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What is a Superstrat

Is it a bird, is it a plain, no it’s Superstrat…

…Yes I know that is a very corny introduction but I couldn’t help myself.  But the question is still valid, even if put in a rather corny fashion.  What is a superstrat and what is so super about them?

In 1954 Leo Fender designed the Stratocaster, the guitar which was to go onto to be the dominant guitar design in rock music as well as perhaps being the most copied.

From its launch the Stratocaster was a huge success largely because of the unique design features which made it such an easy and comfortable guitar to play.  It was a lighter less bulky guitar when compared to its competitors and the sleek body design, officially referred to by Fender as the Comfort Contour Body, was shaped to fit neatly with the players body.  The guitar had a double cut-away design which enabled the guitarist easy access to the upper frets and the bolt on neck itself was wider than the Telecasters.  The strings were anchored via a through body pivot bridge attached with springs to a claw in the tremolo cavity on the back of the guitar.  This set-up gave the player the reassurance of a tremolo that was less likely to detune the strings on the guitar.  In terms of electrics the Strat came with three single coil pickups which could be selected originally with a three way selector switch.  However, this was later changed to a five way selector in response to guitarists who used to jam the three way switch between the first and second position.  And that was it the design has remained very much the same since.

However, over the years guitarists, who although they loved the design of the strat, wanted something a little bit more turbo charged to reflect the music that they were playing.  For example the development in Heavy Metal music in the 1980s led to a requirement for guitars with slightly more agressive looks and greater playability.

What is a superstrat - Eddie Van Halen FrankenstratEddie Van Halen has been largely credited with starting the superstrat movement when, dissatisfied with the off the shelf models, he started to experiment with his guitars.  He found that the single coil pick-ups fitted in the strat were just too noisy when he cranked up the volume, but he needed the volume through the amp to achieve the sonic effects that he wanted in his playing.  He therefore assembled a guitar from a Boogie Bodies Strat body, a thin 21 fret maple neck and a humbucking Gibson PAF in the bridge position.  The resulting guitar, known as the Frankenstrat, was featured on Van Halen’s debut album and created a desire amongst guitarists for something similar.  The Superstrat was born when companies such as Kramer, Ibanez, Jackson and others started to mass produce these guitars to meet the growing market demand.  These guitars were designed with all the features that guitarists were demanding such as fast playing thin necks, stable tremolo systems and responsive pickups.

This assault on the Fender market-share forced Fender to respond with Superstrat models of its own starting with the Fender Contemporary Stratocaster and culminating with the Fender Showmaster.  All were fitted with more advanced features such as humbuckers and Floyd Rose style tremolo units.  In fact Gibson even started to produce a Superstrat when they released the Wayne Charvel designed Gibson WRC in 1985.

With the fading popularity of the axe shredding guitar hero and a move to the darker sound of grunge, nu metal and other styles the Superstrat design fell out of favour as guitarists moved back to more classical guitar shapes such as the Gibson Les Paul, SG and the traditional Fender Stratocaster.  A suggestion of guitar design going full circle perhaps?  However, the Superstrat design although having declined from the peek of fame in the 90s, has never really gone away and there are still some great Superstrat models being made, which is great for those of us who still remain fans.

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