Fender Stratocaster, ’55
Blonde, Serial # 7589.
“The tone of the Stratocaster is as new and different as tomorrow and is the big professional tone so long sought after by critical players.” These words from the 1954 Fender catalog announced the arrival of what was to be one of the most popular electric guitars ever. The Stratocaster was developed with input from players dissatisfied with Leo Fender’s first electric guitar, the Telecaster. Ideas including a more comfortable body shape, an adjustable bridge allowing intonation for each individual string, and a vibrato system were incorporated. The guitar not only attracted early rock ‘n rollers like Buddy Holly, Johnny Meeks, and Richie Valens, but it also appealed to artists in genres as varied as western swing (Eldon Shamblin of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys) and champagne music (Buddy Merrill of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra). The 1955 Strat featured this month was used for years in a Wisconsin polka band called The Merri Tones.
This month’s Strat is very much like any other made in ’55. It has a one-piece maple neck with spaghetti logo on the headstock, a comfort contoured ash body, brittle “bakelite” pickup covers and knobs (replaced by a more durable plastic during ’56), and a “synchronized tremolo”. While the standard finish for a Stratocaster was a deep sunburst, this guitar has the same see-through blonde as a Telecaster. Custom color Strats were rare in the fifties and especially rare before 1956 when the option first appeared in the Fender catalog.
The Strat’s original owner bought it new in November of 1955 for $317. He was allowed a payment plan of $15.73 installments with the final amount due in May of 1957. According to the back of his sales contract, he paid off the guitar a whole year early. His polka gigs must have been good!