That Time Fender Built a Carbon-Fiber Stratocaster To Celebrate a Sports Car

Invented sometime in the 1930s, the solid-body electric guitar really took off toward the late 1950s. That's when muscle cars were also about to hit the automotive world. But that's not the only thing that guitars and performance vehicles have in common.
Fender Stratocaster 1 12 photos
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As muscle cars flooded dealerships and drag strips in the 1960s, rock music became a global phenomenon. And it didn't take long for cars and guitars to become a popular combo to be showcased in music videos, films, and even at music festivals.

Not surprisingly, this partnership eventually morphed into special-edition cars inspired by guitars and musical instruments that paid tribute to iconic vehicles. The Volkswagen Beetle Fender Edition and the Fender GT Shelby Stratocaster guitar are just a couple of examples.

Fender actually built a handful of guitar tributes to the Ford and Shelby Mustangs, as well as to Carroll Shelby himself. But the American company never went beyond the classic Stratocaster recipe for these special editions. That changed in 2020 when Fender built a completely bespoke guitar out of carbon fiber.

It's called the Stratocaster 1 and was created to celebrate the Saleen S1, a sports car first previewed in 2017.

Saleen S1
A notable departure from the iconic Stratocaster that was introduced in the 1950s, the Saleen-inspired guitar took things up a notch with a hollow carbon-fiber body and a hand-carved maple top.

Just like Saleen's presentation car, the guitar was finished in Candy Apple Red. However, the body's center section remained unpainted for a bare carbon-fiber look. Yup, that's something you'd see on a Bugatti Chiron or Pagani Huayra.

Both the bridge and the fretboard were made out of carbon, even though the latter was attached to a quarter-sawn roasted maple neck. A cool way to combine modern materials with a traditional Strat recipe.

Oh, and get this, the pickup was covered by a tinted plastic lid to simulate the rear window of the mid-engined Saleen 1. Because while cars are powered by engines, guitars are basically "powered" by their pickups. Fender opted for a TV Jones PowerTron Plus humbucker instead of its usual single-coil setup for Stratocasters.

Fender Stratocaster 1
The lack of on-body controls was yet another novelty. While guitars usually come with controls for the volume and tone of the pickups, the Stratocaster 1 had none. Fender considered them to be too intrusive for the guitar's muscular body, so they were housed in a separate pedalboard unit, which also had a wah-wah modulation pedal.

But the idea was also to be able to control the guitar with your feet, just like a sports car.

Everything was put together by Ron Thorn, one of Fender Custom Shop's master builders. Also a car enthusiast, Thorn spent hours with the Saleen S1 to gather ideas and make sketches, so it's far from surprising that the Stratocaster 1 turned out to be a work of art. One that sounded fantastic too.

As you might have already figured out, creating and designing such a guitar is an expensive task, so the Stratocaster 1 hit the shelves at a significantly higher price than a regular Fender Custom Shop instrument.

Fender Stratocaster 1
While the latter usually go for anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000, the Stratocaster 1 was priced at a whopping $33,000. But there's a catch: Fender made just one. So whoever bought it, owns a unique piece of music and automotive history.

Developed in China by Jiangsu Saleen Automotive Technology, the S1 is the first car designed entirely by Saleen since the S7 supercar, which was discontinued in 2009. Although it's often considered a spiritual successor to the S7, the Saleen S1 is, in fact, a smaller, lighter, and less powerful sports car.

Unlike the S7, which came with a Ford-sourced V8 under the hood, the S1 draws juice from a GM-based, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine good for 450 horsepower. Saleen claims the S1 needs only 3.5 seconds to hit 60 mph (97 kph) from a standing start.

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