The 50s brought Rock 'n' Roll to the world. The vocals of the likes of Vera Lynn, or the music of Glenn Miller seemed tired and outdated. Also the jazz scene was esoteric and not exactly accessible to the masses. Bill Haley and the Comets brought Rock 'n' Roll to the airwaves and with this entirely new sound came the need for new instruments. Amplification was where it was at! Sure, prior to Fender there had been electric guitars, but they were hollow-bodied, derived from the jazz scene and were essentially acoustic guitars with pick-ups.

It was in September 1945 that Leo Fender's first electric instruments and amplifiers were used, at "Hospitality Night" at the eponymous "Fender's Radio Shop". This, evidently, was the shape of things to come and the following year, the Fender Electric Instrument Company was founded. However it was awhile before the solid-body Fender Stratocaster was born. There were various previous incarnations. By 1949, a prototype dual-pickup guitar, the Fender Broadcaster had been created although it wasn't made available to the public until 1951 and nearly a whole year after the single-pickup Fender Esquire goes on sale. However, by 1951, the Broadcaster becomes enforced along the neck by a truss-rod, changes it's name to Telecaster and becomes the first solid-bodied, spanish style electric guitar to be a commercial success. This is really the dawn of the formidable name of Fender. A name and reputation that has gone from strength to strength and over half a century on, remains the top name in the amplified instrument industry.

But Leo Fender's innovative streak didn't stop there. In fact it was still in 1951 that Leo Fender did something really shocking. He turned the bass on it's side to become the Fender Precision or "P-Bass", the first "non-upright, electric bass guitar". Such a success it was, that in the same way we call vacuum cleaners "Hoovers", so it remained common place to call all bass guitars "Fender Bass'" for years afterwards.

Thus, the 50s came into being. A new decade, free from the constraints of war and the loss, hardship and frugality that the early twentieth century had brought. The 50s sung of freedom to a new Rock 'n' Roll beat. The Jitterbug of the 30s/40s gave way to the jive of the 50s. The wartime utility houseware and clothing now blossomed into decadent full skirts. The home was even given a makeover with decor being of huge importance, and the new must-have accessory.....a television set. Television was a milestone in the development of Popular music. Musicians had always looked dapper, but now the instruments were a vital component of the aesthetics of a band. These new Rock 'n' Roll groups used the "P-Bass" to great effect and so it stands to reason that Leo Fender's next guitar would lose the classical guitar shape of the Telecaster and give way to a guitar to match the bass. And so it was that in 1954 the distinctive Stratocaster shape came into being and hence it remains the most copied guitar of all time. Like the Precision Bass' little brother, the Stratocaster's ergonomic body fits under the guitarist's arm to allow for easier playing. Two cutaways in the body, either side of the neck allowed the guitarists to reach the very highest notes on the fret board which facilitated the distinctive lead-guitar licks which made Rock 'n' Roll. In fact the lead guitar line has been a mainstay of popular music ever since, with rock bands being defined by the virtuosity of their lead guitarists.

Another new and curious addition to electric guitars, was the "vibrato Stratocaster", the introduction of a tremolo or as it's fondly known, a "whammy-bar". These developments insured that the electric guitar wasn't just an amplified guitar, but rather an entirely new instrument, requiring different skills than those practiced by jazz and blues guitarists on their massive hollow-bodied instruments. The small size of the Stratocaster's neck allowed for fluid chord changes and super-fast guitar licks. The thinner, more contoured body and relative light weight, freed the guitarist to dance. The way the band moved became an equally important part of the group's image as the world watched these new artists through theri TVs.

Three years after being let loose on the world, the Stratocaster reached the top spot in the charts in the hands of Buddy Holly with "That'll Be the Day" and later "Peggy Sue". And at the top of the charts it has remained ever since. As iconic as some of the hands that played it, the Strat is a star in it's own right. From Bob Dylan's first performance with an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 (Something I'm not entirely sure that the folk scene has ever recovered from!) , to Eric Clapton recording one of his greatest hits, "Layla" on his prized '56 Strat "Brownie", which incidentally was auctioned in 1999 for charity. It came in at $450,000 making it the most highly valued guitar of all time. That is until very recently when another Clapton Strat "Blackie" hit the 1/2 million pound mark!

Over the years, Strats have made their ways into the hands of many a guitar God, and have been instrumental in changing the course of music; Think Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. Let us not forget the Monteray Pop Festival of 1967 where the leading man of debuting band The Jimi Hendrix Experience douses his white Stratocaster with Lighter Fluid and sets it to blaze in all it's glory.

So at the ripe old age of 50, the Stratocaster remains as youthful as ever. In fact, the Strat. plans to party in style with a 50th birthday benefit gig arranged for the end of the month. The concert is in aid of the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Centre. Home of a post-graduate training course in music therapy, it boasts a specialist library of research facilities as well as a music therapy centre that is second to none. In addition to the in-house programmes, the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Outreach project provides additional music therapy sessions within hospitals, day and residential centres and specialist schools across the UK. Just as the Stratocaster helped enable popular music reach the masses and changed the course of music forever, so it seems the perfect support for a project that uses music to reach the minorities and enable them to change their lives forever.

The concert will be at Londonís Wembley Arena on Friday 24th September 2004. Appearing will be acts ranging from David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) to Amy Winehouse. It has been confirmed that David will be appearing with his serial-numbered 001 Strat which was made back in 1954.

For more information and tickets check out the Miller Strat Pack.