A Musical Legend Was Born
A brief history of one of Fender’s finest musical creations
No other guitar commands the respect from players and collectors like a Stratocaster.
Originally designed with musicians in mind, it quickly inspired a myriad of copies and the design features on this guitar are still essential components of the Fender range of electric guitars produced today.
This 1954 Fender Stratocaster changed owners from England to Perth, Western Australia in the 1980’s and was played live before being stored away for the last 20 years.
1. Origins and Design
The 1954 Fender Stratocaster is a hand-crafted masterpiece from the first year of production from Leo Fender.
The new rear-spring based tremolo system and three pickup electronics were revolutionary for the time.
Offered for sale only 9 years following the end of World War II, these guitars are, to this day, one of the few invented commercial items in modern industrial history which maintain a level of quality above nearly all of the subsequently produced models.
This is a common theme amongst all Fender guitars and amplifiers dating from 1950-1965, known as the “pre-CBS era” of Leo Fenders’ company.
After Leo Fender sold the company for USD$12M in 1965, a gradual reduction in quality of both material and workmanship occured until the early 1980’s when the company was again sold.
As such, these 1954 Fender guitars are some of the most collectible electric guitars in the vintage market.
2. Body and Composition
This particular vintage guitar has a one piece Ash body. Alder bodies were not introduced on Fender Stratocasters until 1956.
The beautiful playing maple neck still sports later (1961?) Single Line Kluson tuners.
The close up picture in Figure 2 of the body of this guitar illustrates the nature of the one piece body.
Worn and aged heavily, the one piece maple neck is in original vintage condition with black dot markers. The hand contoured edges of the headstock are a unique feature of this era of guitar. The original 6 point tremolo system is present with original tremolo bar.
The white single-ply bakelite pickguard has a slight crack on the neck pickup height adjustment screw, a common feature of Stratocasters throughout their history.
Modifications and changes are as follows:
- Newer String Tree
- Pickup Covers and Case from 1961
- Replaced Kluson Tuners from 1961
- Back-plate screws replaced
- Back-plate holes have been enlarged
- 5 way switch installed
Newer string tree appears to have been installed a long time ago. The original string tree was simply circular. The imprint of the previous string tree can be seen in the close up photos.
The pickup covers have been removed and replaced with sharp edge pickup covers, most likely from 1961. The case is also from 1960-1962. The single line Kluson tuners would also have originated around 1961.
The back plate on the 1954 Stratocasters came with circular string holes. At some stage, the back circular holes have been enlarged to make string changes easier.
The original Philips-Head screws for the backplate have also been replaced at some point.
Based on these modifications, it would not be unrealistic to speculate that this particular 1954 Fender STratocaster was refurbished with new tuners, pickup covers, string tree and
case in the 1970’s or early 1980’s with parts from a 1961 Fender Stratocaster.
4. Serial Number
The first 107 Stratocasters produced in 1954 had their 4 digit serial number (0100-0207) inscribed on the top of the bakelite back tremolo plate. After this, the serial numbers were inscribed on the metal neck-join plate.
The guitar has an early serial number of 0251. The body and neck dates evidence the manufacture date as June 1954.
Although the guitars came originally designed with a three way switch (one for each pickup), in the late 1970’s, Fender started introducing the five way switch with middle positions between the pickups.
On this guitar, a five way switch has been fitted with original three way switch in the case. This gives an idea when the above-listed modifications were made to the piece.
Despite these minor changes, the guitar maintains nearly all of it’s most important original components.
Originally purchased in 1954 for USD$249.50, the current owner bought the guitar in the early 1980’s for AUD$4,000 in Perth from a guitar player from London. Since that time, this piece has been played live, stored, and now, offered for sale.
Today, the majority of original 1954 Fender Stratocasters command price tags in excess of USD $100,000.
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