Collecting Non-Vintage Fender Stratocasters

by Tom Watson

Part One — Fender Custom Shop Stratocasters

Article One – The Fender Custom Shop “A” List, “B” List, “C” List, and “Short Run List”

This series of articles is intended to serve as an introductory guide to non-vintage collectible Fender Stratocasters. Bear in mind that suggesting that one model is more or less “collectible” than another is a matter of opinion, as is virtually everything connected to the topic of collecting. The lists below, and those to follow, are based upon my perception of what the “collecting community” feels are the instruments worthy of inclusion at this particular moment. Opinions will vary, and while good arguments could be made for and against every aspect of these lists, they provide a starting point for discussion.

Part One considers instruments built by the Fender Custom Shop (none of which has yet achieved vintage age). Part Two considers the classification of non-vintage collectible production model Stratocasters.

Fender Custom Shop Stratocasters
Two things complicate an attempt to classify the collectibility of Custom Shop Strats: the Custom Shop has been and is prolific; and, model popularity varies from year to year and varies from place to place at any given time. What seems hot at an east coast guitar show might be ignored at one on the west. And then, there’s the rest of the world.

In this, and the companion article to come (Article Two), I separate the Custom Shop Strats in this way: “A” List; “B” List; “C” List; Short Run Models (approximately 40 or less of the model was produced); One-offs; Art Guitars; and, Catalog Models. While individual instruments from one list might be “more collectible” than even an entire list with a higher rank, I am considering the ranking based upon what I feel is the overall current collectible status of the group as a whole. For example, while there are several one-offs that are, individually, probably more collectible than any instrument on the entire C List, it is my opinion that the C List, as a whole, has greater collector interest at the moment than the one-offs. This is not an instrument by instrument classification of every Custom Shop guitar ever built.

The primary factor I considered in assembling the lists was what I perceive to be overall market perception. The problem with this approach (apart from extreme subjectivity) is that it will change over time. For example, there are some incredible one-offs that have gotten very little general market attention so far. Why? Much of it stems from where advertising and promotional campaign money has been spent. Apart from the yearly Fender Calendar, many of the top one-offs and art guitars get relatively little exposure compared with other models, especially the “Limited Editions”.

Take the first entry in the “A” List, for example. The 1993, Harley-Davidson 90th Anniversary Custom Shop Stratocaster is arguably the best known Strat the Custom Shop has produced. Does that mean it is and always will be the most collectible? Of course not. But information about the extreme high quality, and obvious rarity, of the Custom Shop one-offs and art guitars will take time to have a real impact upon the general collecting community. Time plays an important role, even in the non-vintage collectible market.

Finally, the lists, overall, do not account for every potentially collectible guitar the Custom Shop has produced. There are many one-offs, art guitars and short run instruments that will not appear on their respective list. That’s not to say they’re not potentially collectible. It only means that, in my opinion, interest in their collectibility had not reached a level as of October, 2003, to warrant inclusion.

And again, emphasis is placed on “in my opinion”.

I predict that over time, some instruments from a lower list will climb, such as the low serial numbered early Custom Shop guitars, in fact, I could see these guitars outweighing the current “A” List in value down the road. But we’ll leave that to another discussion. Categorization by collectibility is further complicated by the fact that a low serial number model from the “B” List could easily be more collectible than a high serial numbered guitar from the “A” List. Again, this is intended only as a general guide.

The number after the guitar is the total number of units manufactured.

“A” List
1993, Harley-Davidson 90th Anniversary Stratocaster. 109
1994, Playboy 40th Anniversary (Marilyn Monroe) Stratocaster. 175
1997, Jimi Hendrix “Monterey” Stratocaster. 210

“B” List
1987 – 1989, low serial number Custom Shop guitars. 100 (#0001 – 0100)
1993, Bill Carson Signature Stratocaster. 100
1994, Freddie Tavares Aloha Stratocaster. 153

“C” List
1989, 35th Anniversary Stratocaster. 500 (I would put the first 10 in the B List, and #001 in the A List)
1989, Homer Haynes Limited Edition Stratocaster (HLE). 500 (I would put the first 10 in the B List)
1995-96, Hank Marvin Signature Stratocaster. 164
1994, Diamond Dealer 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Stratocaster. 150
1996, 50th Anniversary Relic Stratocaster. 200
1998, Custom Shop Disney Stratocaster. 75

Short Run Models
1999, 35th Ford Mustang Anniversary Stratocaster. 35 (15 released to the public)
1995, Western Stratocaster. 5
1992, Hippocaster. 20
1993, Purple Haze Stratocaster. 32
2000, Custom Jaguar Stratocaster. 25

Part Two – The Fender Custom Shop “One-offs”; “Art Guitars”; and, “Catalog Models”

This series of articles is intended to serve as an introductory guide to non-vintage collectible Fender Stratocasters. Bear in mind that suggesting that one model is more or less “collectible” than another is a matter of opinion, as is virtually everything connected to the topic of collecting. The lists below, and those to follow, are based upon my perception of what the “collecting community” feels are the instruments worthy of inclusion at this particular moment. Opinions will vary, and while good arguments could be made for and against every aspect of these lists, they provide a starting point for discussion.

Part One considers instruments built by the Fender Custom Shop (none of which has yet achieved vintage age). Part Two considers the classification of non-vintage collectible production model Stratocasters.

Fender Custom Shop Stratocasters, Article Two
In Part One, Article One, I discussed the “A” List, “B” List, “C” List and Short Run Models. This article, Part One, Article Two, takes a look at the “one-offs”, “art guitars”, and “catalog models”.

I categorize the Custom Shop one-offs into three groups: historics; creatives; and, special orders.

[One-off Historics]
The “historics” are one-offs inspired by an historical Stratocaster model, such as, the ’56 Stratocaster, ’60 Stratocaster, ’65 Stratocaster, etc. I say “inspired” because although they are sold with names such as “Fender ’56 One-off NOS Strat”, they are often not intended as exact reproductions of that year’s model. Instead, they will have been “inspired” by a particular year, but often feature modern updates, such as finishes not available on the original model, modern pickups and electronics, etc.

Most one-off historics come in one of these “Time Machine” varieties: New Old Stock (NOS), Closet Classic (CC), Relic, or Super Relic. NOS and Relic seem to be the more popular versions.

Note: historic one-offs are not necessarily “one-of-a-kinds”. They are made one-at-a-time, but there is no limit to how many one-offs have been or will be made of a particular historic. It is possible that an historic one-off could also be a one-of-a-kind, there is simply no guarantee of that status.

As of the writing of this article (October, 2003), you can see a fairly good representation of historic one-offs in the Music Zoo company’s Fender Custom Shop inventory.

[One-off Creatives]
Almost anything goes in this category, and you’re much more likely to own an actual “one-of-a-kind” Custom Shop Stratocaster in this group. The creatives are not connected to an actual historical model and demonstrate a creative flair by the Custom Shop builder (usually a Custom Shop Master Builder).

The best places to see examples of the creative one-offs are the annual Custom Shop Calendar, the NAMM shows, and various Custom Shop guitar vendors (such as Virtual Vintage Guitars that offers both historics and creatives). Some of the creatives are very close to being categorized as “Art Guitars”, discussed below. The only reason some of the more artistic creatives are not considered an Art Guitar (by this writer) is that the instrument does not feature the artwork of anyone other than the Master Builder. A Custom Shop one-off that features the artwork of someone like Pamelina H. would be put in the Art Guitar category.

One of my favorite one-off creatives is the gold sparkle “Doublecaster” from Master Builder Art Esparza, featured on the Virtual Vintage Guitar web page (as of October, 2003).

[One-off Special Orders]
You can have the Stratocaster of your dreams. The Master Builders of the Fender Custom Shop will make it to your specifications. Find a Fender Master-Built Dealer, give them a deposit, and you’re on your way. (You can find a Master-Built Dealer on the Fender website).

There have been some truly amazing special order one-offs. The problem, from a collecting point of view, is that most of them are not well known — they go right from the Custom Shop into the hands of the buyer not to be seen again until (and if) the buyer eventually puts them on the market.

Art Guitars
I define Custom Shop “Art Guitars” as those bearing the artwork of someone other than the Custom Shop builder. Regardless of how artistic or creative the instrument might be, if produced solely by the Master Builder, I would categorize it as a one-off creative rather than as an art guitar. Some will disagree, and you can probably find some Master Built instruments that were the sole creation of the builder called an “Art Guitar” in publications such as the annual Fender Calendar, but that’s not how I would categorize them.

I separate the art guitars into two groups: in-house and celebrity.

[In-house Art Guitars]
The best known in-house Custom Shop artist is Pamelina Hovnatanian, normally referred to as Pamelina H. I am working on an article about Ms. H. and will not go into great detail about her here, but every collectible Stratocaster enthusiast is very familiar with her work. She has had a hand in just about every famous non-vintage collectible Strat: the Harley, the Playboy, the Monterey, and many, many more. This makes some models, such as the three just mentioned, hybrids that fall into two categories, such as the “A” List and Art Guitars. However, when categorizing an instrument as an in-house “Art Guitar”, I usually reserve that designation for Master Built one-offs bearing the artwork of someone like Pamelina H.

Examples of in-house art guitars would be the “Dragon with Mermaid” Stratocaster designed by artist George Amicay, built by Custom Shop Master Builder John English, with painting by Pamelina H. and relief carving by George Amicay; and, the “Regina Del Mar” Stratocaster featuring work by the same two artists.

Note: by “in-house” I do not mean the artist is necessarily a Fender employee. Most are freelance artists who contract to work on various instruments for the Fender Custom Shop.

[Celebrity Art Guitars]
The Fender Museum has been active in charitable fund raising events and has produced guitars for charitable auctions “decorated” by various celebrities. In 2002, Fender sponsored the “Heart Strings: Making Music, Creating Hope” event. Stratocasters painted, decorated, “customized”, or whatever you want to call it, by many well known celebrities, including the likes of Eric Clapton and Dustin Hoffman, were produced and auctioned on eBay. Similar events have taken place since. Not many of these instruments circulate in the collecting market, so it’s difficult to say what level of interest they will eventually have with collectors.

In 2002, Fender, in conjunction with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, participated in an event called “GuitarMania“. Various well-known (celebrity) artists painted eight-feet long Stratocaster-looking instruments that were then auctioned off with the proceeds going to the United Way. The Custom Shop has since then replicated some of those art instruments and produced fully functional Stratocasters bearing the artwork of the original. These functional replicas are mostly the work of artist Pamelina H. They were introduced at the 2003 Winter NAMM show and were, and may still be, in very limited production.

Custom Shop Catalog Models
Generally speaking, it’s too soon to say what impact the Fender catalog Custom Shop guitars will have on the collecting community, although some collectors, especially those in Europe, have shown a strong interest in particular catalog models, such as the 1965 NOS Time Machine. There is also growing interest in the U.S. in the “Cunetto” Relics (Cunetto Relics are those Custom Shop Relic Stratocasters made at Vince Cunetto’s shop under contract with the Fender Custom Shop from 1995-98).

Interest has also been shown in the Custom Shop artist models, especially in those that have been discontinued. It should be noted, that “Artist Models”, also known as “Signature Strats”, are made by both the Custom Shop and the non-Custom Shop Fender production line. But again, it’s too soon to tell which models might have a significant impact on collectors.


Part Three — Collectible Non-Vintage Fender Production Line Stratocasters

Innovation and the introduction of new models and old models with new features has been a hallmark of all three “Fender” companies. But two of those Fender companies, CBS-Fender and its successor and present day iteration, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC), took this heritage to a new level in the 80s.

But before turning to the ’80s, which I will do in the next article in the series, a quick look at Fender model history will give Fender’s drive for innovation and variation from 1980-89 (and thereafter) some helpful context and perspective.

A Condensed Fender Guitar (electric six string and bass) Timeline

1950 — Broadcaster [Note: although Fender was founded in 1946, 1950 marks the beginning of the Le0-Fender era for purposes of this disucssion]

1951 — Precision Bass / Broadcaster renamed “Nocaster” (no model name) then “Telecaster” / Esquire [Note: “/” is used to separate distinct models]

1954 — Stratocaster

1956 — Duo-Sonic / Musicmaster

1958 — Jazzmaster

1960 — Jazz Bass

1961 — Jazz VI

1962 — Jaguar

1964 — Mustang

1965 — Bass V / Electric XII / Marauder (65/66 — “invisible pups”, never made it into production, but did make it into the 65/66 catalog — where are those prototypes?) [Note: CBS-Fender era begins]

1966 — Coronado / Mustang Bass

1967 — Bronco

1968 — Montego / LTD / Telecaster Bass (essentially Fender’s first “Reissue” — being a reissue of the original Precision)

1969 — Custom (aka, Maverick) / Swinger (aka, Musiclander)

1975 — Fretless Precision Bass / Musicmaster Bass / Fender’s first “Art Guitar” — the Rhinestone Stratocaster with the work of English sculptor, Jon Douglas (one of my “ones that got away” — I passed on buying one of the original bodies for $500 a few years ago due to not having done my homework in time)

1976 — Starcaster

1979 — Lead I / Lead II / 25th Silver Anniversary Stratocaster (not a new “model”, but two “firsts” for Fender — the first anniversary model and the first numbered “limited edition” instrument, though the number was “limited” to a whopping 10,000 units)

Bear in mind a few important facts. First, I could have easily left off a guitar or two by mistake. Second, the list doesn’t account for amps and other Fender instruments such as mandolins, steel guitars, banjos or acoustics. Third, and probably most important, it doesn’t account for the myriad model variations introduced during these three decades.

Before we usher in the ’80s, let’s take a brief look at some of the now extinct species of Fender guitars that surfaced before 1980, which should help put the decade of the 80’s into historical perspective.

The Stratocaster is, and always has been, Fender’s flagship instrument. Although there are good reasons why you’re not reading this article on Bronco Collector Dot Com, that’s not to say that these “lesser” models didn’t serve an important function in the life and development of Fender, and continue to do so through the present day under different names and marketing strategies.

In 1954, a Fender Stratocaster would have cost you, in “today’s dollars” accounting for inflation, roughly $1,500, the street price of some modern day Custom Shop models. While it is often said that a good part of Fender’s success is the result of being in tune with the wants and needs of working musicians, a large part of that success also has much to do with staying in tune with the wants and needs of retail music stores. Although the Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark shows inspired generations of young men and women to emulate their particular guitar swinging idol, most middle class parents could not afford to buy their aspiring Buddy Holly or Eric Clapton a new Strat. To cash in on the exploding Rock n’ Roll craze, an introductory priced model was needed, and continues to be needed.

Music stores thrived in the ’60s and ’70s on a swarm of adolescent guitar students to whom it was much easier to sell a Bronco, Mustang or Musicmaster than a Stratocaster, Jaguar or Jazzmaster; and these lower priced models were honestly marketed as being what they were intended as — introductory or student models. But in the 80s, and thereafter, market perceptions changed. Perhaps as the exaggerated tales of overnight rock success became urban legend, new players no longer wanted to be associated with “introductory” or “student” models.

You won’t find a guitar labeled an “introductory” or “student” model in the latest Fender catalog. The closest you’ll come is the description of the Mini Squier Bullet marketed with this language: “…an ideal travel guitar for players of all ages or a first guitar for kids. This is not a toy though.” [page 113, 2003, Fender Frontline Catalog]

New instrument marketing has become much more sophisticated. Manufacturers realized that idolized guitar players were what really drove the market of new buyers. In the days of the Bronco and Mustang what performers endorsed them? None. Today, however, the Bronco has become, figuratively speaking, the “Tom DeLonge Stratocaster”, and other introductory level models, such as the Squier variations, are presented on catalog pages that associate these models with, albeit lesser-known artists, names and faces that will hopefully be significant to potential teen players (buyers).

Here, for example, is a paragraph from the 2003, Fender Frontline Catalog introducing the Squier:

Are you passionate about your music and want to channel that energy through a cool guitar or bass of your own? The desire to play music marks the beginning of a life-long relationship between you and your instrument. It’s a journey of self-expression and discovery that is very empowering and rewarding. [page 98, 2003, Fender Frontline Catalog]

What’s missing? Simply the phrases “introductory” or “student” model. The lower end models haven’t disappeared, they’ve simply changed names, configurations, country of origin, and, marketing strategies.

What accounted for the higher end models no longer with us, such as the Montego, Coronado, and Starcaster?


Other manufacturers occasionally carve out market niches and thrive. Fender seems to have had an uncanny knack for playing market catch-up and taking shots at these sub-markets when it’s too late and in competition with their own well established image of the classic Strat player.

Jazz and heavy metal are two good examples — the former in the pre-80’s, the later in the 80’s and beyond. Gibson had and has strong market penetration among jazz players and other competitors, such as Ibanez and Washburn, have done well with the heavy metal market. Fender tried to attack both of these niches from time-to-time, but often with less than impressive results.

Fender-FMIC has now taken a different approach to this market issue. Instead of offering modern equivalents of the Montego, Coronado, or, Strat (one of the Fender forays into metal) under the Fender name, Fender has purchased companies with existing market penetration, such as Guild, Gretsch, and Jackson/Charvel.

Pre-1980, Non-Vintage, Collectible Stratocasters
Since the Fender Custom Shop did not come into existence until 1987, there’s no need yet to make the distinction between the production line and the CS. At this point, the threshhold question is simply, what year serves as the dividing line between vintage and non-vintage? How old does a guitar have to be in order to be considered vintage?

If 30 years, nothing newer than 1973 is vintage (as of 2003 when this is being written). If 20 years, then everything from ’83 and before is already “vintage”. Who’s to say? Any specific answer smacks of the arbitrary and artificial – food for endless discussion thread debates.

In my opinion, the first significant collectible non-vintage Stratocaster, as of 2003, is the 1979, 25th Anniversary model, for a few reasons, a couple of which were stated above but deserve repeating. Historically, it represents two important firsts (considering Fender’s subsequent history): it was the first “numbered limited edition” model; and, the first anniversary model. It also has historical significance from a design standpoint. It foreshadows the return to the four bolt neck and the abandonment of the “bullet” truss rod that would take place in the 80s.

That’s not to say every one of the 10,000, 1979, 25th Anniversary Strats has hit the collector’s radar screen. Most desireable are the low serial numbered, original water-based Pearl White finish units in excellent plus to near mint condition (considering the fact that you can expect some or a good deal of finish crackle in these first units there probably are no true “mint” examples). After the first 500 or so, the color of the remaining 9,500 was changed to Porsche Silver, certainly a sensible move from the standpoint of finish stability and the fact that it happened to be the Silver Anniversary.

There is some growing collector interest in the Porsche Silver models if they are in truly near mint to mint condition AND come with ALL the original accessories, OHSC, and of course, the numbered Certificate of Merit. But that’s not to say that those units that don’t fit into either category aren’t bought and sold, which makes this a good time to discuss the difference between the “marketability” and “collectibility” of a guitar.

Despite the laughter of my vintage guitar collecting friends, several years ago I argued in favor of buying mid-to-late ’70s Strats for their investment potential. At that time the large headstock CBS-Fender Strats were the black sheep of the family and could be bought in near mint condition, “with paper”, often for substantially less than $700. And I mean substantially less.

I argued that: during the time period they were new, major players used them (either unaware of their supposed design/manufacturing defects or lucky enough to have gotten “one of the good ones”); many people find the large headstock attractive; and, every decade eventually benefits from nostalgic interest. Whether or not my reasoning at the time was sound, over the last two years the explosive growth of eBay gave me access to buyers that agreed with my point of view and let me cash in on the theory for a substantial profit.

But while these instruments are “marketable”, that doesn’t necessarily make them “collectible”, at least not at the moment. While their market value continues to rise on eBay, very few serious vintage or non-vintage collections contain pieces from 1975 – 1979. They may be a little too young for the vintage collectors, and that dark CBS cloud still hovers above them in the minds of most non-vintage collectors.

This is why the 1979, 25th Anniversary Stratocaster is the only model on my list of mid-to-late ’70s Strats that I feel has hit the collector’s radar screen – to-date.

This is probably also a good time to discuss what I mean by the phrase, “with paper”, an idea that will come up again in discussing the ’80s and newer collectibles.

Simply put, “with paper” means that the instrument is accompanied by documents that verify or support its provedance, such as, original purchase receipt, order documentation, hang tags, or an actual letter of provedance from the first owner (and subsequent owner[s] if that is the case). Currently, non-vintage instruments are new enough that often such paper still exists and can be obtained. Years from now that paper will, in my opinion, add appreciable value to the instrument.

I hope I have provided enough context to set the stage for a discussion of the Fender Stratocaster in the 80s, an exciting decade for the non-vintage Strat collector and the topic of the next article in this series.

Part 4 — Fender and the Eighties

Japan, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC), and the Fender Custom Shop, will prove to be the dominant themes of Fender in the 80’s. Although there is, and most likely always will be, a great deal of interest from collectors in Stratocasters from the Leo-Fender era, it is the opinion of this writer that Fender-FMIC will some day prove to be Fender’s true “Golden Age” due to the variety and quality of the Strats this iteration of the Fender company has produced and continues to produce.

Much can be said about the “mojo,” “magic,” or “vibe” of the Fender-Leo Strats, but for overall quality — manufacturing consistency and component development — Fender-FMIC has taken the Stratocaster to new and improved levels of quality, consistency, and performance.

The Three Fenders — Leo, CBS, and FMIC
As of late 2003, there have been three major periods in the history of Fender: Fender-Leo, from 1946 through 1965; Fender-CBS, from 1965 through 1985; and, Fender-FMIC, from 1985 to today.

As this series of articles concerns non-vintage collectible Fender Stratocasters, our concern is with the late Fender-CBS and the Fender-FMIC periods.

The decade of the ’80s was a challenging period for both Fender-CBS and its succesor, Fender-FMIC. By 1980, Fender had been owned by CBS for fifteen years. Toward the end of the 70’s, Fender-CBS had begun to experience a market contraction, most likely due to foreign competition and possibly a decline in its manufacturing standards. From the early 80’s through the transition to Fender-FMIC, Fender-CBS would make several serious, though for the most part ill-fated, attempts to recapture market share.

Thanks in large part to a strong dollar, relatively affordable manpower, and well organized manufacturing systems, several guitar makers in Japan had made serious inroads into the Stratocaster market from the mid to late 70s. In 1982, Fender-CBS established Fender-Japan, contracting with Japanese manufacturer, Fujigen, for the production of Stratocasters and other Fender equipment.

In 1985, the new Fender-FMIC found itself in a precarious position. The sale of Fender to FMIC included only certain patents, trademarks, and the existing inventory of parts, unfinished and finished instruments. The sale did not include manufacturing equipment or facilities. The survival and subsequent success of Fender-FMIC would hinge upon: Fender-Japan, the Fender Custom Shop, and an instrument that would later prove astronomically successful, the American Standard Stratocaster, introduced in 1987.

A Condensed Fender 1980s Timeline

1980Strat (features modified wiring allowing nine different tone configurations, 22K gold electroplated brass hardware, and a hot bridge pickup called the X-1; Fender’s first use of its trademarked name, “Strat” on a guitar) / 25 Hendrix-inspired, reverse headstock Stratocasters are made, arguably the first “artist-related” Strats; four bolt neck. [Note: “/” is used to separate distinct models]

1981Gold/Gold Stratocaster (one piece maple neck, gold color, smaller headstock, gold-plated brass hardware; essentially a “souped up” Standard “Smith” Strat; part of the “Collector’s Series” — serial number begins with “CA”) / Walnut Stratocaster (one piece walnut neck) / International Color Stratocasters (special custom colors: Arctic White; Morocco Red; Monaco Yellow; Maui Blue; Capri Orange; Sahara Taupe; Cathay Ebony; Sienna Sunburst; and, Cherry Sunburst. Note: unlike the other eight, the Sahara Taupe has a four bolt neck and non-bullet headstock) / Standard Stratocaster (also now unoffically known as the “Dan Smith Strat“; introduced mid-to-late 1981. Features the smaller, pre-CBS headstock, return to the four bolt neck, body-end truss rod adjujstment — the headstock “bullet” is abandoned, the “Micro Tilt” adjustment is abandoned, and a narrower, black headstock logo, though some logo exceptions exist. Forerunner of the American Standard introduced in 1987 by Fender-FMIC) / Bullet Series (A John Page designed replacement of the Mustang, which was dropped in 1981, and the Musicmaster and Bronco, both of which had been dropped in 1980. At that time, Page was working in Fender’s R&D department) / Lead III (dual humbuckers).

1982 — Official Japanese made Fender Stratocasters are introduced. Early models have the Fender logo on the headstock above a small Squier logo. / 1957 and 1962 Vintage Reissues. These models are manufactured in both the U.S. and Japan. By most accounts, the U.S. reissues don’t hit the market until early 1983.

1983Elite Stratocaster (featured push-button pickup selectors; active circuitry; distinctive pickup covers — similar to Lace Sensor covers though the pickups are Alnico; and a new bridge-vibrato mechanism of questionable construction known as the “Freeflyte” tremolo; also, Gold Elite Stratocaster) / Standard Stratocaster Revision (Standard Stratocaster undergoes radical, cost-cutting changes: new jack plate is flush with body and one tone control is dropped) / Japan-built Squiers hit the U.S. market (previously, Japan-built Fenders were only sold to the domestic Japanese market and Europe).

1984Bowling Ball Stratocaster (also known as the “Marble Strocaster”; approximately 100 Strats and 100 Teles are made with this distinctive finish — red, yellow, or blue marbled streaks; made in the U.S.) / CBS announces its decision to divest itself of the Fender company.

1985January: Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) buys Fender from CBS for 12.5 million, 500,000 less than what CBS had paid for Fender in 1965. The FMIC purchase is accomplished by a group of ten Fender employees and foreign distributors led by then Fender-CBS President and now Fender-FMIC CEO, William (Bill) Schultz. Sale does not include equipment or manufacturing facilities. October: Fender-FMIC opens its first manufacturing facility in Corona, California. Original floor work force numbers approximately ten and produces only five or so guitars a day. Fender instruments manufactured in Japan account for an estimated 80% of Fender sales from 1984 through 1986. / Performer (another John Page designed instrument; manufactured at Japan’s Fujigen facility; discontinued in 1986) / Katana (also manufactured in Japan and discontinued in 1986).

19861957 and 1962 American Vintage Reissues (essentially a re-introduction of the models first introduced in 1982/1983; manufactured at the new Corona facility; feature some design/construction changes from the ’82-’83 versions that had been made at the Fender-CBS Fullerton facility — nitrocellulose finish replaced by polyurethane and some body/headstock/fret marker changes are made in an attempt to more closely recreate the originals; the first Corona-made American Reissue is a 1962 Fiesta Red reissue with serial number V000001, which was presented to Bill Schultz, the second is a 1957 Fiesta Red reissue with serial number V000002 presented to Shadows guitarist, Hank Marvin).

1987American Standard Stratocaster (although production began in 1986, the American Standard Stratocaster was formally introduced at the Winter NAMM Show in January of 1987; though certainly influenced by the 1981/82 “Dan Smith Strat”, and Dan Smith was most likely behind the 1987 American Standard concept, its final engineering design is credited to Fender R&D’s Geroge Blanda, who was hired by Fender in 1985 to institute a “Custom Shop”, but became a leading force in Fender’s R&D department; it features 22 frets, a 9.5 fingerboard radius, “swimming pool route” to accomodate after-market modifications, and a re-designed bridge/tremolo unit); / Fender Custom Shop is founded by John Page and Michael Stevens (the first Fender Custom Shop instrument is built by Michael Stevens: a double-neck Strat/Esquire with serial number 0001) / Eric Clapton and Yngwie Malmstten sign “Artist Series” contracts with Fender, though their signature guitars will not be introduced until 1988 / Strat Plus (first use of Lace Sensor pickups in a Fender Stratocaster; roller nut; locking tuners) / Fender-FMIC acquires facilities in Ensanada, Mexico.

1988Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster (prototypes by George Blanda) / Yngwie Malmsteen Signature Stratocaster / HM Power Strat (produced in Japan; forerunner of the Heavy Metal (HM) series that would be introduced in the U.S. in 1989).

1989Deluxe Strat Plus (similar to the Strat Plus but with two Blue Lace Sensors and one Silver Lace Sensor); / Fender Custom Shop 35th Stratocaster Anniversary Limited Edition (first Custom Shop “anniversary” model; 500 made); / Homer Haynes Limited Edition (HLE) (first non-anniversary, numbered, limited edition Stratocaster made by the Fender Custom Shop; 500 were made) / Contemporary Stratocaster (TBX tone control; 12″ fretboard radius); HM Series (U.S. production).

On the Collectors’ Radar Screen
Although there is growing, interest in: the 1980 Hendrix; 1981 Gold Stratocater; 1981 International Colors Stratocasters (especially the Sahara Taupe); the 1981-82 “Dan Smith” Standard Stratocaster; the 1982-84 U.S.-made ’57 and ’62 Reissues (pre-FMIC); the 1984 Bowling Ball Stratocaster; and, 1988 Clapton and Malmsteen signature models, most of the interest from non-vintage collectors to-date has been focused on the early Custom Shop models, especially low serial numbered instruments and the 1988 HLE and 1989 35th Stratocaster Anniversary models, also with emphasis on low serial number models. Many collectors/investors believe that instruments produced by the Fender Custom Shop will prove to be the collecting “Holy Grails” of the future.

But as time distances us from the ’80s, we begin to see the impact that the 1987 production model American Standard Stratocaster has had upon Fender and the guitar playing world. The American Standard Stratocaster is, literally, the instrument that resurrected the Fender brand and brought it back to the forefront of the international guitar market. This growing awareness of the significance of the American Standard is also leading to an increased interest in its forerunner, the 1981-82 Standard Stratocaster (the so-called, “Dan Smith Strat,” prior to the 1983, cost-cutting two knob, flat-level jack plug version).