the guitar's nut, minimizing the
                    only real source of de-tuning friction. Surpassing earlier designs, Fender
                    made each individual Stratocaster bridge section adjustable for length
                    and height. To get the best tone, he tested a wide variety of pickup coils
                    and pole pieces with different lengths and diameters.

                    Musicians soon discovered that by carefully positioning the Stratocaster's
                    switch between settings, the signals from two pickups mixed and
                    produced snarling nasal tones that redefined electric guitar sound. These
                    unintended tones were reminiscent of a muted trumpet or trombone, but
                    with the sting of downed power lines. Fender's new guitar offered much
                    more than he anticipated.

                    Fender's business partner, Don Randall, came up with the new guitar's
                    name. Fender Sales shipped the first few commercial units by May 15,
                    1954. No one envisioned the Stratocaster's eventual commercial success
                    and historic impact. Considered by many an instrument for
                    teenagers--bandleader Lawrence Welk often introduced Buddy Merrill as
                    "our teenager"--the Stratocaster sold well in the 1950s, but did not
                    dominate the market. Dick Dale first explored the Fender's high decibel
                    capabilities playing surf music in the early 1960s. Beatles George
                    Harrison and John Lennon had matching Stratocasters heard on the
                    single "Nowhere Man" and numerous album cuts recorded after 1965. Of
                    course, Jimi Hendrix revolutionized electric guitar playing with his
                    Stratocasters and proved the wisdom of Leo's original design--which
                    stood up to almost every abuse except a match and lighter fluid. For the
                    next two decades, the Stratocaster's popularity grew almost unabated.

                    In 1987 Guitar Player magazine hailed the Stratocaster as the
                    "undisputed Guitar of the 1980s." The Stratocaster, recognized by
                    players for its wide-ranging, versatile tone, had become the most
                    commercially successful and copied electric guitar design in history. The
                    almost endless list of Stratocaster-playing stars included Eric Clapton,
                    Jeff Beck, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour
                    and Mark Knopfler. While many players had turned to vintage
                    Stratocasters in the 1970s when CBS owned the Fender company (Leo
                    Fender and Don Randall sold the company to CBS in the mid-60s) an
                    increasing number of 1980s guitarists discovered new Stratocasters
                    made by a revitalized Fender company under new ownership.

                    In 1985, the Fender company was purchased from CBS and in fact, a
                    new chapter of Stratocaster history was being written. In 1990 the
                    company offered a single-spaced index that included 31 different
                    Stratocasters on the first page alone. The 1992 literature pictured 44
                    different Stratocasters. Players failing to find production models fitting
                    their needs could consider a top-of-the-line custom-built guitar from the
                    Fender Custom Shop. John Page, the shop's manager, sums up the
                    company's philosophy quite well: "Old guitars represent a starting point,"
                    he said. "Vintage (product) is something you learn from. Then you go on
                    and design something for tomorrow."

                    Leo Fender designed the original Stratocaster to outdo all other electric
                    guitars. In 1954, it was a guitar for tomorrow. Astonishingly, after 40
                    years, it still is.

A  former working guitarist, Richard R. Smith has written extensively about vintage guitars and guitar company history. He is guest curator for the Fullerton Museum Center's show Five Decades of Fender: The Sound Heard Around the World. His articles and columns have appeared in Guitar Player, Guitar World, Guitar (Rittor Music, Japan) and Bass (Rittor Music, Japan) magazines. In addition, he is the author of The History of Rickenbacker Guitars (Centerstream) and a forthcoming book about Leo Fender and the Fender Electric Instrument Company.

For most collectors, pre-CBS (pre-1966) Fender vintage guitars and amps are the desirable ones. Although CBS purchased Fender (officially) on January 3rd 1965, it took some time till the guitars changed (though by mid 1964, six months before CBS bought Fender, things were already "on the way down"). By the end of 1965, the general look and feel of the Fender guitars had changed significantly. All collectors feel the quality of their instruments and amps suffered as CBS employed more "mass production" manufacturing processes to the Fender guitars. The "large peghead" (starting in late 1965) as used on the Fender Stratocaster was one example of the (bad) changes to come. The "custom contoured" bodies Fender was famous for no longer were as sculped and sleek. Newer       (and less attractive) plastics were used for the pickguards. Pearl fingerboard inlays replaced the original "clay" dots. Indian rosewood replaced the beautifully figured Brazilian rosewood on the fingerboards. And by 1968, polyurathane replaced the original nitrocellulose lacquer that was used from Fender's conception. By early 1971 the party was truely over. Fender now employed the infamous "3 bolt neck" and one piece die cast bridge on the Strat, ruining it's tone and feel. Many other models suffered the same miserable fate of being over mass-produced and cheapened by corporate zealots. 

Because of this, Fender's most innocent era of the 1950's is their most collectible. This decade produced guitars with one-piece maple necks, single layer pickguards, thin "spaghetti" logos, and tweed cases that seem to capture collectors the most. 

The early 1960's Fenders with "slab" rosewood fingerboards are also collectible, but not to the extent of the earlier 1950's maple-neck era. Of the rosewood fingerboard models, the "slab" fingerboard (mid-1959 to July 1962) variants are more desirable than the "veener" fingerboard (August 1962 and later) pre-CBS models. The "transistion" era (late summer 1964 to December 1965) are the least collectible of the pre-CBS models. This era is known as a "transition" because later summer 1964 to December 1965 was the time when there was a transition from the Leo Fender management to CBS management, and mass-production manufacturing techniques were starting to take a firm hold. 

By 1966 (a year after CBS bought Fender), CBS management had really taken hold of Fender's production facilities and incorporated many changes. The sum of of all these changes had a serious effect on Fender guitars as a whole. 1966 brought an era of "large" pegheads, less contoured bodies, and much higher production numbers. CBS looked for ways to cut production time and costs, which generally led to much lower quality. Because of this, 1966 and later Fender instruments are considered far less collectible than vintage pre-CBS Fender guitars. 

The Guitar Models

 The Esquire was Fender's first electric spanish guitar. Originally introduced in April of 1950 as a black (and later blond), one or two pickup model, it was discontinued by Fender's marketing arm in September 1950. Only about 50 of these original Esquires were shipped, though Fender had a backorder of hundreds of units. And many came back to Fender to have the neck (and body!) replaced because of neck warpage, from the lack of a truss rod. In October 1950, the Broadcaster replaced the Esquire as their two pickup electric spanish guitar, with a truss rod! The Esquire was re-introduced in early 1951 as a single pickup version of the Broadcaster. The 1951 and later Esquire, because of its single pickup, does not have the value today of its two pickup brother, due to its limited tonal range with one pickup. By February 1951, the Broadcaster was renamed the Telecaster (though the guitars didn't actually have a "Telecaster" decal on them until the summer of 1951), because of a   naming conflict with a trademarked Gretsch drum line. 

1954 Fender Stratocaster ad.

The Fender Stratocaster (and Telecaster) from the 1950's put the solidbody electric guitar on the
map. The Stratocaster was like no other guitar ever produced. With three pickups, a contoured
body that made playing guitar comfortable, and a tremolo built-in and designed correctly for the
guitar, made it an instant sucess. Even today, nearly 50 years later, the Stratocaster is the electric guitar by which all others are judged. 

From country, to rock and roll, to surf music, Fender found a niche with its instruments. Especially different for the era was those Fenders with Custom Color finishes. Hence they are more               valuable than the standard finish (usually Sunburst, or Blond for the Telecaster/Esquire). 

The Jazzmaster, introduced in 1958, became Fender's "top of the line" instrument (though today's vintage guitar market does not hold this view; it's clearly a 3rd class citizen behind the Strat and Tele). Fender truely thought the Jazzmaster would make a sensation in the jazz scene. Instead, it became the main instrument of many Surf-guitar bands of the 1960's. 

Likewise, in 1962 Fender introduced another "top of the line" instrument called the Jaguar. Again, this model quickly lost popularity, starting in 1968 with decreased sales. The short scale length of the Jaquar was one of its major flaws. Finally the Jaguar and Jazzmaster were discontinued by 1975 and 1982, respectively. Before the death of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, interest had revived in these models, though no were near the level of Strats and Teles. Now most collectors interested in these models do so because they can not afford a vintage Strat or Tele. 

The Low-end Fender solidbodies such as the DuoSonic, MusicMaster, and the Mustang are not collectable and are considered student models. Even with the recent popularity of the Mustang, it's still a short scale, entry level instrument. All these instruments share that basic problem of a shorter scale length, and lower quality electronics. 

Strat Tips 
from Stratocaster Appreciation Page

Pickup Height 

The strat is notoriously temperamental with regard to pickup height settings. If set too far from the strings, the sound will be weak and the buzz intolerably loud. If set too close to the strings, the magnetic
pole-pieces will interfere with the vibration of higher notes, causing a distortion of pitch. In addition, many people underestimate the influence which pickup height and balance has on your tone. I have developed the following procedure for the correct adjustment of strat pickup heights (this is intended for traditional alnico magnet pickups-other types can usually be set closer to the strings) 

1. Set the bridge pickup 3 to 2.5 mm's from the pole piece to the bottom of the string on BOTH the bass and treble sides of the pickup. (Some people like to slant the pickup so that the treble side is much closer  to the strings, but if you want your head to remain ON your shoulders, I advise against it) Now play some chords across all six strings on various places on the neck. Listen carefully to the balance between the bass and treble strings. If the bass strings are noticably louder than the treble or vice-versa, raise or lower the appropriate side until a nice balance between high and low strings is achived. 

2. Now that the bridge pickup is set, its time to deal with the middle pickup. Compare the output of the
middle pickup with that of the bridge and raise or lower it until the output is the same. Again adjust the
pickup until a balance between the high and low strings is achieved. 

3. Now the neck pickup. Much the same as points 1 and 2-get the output the same as the middle pickup, can adjust for correct string balance. 

Hopefully you will now have all the expected strat sounds at your disposal. Also, if you want to increase
the 'quackiness' of the in-between tones AND/OR you rarely use the middle pickup, screw it down low
and you will achieve the desired effect. Tremolo setup-floating or clamped? 

FLOATING: I'd Just like to say before this section, that you should BEWARE when messing with the
tremolo set-up on a strat. Despite what I say below, NOT all strats will benefit from having the tremolo
set flat to the body. In fact, this can actually make the tone rather harsh and tinny on some strats. It has a lot to do with the way that the tremolo cavity adds a certain resonance to the tone, and the trem set to
float can enhance this effect, giving a springier, more lively tone. Adding springs and clamping down the  trem can in some cases kill this. This seems to vary widely from one strat to another, so some may be fine with either trem set-up, others might suffer if you alter the set-up. The chances are that your strat's
tremolo is already set this way, so as to offer both up and down pitch-control. If it is not, you can set it to do so like this: 

1. Carefully remove the tremolo backplate on the back of your strat. 

2. Observe how many springs are installed in the cavity-if there are 5, remove the 2nd and 4th ones, if
there are less than 3, don't remove any more. Now tune to pitch and check if your tremolo now floats. If so, go to point 3. If not, you will now need to adjust the tremolo claw-that thing which the wire is soldered onto. Turn the screws which go into the body of the guitar counter-clockwise until the claw has
 moved out a few mm's. Now tune to pitch and check if the trem is now floating. If it is not, just continue
adjusting until it does, making sure you are tuned to pitch. 

3. When at last your trem is floating, you need to set the tip up angle-the distance between the end of the tremolo and the top side of the body. The gap should be around 3mm. To set this, adjust the tremolo law, tightening the screws if the gap is more than 3mm, loosening them if its less than 3mm. 

4. Now replace the backplate, tune to pitch and enjoy your new-found pitch shifting abilites. 

CLAMPED: This is advisable if you don't use or like the trem as it will give you a bit more sustain and
the ability to bend strings without the other ones dropping in pitch. 

1. Remove the backplate and observe how many springs are installed in the cavity. If there are 3 or less,
add more until all 5 are installed AND/OR Turn the tremolo claw screw clockwise until the trem sits flat
to the body at concert pitch. Personally I prefer the adding-springs method, as you only have to remove
 them again if you want to have a floating trem. 

2. Now replace the backplate and enjoy that tad more depth and sustain. 

Tremolo tuning tips

   There are many supposed 'methods' to stop the standard strat trem from going out of tune, but in my
experince the following things are very helpful. First of all, make sure that the nut is well cut and clean.
Next check that the string tree(s) behind the nut are not set too low, thus giving a severe break angle
behind the nut. If they are raised so that the break angle is quite gradual, then the tuning will be less likely to go out when you use the trem. One last thing, which has always worked for me, although I don't really know why, is the set-up of the springs in the tremolo cavity. Take a look at the diagram to see what I mean. Using 'my set-up' where you attach the springs to the inside 3 notches on the tremolo claw seems to improve the tuning. 

Counteracting that Annoying Buzz

    You can reduce the buzz that single coil pickups are prone to by screening the internal cavities with
adhesive backed aluminium tape. I have not done this myself, but if you have the confidence and soldering skills, you could give it a shot. 

1. You need to remove the scratchplate and position it so that you can work at the cavitiy easily. 

2. Now cut the aluminium tape into sections that will cover the entire surfaces of the cavity, making sure
    there are no gaps left anywhere, and that all separate pieces of tape overlap. 

3. Earth it all by placing a few centimetres of abare wire underneath a section of tape and covering it
FIRMLY for a good connection. Solder the wire from the tape to a pot to complete the circuit. A longer piece of wire is best so that you don't have to desolder it if you remove the scratchplate. The noise should now be signifigantly reduced, making your strat much more suitable for high-gain applications. 

Why can't I get a really heavy distortion sound? 

 Speaking of high gain applications, I have found many people go out and buy a strat, or a strat type guitar and a distortion pedal, then go home and wonder why they cannot achieve a really cool and heavy sounding distortion such a la Nirvana or the Smasing Pumpkins. I believe (many may disagree) that the most important factor in achieving a heavy distortion is the pickup output. Of course a good pedal or amp will aid this process, but it eventually comes down to needing a hot pickup to drive distortion. Hot rail type pickups are good because they fit into the standard stratocaster routing, and don't tend to get boomy like some full size humbuckers can. Below is the Seymour Duncan diagram for wiring one of their hot rails pickups in plain full humbucking mode. 

  Kent Armstrong hot rails can be wired as follows: There should be five wires-red,green,black and white and a thick unshielded earth wire. To wire it up as a full output humbucker and nothing else you should do as follows: Solder together the black and white wires and insulate them. Solder both the thick earth wire and the green wire to the volume pot (ground) finally, solder the red wire to the selector switch. 

   I can't speak for any other brands, and I am not going to get into the complications of coil tapping or
anything else. If you want to try this stuff get in touch with somebody who knows about pickups. This is
a good mod if you want to get a really hot overdrive. It does eliminate the bridge/middle sound however, but you can't have everything without doing some more extensive wiring. Consider this if you have ever wondered how Kurt Cobain got a really heavy distortion from Fenders. I think that this mod on a good Strat is far better than the Jagstang model or the like. The Strat, unlike some more eccentric Fender designs has decent sustain and is well designed. I am not putting down Jaguars, Mustangs etc. I'd own them all if I could, but the Strat is just a foolproof design. 

Help!!! My Strat isn't working any more! 

    If you are unfortunate enough to find that one day your Strat just is not working any more, and the
problem is a loose connection or wiring fault, then it is often useful to have a reference source showing
how a Strat should be wired. Here is the Seyour Duncan diagram for the 'standard' way to wire a strat, that is with 3 single coil pickups, switch, volume pot and tone pot for neck and middle pickups. If your wiring set-up is at all different from this, then the diagram may well be of little use. 

Always remember that there are many things that can go wrong apart from simply a wire coming loose. In cases like this, where all the connections are correct, you are always better to take the guitar to a good tech, who will be able to tell you what exactly is wrong. 

Reference: Fender Stratocaster Site  and the Official Fender Instruments Site
There are scores of Fender Stratocaster models. Here are a few of them:

U.S. Stratocasters
The American Stratocasters models are the cream of the crop and the closest to the originals. They feature Alder bodies and top quality hardware and pickups.

* U.S. Vintage 1957 Stratocaster Maple fingerboard, single layer pickguard
* U.S. Vintage 1962 Rosewood fingerboard, triple layer pickguard
Both models feature: Alder Body ~ Nitrocellulose lacquer finish ~ "medium" neck ~ 21 small frets ~ 7.25" radius ~ pickups have lacquer-coated windings ~ staggered polepieces and cloth-wrapped wire 
 ~ 3-position pickup switch (with kit for 5-position operation) ~ nickel plated hardware ~ vintage tremolo unit and tuners. These models are intended to be pretty close to exact replicas of the '57 and '62 models. 

* American Standard Stratocaster [Rosewood fingerboard]
* American Standard Stratocaster [Maple fingerboard]
* American Standard Stratocaster [Lefty, Rosewood fingerboard]
* American Standard Stratocaster [Lefty, Maple fingerboard] 
Block style saddles~ satin finish neck ~ TBX tone control ~ satin finish necks ~ 9.5-inch neck radius ~ Fender-Schaller tuners. 

* Strat Plus [maple fingerboad
* Strat Plus [rosewood fingerboard]
          The Pluses have Lace pickups ~ Wilkinson nut and heads ~ hipshot tremsetter.
* U.S. Deluxe Strat Plus [maple fingerboard]
* U.S. Deluxe Strat Plus [rosewood fingerboard]
        In addition, the Deluxe Pluses have Ash body laminates top and back ~ multicolor Lace pickups.
* Strat Ultra
      In addition, the Ultra has an Ebony fingerboard ~ figured maple body laminates top and back ~ bridge pickup is a pair to emulate a humbucker sound.
* Set Neck Stratocaster
* Set Neck Floyd Rose Stratocaster
     Mahogany body with figured maple top and back laminates ~ ebony fingerboard ~ Floyd Rose
* Classic Stratocaster
     Maple fingerboard
* Floyd Rose Classic Stratocaster 
     Rosewood fingerboard ~ Heavy metal versions
* H.M. Strat Ultra
     Basswood ~ trendy heavy style

Signature series:
Intended to be like the ones played by the artists who have their name written on them, but it sounds like this is usually not the case
* Eric Clapton Strat
* Malmsteen Strat [maple fingerboard]
* Malmsteen Strat [rosewood fingerboard]
* Stevie Ray Vaughan Strat
* Robert Cray Strat [no tremolo]
* Buddy Guy Strat

Japanese / Mexican Stratocasters

The Japanese and Mexican Stratocasters are intended to be the best value for the money. Most Japanese instruments appear to be made with lighter Basswood bodies and the Mexican ones made of Poplar. 

* Reissue 50's Stratocaster
     v-shaped maple neck and single-layer pickguard
* Reissue 50's Hardtail Stratocaster
     The no whammy bar version
* Reissue 60's Stratocaster
     u-shaped neck with rosewood-slab fretboard, triple-layer pickguard
* HRR '50's Stratocaster [maple fingerboard ~ heavy metal]
* HRR '50's Stratocaster [rosewood fingerboard ~ heavy metal]
* H.M. Strat [maple fingerboard ~ 1 humbucker, 2 single coils]
* H.M. Strat [rosewood fingerboard ~ 1 humbucker, 2 single coils]
* H.M. Strat [maple fingerboard ~ 2 humbuckers, 1 single coil]
* H.M. Strat [rosewood fingerboard ~ 2 humbucker, 1 single coil]

Japan / Mexico

* Standard Stratocaster [Rosewood fingerboard]
* Standard Stratocaster [Maple fingerboard]
* Standard Stratocaster [Left handed]

Korean Squier, Squier II Stratocasters

Fender uses the Squier line for their cheap instruments, so as to cash in on the low end of the market, but keeping the business somewhat separate from their main market. 

* Squier Standard Stratocaster [maple neck]
* Squier Standard Stratocaster [rosewood neck]
* Squier II Standard Stratocaster
* Squier II Standard Stratocaster [trendy pickup option]

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Hank Marvin

Ventures Album #2

Leo Fender
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Fender Stratocaster Site & FAQ
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Dick Dale: King of the Surf Guitar
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