There are some years and models in the guitar Parthenon that need no introduction. As players and gear lovers, we have instinctually been brought up to know these years are “the special years.” Today’s topic will be one of those legendary models, the 1957 Stratocaster. This Stratocaster often needs no introduction on its importance, but have you ever stopped to wonder why this year? What makes this particular guitar so special? Well, sit back, and let’s get into what makes this Fender tick.
From Ash to Alder
It’s hard to believe a guitar shape, so iconic, hasn’t been around since the dawn of time! Only three years before, in the spring of 1954, the Fender Stratocaster entered the world. The first three years of the Stratocaster’s life, it existed as an ash body. Ash is widely known for its pleasant-sounding lows, scooped mids, and excellent top end. Upon 1957 (technically mid-1956, but close enough for rock and roll, as they say), Fender changed the Stratocaster’s tonewood to Alder. This new tonewood produced a much fuller sound with more mids, slightly deeper lows and maintained a clean, clear top end.
The Original V Neck
Despite what the hipsters think, the 1957 Stratocaster made the V neck cool. Before this year, Stratocaster necks were a larger club-like D shape and progressively became more V-shaped over the next few years. In 1957, the neck shape changed further, making that subtle V into a deep pronounced V shape. This shape became a favorite of artists such as Eric Clapton.
Other notable features of this 7 ¼” radius maple neck include the now-famous butterfly string trees (previous years featured a round tree) and fiberboard like material for dot inlays.
1957 was the last year of the defined V neck as it was replaced later on in 1958 with a new shape and Brazilian rosewood fingerboards became an option.
An interesting note about the logo is that from 1954-1960 the Fender logo on the headstock only featured the infamous “Original contour body” and “with synchronized tremolo” badges. As the years would go by, patent numbers would continue to be added to the logo under the “with synchronized tremolo” waterslide decal.
The serial number was on the neck plate, securing the neck to the body with a 16000-25000 range featuring “0” or “-” before the number.
With a block made out of grey painted steel and saddles made of a piece of steel bent into shape with the words “Fender Pat Pend” on each saddle, the Fender tremolo system altered history forever. These tremolos were designed to be floating, but many would often block the bridge in the back with a piece of wood to “convert” it to a standard stop tail feel.
The tuning pegs at the time were the single-line Kluson Deluxe tuners, which featured a “D number” patent as seen from the underside of the tuner.
ABS plastic replaced the original Bakelite like material in 1957 as well. Bakelite was a much more brittle material and could not endure as much as ABS could. At the time, the pickguards were also a simple white ABS plastic guard that was made of only one layer, unlike its multi-layer siblings to come in just a few years.
Initially, the Stratocaster had a 3-way CRL switch. Interestingly enough, players often discovered the “secret menu options” of the in-between switches by forcing the switch to an in-between position giving birth to the later created 5-way switch.
The 250K knurled split shaft pots were made by Stackpole, and the wires were cloth wires at the time, which had a wax coating.
The capacitors were flat box-shaped paper caps, which were ZNW1P1 .1 MFD 150VDC capacitor.
The pickups on these instruments were wrapped with a 42GA heavy formvar wire on a distinctive black bottom made of fiberboard. The magnets were AlNiCo V, and the pickups were potted for microphonic feedback.
Case it Up
With its sophisticated red plush lining and lacquered tweed exterior, the Side Pocket Tweed case was used on the 1957 Stratocaster. Unlike its predecessors, which had the pick case in the center, which acted as storage and neck support, the Side Pocket Tweed had the pick case moved next to the neck and featured a “Koylon” tag to show the maker’s brand.
The exterior of this case featured brown leader caps, and In 1957, only these cases featured a Fender logo made of foil on the outside, which is notorious for falling off over time. Any case that has this still on it is near-mythical in rarity.
Let’s Finish This Up in Style
Now taken for granted, the sunburst featured on these Stratocasters at the time turned heads. First dipped into a yellow stain, the Stratocaster was then sprayed with black and red to produce the now-classic look. The guitar was then finished in nitrocellulose lacquer.
The paint was coming from DuPont, a well-known paint manufacturer for many products outside the music industry, such as automobiles. Because of this, Fender’s custom colors, which were available for an extra 5% of the value, are the same as many car finishes such as Sonic Blue or Olympic White.
Sixty-two years later, the 1957 Stratocaster is continuing to inspire players of all ages and styles. It will no doubt continue to spark our imaginations and creativity for many years to come.
To learn more about Fender, please visit: fender.com