5 Best Signature or Artists Series Fender Stratocasters

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

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 Fender Stratocaster.


Watch, listen, and learn as Buddy Guy takes a wild solo on a Fender Strat.

The greatness of Buddy Guy and the Fender Stratocaster Buddy Guy

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 6 Grammy awards, but is still under-appreciated. 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 1970s, from Clapton to the late Hendrix owe a debt to Guy. His lightening licks are so often repeated by younger guitarist he'd be a billionaire if he got just 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.

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.

Yngwie Malmsteen with one of his Fender Strats.


Far Beyond The Sun - Yngwie Malmsteen

Yngwie Malmsteen and the scalloped fret-board

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.

The Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster has a scalloped fret-board. Malmsteen prefers that because the early Italian lutes had a scalloped fret-board. 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 head-stock is larger than are standard Strat head-stocks 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.

I'm seeing the Malmsteen Strats online for $1,699 new and $799 used. Here are the more exact specifications:

  • 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 Standard HSS Shawbucker.


A Tim Shaw Strat Review.

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.

Who is Tim Shaw? Tim is an industry big shot. He's an engineer. He designs pickups for guitars, things like that.

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 fancy electronics do not end with the pickups. There is a rather bourgeois dual 250K/500K volume potentiometer, which optimizes the tonality of each pickup switch setting by automatically running the Shawbucker bridge pickup at 500K for greater openness and brilliance, while the neck and middle pickups run at 250K for spine-tingling single-coil sparkle. Along with all the other great American Standard Stratocaster HSS features players already love, it’s a truly phenomenal new Strat experience.

The Stratocaster was more or less perfect in 1954. Well, nowadays it can be more perfect, if you will. As there are so many additional features available. Say what you will about consumerism, the guitar industries aren't involved in planned obsolescence, they are involved in forever improving the artwork that a guitar actually is. Guitars are works of art which also happen to be tools used to create musical works of art. Engineers deserve to be honored too.

The Tim Shaw HSS Shawbucker Strats are made in the USA. They are priced new from between $1,200 to $1,499. These instruments are all brand spanking new, first produced in 2015. But if you look hard you may still find some for sale used.

Jimi Hendrix played the Strat almost exclusively.


Cute Laura Cox plays the 2015 right handed Jimi Hendrix Strat.


Jimi Hendrix live Stockholm 1969 rare colour video

Jimi and 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.

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 head-stock. 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 fret-boards exclusively. The maple fretboard provides a bit of a brighter tonality.

Mark Knopfler plays the Strat with his thumb and fingers.


Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing

Mark Knopfler and his fingerstyle Strat picking.

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 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 fret-boards. Here re the other specifications for these instruments:

  • 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

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Comments 4 comments

Jesse Drzal profile image

Jesse Drzal 6 months ago from The United States

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!

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 6 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

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.

Dr Billy Kidd profile image

Dr Billy Kidd 6 months ago from Sydney, Australia

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

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 6 months ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

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 :)

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