A 1955 Fender Stratocaster in a blonde finish—a rare color for that time. The background reveals how the Fender factory looked when this guitar was built there.
“The tone of the Stratocaster is as new and different as tomorrow and is the big professional tone so long sought after by critical players.”
These words from the 1954 Fender catalog announced the arrival of what would become one of the most popular electric guitars ever. The Stratocaster was developed with input from players dissatisfied with Leo Fender’s first electric guitar, the Telecaster. The Strat’s new features included a more comfortable body shape, a bridge that allowed players to adjust the intonation for each individual string, and a vibrato system.
The new Fender model not only attracted early rock ’n’ rollers like Buddy Holly, Johnny Meeks (the legendary lead guitarist for Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps), and Ritchie Valens, but it also appealed to artists in such varied genres as Western swing (Eldon Shamblin of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys) and champagne music (Buddy Merrill of The Lawrence Welk Show). The 1955 Strat featured this month was used for years in a Wisconsin polka band called The Merri Tones.
This month’s Strat is very much like any other made in ’55. It has a one-piece maple neck with a “spaghetti” logo on the headstock, a “comfort contoured” ash body, brittle Bakelite pickup covers and knobs (replaced by a more durable plastic during 1956), and a “synchronized tremolo.” While the standard finish for a Stratocaster was a deep sunburst, this guitar has the same see-through blonde as a Telecaster. Custom color Strats were rare in the ’50s—and especially rare before 1956 when the option first appeared in the Fender catalog.
LEFT: Serial #7589 bears all the signs of a well-played Strat. RIGHT: The Stratocaster’s synchronized tremolo and contour body were radical features when the model was introduced in 1954, so it’s no surprise that each is noted on the headstock.
The Strat’s original owner bought it new in November of 1955 for $317. He was allowed a payment plan of $15.73 installments with the final amount due in May of 1957. According to the back of his sales contract, he paid off the guitar a whole year early. His polka gigs must have been good! The current market value for the guitar is $40,000.
Bought in November 1955, this Strat was purchased on an 18-month installment plan.
You’ll find a wealth of details on Fender Strats in The Fender Stratocaster by A.R. Duchossoir and The Stratocaster Chronicles: Celebrating 50 Years of the Fender Strat by Tom Wheeler.
Original price: $317 with case in 1955
Current estimated market value: $40,000
Dave ’s Guitar Shop
Dave Rogers’ collection is tended by Laun Braithwaite and Tim Mullally and is on display at:
Dave’s Guitar Shop
1227 Third Street South
La Crosse, WI 54601
Photos by Mullally and text by Braithwaite.