Up for sale, a 1956 Fender Stratocaster in exceptional condition and in perfect working order. Produced very early in '56 and still featuring a body date from '55, this Stratocaster embodies everything that makes Fender's Pre-CBS golden era a truly magical time for electric guitars, and specifically for a pioneering, space age instrument like the Strat! Featuring bakelite pickup covers and knobs, a stunningly resonant one-piece ash body, and a neck profile that is extremely round and thick as per '55 specs, this Strat delivers the goods on every level and will satisfy discerning collectors and performers alike, many of whom are a bit of both!
Players have been conditioned for decades to expect a certain chime, quack, and twang from a Strat, via the various tiers of reissues over the past 30 years, not to mention the iterations that the core model has experienced over the course of the instrument's 60+ year run. So when a genuine, ash bodied Strat from early in the model's lifetime is placed in your hands, the range of tones is nothing short of jaw-dropping, as it exceeds one's expectations for Strat tone in every capacity. Perhaps foremost is the sustain that this Strat delivers, which is not typically the hallmark of any Fender or bolt-on neck guitar for that matter! When you strum a chord on this guitar, the entire body vibrates with a liveliness, warmth, and authority that has to be felt to be believed, and this provides the foundation for a very special instrument. Building upon the resonance of the ash body, the trio of original black bobbin pickups have a warmth and chewy midrange that exists alongside the tonal qualities one expects from a Strat, without detracting from the sparkle and twang that is essential to a Strat sound. The bridge pickup is perhaps the most usable and frankly musical single coil in this position we've ever heard on a Strat here at Mike & Mike's Guitar Bar. It bites and cuts, but with a very smooth roll off of the highest treble frequencies and zero "ice pick." If you can find the sweet spot between the positions on the original three-way switch, there's plenty of quack to be found, but again, this tone has a body and roundness that is partially due to the ash body and undoubtedly also a result of the age of the instrument and the amount it's been played over the decades. As one would expect, things get fuller and warmer as you toggle towards the neck position, without ever losing clarity. The neck pickup perfectly captures that singing, harmonic rich tone that's perfect for solos and pairs well with virtually any overdrive, equal parts sweetness and cutting single coil power. Weighing in at 8lbs 2oz, this Strat has a very substantial feel while balancing well on a strap and still being easy on the back. We simply can't overstate the versatility and exceptional tonal quality of this instrument, and Fender surely set the bar high when they introduced this now iconic model. Professionally setup here at Mike & Mike's Guitar Bar, this Stratocaster has comfortable action and is currently strung with roundwound 10-46 strings.
The neck has a very round and substantial C shape neck profile that definitely fits the "baseball bat" moniker, with generous shoulders and a depth that few '56 Strats have, as the necks historically slim down a bit later in the year. The entire profile still has its smooth gloss nitro lacquer finish that feels perfectly worn in and silky on the palm, with lightly rounded fretboard edges. Since these necks were hand shaped at the Fender factory and each one is unique, it's worth noting that this neck has a faint yet perceptible curve towards the treble side of the instrument. Mind you this is not a clever way of describing a twist or something untoward in the neck's performance, but simply put if you were to put a straight edge against the treble side of the neck, it would touch at the nut and the neck joint, with a tiny gap at the midpoint of the neck. This is simply how the neck was cut from the factory, has (trust us) zero effect on the playability, and both low and high E strings are inset from the fretboard edges so as to be ideally playable and properly spaced. The nut is a hand carved piece of bone, with rounded edges and the traditional 1 5/8" width.
The fretboard has wear down to the bare maple, most prominent from frets 1-12 and a textbook example of the desirable fretboard wear you'd expect to see on a new Masterbuilt Relic Strat from Fender's most esteemed Custom Shop builders, with the only difference being that the wear on this fretboard is honest and real! The stock fretwire is intact, with a solid amount of height and life left. The fretwear is largely consistent with the wear on the board, with moderate, uniform wear from frets 1-5, lighter wear until around fret 9, and almost no wear further up the neck. The guitar plays cleanly with no notably buzzing or dead spots, and the intonation is solid. The truss rod is responsive, and the truss rod nut turns smoothly, currently adjusted with ideal relief. On the headstock, the original Kluson "no line" tuning machines are intact, turn smoothly, and hold pitch as they should, with only light surface patina. The "Fender Stratocaster" decal is original and near mint, with clean lettering and no patent numbers. The "Offset Contour Body" decal is also present and only shows a hint of wear on the last letters of "Original." Lastly the button string tree is original and intact, a feature which would change to the more common "butterfly" string tree by mid-1956.
All of the original electronics are intact, with three incredible black bobbin pickups that all have their original windings, reading 6.2k ohms at the neck, 5.8k in the middle position, and 6.15k at the bridge. The Stackpole pots date to the 5th week of 1956, and the original "chewing gum" tone cap is present as well. This tone cap is an exact replica "chewing gum" cap, and the original is also included separately (the lead on the original cap had split and could not be resoldered). The solder joints are otherwise original, and the clean waxed cloth wires are still bound with their original masking tape. The original bakelite pickup covers are truly a sight to behold and in better shape than the majority of the Strats from this era, with only light cracking on the treble edges of the neck and middle pickup, with a wear pattern that's very similar to Buddy Holly's most famous Strat. These pickup covers are complimented perfectly by the original volume and tone knobs, which have a notably more bubbly appearance than their later non-bakelite plastic descendants. The switch tip is a newer replacement of a similar shade of aged white. The single ply white pickguard is original, and shows some faint surface scratches from a mild restoration. The guard had at one time been painted over with a shade of green (perhaps in an attempt to match the mint guards seen on later Strats?), and 95% of this green has been removed. What remains is extremely faint, and from the prospective of a photographer, frustratingly hard to capture in a photo, even with ideal light. The pickguard does present very well and looks great, and what little green color remains is relegated mostly to just south of the neck pickup cover.
The vibrato on the instrument is entirely original, with patent pending saddles that show plenty of surface rust and patina, and screws that still turn smoothly and adjust as they should. This vibrato is currently setup with four springs for a steady and smooth action when actuating the unit. An original arm is not included, but a reissue will thread easily. Beneath the trem claw, the original grease pencil 1955 body date is still very clear. The chrome jack cup, strap buttons, and early 100xx serial number neck plate with stock 2" screws are also original and in good shape.
Cosmetically, this instrument is quite stunning in terms of the honest wear and soulful appeal of a lovingly played vintage Fender. The original two-tone sunburst nitro lacquer finish has settled into the wide and pronounced grain of the ash body, with prominent lacquer checking across the top where the forearm rests. The top and back otherwise show tasteful lacquer checking in all directions, with wear down to the bare wood along the belly contour, and adjacent to the original tremolo cover on the treble side of the body. There are various small finish nicks, scratches, and scuffs around the edges of the body and back of the instrument, while the top remains quite clean, with only a few inconsequential dings just north of the neck pickup extending towards the bass side body horn. There is also very light ghosting of a few previously applied 1" tall letters spelling "Bill" extending towards the bass side body horn, just north of the pickguard. Only faintly visible under very specific lighting, all that remains is a faint outline of where these letters were once placed (nearly impossible to photograph, but worth mentioning to give a well rounded impression of this instrument's condition). If you're after a Stratocaster that will deliver a palette of tones that sparingly few instruments can achieve, with vintage appeal and great playability, you could hardly do better than this very original, early '56 example.
The original tweed "Koylon" case is included. This early Strat case is one of the last to feature the red plush interior and notable, sewn in "Koylon" badge on the interior of the lid. The leather ends are particularly clean, all three latches function, and the original brown leather handle is intact. Sure, there are plenty of scuffs on the tweed, which has aged to a medium shade of amber, but overall this is a particularly nice and structurally sound case that pairs perfectly with this Strat in terms of condition and presentation.