5 Best Non-Fender Brands of Stratocaster Guitar
In continuous production since 1954, you could say the Fender Stratocaster has been a successful product. You'd be making an understatement. The Strat is one of the most iconic solid body electric guitars ever. Stratocaster and Strat are both trademark terms by Fender, but lots of people make Strats, they just can't call them that.
Nobody needs me to list for them here the huge amount of famous and infamous guitarists who've made their name and pay using the Fender Stratocaster. The list is huge. So is the demand. Everyone seems to want a Stratocaster. Who can blame them?
The first two viable solid body electric guitars, the Telecaster and the Gibson Les Paul, were both single cutaway guitars. The Stratocaster would be double cutaway, affording the player easier access to the upper frets. The body of the Strat would be contoured and balanced. Simply a more ergonomically correct feel for many guitarists.
From the start, the Stratocaster provided more options than its competition.
The Strat, besides being the first solid body with double cutaway, would also be the first to have three pickups. They'd be three single coil pickups with a 5 way position selector switch, allowing for 5 different configurations for maximum tonal choice.
But innovations debuting with the Stratocaster hardly end with the double cutaway and the three pickups, or the contoured body. The Stratocaster was the first instance of an operable tremolo bar on a solid body. And the tremolo bar could be modified to do more than just what Leo Fender and crew had in mind.
You don't want a tremolo bar? No problem. Fender made hard tail Strats too, and they still do. Some say you get a better sound with the truer contact of string and wood, and the having more wood, in a hard tail. But there are more options still, and were from the very beginning.
The Stratocaster was available with either a maple fretboard, or a rosewood fretboard from the beginning. The instrument was also available, standard production, in either alder body or an ash body. And of course there were many options for the color and or finish.
So with all the utility and available options that were with the Fender Stratocaster from the very beginning, it is little wonder the instrument became one of the most copied products in the world since sliced bread.
What about G&L? G&L Guitars as a company are as much Fender as Fender guitars are to my way of thinking. Of course G&L instruments have differences from their Fender step brothers and sisters, but the company was founded by Leo Fender, so they are Fender guitars in all but name. Here are five makes of non-Fender Strat guitars, all of some renown and esteem.
Tokai Springy Sound ST80 1979: Mark Knopfler style Improvisation
Tokai Stratocaster Copies
Whether or not Tokai was the first guitar builder to make copies of the Strat or not, I don't know, but I do know many people consider them to have been the first. Tokai copied more than just the Stratocaster, they've got highly sought after and well regarded copies of Telecasters and Les Paul guitars too. Tokai's knockoffs of American guitars are so highly regarded there are even fake Tokai fakes.
So there is a circle of deceit or whatnot here, but before you look at it too hard in that manner, you need to know these Tokai Strats are outstanding guitars. There is nothing much cheap about Tokai's Strat copies. They are increasing in value as the years go by, and that only happens with guitars for them being substantial instruments. Tokai does it like Fender does though, and what I mean is they make cheap ones and they make cream of the crop models too.
Tokai also made things difficult for everyone by changing the way their logo or name appears on the headstocks of guitars over the years. There are also three major varieties of Tokai Stratocaster. There is a lot to discuss on the subject of Tokai Stratocasters, but only the most basic information will be found here. Also, my purposes are not to say Tokai is the best non Fender Strat. But Tokai is listed first here for possibly being the first to make a Strat copy.
Tokai's older Strat copies are the Springy Sound Strats. Tokai's guitars were so good, and sold for so much less than a Fender American Standard, that Fender literally had to get itself together and increase their quality standards to compete. So before you start thinking it was unethical the way Tokai made blatant Strat copies, you should know they did the guitar playing world a great service by making the competition much stiffer than it had been.
Tokai's Springy Sound guitars ran from 1977-1982. These guitars are based on Fender Strats from the period of 1954-1964. The Tokai name/logo was changed from spaghetti script to block lettering in 1982. Tokai makes Springy Sound guitars today, but in 1983 they changed the name and started making Strat copies called Gold Star guitars.
Tokai Stratocaster Silver Star Metallic Blue
Tokai Gold Star and Silver Star Stratocaster Guitars
Whether your Tokai is a Telecaster, Les Paul, or Stratocaster knock off, the numbers involved in its model tell you a lot about the quality of the instrument. Where does quality come from? It comes from the materials and the craftsmanship involved in its build. The higher the number the higher the quality. Except after a certain numerical specific has been reached, then the increased numbers relate to specific oddities.
Are there complaints at all in regards to Tokai's Stratocaster copies? Yes. Some persons have determined the tuning machines Tokai used were not as good as what Fender was using. While tuning machines can be replaced easily, it's no good when you go out of tune during a live performance, and have to make an audience wait for the guitar to be tuned properly.
Another complaint I sometimes see regards the finish of the Tokai Strats. Too thick a finish can have a negative aesthetic to it. Others will tell you too thick a finish diminishes the sound. But the play-ability and sound are otherwise most often thought to be terrific.
Finally, we must make mention of the 3rd variety, the Tokai Silver Star. What is a Tokai Silver Star? It is a Tokai Stratocaster copy, but unlike the Springy Sound and the Gold Star, the Silver Star is based on or a copy of Fender Stratocaster guitars made in the 1970s. As was previously mentioned, the Springy Sound and Gold Star Tokai Strats are based on or copies of Fender Stratocasters from 1954-1964. So the Silver Star guitars have the great big headstock.
Tokai Goldstar Sound Stratocaster, Japan, 1984
The Tokai Silverstar Demo and Review
A nice Nash S-63 Strat 'relic' guitar
Bill Nash and the aged or relic Stratocaster
Aged or 'relic' guitars are a huge thing these days. If you do not know, then we are talking about guitars which are brand spanking new, but made to appear for all the world as though they are 40 or so years old. And I mean by this they look like they've been played in smoke and beer soaked clubs every single night for 40 years in a row.
It costs more to make a brand new guitar look that way. It's nothing more than a visual aesthetic. It's also the height of fashion in electric guitars these days. Every Nash guitar, so far as I can discern, is a relic or aged guitar. And everyone is raving about Bill Nash guitars. But the raving love fests I'm reading and hearing about Nash guitars have to do with how wonderfully they play and sound.
Nash makes more than one Stratocaster. And they make them with all the options you can imagine. You can absolutely have one with a hard tail or a tremolo arm. While all of Bill Nash's guitars are aged, some are aged more, and others less. There is a grade to the relic-ing done. The image up top is a heavy relic. There is a lite relic grade available for his guitars.
The sound of the Bill Nash Strats is terrific. To die for. They most often have hand wound pickups created by Jason Lollar. These pickups are among the finest in the world. Lollar pickups are cream of the crop, and if you can't hear the difference, you may as well purchase a far less expensive guitar. You can buy a Nash guitar with Seymour Duncan, Dimarzio, or Fralin pickups installed. All are high end pickups, and each with its own character.
Bill Nash's S series guitars are the Stratocaster guitars. He makes a total of five different S series models. I chose the to display here simply because it is a sort of middle of the pack model from Nash insofar as prices go. The S-63 is a $1,900 instrument, and is likely to be a more satisfying guitar than a new Fender American Standard Strat. Nash S-63
Nash S 63 hard tail. What a great sound this guitar has!
An example of a Ron Kirn Stratocaster
Ron Kirn Custom Strats
Ron Kirn custom builds guitars, and everyone loves him for it. Not only is he a great guitar builder, he's known to be a very fun person to know. If you find a dissatisfied owner of a Ron Kirn guitar, then you've found a true oddity in the world.
Kirn guitars are known for being as close to perfection as a guitar can be. Ron says his favorite guitar is the Strat because a Strat was his first guitar. Little wonder his own Strat builds are as good as they are. This man loves the guitars with his name on them as though they were his children. And they are his children, in a way. According to Ron Kirn, the golden rule of guitar building is to build each guitar as though it would be the last one you ever got to build.
Use the name Ron Kirn with a dot and a com and you can go to his personal website. There is a huge amount of information and knowledge to be found there. Everything is written so anyone can understand it, and there are many many images and illustrations as well. You can contact Ron right off of his website and get the process rolling to have him build your custom dream Strat. The Kirn Strats start at $1,950, and go on up depending on how beautiful you wish the guitar to be. Ron assures us the person with his or her eyes closed won't be able to tell his basic models from the most visually compelling ones. Because Ron Kirn puts his every effort into every single guitar.
What are your options in Ron Kirn custom guitars? I think the right answer here is every option. Have a look around RonKirn.com and you'll see what I'm talking about. There's also a huge lot of guitar lovers eye candy available.
Suhr Custom Classic S Swamp Ash and Maple Stratocaster
John Suhr is an ex employee of Fender. So he knows quite a lot about Fender guitars. He's his own company now, having learned all he felt he needed to from employment at one of America's great guitar manufacturing companies.
Suhr makes several levels of Stratocaster knock off guitars. All of them are very very high quality instruments. John Kirn says after a certain level of money has been spent and a certain level of care and expertise used to build a Strat guitar, the rest is all for visual aesthetic appeal. There is also a certain level of logic to the notion the smaller manufacturer can always build a better guitar. They've got a reputation to establish, and a business to build. Fender only has to maintain itself.
No one can question the competition in the Strat market is there, and is there to push boundaries of build quality. Fender can afford to sell a lemon here and there. Their reputation will barely feel a slight when someone complains in forums on the web. Suhr guitars garner no complaints. What is important is consumers know there are many options, and they should always go with what fits their hands, ears, and wallets.
As a connoisseur of kicking tires in guitar stores, and reading guitar forums, it is my duty to report not just my opinions, but also prevailing ones whether I share them, or not. The prevailing notion of Suhr Strats is not that they are better than Fender American Standard. Nope, the notion is they are better than even Fender Custom Shop Strats. And that's just the base model Suhr Strat. Spend for the top shelf ones, and you'll make everyone envious of you.
If the money is no big hurdle for you, and you want to own one of the best non-Fender Strats on the market, then the Suhr Classic or the Suhr Classic Pro would be a sure way to go.
New Suhr Custom Classic
Suhr Classic Pro SSS Electric Guitar
Tom Anderson S Body Guitars
Tom Anderson Guitars
Tom Anderson had been an employee of Schecter guitars until he felt he had all he needed to go into business for himself. The Thomas Anderson Guitar company is another fine capitalist American story of a guy who had what it took, went all out with it, and is having great success.
Fine American guitars are things which often increase in value over the years. Fine guitars are not like automobiles which get used up before you pay for them in full. Fine American guitars like Tom Anderson guitars are heirloom quality works of art in and of themselves, and also tools to be used to create further works of art with.
Tom Anderson Guitars make five models of Strat-like guitar. Some are much more Stratocaster clones than others. The Drop Top Classic in the image above was displayed here because the thing was just so beautiful. But the Drop Top Classic is an HSS guitar. What does HSS mean? It's the pickup configuration, i.e., humbucker, single coil, single coil. The Tom Anderson Drop Top Classic is also a flame top guitar, making it somewhat like a cross between a Les Paul and a Strat. That flame top also puts it squarely in the realm of competition against Paul Reed Smith. It's a very expensive instrument.
The Tom Anderson Icon guitar is the model which is literally a Stratocaster having a SSS pickup configuration. The Tom Anderson Icon Classic's full-sized S-body brings forth full-bodied vintage tonalities—gargantuan and uninhibited—due to its Anderson-selected Alder body wood and meticulous handling and holding of every detail throughout the entire creation process.
Again, these small manufacturers have a lot more hands on the instrument time during the instrument's creation. They also have a lot more interest in seeing to it the consumer gets the very finest possible guitar for the money.