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Is the Stratocaster overrated?

Fender Standard Stratocaster, Maple Fretboard - Lake Placid Blue

Is the Fender Stratocaster (the above is a LPB color) a good guitar? Yes. Modern machining and manufacturing technologies make that possible (the same the reason Squier makes such good guitars these days as well).

Personally, I think that yes, the Fender Stratocaster is an overrated guitar. Good guitar as I said above, but overrated.

Why do I think Strats are overrated?

The main reason is because too many players expect too much out of the guitar, and then get really disappointed when the guitar doesn't live up to those expectations.

For example, Strats have low-output pickups by design. They have skinny pickups mated to 250K potentiometers (meaning the volume and tone knobs) that when fed to an amplifier produces a "thin", trebly sound.

The reaction by players to this thin/trebly sound is, "Oh. I guess I need a pickup upgrade." So they go and buy higher-output pickups, then install them. But the result of that is a thin, trebly sound that's louder and noisier, but not necessarily better.

A Strat on its own cannot produce a "big" sound without a lot of help (as in a compressor). Any Strat plugged into any amp without any overdrive in use almost universally gets the same reaction by players, which is, "Gee.. this thing has no balls to it." Correct, because you're dealing with a guitar with skinny single-coil pickups in it.

In reality, what the player probably wanted was a Telecaster with its big, fat overwound rear (as in bridge) single-coil pickup, or a guitar with P90 pickups in it, or just some guitar where the single-coil pickup is physically larger with more winds on the inside.

Any Telecaster, whether a cheap Affinity, mid-grade Standard or American Standard will always "sound fatter" compared to a Strat. That big-ass overwound rear pickup really does make a difference.

Yes, you can get overwound replacement pickups for Strats, but it's just not the same. When you play a rear pickup on a Telecaster, you will probably say, "That's the sound I've been looking for!"

Am I saying that most Strat players actually want a Telecaster?


Reasons why a Telecaster is better for most players

Fender Standard Telecaster, Maple Fretboard - Lake Placid Blue

  1. There is no middle pickup to hit accidentally when picking or strumming.
  2. The volume control is away from you so you don't knock that accidentally when playing.
  3. There is no tremolo system to put the guitar out-of-tune (which on a Strat you don't use anyway because it's useless for most players).
  4. The rear bridge pickup has a higher output compared to a Strat.
  5. The rear bridge pickup actually has a tone control wired to it whereas most Strats don't.
  6. The front neck pickup is a mini-single with smooth, rounded edges, so even if you do smack that when picking, the pick will just roll right over it with no problem at all.
  7. It is a true set-it-and-forget-it guitar. The Telecaster is the kind of guitar that once set up, it does not need to be set up again for a very long time unless you switch to a much thicker string (in which you would have to readjust saddle height, redo intonation and maybe crank the truss rod a 1/4 turn to compensate for the different string tension).
  8. The neck is the same as the Strat. Same profile, same 9.5-inch fingerboard radius, same fret size, same amount of frets. It's the same Strat neck you already know, just mated to a Telecaster body. If you know Strat necks, you already know Tele necks. The Tele is not a guitar that's the polar opposite of a Strat. Just consider a Tele a simpler version of a Strat, so to speak.

Some players will never get used to a Strat no matter what it is

This is something not mentioned often but really needs to be said.

There are guitar players out there whose hands will never agree with the Stratocaster guitar. Or at least not the one made by Fender.

I'll put this in really simple terms. If your hands or wrists hurt when playing Strats, stop playing them. And no, throwing a bunch of a money at a more expensive Strat will not stop hand or wrist pain. If the Strat shape doesn't agree with you now, it never will.

And if the Telecaster causes the same hand or wrist pain/strain (which it might), don't play those either. Try the shorter 24.75-inch scale Les Paul or SG, or the even-shorter 24.0-inch scale Fender Jaguar or Fender Mustang. However, if the controls on the Jag or Mustang aren't to your liking, consider the American Special Mustang or a Blacktop HH Jaguar. Both those guitars are short scale, have nice-and-easy control layouts and are plug-in-and-go type of guitars. I guarantee you would be very happy with either axe.

To note, hand strain concerning guitars is not an age thing; it can happen to any player regardless of age.

Personally, I find the Jazzmaster - which does have a 25.5-inch scale length like a Strat - to be a far more comfortable player. That guitar has absolutely huge single-coil pickups, and while I love the guitar as-is, some hate the control layout. But Fender has that covered with the American Jazzmaster Special. Great guitar, offset-waist body for supremely comfortable playing, no vibrato system and a dirt simple control layout. The low-cost Squier equivalent of that is the Vintage Modified Jazzmaster Special.

Are fat-necked Strats better for older players?

Fender Classic Series '70s Stratocaster, Maple Fretboard - Olympic White

Hand strain isn't an age thing, but when it comes to finger strength, that is absolutely an age thing.

For older players - which generally means guys over 50 - the fingers don't work as well as they used to. Sure, you can grip just fine, write things down with no problem and so on, but when it comes to the fingers playing fretted notes on a guitar neck, they just "don't work well". You get jittery, stuttered motions and it's enough to make you want to punch a hole in the wall out of frustration.

Some older dudes try thicker strings, but that doesn't cure the problem because the neck size is still the same.

If you're an older player that likes Strats and don't get wrist pain when playing, but do have the fingers-don't-work-very-well issue, more often than not the cure is a fat-necked Strat.

Yes, I know, you would think a thicker neck would be bad for the fingers-don't-work age issue. The opposite is true. Consider it the same as a thick vs. thin steering wheel on a car. The thicker wheel is always the preferred choice because it's just more ergonomically correct.

The two fat-neck Strat options are the Classic Series '60s Stratocaster with the "Big C" neck and the Classic Series '70s Stratocaster with the big-ass "U" shape neck.

Switching over to a fat-neck Strat will feel weird at first, but it's probably true your fingers will love it. There's a lot more wood for your hand to grab, so your fingers won't have to pinch as much, and if all goes well, you'll have very little stutter/jitter from your fingers or possibly none at all.

If the fat-neck Strat agrees with you, great. But you'll probably hate the sound of the guitar and want to swap out the pickups; that is a totally normal reaction.

What a lot of players would really like to see from Fender is modern electronics on a fat-neck Strat. But Fender doesn't do that, so you'll have to buy a fat-neck Strat and either change out the pickups and electronics yourself or just have a tech do it. Yes, this does add in extra cost, but in the end you get exactly the Strat you want. Great modern sound with an older-style fat neck.

To recap...

If you can't wrangle a good sound out of a Strat now, you never will because you've been probably trying to do it for years and never got anywhere. Try a Telecaster instead and enjoy the fat-ass overwound rear pickup. You'll like it a lot better.

If your hands hurt when playing a Strat, stop playing them and try a short-scale guitar instead.

If your hands don't hurt when playing a Strat but your fret hand fingers have a hard time fretting notes, get a fat-necked Strat.

And on a final note, something I've said before many times, know what you're buying.

Fender Stratocasters are good guitars, but they're not for everyone. And if you own one and think, "This guitar really isn't working for me...", that is not your fault. You don't "fail at guitar" if the Strat doesn't agree with you. All you need is a guitar that suits you better. Maybe that's a Telecaster. Maybe a Jaguar. Maybe something else entirely.

Go try different guitars, as in not Strats, and find one that really agrees with you. You may have to try out 10 or 20 different guitars before finding "that one", but it's worth the time because you end up being a happier guitar player.

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