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5 Best Signature or Artist Series Fender Stratocasters

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Probably 80's era Buddy Guy..with his signature polka dot Fender Stratocaster

Probably 80's era Buddy Guy..with his signature polka dot Fender Stratocaster

Fender Stratocaster: The Ultimate Guitar

The Fender Stratocaster is one of the three most iconic solid body electric guitars. And one of the other two is also a Fender. The Strat is just curvy, sexy, and has always reminded me of a Chevrolet Corvette. It's the curves, the flashy colors. And the way the Strat is often played fast and flashy.

But the Fender Stratocaster is the ultimate in utilitarian solid body design. It can be and is used to play every sort of music under the Sun. It can also be endlessly customized. But Fender Strats right from the factory are always damned good guitars already.

The Stratocaster from the very start was destined to become an iconic instrument, and to also attract iconic musicians to it. The list of great guitarists who've played the Strat is too long to list. The Stratocaster has been continuously manufactured since its debut year of 1954. Along the way somewhere the signature series instruments became stylish and expanded to where it is today. Anyone who was ever any good, or ever known for playing a guitar now has a signature series instrument with some company or another.

This article's purpose is to present what I think are 5 of the best Fender Stratocaster signature series or artist series instruments. Of course I know what I think best here is an opinion, but it is at least a qualified opinion.

Buddy Guy with his iconic polka dot Strat

Buddy Guy with his iconic polka dot Strat

Buddy Guy: King of Blues Guitar

We lost the great B.B. King last year. He was the King of the Blues. But when a King dies he is replaced on the throne. Who else but Buddy Guy could possibly be the King of the Blues today? Buddy Guy has been around and playing guitar for a long, long time.

He's won six Grammy awards, but is still underappreciated. He's been honored by George W. Bush, and has prompted President Obama to sing, very famously, "Sweet Home Chicago." Every single last one of those hippies from the late '60s and '70s, from Clapton to the late Hendrix owe a debt to Guy. His lightning licks are so often repeated by younger guitarists, he'd be a billionaire if he got a penny every time someone copied him.

But Buddy Guy knows music belongs to everyone, and rarely is all original. Buddy learned from his elder musicians too. And so it goes on and on. Buddy Guy is from Louisiana, but moved to Chicago from the South to look for better opportunities. He became known as a total wild man as a performer. He's still pretty wild today when he performs, and he's still out there touring.

When Hendrix hit the scene, people thought Jimi was the most original and wild thing they'd ever seen. He was original, he was wild, but he was really just doing an update on a lot of what Buddy had already done. When Buddy moved to Chicago and started playing the Blues in the clubs he had had a Gibson Les Paul. Someone stole it from him, and he replaced it with a Stratocaster. Buddy says he got a Strat because he'd seen Guitar Slim playing one, and he liked how if you dropped it, it stayed in tune.

Buddy Guy and the Polka-Dot Strat

Guitarists as long lived and with so much varied material as Buddy has often have lots of guitars. Buddy certainly does, but more often than not, he's playing one of his Fender Strats. The music of buddy Guy is loud, brash, abrasive, aggressive, and did I mention loud? Buddy wings it constantly. Sometimes you crash and wreck a little, sometimes something supremely beautiful happens. Buddy Guy doesn't believe in rules or formats. His playing is impulsive, emotional, and powerful. He often had help, and in the name of Junior Wells, his collaborator in chief.

Not every Buddy Guy Stratocaster will be polka-dot, but the most of them you see will be. As a total icon of the Strat, Buddy is well entitled to have several different signature series or artist series guitars. What makes the polka-dot Buddy Guy Stratocaster so awesome is how affordable they are. These are going new for $899. These guitars are built in Mexico, and that goes a long way towards explaining their affordability. On, these guitars are listed as weighing 13 pounds. I find that incredible. I think the only way that could be true is for the weight to be the weight of it shipped in its hard-shell case.

Buddy Guy Signature Fender Stratocaster

  • Solid alder body
  • 21 frets
  • Maple neck with soft V shape
  • Dot inlays
  • Medium-jumbo frets
  • Fender/Gotoh vintage-style tuning machines
  • Vintage-style synchronized tremolo
  • Black plastic parts
Yngwie Malmsteen with some of his Fender Strats

Yngwie Malmsteen with some of his Fender Strats

Yngwie Malmsteen and the Birth of Shred

Yngwie Malmsteen isn't a kid any more. He's definitely a metal veteran now. I remember when he lit up the guitar scene all over the world with his unique and over-blown shredding style. I'm not sure whether the term shredding had ever been used before Malmsteen came along.

Oh there had always been guys who could play very very fast, but Yngwie's style was to cram as many notes as humanely possible into every guitar solo. Yes, his music is very melodic. You may or may not agree with me that he's over-doing it. It's a matter of taste, and Yngwie was the first to do things the way he's still doing them. He's not picking but every 3rd note or so, he relies heavily on hammer-on and pull-off and slides in his technique. He's a master of technique for sure.

When Malmsteen came along everyone was copying Edward Van Halen's style. What Malmsteen's style was, was kinda a European take on the guitar hero. He brought a lot of classical sensibility to his playing. Randy Rhoads was the neo-classical original. Malmsteen brought his Euro-sensibilities to it all. Malmsteen will tell you he was a devotee of Ritchie Blackmore.

Yngwie and the Scalloped Fretboard

The Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster has a scalloped fretboard. Malmsteen prefers that because the early Italian lutes had a scalloped fretboard. Anyone who is shopping for guitars needs to find out first hand whether or not they can do the deal with the scalloped fretboard before they go about purchasing one of these guitars. It would take some getting used to. Be certain you know what you are in for here, should you decide to purchase a Malmsteen Strat. You can get the Malmsteen Strat with a rosewood fretboard, but this too will be scalloped.

The Malmsteen Strat is unique in other ways. The headstock is larger than are standard Strat headstocks these days. Malmsteen claims this gives his guitars more sustain. He could possibly be correct in that. He's also using custom pickups, and he boogers the controls to his liking as well. As so many of today's young guitar guys are playing music which wouldn't exist were it not for Malmsteen's influence, I thought he' needed inclusion here.

Yngwie J. Malmsteen Signature Fender Stratocaster

  • Body: Alder
  • Neck: Maple, Modern "C" Shape, (Nitrocellulose Lacquer Finish)
  • Fingerboard: Scalloped Rosewood (p/n 01 0-7100) or Scalloped Maple (pin 010-71 02), 9.5" radius (241 mm)
  • Frets: 21 Dunlop 6000 Super-Jumbo Frets
  • Scale Length: 25.5" (648 mm)
  • Nut Width: Brass Nut, 1.650" (42 mm)
  • Hardware: Chrome
  • Machine Heads: Fender Vintage "F" Style Tuning Machines
  • Bridge: American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo
  • Pickguard: 3-Ply WBW
  • Pickup Configuration: S/S/S
  • Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan STK-S10B YJM Fury Pickup (Bridge)
  • Middle Pickup: Seymour Duncan STK-S10N YJM Fury Pickup (Middle)
  • Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan STK-S10N YJM Fury Pickup (Neck)
  • Pickup Switching: 3-Position Blade
  • Position 1. Bridge Pickup
  • Position 2. Middle Pickup
  • Position 3. Neck Pickup
  • Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. No-Load Tone Control (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. No-Load Tone Control (Bridge and Middle Pickups)
  • Colors: (809) Candy Apple Red, (841) Vintage White, (872) Sonic Blue [Polyurethane Finish)
  • Strings: Fender Super Bullets 3250L, Nickel Plated Steet, (.009 to ,042), p/n 073-3250-003
  • Unique Features: Scalloped Fingerboard, pickups, machine screw neck mounting
  • Source: US.
  • Includes case
The Fender American Elite HSS Shawbucker

The Fender American Elite HSS Shawbucker

Tim Shaw and the Shawbucker

This is not an artist series or signature series Strat. So what gives? It is one of the hottest Strats on the market. The Fender American Elite HSS Shawbucker is one of the most desirable, if not the single most desirable of all Fender Strats.

Who is Tim Shaw? Tim is an industry big shot. He's an engineer. He designs pickups for guitars, and fancier electronics than normal. The American Elite Shawbucker is just under two thousand bucks.

What does HSS mean? HSS stands for 'humbucker - single coil -single coil. It is the pickup configuration on the guitar. The Tim Shaw humbucker is in the bridge position, then there are single coil pickups in the middle and the treble or neck position.

The finer things in life are not without some economic costs. And anytime Fender calls something 'elite,' you had best be prepared to either dig deep, or settle for something more like what all your friends play. This guitar is fancy. The electronics are superior, and superb. They are also very atypical.

The Shawbucker humbucking pickup isn't the only elite pickup on the guitar. The two single coils are well above and beyond stock pickups, in fact, they are as premium as can be found on any shore. Then, there are a total of 10 positions for pickup configurations you can choose from. Have at it, ladies and fellas, it doesn't get any better than this.

Fender American Elite Stratocaster HSS Electric Guitar

  • Fender noiseless single-coil pickups (4th generation) in neck and middle positions
  • Shawbucker bridge humbucker delivers vintage-styled beefiness
  • S-1 switching provides 10 pickup options for exciting new tones
  • Passing Lane button bypasses tone and volume pots for controlled chaos
  • Select alder body for light weight and a punchy, balanced sound
  • C-shaped compound maple neck with a fast satin finish and heel contour
  • Maple fretboard provides a woody tone and quick response
  • Tremolo bridge adds texture to chords and leads
  • High-mass saddles for added chime and sustain
  • Locking tuners for tuning stability and quick string changes
Jimi Hendrix played the Strat almost exclusively

Jimi Hendrix played the Strat almost exclusively

Jimi Hendrix: Godfather of the Strat

Jimi Hendrix played the Fender Strat almost exclusively. He's more closely tied to the instrument than even Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck are. Although both of those two guys play Strats almost exclusively too, they didn't do so until later in their careers.

Hendrix, of course, didn't have a long career. While he may or may not have been murdered by his manager, Jimi was at least somewhat complicit in his death by taking or drinking whatever he did to become so wasted he got wasted.

You hear people say someone 'exploded onto the scene.' Well, Hendrix did that. Maybe he inspired the phrase. Clapton and Beck were already established stars, then Jimi shows up and outdoes them both to such an extent it was awe inspiring. Jimi was, in fact, only channeling Buddy Guy and presenting Buddy's shtick in an updated format. Basically, he was just younger, employed (initially with the Experience) two white guys to back him, and he started writing poetic songs with very catchy hooks while doing something far above and beyond in the live setting.

The Hendrix Experience was so inspiring persons who don't play guitar all think of Jimi as one of, or possibly the greatest guitarist of all time. He's not that, but he put on such a show his reputation is now and has always been larger than life.

Designing Hendrix: The Lefty/Righty Dilemma

Sometimes people think Jimi took a typical right handed Strat and played it upside down. This isn't entirely true, because Jimi strung the thing up for left handed play. You can buy a Jimi Hendrix Strat any time you buy a right handed Strat and play it left handed. But if you are right handed what do you do? You buy a right handed Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster, which is a left handed Strat flipped upside down and strung up for right handed play. Simple.

But Hendrix was missing out on some of the Strat's utility by flipping a right handed one upside down. The cutaways were all wrong. The top of the typical Strat has an extended cutaway designed for balance. So today's Jimi Hendrix Strat is a right handed Strat with the upside down headstock. That is all that it is. The aesthetic is one meant to honor Hendrix. That's my take on the thing.

The Hendrix Strats are very affordable. There is a version selling new for just $599. There is a better version selling for $899. Then, there is the American made tribute Strat with all the details attended to, and all the bells and whistles for $2,699. So far as I am aware, Hendrix used maple fretboards exclusively. The maple fretboard provides a bit of a brighter tonality.

Fender Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster Electric Guitar

  • Stratocaster with Hendrix-inspired appointments
  • Reverse headstock optimizes string tension
  • American Vintage '65 pickups offer clear single-coil tone
  • Reverse bridge pickup enhances upper harmonics
  • 9.5" fretboard radius is great for string bending
  • C-shape neck is extremely comfortable
  • Gig bag included
Mark Knopfler plays the Strat with his thumb and fingers

Mark Knopfler plays the Strat with his thumb and fingers

Mark Knopfler: Fingerstyle on the Strat

These days guitarists left and right are ditching the plectrums and leaving them behind in favor of just using what the good Lord felt like giving them. Meaning, of course, their thumb and their fingers. It's going on all over.

Used to be everyone who played electric guitar used a pick. Nowadays, not so much. I'm uncertain as to what role Mark Knopfler played in all of this, but I am certain he was doing it that way long before it was cool or normal. Mark was picking with his thumb and fingers a long time before Jeff Beck started doing it. He's a trend setter in this way. But Mark is more than just a musician, that was enough, as it were - but he's also a gentleman and a scholar.

Dire Straits was the band Mark was most famous for being the singer and guitarist for, but he also played alongside Eric Clapton for some years. I had always thought Mark a rather typical Englishman. He is an Englishman, but his roots are Hungarian and Jewish. Mark is left handed. Still, he plays the guitar right handed.

Besides being known for playing a Fender Stratocaster, and with his thumb and fingers - Knopfler is known for playing clean. Just the guitar plugged into an amplifier. Little effects used, if any, is his style.

Mark Knopfler: Dinosaur Rocker

Mark Knopfler is an interesting person for sure. Besides being a renowned singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He's in love with classical hot rods. Those classic muscle cars are rather easy to fall in love with. He's also got an actual dinosaur named after him. No joke. The Masiakasaurus Knopfleri was discovered by a scientist while listening to Dire Straits.

The Mark Knopfler signature Stratocaster is not currently in production. You will have to get yours second hand from someone. I'm pricing them used online for about $1,100. They are all famously red, and with rosewood fretboards. Here are the other specifications for these instruments:

Fender Mark Knopfler Signature Stratocaster (not in production)

  • Color - Hot Rod Red (nitro-cellulose lacquer finish)
  • Body - Comfort contoured '57 lightweight ash body
  • Neck - Vintage tinted '62 maple neck, "C" shape (nitrocellulose lacquer finish)
  • Fingerboard - Rosewood (7.25" radius)
  • No. of Frets - 21 Medium Jumbo nickel silver frets
  • Pickups - 3 Texas Special single-coil strat pickups
  • Controls - Master Volume, Tone 1 (neck pickup), Tone 2 (middle pickup)
  • Pickup Switching - 5-Position Blade
  • Bridge - American Vintage Synchronized Tremolo
  • Machine heads - Fender/Gotoh Vintage Style tuning machines
  • Hardware - Chrome
  • Pickguard - 3-ply, 11-hole, Mint Green
  • Scale length - 25.5"
  • Width at nut - 1.625"
  • Unique Features - Dot inlays, transitional decal, Mark Knopfler signature on ball of headstock

Questions & Answers

Question: The Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster is thought by just about everyone to be the best Fender Sig Strat you can buy. I am surprised it is not mentioned. Why not?

Answer: First of all, you are 100% correct with the general opinion, and I agree with that as well. Also, it should be mentioned there are several Eric Johnson Strats to talk about. I've yet to write a page about the all of them, but I did, for the purpose of comparing top notch Fender Signature Strats, write a page where I compare the Stevie Ray Vaughan Sig to the Fender Artist Series Eric Johnson Stratocaster with Rosewood Fingerboard.

Here's a link to that.

Question: Is the Mark Knopfler fender available for sale?

Answer: Yes they are, you would have to look for them though. Sweetwater had one for sale not too long ago, but I believe that Reverb is the best place to hunt for something like that.

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 28, 2017:

How's the scalloped fret-board? That's the thing I've always wanted to see how I felt about. I've never got to see one of those in guitar store. Sooner or later I'll run into one and get to feel it out.

Oh I'm sure the guy can pick better than most. But why would you even bother when you're going for speed, and at such a tempo a hammer on or pull off is indistinguishable?

Andrew Carvin on March 27, 2017:

Hello Wes, I really liked this article. I have the shawbucker strat and the YJM signature. I think Yngwie totally overdoes it and is a one trick pony, but the strat is a dream to play.

I had a question - did I read it right when you said that he only pics every third note or so? I don't think that's accurate, he plays long runs where literally every note is picked. The lead from I'll See The Light Tonight is a good example. If nothing else, watch the video - it's so ridiculously over the top that you will laugh your ass off! Anyway - take care, again, it was a fun read!

eibela on April 25, 2016:

thanks for sharing this post

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on April 24, 2016:

Haha! Thanks Billy and richestrooted, I'm really more of a hoarder. I started buying guitar magazines in the 80s and I never threw any away! So I've got a magazine library going on over here :)

richestrooted from Chicago on April 24, 2016:


Dr Billy Kidd from Sydney, Australia on April 24, 2016:

Wow. You're like the Almanac of Rock N Roll, Wess.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on April 24, 2016:

Thanks Jesse!

Last year or so they came out with one Strat model with 'memory cards' you put in the back which change the pickup functions. So you can make your strat more 'metal' or more 'country twang.' That sort of thing. Wild stuff!

Guitar making just gets better and better. But when you got a good one, you never need to replace it.

The Write Life from The United States on April 24, 2016:

Really enjoyed reading this article Wesman, brings me back to the time when I got my first American Standard. Wish I still had it. Good job explaining the whole guitar stringing thing with Hendrix, plus I enjoyed the various write ups about the legends. Long live the Strat!