December 16, 2003
Dan Smith Stratocaster, 1981-83
by Tom Watson
The decade of the 80s saw a tremendous number of changes in Fender, literally, from the ground up. The decade opened with Fender still under the ownership of CBS. In 1984, Fender-CBS announced that the company was for sale. The following year it was bought by what is now known as Fender-FMIC, under whose management Fender would experience a critical rebirth.
One of the high points of the decade for Fender was the 1987 introduction of the American Standard Stratocaster. This Stratocaster model would become the modern classic Strat and Fender's best selling instrument to-date. The importance of the 1987 American Standard to the survival and subsequent success of Fender-FMIC cannot be overly stressed.
The success of the Stratocaster has always required a balancing act between the past and the future. The market for these instruments demands the best of two worlds, features from the pre-CBS period that brought the Stratocaster to the forefront, and features that improve the instrument's playability and tone. Fender's success has required finding the proper balance.
The 1987 American Standard represented the finest mix of features between past and future offered by Fender in over twenty years and the market responded enthusiastically.
While George Blanda of Fender's R&D department is credited with the design implementation of the 1987 American Standard, and deservedly so, the instrument is a result of an evolution that began almost ten years before its introduction.
1979 and 1980
The 1979 25th Anniversary Stratocaster was a first and important step in the evolution that would eventually result in the '87 American Standard. The '79 Anniversary Strat incorporated features that were a marked departure from the 70s CBS model: replacement of the bullet truss rod adjustment system in favor of a return to body end adjustment; and, the replacement of the 70s three bolt neck plate attachment with a return to the classic four bolt system (and the disappearance of the "MicroTilt" adjustment system).
Bear in mind the fact that in 1979 these feature changes were unique to the anniversary model. The standard 70s three bolt, headstock truss rod bullet system continued to be made and offered by Fender as late as 1981.
1980 saw the introduction of two very important models, the "Hendrix Stratocaster" (produced only in 1980) and a model simply called the "Strat" (1980-83). The 1980 Hendrix Stratocaster is a very interesting instrument, and worthy of its own article, but its important features with respect to the Stratocaster's evolution are its four bolt neck and, like the anniversary, the abandonment of the bullet adjustment system.
The "Strat" (designed by Gregg Wilson) took things a step further by incorporating a return to a smaller, though inaccurate, pre-CBS style headstock. It also experimented with a new bridge pickup, the X-1, and a new pickup switching system that allowed it to access nine different pickup combinations.
While at the beginning of 1981 the CBS 70s style Strat was still the basic production model, things were about to change. Considerably.
But first, 1981 is marked by the introduction of the International Color Stratocasters, offering nine different, let's say "interesting", finish colors, but a model that is otherwise a standard CBS 70s styled Strat. With one exception. The Sahara Taupe International Color Stratocaster, unlike its eight relatives, features a four bolt neck and body end truss rod adjustment (no bullet).
Toward the end of 1981 a fundamental development in the evolution of the Stratocaster took place: the final abandonment of the features associated with the CBS 70s style Strat and the introduction of the Standard Stratocaster, the clear forerunner of the 1987 American Standard.
The Dan Smith Stratocaster
In 1981 Fender-CBS hired William (Bill) Schultz, John McLaren, and Dan Smith away from the U.S. division of Yamaha. Schultz became the president of Fender-CBS, McLaren the managing director, and Smith was appointed the director of marketing for Fender electric guitars.
In an effort to improve Fender's market position, Smith orchestrated a revamping of the basic production model Stratocaster and by late 1981 the new model was introduced as the Standard Stratocaster. It featured a more accurate version of the pre-CBS smaller headstock (compared to the 1980 "Strat"); a four bolt neck plate; the somewhat "hotter" X-1 pickup (introduced in the 1980 "Strat" model) in the bridge position; and, a body end truss rod adjustment (no bullet). What it did retain from its predecessor was the 70s-style headstock decal. Otherwise, the 1981 Standard Stratocaster signalled the end of the CBS 70s style Stratocaster.
The 1981 Standard Stratocaster was produced until 1983, when it was significantly revised by placing the jack plug on the pickguard flush with the body and offering only one tone control instead of two. The CBS 70s style headstock decal was also changed to a smaller, silver logo style that would be subsequently used in the 1987 American Standard.
It's the 1981-83 first version of the Standard Stratocaster that has come to be known on the street (and in third party literature) as the "Dan Smith Stratocaster". You won't see Smith's name on the headstock, or anywhere else on the instrument, but it's only fitting that Stratocaster enthusiasts have dubbed this model the "Smith Strat" in homage to the man who brought about such welcomed changes in the Stratocaster, and who, along with George Blanda and the FMIC team, would play an integral role in the creation of the 1987 American Standard.
The front and back of a 1982 Dan Smith Stratocaster. Note that it has 21 frets. The 1987 American Standard has 22.
Closeup of the headstock of the 1982 Dan Smith Stratocaster pictured above. Note the logo decal and older style string retainers.
Closeup of the neck plate and bridge of the same 1982 Dan Smith Strat. The 1987 American Standard features an updated bridge design.
The Smith Strat featured a "hot" X-1 pickup in the bridge position. The X-1 was the pickup design originally introduced in the 1980 "Strat" model. Note the red bobbins in the photos below. Black bobbins are the norm. Also, you will see yellow and white wires leading from the bridge pickup instead of black and white. The yellow wire helps identify the X-1 design.
While the CBS 70s style headstock logo decal has become associated with the Smith Strat, there were also Smith Strats manufactured in 1983 that have the newer headstock logo decal, the one used in the revised Standard Stratocaster and the 1987 American Standard.
1983 Smith Strat.
Close up of the headstock of the 1983 Smith Strat pictured above. Note the use of the newer logo decal.
1983 revised Standard Stratocaster. Manufactured from 1983-85. This is not a "Dan Smith Stratocaster". That name has been reserved only for the 1981-83 first version of the Standard Stratocaster, despite what some eager eBay sellers like to claim.
Published December 16, 2003 01:15 PM.