Anyone interested in guitar has heard the term Strat, but you may not have heard of Superstrat/Super Strat, short for Super Stratocaster.
While Strat and Stratocaster is straight from Fender, the term 'Strat' has been coined for any electric guitar resembling the exact body shape of the original iconic masterpiece. In fact many lawsuits have been levied by Fender and Gibson against other guitar makers for copying their longstanding guitar designs to the point where now it's basically ok to have a body shaped like their guitars, but other things have to be different like the headstock shape, logo, artwork, and name. (It's kind of like how "Cola" has become a good legal generic term for many soda makers offering a cola-type beverage, but most people think of Coca-cola as the original).
Superstrat on the other hand is a term that describes the newer and improved guitars that resemble but aren't identical to the Fender Strat shape, because these guitars don't claim to be an exact Strat copy. This can include just about any hotrod electric guitar that is based on the original Stratocaster body but has upgrades in electronics, wood, neck, and even finish. This also pertains to anything else that makes the guitar better including premium inlays, neck woods, stainless steel frets, Floyd Rose tremolo systems and more.
DO YOU NEED A SUPER STRAT AND IS IT BETTER?
The first thing to understand is why a Superstrat even exists. This is because electric guitar technology has far-advanced since the 1950s and 60s when Gibson and Fender tried to out-do each other in marketing and getting the first real electric guitars into the hands of the public. Has someone built a better mousetrap? Read on to find out just what is (possibly) better about newer guitar offerings.
FLAWS IN THE ORIGINAL STRAT DESIGN IMPROVED IN A SUPERSTRAT?
While there is nothing like the feel of playing a vintage Strat or even a modern one that kept all the original elements, some might say there are some perceived shortcomings in the design of original Fender Stratocaster. This also holds true for Gibson Les Paul and other guitars designed over 60 years ago and remaining largely unchanged today. This is especially true when compared to more modern guitars. Here's a brief list.
- The frets on original electric guitars have been vastly improved with wider, taller, and jumbo frets. They're easier to play and they last longer. Even further improvements are stainless steel frets which basically never wear out.
- The input jack on Strats has long been an irritant for many guitarists. It's right on the front of the guitar and can get in the way and seems to be easy to accidentally unplug. Also some modern premium guitar cables can't fit in this recessed area as the plug area is usually below the level of the guitar face, still others prefer using a right-angle guitar cable plug to access this inset jack. Lastly this design has been known to loosen up and short out inside due to the nut on top, perhaps more than any other guitar jack design. More modern guitars have moved the input jack to the edge or bottom of the guitar and truthfully it's just less hassle.
- Tuning issues and string trees. Fender and Gibson have been known for having tuning issues due to their headstock designs and how strings travel over the nut. Fender has used string trees to remedy this which put downward pressure on the strings as the travel over the nut to the tuning heads. Gibson still uses the same cool but awkward headstock design on their guitars which creates an unwanted angle for strings to pass through on their way from the nut to the tuning peg. This angle has long been a source of intonation issues especially for guitarists who bend strings. Newer more modern guitars and Superstrats use a headstock which eliminates all angles passing over the nut so the strings do not get caught up. Also most of these manufactures have the headstock angled slightly backward from the plan of the neck, this eliminates the need for string trees and keeps the right tension of strings against the nut. Lastly modern trem systems (whammy bars) usually include a locking nut which stops all string travel altogether. Still more nut innovation includes graphite low friction nuts by Graphtech, and even ball bearing nuts that eliminate friction. All of this adds up to better technology and less going out of tune.
The impressive Ibanez JEM may be the most extreme example of a Superstrat, you might look odd playing blues gigs though
- Thinner Necks, Radius, and 24 frets. This isn't necessarily better but it's an option on newer guitars for people that like thinner necks. We think Ibanez was one of the foremost companies leading the way in thinner necks starting in late 1980s. The Ibanez JEM might be the epitome of a Superstrat with wild paint jobs, a handgrip, and inlays. JEMs have extremely thin necks and Ibanez has had lots of success with their Wizard style necks; they are thin and fast. Strats and Les Pauls are NOT known for thin necks. They also don't come with 24 frets. Some people don't care, they love the feel of the original instruments. However some companies like Ibanez and Jackson were among the first to reduce neck thickness and provide jumbo frets even as far back as the 1980s, and that trend has been successful and continues today. Many people feel these guitars are easier to play especially for playing fast runs and solos, and more modern thinner necks offer 24 frets which is absolutely an upgrade. Lastly they've experimented with different radiuses on necks, this refers to the slight curvature of the fretboard. Some guitars have compound radiuses meaning the curvature is different as you get to the higher frets. We are talking about the fretboard here not the back of the neck. All of these things can contribute to a "fast neck" as the saying goes.
- Pickguards. On Strat-style guitars all of your electronics and pickups are mounted under a massively large pickguards which covers a vast part of the top of your guitar. Many players love this look and there's nothing wrong with it. The trouble is if you need an electronics repair, the entire apparatus has to be removed and then the pickups have to be removed from the pickguard. One good thing is you can buy pre-loaded pickguards with everything ready to go with your new setup. One example of this is a David Gilmour Pickguard setup with all the appropriate electronics built right into this pickguard assembly. The downside though is this is more costly as a kit, and replacing one pickup is always going to be cheaper. This may not affect most players, but if you are one that needs a repair or pickup replacement, you can expect to pay more labor as it's much more work to remove the entire electronics and pickguard on a Strat then working on other guitars.
Nice Pearloid pickguard paired with Koa wood on this Fender Strat above
- Newer and Better Pickups. Guitar pickups have come a very long way since the 1950s. Original vintage pickups were twangy and had lots of extra noise. That said, there are still those who love that vintage sound and even modern Stratocasters sometimes have a 1950s pickup in the bridge position. However a modern Superstrat will have in the bridge position a more modern pickup available, nearly always. Based on your guitar, you choose what you want by the model. Arguably this started with Edward Van Halen. EVH passed away not too long ago, and if you were paying attention there were many videos and articles remembering just how much Eddie affected guitars as well as music. He's been recognized for modifying pickups on his Strat into a humbucking style pickup as well as other innovative things even before he was famous. From this point on, guitar manufacturers took note and started customizing and upgrading their guitars and viola: the birth of the upgraded Strat or Superstrat. If you're a metal shredder, you might want the latest distortion shred pickup from Seymour Duncan or Dimarzio. Or maybe you want the latest EMG noiseless pickups; it's all possible on a modern guitar that takes the universal humbucker position. Some guitars even have coil splitting, this is the ability to change your pickups with the press of a button or knob and you can go from a vintage Strat single coil to an amazingly modern humbucker, all without changing gear. To compensate, many Fender Strats are now available with humbucking pickups, but they are usually the Fender brand.
- Better Bridges. Strats still use a simple original bridge design from yesteryear. It's very functional but it's usually a little more work to adjust action (string height). More modern bridges have improved on this process. Some stratocaster bridges had a whammy bar and was pretty innovative for it's day, but often puts the guitar out of tune. As mentioned, there are many modern upgrades for those wanting to dive-bomb and this includes Floyd Rose and other more premium systems that are just plain better at whammy activities.
BOTTOMLINE: DO YOU NEED A SUPER STRAT?
If you don't care about most of these upgrades, you might be fine with the classic Stratocaster. Some feel there is no need to improve on the original. Much of this depends on the music you play. The only way to know is to try these guitars side by side. It wont take you long to decide if you like the newer more upgraded versions, or whether you're a classic kind of player that wants to show off the amazing original design of the classic strat.
We feel it come down to these two ideas in this order: 1) what is the most comfortable guitar for you to play? 2) What music are you playing?
If you love the feel of a genuine Strat, there is probably no need to get something else especially if you've tried other guitars. However if a Jackson, ESP, or Ibanez feels better in the hands then you can still capture that classic Fender sound with singlecoil pickups, and many companies like Seymour Duncan make amazing sounding pickups to fit in the singlecoil slots.
If you are playing lots of blues, like Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan, you probably should stick with a genuine Strat. It's the right tool for the job and is just going to look better to your audience. However if you are into harder rock, metal, and shred more than you bend those blue notes, you'll probably be better served with a Superstrat that gives you more innovation, options and control. And experienced gigging guitarist may decide to own both, then you have the right tool all the time.
What's your go-to guitar? Take a moment and drop us a comment and let us know which one you prefer and why. Thanks for reading!