The Stratocaster is an iconic electric guitar loved by many musicians and guitarists. But, not everyone has heard of one of its variations—the “Super Stratocaster,” commonly known as “SuperStrat.”
The term Stratocaster originated directly from its primary manufacturer, Fender. It has been used to label any electric guitar that resembles Fender’s original and iconic masterpiece’s body shape.
Fender and Gibson have filed numerous lawsuits against other guitar manufacturers for copying their classic guitar designs. As a result, it is now acceptable to have a guitar with a body shape similar to theirs but with different headstock shapes, logos, artwork, and names.
On the other hand, the “SuperStrats” are newer and enhanced guitars that mimic the original Fender Stratocaster shape but are not claimed as a replica version.
SuperStrats also refer to guitars with enhancements such as better neck woods, stainless steel frets, Floyd Rose tremolo systems, and premium inlays.
The term applies to any exceptional electric guitar with an upgrade on its electronics, wood, neck, and finish, all based on a genuine Stratocaster body.
In this article, I will be discussing what a SuperStrat is, including its significant distinction from an original Fender Stratocaster. I will also include a list of the best SuperStrats ever made.
What Is A SuperStrat?
A SuperStrat is an upgraded and customized version of the Fender Stratocaster. It is an electric guitar with an identical design to a Fender Stratocaster but with upgraded high-performance components.
Brief History About The SuperStrats
The authentic Fender Stratocaster is one of the all-time most popular electric guitars. During its debut back in 1954, it was viewed as a novel and a futuristic instrument. Unfortunately, nowadays, most guitarists take the Stratocaster’s double-cutaway and contoured body design for granted.
During the 1950s, Jazz and Country guitarists favored them because of their three pickups and deep sound options. The Stratocaster also made headway in early rock and roll thanks to players like Buddy Holly.
Throughout the 1960s, as more rock, surf, and blues guitarists turned to the Stratocaster, it continued to solidify its position as the preferred instrument by many guitarists.
By the decade’s end, a young man named Jimi Hendrix used the Stratocaster in ways no one had ever imagined. He could generate sounds no man has ever produced in a Stratocaster.
Even though the original Stratocaster model might still be regarded as one of the most prominent guitars ever manufactured today, the emergence of heavy metal in the 1970s made the SuperStrat more preferred than its stock version.
Heavy Metal And SuperStrats
The metal genre required a more aggressive sound, sustain, speed, and stable tuning system. This is why most guitarists found what they needed in electric guitars from Gibson SG and Les Paul models in the early years of hard rock and metal. They can generate metal and hard rock tones excellently. However, it still lacks the Stratocaster’s airy, effortless feel.
During that time, guitarists started experimenting with their electric guitars. Eddi Van Halen was a notable and highly recognized experimenter who assembled his Stratocaster from aftermarket and scrap components, added a custom overwound Gibson PAF humbucker, and arguably produced the most popular SuperStrat ever.
Guitarists started dissecting Eddie’s Stratocaster setup, and as his fame grew, more players began to imitate his sound. The SuperStrat immediately took off after this.
To make their Strats faster, leaner, and meaner, guitarists started upgrading and enhancing their Stratocasters. Soon after, guitar manufacturers began creating readily available instruments with all the shredder-friendly features.
Significant Distinctions Between Stratocasters And SuperStrats
Stratocasters Vs. SuperStrats: Body Design And Structure
Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see the Fender Stratocaster’s double-cutaway design. But, back in 1954, it was widely considered unique and futuristic.
The Stratocaster was released during the era of prominent and hollow-bodied Jazz guitars. A few years after the Stratocaster’s debut, the solid-bodied and single-cutaway Telecaster was introduced.
Following the success of the Stratocaster’s body, many other guitar manufacturers did the same design and style with their models, including the renowned Gibson SG, which was initially designed as a double-cutaway replacement for the Les Paul.
Numerous electric guitars with double-cutaway designs identical to the Fender Stratocaster are available today. These guitar models include some with vintage designs, some specifically for metal music, and most with a mixture and balance.
The primary criterion is that SuperStrats has the traditional Fender profile. Tonewoods are a matter of personal preference, though historically, the Stratocaster commonly has an alder body and maple neck. It must also have a 25.5-inch scale length, double-cutaway design, and bolt-on neck.
Most of the electronics on Stratocasters are attached to the pickguard, making replacements incredibly simple. Even pre-loaded pickguards with your desired pickups and electronics are widely available.
Although most SuperStrats are designed this way, some still lack pickguards and don’t house their electronics in the body’s cavity. SuperStrat owners insist that pickups mounted directly to the guitar body sound better. This matter highly depends on their preference for both tones and aesthetics. One of the significant hallmarks of SuperStrats is a humbucker at the bridge pickup position.
Stratocasters Vs SuperStrats: Bridge
A stock Fender Stratocaster features two kinds of bridges. The first bridge is a vintage design, which securely fastens the bridge to the guitar body using six screws. The second bridge is a slightly more contemporary two-point design, supported by two substantial screws that act as pivot points for the bridge. The principle behind both bridges is the same: by moving the tremolo arm, a group of springs inside the guitar body is pulled or loosened.
When it first appeared in the 1950s, the Fender Tremolo was a clever device designed to provide a subtle vibrato effect during playing sessions. This bridge performs exceptionally and maintains tune flawlessly if your Stratocaster is set up correctly. But in the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix demonstrated some uses of the Fender Tremolo that even the company’s founder never imagined.
After a decade, Eddie Van Halen and his supporters were frustrated in maintaining the tuning while executing major bends and dived bombs on their Stratocaster. Some people, like Eddie, mastered setting up their Stratocasters so they would return to their pitch, but they were using improper tools. The late 1970s saw the first of many attempts to address this issue in the guitar world.
The double-locking Floyd Rose is one of the impressive bridges the Kahler company has made and continues to make. Friction at the bridge saddles and nut is why Stratocasters go out of tune. The string moves over these pieces when engaging the vibrato and doesn’t return to the same spot, putting it slightly out of tune.
The Floyd Rose bridge securely locks the strings at the bridge and nut, so there will be no movement, and the tuning remains rock solid. This helped change the playing field for metal and shredders.
Players could do anything with a Floyd Rose-equipped Stratocaster. Some guitarists believe that your Stratocaster would still retain its tune regardless if you accidentally drop them on a stair with a few steps.
Some guitarists favor SuperStrats with hardtails, while others who prefer having a tremolo tend to select the Floyd Rose.
Stratocasters Vs. SuperStrats: Neck And Fretboard
Over the years, the number of Fender’s neck designs increased. They ranged from thin necks to looking more like baseball bats. The Stratocaster has always been a lighter, easier-to-play alternative than its main competitors, the Les Paul and SG, but shredders seeking maximum speed are still aiming for more.
Numerous experienced guitarists who’ve tried a lot of stock Stratocasters testify that they are outstanding. However, other electric guitar manufacturers raised the standard for creating necks and fingerboards designed for speed and accuracy. For instance, Ibanez is a guitar manufacturer renowned for their guitar’s thin and comfortable necks.
Compound radius fretboards are often utilized in SuperStrats. The width of the fretboard, from high E string to low E string, is rounded and known as the fretboard radius. These fretboards have slightly flatter radii at the body joint and rounder radii at the nut, making them ideal for soloing and precise playing.
Your choice of fretboard should vary on your personal preferences. Fender’s one-piece-maple neck design was featured on numerous vintage SuperStrats. There are now models with rosewood, ebony, and other tonewoods.
Finally, some SuperStrats use a two-octave and 24-fret fingerboard, but these features aren’t necessary. Stock Stratocaster necks are already highly comfortable, but SuperStrats excel beyond by having thinner and faster neck profiles.
Stratocasters Vs SuperStrats: Pickups
The basic Fender Stratocaster features three single-coil pickups. For many players, this pickup design predates the Stratocaster’s invention and is everything all musicians need in a guitar.
Modern Stratocasters are equipped with five-position switches that enable five distinct guitar tones, making this component gain popularity and positive feedback in the guitar world. Whether you play blues, rock, or country, one of these tones will work for you.
As expected, single-coil pickups also have some drawbacks. They generate low output and vintage tones rather than modern tones. If you are a guitarist specializing in Metal or Hard Rock music, you will need more than just a single-coil pickup. You should get a humbucker, at least for the bridge position.
Because of this limitation, Eddie Van Halen and various guitarists began installing Gibson pickups on their Stratocasters. You have various options if you want to upgrade to a high-output pickup for additional power on your Stratocaster.
When choosing a stock SuperStrat from top brands like Jackson, Charvel, and Ibanez, it is crucial to consider its pickups. There are countless options, from warm, natural pickups like the Seymour Duncan JB to high-performing, active pickups like EMGs. The critical point is that your Stratocaster must feature a top-performing and practical bridge pickup to be classified as a SuperStrat.
Fender single-coil pickups are excellent for many uses, but you need something more potent for metal and complex rock music.
Stratocasters Vs. SuperStrats: Tonewood
The Fender Stratocaster and SuperStrat vary in the type of body wood they generally utilize. Alder or Ash is the standard body wood used by Fender Stratocasters.
Ash comes in two varieties: soft and complex, and Alder bodies produce a balanced sound.
SuperStrats typically employ a variety of body wood types. Because it is so lightweight, basswood is a popular choice. But heavier woods like zebrawood are occasionally used to produce an even darker and beefier tone.
Stratocasters Vs. SuperStrats: Aesthetics And Appearance
Both the Stratocaster and SuperStrat share identical body shapes. However, there are minimal differences that distinguish them from one another.
The edges are sharp and pointy in SuperStrats while the traditional Stratocaster features rounded edges. Both electric guitars also feature a different colored pickguard.
Stratocasters are often equipped with white or black pickguards and less bright and traditional colors. Contrarily, daring colored pickguards are used in Super Strat. Other models don’t come equipped with one or are usually removed by their owners.
Best SuperStrats In The Market
One of the most renowned electric guitars ever made is the Fender Stratocaster. The company has been renowned for producing top-quality and some of the best Stratocasters at a reasonable price.
Fender tried to make a mark in the metal genre. This is seen in their creation of the Heartfield Talon from 1989 to 1993. This electric guitar was built in Japan under a sub-brand, Heartfield. It showcases Fender’s attempt to manufacture a guitar that could compete among the top metal brands, including Ibanez and Jackson.
Despite being an excellent performing guitar, Heartfield didn’t get the success the Stratocasters have, which resulted in their discontinuation.
Nowadays, Fender Stratocasters, such as their Player Series models, feature humbucker pickups and a Floyd Rose Tremolo Bridge. These guitars are the closest and most comparable models to a Fender Superstratocaster.
In 2002, Fender acquired ownership over the Jackson brand and continued to design exemplary guitars. Jackson’s electric guitars are often mentioned when discussing the best heavy metal guitar brands. Jackson has two of the most notable electric guitars: the Jackson Soloist and Dinky, which both show Fender’s Stratocaster genre but with enhanced top-performing components.
In the same year, Fender also purchased Charvel, which is another renowned brand for heavy metal. The Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal and San Dimas are two of the company’s prominent models. They come equipped with a Seymour Duncan pickup, Floyd Rose tremolo bridge, jumbo-sized frets, and a compound-radius fingerboard.
Ibanez is also a top brand with the best heavy metal electric guitars. It is the only brand not under the Fender name.
The Ibanez Roadstar Guitar (RG) and solid-bodied (S) models are their most outstanding instruments. They were able to establish a reputation in the music world, specifically in the metal genre. Ibanez has been renowned for producing electric guitars with fast necks, superb pickups, and high-quality hardware.
Other Brands Noteworthy To Consider When Searching For A Super Stratocaster:
- Eddie Van Halen (EVH)
- Electric Sound Products (ESP) and Limited (LTD)
Which Is Better: The Classic Stratocaster Or Super Stratocaster?
Today, there are many metal electric guitars available on the market. The models mentioned in this article may or may not suit your preference, making it crucial to do research or test them before purchasing. Remember, what works for others may not work for you. It is highly advisable to discover other brands and understand what they can offer and whether or not they suit your playing needs.
Also, evaluate yourself on whether a Superstratocaster is best for you. Effort is required in setting up an electric guitar with low or fast-string action and maintaining a Floyd Rose Tremolo Bridge. The musical genre you specialize in or intend to play is something you should also take into consideration.
All these factors must be included in your criteria when choosing between a Superstratocaster and a classic Stratocaster.
The final verdict is that if your playing style frequently involves shredding and fast play, and if you specialize in the heavy metal genre, then purchasing a Superstratocaster is something you should consider.
On the other hand, if you are a hobbyist who occasionally plays, doesn’t significantly play the heavy metal genre, and doesn’t exert extra effort for maintenance, then getting a classic Stratocaster is your best bet.