Article by Nicholas LaRosa

Sometimes, you CAN teach old dogs new tricks. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster, designed in 1954 by Leo Fender, which has served as the weapon of choice for rock gods and garage-occupying, teenage punks alike. In celebration of this tremendous milestone, Fender has devised a new campaign, playing off the theme of the Past, Present, and Future of the Strat.

Let’s take this chronologically.

The Fender Strat of the Past is modeled after the American Vintage 1954 model, and good god, is it pretty! The folks at Fender went out and found a few examples of the classic ’54, took them apart (easy there, Tiger, it was done with love), and studied the thing like the true scientists they are. They listened to the pickups, analyzed the plastic, and rebuilt them from the ground up, in turn creating the most accurate reproduction of the original possible. The reproduction features the brand new Fender flash coat lacquer coating, which they tout as being the thinnest and most musical finish they’ve used to date, the big, fat, “C”-shaped neck you’d expect out of a vintage remake, and even the plastic pick-guard and knobs are a throwback, having been made out of polystyrene. Best of all, the pickups sound warm and sparkly, just like a Strat should. If anything I’ve said has piqued your interest, you’d better act fast, as Fender is only making 1,954 of these puppies (as a tribute to the Stratocaster’s birth year).

The Present Strat is a commemorative model, limited to the year 2014, which combines some of the Fender’s favorite aspects of the classic cutaway. It features a two-point tremolo, a very modern style, but they’ve thrown on vintage, bent-steel saddles, a compound radius neck, and revoiced ’54-style pickups that, quite frankly, sound amazing. As for the aesthetic side, the whole thing is decked out with gold hardware and pearl button tuners, and it sports commemorative medallions laid into the headstock and the neck plate. These modern Strats comes packed in a gorgeous tweed case, with a commemorative booklet to give you a sense of the legacy behind the little piece of history that you now hold in your hands.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Strat of the future. NAMM (the music industry conference most of us are attending this week) is known for showing off musical tech that seems like it comes straight out of The Jetsons, and this year Fender certainly hasn’t failed on the innovation front. The future Strat is more officially named the American Deluxe Strat Plus. For starters, the guitar is solderless, which means that if you unscrew the pick-guard, you can replace pickups by simply using connector plugs. No soldering gun, no electricity needed. The Strat has always been one of the more modifiable guitars on the market, but this makes it even easier to Frankenstein your guitar, making it an option for any lay person who is less savvy with circuitry. The best is yet to come though, as Fender has added in what they call their “personality card system” into the back of the guitar. It is an entirely passive, analog system which enables the user to insert cards that are preprogrammed with popular Strat modifications. Using a basic 50-pin connector, the cards rewire your guitar, helping you instantly—modifying your tonal range, pickups or, as their library of modification cards grows, anything your heart desires. The card demonstrated at NAMM is what they have dubbed the “Cutter Card.” This rewires the tonal knobs into a master treble cut and a master bass cut, giving the player much more tonal shaping capabilities. With the card in effect, it takes no effort to roll off the treble, and suddenly, the warm, bright tones of the Strat become again a darker, smoother tone—perfect for those planning to use the instrument for jazz arrangements.

While the Strat may have just turned 60, it’s showing no signs of age. Unless you want it to. I guess what I’m trying to say is that with this new line of Past, Present, and Future Strats, you have the choice between getting the Strat of your childhood dreams, or the one you dreamt of last night. Either way, as long as you have a Fender in your hands in the year 2014, you’ll be doing just fine.

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