Vintage Vault: 1961 Fender Stratocaster

The classic combo of this '61 Fender Strat and a Vibrolux from the same year is the fantasy rig for many traditional blues players, but it's a team-up that truly opens a world of versatile tones.

It was the Jazzmaster’s year in sales, but the Strat stood strong.

Seven years after its introduction, the Fender Stratocaster's advanced features were still boasted about in the1961–1962 Fender catalog, even though the Jazzmaster had taken its spot as the flagship model. Here's how the Strat was described: “The many remarkable design features incorporated in the Stratocaster, including many 'Fender Firsts,' have resulted in making it the choice of many of the country's leading musicians. It features the advanced neck design, the contoured curves of the body, the improved adjustable pickups, the new method of tone control, the mechanical bridge, the surface-mounted plug receptacle, and one of the most outstanding Fender developments—the exclusive Fender built-in tremolo."

By 1959 the entire Fender electric guitar line was revamped to include rosewood fretboards, giving the guitars a fresh, refined look as they entered the new decade.

Up until 1958, all Fender guitars sported one-piece maple necks—at least since the Broadcaster of 1950. The Jazzmaster, which debuted in '58, introduced a separate rosewood fretboard which did not show wear as easily as lacquer-finished maple. With this new design, the truss rods were put in from the top before the fretboard was glued on, doing away with the need for the skunk stripe on the back of the neck, and the small plug at the bottom of the headstock. By 1959 the entire Fender electric guitar line was revamped to include rosewood fretboards, giving the instruments a fresh, refined look as they entered the new decade.

A signature of Fender guitars and basses from the 1950s and through the mid '60s is the so called “spaghetti" logo, named for the pasta-like look of its lettering. This headstock also has two patent numbers and a note about its “synchronized tremolo" bridge.

The 1961 Strat pictured is finished in classic three-color sunburst (red was added to the two-color sunburst in 1958) and has the typical features associated with that year. These include a maple neck with a separate slab-rosewood fretboard, clay dot inlays, and a small headstock with a “spaghetti" Fender logo decal including two patent numbers. It has the usual greenish nitrate 3-ply pickguard with a metal shielding plate underneath (which replaced the 1-ply white guard in 1959). The 1961 list price was $289.50. The current value for one in excellent all-original condition is $20,000.

This Stratocaster is in excellent condition, with few body marks and a clean pickguard and electronics. All Strats came with the company's 3-way pickup selector until 1977, when the 5-way switch became the Fender standard, although mods were popular for many years before that.

Behind the Strat is a 1961 Vibrolux amp. The tremolo-equipped amp was upgraded that year from having tweed covering, two 6V6 power tubes, and a 10" Jensen speaker to having brown Tolex covering, two 6L6 power tubes, and a 12" Oxford speaker. The 6L6 tubes increased the power to about 30 watts. The original version was only 10 watts. The 1961 list price was $199.50. The current value for the amp is $2,500.

Sources for this article include The Fender Stratocaster by A.R. Duchossoir, The Stratocaster Chronicles by Tom Wheeler, Fender: The Sound Heard 'Round the World by Richard R. Smith, and Fender Amps: The First 50 Years by John Teagle and John Sprung.

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