From Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix: The 10 greatest guitarists to play a Fender Stratocaster
If it wasn’t for the people in this list, the name Leo Fender may not have meant very much in 2020. Born on August 10th in 1909, Fender would go on to invent a range of electric guitars and revolutionise the way we hear our music. But for many, Leo Fender will always be remembered for the Stratocaster.
The ultimate go-to guitar of some of the world’s greatest players, Fender’s signature instrument has become an icon of not only rock and roll but of life in the 20th century. Its shape is ubiquitous with rebellion, its tone a reminder of the glory years and its players—well, they’re some of the best the world has ever seen.
Fender sat down in 1952 and designed the ultimate guitar shape alongside Bill Carson, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares and some two years later it was in production. It didn’t take long for the guitar to become an instant classic, everybody needed a Strat.
Aside from the Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul, the shape (famed for its contour design) has become one of the most recognisable images in the world. What it stands for is varied and vast, what it can do can best be heard in the hands of the 10 guitarists below.
10 best guitarists to use a Fender Stratocaster:
Of course, the Guitar God had to have his hands on the original rabble-rouser, the Fender Strat. ‘Slowhand’ is often regarded as one of the finest guitar players of all time thanks to his work with a myriad of bands, including Cream and Blind Faith.
Clapton’s connection to the guitar goes beyond performing with the model, in fact, he gave plenty away too. The story goes that Clapton bought six Stratocasters for around $100 apiece and gave three away—to George Harrison, Pete Townshend and Steve Winwood no less—with the remaining three he created one of the most famous guitars of all time, ‘Blackie’.
The mix of 1956 and 1957 models gave Clapton a unique tone and the guitar would be an integral part of both his in-studio and on-stage set-up. He also had a lot of love for another Strat, the guitar he called ‘Brownie’ on which he recorded ‘Layla’. It makes a compelling argument that Clapton is a devoted Strat man.
Even with a hideously short career and life, Gallagher’s left a lasting impression on guitars forevermore. His well-worn Strat often acting as a banner of his affection for music. For Gallagher, it wasn’t about fame or fortune it was purely about the grooves.
It was something he championed in his music too, often reprising the role o the jazz saxophonist when he began his solos, it was hard to keep Gallagher’s feet on the ground.
One of the most famous rock ‘n’ rollers of his generation, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that Buddy Holly and his band The Crickets were instrumental in the propagation of rock. He did much of his finest work with a Strat in hand.
Holly was also, one of the first musicians to bring the Fender Stratocaster to the mainstream. His rhythmic style has influenced players ever since he arrived in the fifties and there’s no better place for that kind of sound than on a Strat.
Sadly, Holly would never reach his potential after his flight crashed between tour dates with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper on board with him. Known as ‘The Day The Music Died’ the image of Holly with his start will live on forever.
Albert Hammond Jr.
Woah! Woah! Woah! Calm down, we hear you. The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. is far from a virtuoso player and to be considered alongside such talent may prove a little sacrilegious for some of our more sensitive readers but, arguably, there hasn’t been a more influential guitarist in the 21st century.
When AHJ and The Strokes arrived in the early moment of the new millennium they did so with a wave of garage rock grooves and lead lines which were sung like lyrics from the top of people’s lungs.
The all-white Strat AHJ played only added to their retro-chic tone and it, alongside their remarkable indie-pop compositions, made The Strokes one of the most desirable bands around.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
One of our strongest contenders for “greatest guitarist of all time,” Stevie Ray Vaughan was a titan of the instrument. Helping out David Bowie on Let’s Dance may have announced the guitarist to the world but he made light work of confirming why he was so well-regarded.
SRV was the man with a match as the blues revival of the 1980s reignited and the guitarist has been revered ever since. Much of that revelry is down to Vaughan’s ability to play both lead and rhythm guitar parts at the same time—an extraordinary feat.
Like many players, SRV had his favourite guitar, a Strat, of course, which he called “number one”. The guitar was a hybrid of sorts using parts form 1963 and 1962 models but is most remembered for bearing Vaughan’s initials on the pickguard. Sadly, the guitarist died in a helicopter accident in 1990, leaving behind a legacy of what-ifs.
For those not indoctrinated into the world of Jeff Beck, his inclusion may feel a little strange. Without many grand titles or huge record sales to his name, the work of Beck can sometimes be overlooked. But let us make one thing clear: Jeff Beck is a genius on guitar.
The guitarist has worked his way through every single genre in his stunning career finding time to work with everybody from Morrissey to Stevie Wonder and pretty much everybody in between.
What makes Beck one of the finest players is that very versatility. Happy to sit down and compose music as the brief is laid out in front of him, Beck’s ability to transcend every barrier put in front of him make a perfect Fender Strat player.
When David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in 1968 he did so with a Fender in hand ready and willing to add a little more meat to the bones of the biggest prog-rock band of all time. With his guitar, Gilmour and the rest of the band changed how rock music was created.
Gilmour and the rest of the group may have been inspired by the blues that surrounded them and the rest of the bands in the sixties but where Pink Floyd differs is their evolution. They’ve moved through so many genres and styles we lose track.
None of which would have been possible without Gilmour’s atmospheric tone and without which, we would have never have had one of the greatest dolos of all time in ‘Comfortably Numb’.
Another of music’s great instigators also owes a lot of his success to the command of his Fender Stratocaster. A powerfully stylish finesse, Rodgers played his guitar like nobody had before and, by doing so, almost single-handedly invented disco music.
His sound has been emulated through R&B, hip-hop, funk ever since and Rodgers has rightly taken his seat as the ultimate “hitmaker”. The guitarist has reportedly been involved with songs that have amassed nearly $2billion worth of sales. Just let that sink in.
A true genius with his instrument, Rodgers deserves to be seen as one of the greatest there ever was.
From one overlooked guitarist to another, as we celebrate the unparalleled contribution of George Harrison. It’s probably fitting that being in The Beatles is worthy of overshadowing your contribution to the band but it does mean that Harrison’s skills on the guitar are often forgotten.
His unique style is perhaps typified by the use of his instrument “Rocky” a Sonic Blue Strat that he acquired in 1965. The guitar, one of which Lennon had too, was used for some of the Fab Four’s most triumphant LPs including Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver.
Yet when 1967 hit and the Summer of Love kicked in on both sides of the pond, Harrison gave his famous guitar a psychedelic makeover and painted it in a variety of far-out colours. Harrison continued to use the instrument throughout his Beatles career and his solo efforts too.
One of the more comprehensive players in this list, Harrison’s command of the instrument shouldn’t be overlooked any longer.
Of course, there is no list of great guitar players without the name of Jimi Hendrix. The guitarist epitomises not only everything that is virtuoso about playing the guitar but the spirit and freedom we should all play with.
Hendrix connected with his guitar like nobody else—it became an extension of himself, one he used with devastating effect to capture the hearts and minds of an entire global generation. Hendrix has two of the most famous Strats of all time, the one he played at Monterey in 1967 and his famous Woodstock model in 1969.
Of course, Hendrix made some changes to the models, he was a lefty after all. It saw countless other musicians follow suit and flip their own right-handed guitars over to imitate the man. But nobody, simply nobody, was ever comparable to Jimi Hendrix.