The Fender Stratocaster, commonly known simply as the ‘Strat’, is one of the most recognizable and popular electric guitar designs of all time. It would be difficult to overstate how important the Strat has been in music since it was first introduced by Leo Fender in 1954. Vintage Stratocasters made in the 50s and 60s are now among the most collectible and expensive instruments in the world.
With its double-cutaway body, contoured back, three single-coil pickups, and vibrato system (known mistakenly by many as a ‘tremolo arm’!) the Strat is just begging to be picked up and played. It has been a crucial part of many genres, particularly blues and rock, and is an incredibly versatile instrument.
One of the reasons for the Strat’s unbelievable success is that it became the go-to instrument for some of the greatest guitar players in history, some of whom are inseparably linked with the Fender Strat. In this article, we’re going to look at 10 of the most influential Fender Stratocaster players of all time!
1. Jimi Hendrix
It would seem almost wrong not to start this list with Jimi Hendrix! Considered by many to be the greatest guitarist of all time, his playing still inspires fear among other guitarists, five decades after his untimely death in 1970.
Hendrix was a left-handed guitar player and he famously turned a right-handed Strat upside down and restrung it rather than using a conventional left-handed guitar. Many consider this to be one of the reasons why his sound is so difficult to emulate accurately.
Combined with a Marshall amp and a wah-wah pedal or a Fuzz Face, Hendrix used the Strat to create some of the most awe-inspiring, iconic guitar riffs of all time.
For the ultimate rock guitar tour de force, check out Voodoo Child (Slight Return). Or to hear Hendrix’s more melodic side, listen to The Wind Cries Mary or Little Wing to hear some of his signature clean R’n’B style playing.
2. Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton earned the nickname ‘God’ thanks to his innovative guitar playing in numerous bands in 1960’s London (seriously – Google it!).
In a career straddling pure blues, pop, rock, reggae, acoustic, and even some jazz, Clapton remains one of the most commercially successful great guitarists of all time.
Although his early years, in bands like Cream or John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, saw him using Gibson-style guitars, he switched to using Fender Strats almost exclusively in the early 1970s.
His playing is authentically rooted in the blues tradition which he loves and connects with listeners because rather than overplaying, he tends to ‘speak’ through the guitar and play in a melodic and balanced way.
Check out ‘Layla’ for one of the great Strat riffs, or ‘Bad Love’ – this writer’s favorite Clapton riff!
3. Mark Knopfler (Dire Staits)
After working as a journalist, legendary electric guitarist Mark Knopfler’s band Dire Straits achieved major success upon the release of their debut album in 1978.
Featuring their signature song ‘Sultans of Swing’, it propelled Knopfler to guitar-god status overnight.
Using a clean Stratocaster sound with his unique fingerstyle technique and incredible sense of melody, the solos on Sultans of Swing remain some of the most incredible pieces of guitar playing ever.
Through his long and varied career in Dire Straits and then as a solo artist, Knopfler has used many different types of guitar, for many, he is inseparable from the distinctive red strat (inspired by Hank Marvin) he used in his early years.
For a more recent example of his inimitable Strat playing, check out What It Is from his album Sailing to Philadelphia.
4. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
Decades have passed since his groundbreaking work with Pink Floyd, and yet for many, famous british guitarist, David Gilmour remains the most melodic and atmospheric guitar player in rock.
Armed with his signature all-black Stratocaster with white pickups and maple fingerboard, Gilmour recorded some of the most beautiful solos imaginable – just listen to Comfortably Numb!
Known for his willingness to experiment with effects and various ways to manipulate his guitar sound, Gilmour has used the Strat to its full effect both in Pink Floyd and in his solo career. For another great example of his playing, check out the awesome slide solo on High Hopes.
5. Jeff Beck
Described by some as the ‘guitarist’s guitarist,’ Jeff Beck was one of the most versatile and distinct guitarists around, performing well into his 70s, almost 60 years after his first recording work was released in 1964.
Beck has one of the most recognizable guitar sounds in music, thanks in large part to his use of the Fender Strat.
Known for having heaps of nuance in his playing, Beck played with a unique fingerstyle approach and has an incredible way of using the Strats vibrato arm to give his playing a vocal-like quality, controlling the pitch of each note in ways not possible using conventional technique.
Check out Behind the Veil for a great example of his playing.
6. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Despite his tragic death in 1990 at the age of only 35, Stevie Ray Vaughan has achieved eternal status as one of the greatest guitarists to ever touch the instrument.
His technique seemingly knew no limits, and guitarists still obsess over trying to nail his exact tone – the basic components of which were a Fender Strat, an Ibanez Tubescreamer pedal, and a Fender Super Reverb amp.
Using notoriously heavy strings and playing with an incredible amount of intensity, SRV’s playing remains unmatched. Check out Scuttle Buttin’ for some jaw-dropping blues guitar playing!
7. Eddie Van Halen
Easily one of the most virtuosic musicians of all time, Eddie Van Halen elevated guitar playing technique in the late 70s and early 80s beyond what many would have believed possible.
His two-handed tapping part on ‘Eruption’ remains a perennial rite of passage for all budding rock guitar players, and his jaw-dropping guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s smash hit ‘Beat It’ remains one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded.
Unlike the other players on this list, EVH didn’t use a typical Stratocaster but instead used one which had been heavily modified to suit the style and sound he was going for, now known famously as his ‘Frankenstrat’ featuring a Floyd-Rose tremolo system and humbucking pickup.
8. John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Joining the Red Hot Chili Peppers at age 18, John Frusciante’s creative and virtuosic guitar playing helped catapult the band into superstardom – they are still the most successful alternative rock group of all time.
After some wilderness years, Frusciante is currently beginning his third stint with the band, with new music coming out this year followed by a world tour.
Intrinsically associated with a beat-up Sunburst 1962 Strat, Frusciante’s playing sways between melodic, funky clean riffs into wildly distorted, wah-drenched solos at the drop of a hat.
Voted the greatest guitarist of the past 30 years by a BBC poll, he has influenced countless young guitarists to pick up a guitar (and probably take their shirt off!).
9. Nile Rodgers
Armed with his white 1960 Fender Stratocaster (which bears the nickname ‘The Hitmaker’), Nile Rodgers has had an influence on music that is nearly impossible to fathom – not just as a guitarist but also as a songwriter and producer.
From his early work with Chic through to his more recent work with Daft Punk, his discography is huge – it seems like there is almost no one Rodgers hasn’t worked with!
Using his Strat, he produces a distinctive ‘chucking’ style of funk guitar playing which is instantly recognizable and has propelled many songs straight to the top of charts across the globe.
10. The Edge (U2)
Unlike many of the other players on this list, the Edge isn’t exclusively a Strat player – he has used almost every major style of electric guitar at some stage in his career!
However, some of the most famous U2 guitar parts were recorded on a Strat – check out Where The Streets Have No Name, Bad, or Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.
Known primarily as a ‘for the song’ player and not one for flashy solos, The Edge is nonetheless one of the most original and influential guitarists ever and the Fender Strat has helped him achieve that status.
His combination of a Strat into a Memory Man delay pedal into a Vox AC30 makes for one of the most brilliant, chimey and recognizable guitar sounds in music.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Fender Strat Guitarists
As you can see, the fender strat is one of the most recognizable and popular guitars of all time.
From its humble beginnings to some of the biggest stadiums in the world, it’s become one of the most familiar sites on stages all over the world.
And this list of amazing musicians to have used it is way longer than these 10 guitarists too. Who did we miss off? Let us know and we’ll be sure to add them in.