This period is generally regarded as the worst. Even CBS already knew things were not going like they ought to, and in the latter half of this period, they were unambiguously looking to sell Fender. It is a period of cost cutting 'improvements' on guitars...

 

 

Bridge detail
Headstock detail
Type: 1980/1981 "The Strat"
Serial #: E024846
Remarks: Guitar with brass hardware (apparently 22k gold-plated). Rosewood fretboard. The bottom tone knob enables a second tier of pickup selections on the 5 way selector lever, thus allowing for 9 pickup configuration selections. It has a five-way selector switch, too. It's hard to see here, but the headstock of "The Strat" is different from all previous Stratocaster models - they didn't look at the original when they designed this. Some call it 'mutated'. Check out the detail.
The Strat was originally released in two finishes: Candy Apple Red and Lake Placid Blue. Later it also became available in Lake Placid White.
Above photo credits: An Ebay auction
1981 STRATOCASTER CHARACTERISTICS
Specs: An important transition year. While at the beginning of 1981 the basic model is still the 1976 version, by the end of the year a new model will go into production: the Standard Stratocaster, also known as the Dan Smith Strat, that is clearly a return to pre-CBS design principles: smaller headstock, four bolt neck, and body end truss rod adustement (no bullet) - it does, however, retain the CBS-style logo decal (see 1982). Note: some transition variations can be found, such as white plastic, four-bolt neck, bullet truss rod adustment and large headstock. Also offered this year: the International Color series Strats. Apart from their colors, they're basically '76 Stratocasters with the exception of the Sahara Taupe model that has also been seen with a four bolt, no bullet design.
This year also saw the release of the Walnut Strat (a souped-up The Strat) and the Gold Stratocaster (a souped-up Standard Stratocaster). The list of International Color Stratocasters: Arctic White, Morocco Red, Monaco Yellow, Maui Blue, Capri Orange, Sahara Taupe and Cathay Ebony (very much like black).

 

Type: 1981 'International Color' Stratocaster
Serial #: S954958
Remarks: In 1981, Fender released a number of new Stratocaster finishes, categorized as 'international colours'. This is the Monaco Yellow version. The serial number seems to indicate a 1979 date. This is incorrect and shows that serial number dating is not always entirely accurate.

Type: 1981 'International Color' Stratocaster
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: In 1981, Fender released a number of new Stratocaster finishes, categorized as 'international colours'. This is the Sahara Taupe version.
Above photo credits: The Rumble Seat Music site

Type: 1981 'International Color' Stratocaster
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: In 1981, Fender released a number of new Stratocaster finishes, categorized as 'international colours'. This is the Maui Blue version.
Above photo credits: An Ebay auction

Type: 1981 'International Color' Stratocaster
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: In 1981, Fender released a number of new Stratocaster finishes, categorized as 'international colours'. This is the Capri Orange.
Above photo credits: The Vintage-Guitars.se site
1982 STRATOCASTER CHARACTERISTICS
Specs: The Standard Stratocaster is introduced at the January, 1982, Winter NAMM Show. Also known as the "Dan Smith Stratocaster", it features a look back to the pre-CBS period: four bolt neck attachment, body end truss rod adjustment (no headstock bullet), and a smaller, pre-CBS headstock (though the large, black, CBS-style logo is retained until 1983). The Standard Stratocaster also features the X-1 bridge pickup first introduced in the 1980 "Strat" (which accounts for the yellow wire leading from the bridge pickup in the sixth image below). Also introduced this year are two "reissue" models: the 1957 and 1962 American Vintage Reissues.

 

Type: 1982 Stratocaster
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: Ash body with black pickguard, natural, hardtail (no tremolo). This is a so-called "Smith Strat", where CBS went back to using the old (smaller pre-CBS) headstock. Do note that the 'Stratocaster' logo is still written in a curve. Though this one has an ash body, "Smith Strat" guitars with alder bodies also exist.
Above photo credits: The Guitar Base

Type: 1982 "Smith" Stratocaster
Serial #: E 204038
Remarks: This is the guitar owned by my downstairs neighbour. It's a typical "Smith Strat", with the smaller headstock yet a large Fender Stratocaster logo. The tuners are not original.

Type: 1982 'Gold Edition' Stratocaster
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: Notice the small headstock with the large logo.
Above photo credits: Picture provided by Agusti Magnet from Fendermania in Spain
1983 STRATOCASTER CHARACTERISTICS
Specs: The 1981-82 Standard Stratocaster ("Dan Smith") is phased out in favor of a revised Standard Stratocaster featuring only one volume knob and one tone knob. Most of the Smiths built in 1983 before this transition have a new headstock logo decal style. This new logo decal will be be used in the 1987 American Standard. Also introduced in 1983 is the Elite Stratocaster with a "Freeflyte" tremolo system and Alnico pickups with solid covers (they are not Lace Sensor pickups).

 

Type: 1983 '57 Reissue Stratocaster
Serial #: V005487
Remarks: The cleanest example of a vintage 1983 Fullerton plant 1957 RI Stratocaster you ever saw - a lightweight, collector quality museum piece. Still has every piece of case candy including the case keys, Allen wrenchs, polishing cloth, extra switch, strap, owner's manual, warranty card, chrome ashtray, etc. These are some of the finest hand built Stratocasters ever produced by Fender, bar none. This one is owned by the Strat Central webmaster.
You can easily distinguish the '57 from the '62 Vintage Reissue on account of their maple or rosewood fretboards respectively. They both have their serial numbers engraved on the neck plate.

Type: 1983 Stratocaster Elite
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: The name was supposed to indicate hitherto unequaled quality. However, certain features of the Elite were not a success. The 'Freeflyte' tremolo system was bad. The three-position switch has been replaced by three push buttons. The jack plug is at the side. There's active circuitry and redesigned pickups, too, which just about sums up the redeeming features. The Elite was only made in 1983 and 1984, then discontinued. This model actually boasts a rare colour, Fiesta Red.
Above photo credits: The Guitar Base

Type: 1983 Stratocaster Elite
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: Despite the Elite's inherent flaws and faults, this natural ash hard-tail (non-tremolo) model at least looks gorgeous.
Above photo credits: The Guitar Base

Type: 1983 Walnut Elite Stratocaster
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: A rare and more exclusive version of the Stratocaster Elite was the Walnut Elite. It has gold-plated hardware.
Above photo credits: The Guitar Base

Type: 1983 (probably) hardtail Elite Stratocaster
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: The Elite was also produced in a hardtail version. Do note that the strings do not go through the body.
Above photo credits: Guns Girls and Guitars (we're catching a glimple of true male psyche here :-)

Type: 1983 Stratocaster Standard, second version
Serial #: E311668
Remarks: I got this picture submitted by the owner, who just loved the guitar, and its sound, and the way it plays. Which just goes to show that there are exceptions even to the "CBS-80's Stratocaster Standard, second edition, guitars are crap".
Above photo credits: The owner, Ton Wanten.

Type: 1983 Neck-Through Stratocaster Prototype
Serial #: Not applicable
Remarks: A one-off experiment featuring neck-through-body construction, an ebony fingerboard and American black walnut body "wings", two humbuckers and decorative brass pickup housings. It is quite possible that this is the "Ultra Strat" that never saw the light of day.
Above photo credits: Scanned from "The Stratocaster Chronicles" by Tom Wheeler (see bibliography).

Type: 1983 or 1984 Stratocaster Standard, second version
Serial #: Unknown
Remarks: A classic example of how CBS was squandering the Fender name. Cost-cutting 'improvements' here include the absence of a second tone control and the jack plug position: in the front of the pickguard. This colour is not standard, so it's probably a refinish.
Above photo credits: The Guitar Base
1984 STRATOCASTER CHARACTERISTICS
Specs: The last year of Fender-CBS. Most Strats produced this year are manufactured in Japan, apart from a continuation of the "Vintage Reissue" series introduced in 1982 and the introduction of the Marble Strat (also known as the "Bowling Ball" Strat), which, apart from finish, is otherwise the revised Standard Stratocaster.
In total, 250 Stratocasters and 75 Teles were produced using the "Marble" finish (the numbers of 225 and 75, often mentioned in books, are incorrect). Red-Black-White Swirl had 108 Strats and 21 Teles, Blue-Black-Yellow Swirl had 105 Strats and 21 Teles, and Gold-Silver-White Swirl had 37 Strats and 8 Teles.

 


Type: 1984 Stratocaster Standard, second version
Serial #: E333975
Remarks: The close-ups will show even more clearly where Fender cut costs. Note the cheap-looking bridge saddles and front-faced jack plug instead of a third control.
Above photo credits: The Guitar Base

Type: 1984 Stratocaster Standard, second version, marble finish trio
Serial #: E351263, E344759 and E351552
Remarks: These Stratocasters are also known as 'Bowling Ball' Strats. Only about 225 of these were made.
Above photo credits: An Ebay auction

Type: 1984 (probably) Nickel-plated Standard Stratocaster
Serial #: E415584
Remarks: Guitars like this aren't made by Fender, rather there's a company (follow the link below) that can gold-plate, bronze-plate or nickle-plate your guitars. This one is nickel-plated. Looks pretty cool.
Above photo credits: Guns Girls and Guitars (we're catching a glimple of true male psyche here :-)

 

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