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The Sensational Story of the See-Through Stratocaster«

The Birth of the Stratocaster«

Our story begins in the 1950's at the old Fender« factory in South Raymond Avenue, Fullerton, California. In 1954, the first Stratocaster« rolled off the production lines. This iconic guitar was designed by Leo Fender with the collaboration of musicians, notably local touring guitarist Bill Carson, without whom the Strat«, in its present form, would not exist.

Plans for a see-through Strat«

In 1957, Carson was involved in a top-secret Fender« project to build a completely see-through Stratocaster«. Commissioned by the then-head of sales, Don Randall, the purpose was twofold: On the one hand, the finished article was to be taken on tour around schools and museums in the United States, to educate the nation's children on the inner workings of Leo Fender's revolutionary Stratocaster« guitar. On the other hand, a fully transparent guitar would be the first of its kind, and would illustrate to the public, just how innovative and amazing the Stratocaster« was, with its flexible truss rod and state-of-the-art electronics.

The process of building the see-through Strat« was a daunting one, and the factory engineers' first task was to find a substance transparent enough to enable the instrument's inner workings to be seen clearly. The solution was found at the DuPont Corporation, who, as well as being the nation's foremost manufacturer of automobile paint, also supplied the custom paints for Fender« guitars.

Lucite«

DuPont chemists had discovered a polymer called methyl methacrylate (which was among the first plastics derived from petrochemicals) in 1931. The substance, which was eventually given the brand name Lucite«, had a crystal-clear appearance and an amazing strength that was far superior to any nitrocellulose-based plastics. Lucite« was in heavy demand during World War II for use in windshields, nose cones, and gunner turrets for bombers and fighter planes. After the war, DuPont marketed it for use in a variety of decorative and functional uses, such as lamps, hairbrushes and jewellery.

The Making of the See-Through Strat

Although the construction of the Lucite Strat« began in 1957, it took a painstaking FOUR YEARS to complete. Because it was a unique guitar, it had to be built completely by hand. Finally, in 1961, it was ready to play. Although it was built to be played as well as displayed, it was impractical for use as an instrument due to its colossal weight – it weighed 18 lbs (8.18 kgs).

“The Thousand Dollar Guitar”

The Lucite Strat was given a serial number of 26860, which corresponds to a guitar made in 1957/8. The tremolo arm, bridge unit and tuning pegs were all gold plated and it was topped off with a pre-1959 eight-screw pickguard. The neck had a "V" profile.

This see-through wonder was displayed at music trade shows, where it was billed as “The Thousand Dollar Guitar!!!” and given pride of place on the Fender« stand. After the first couple of shows, the guitar had its gold hardware removed and replaced with chrome parts, to improve its aesthetic value and keep it looking new.

Mid-Sixties Modifications

In 1965, the winds of change blew through the company, and it was taken over by the CBS Corporation. In the same year, the powers-that-be at CBS decided for further modify the guitar by adding a CBS neck plate and serial number of 77958, which corresponds to an instrument made in 1965.

Science Museum

The Lucite Strat« was withdrawn as a trade show crowd pleaser and was lent to a science museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During this time, the guitar became the responsibility of Bill Carson, who, by now, had been appointed Fender's Director of Artist Relations in Nashville.

Nashville Airport – the Last Public Sighting of the See-Through Strat«

After its stint at the museum, the Lucite Strat« was mounted in a glass case and displayed in the lobby of Nashville airport, where it greeted the thousand of tourists and businessmen who flew into the area. After a few months, the cost of displaying the guitar as an advertisement for Fender« were considered too high, and it was withdrawn. This was to be the last time that the guitar would ever be displayed in public again.

The Forgotten Guitar

Sadly, this magnificent creation became something of a nuisance by the late 1960's. It was too heavy to play and wasn't in keeping with the ideas of the Fender/CBS Corporation. Unable to find a use for this promotional oddity, Bill Carson stashed the Strat« under his bed, where it lay unloved, unplayed and forgotten for a good few years.

Sold!

Bill Carson evenually sold the Lucite Strat« and some other Fender«-related bits and pieces to guitar enthusiast and writer John Sprung in the mid 1980's. (John's works include the excellent book, Fender Amps – The First Fifty Years.) John played the guitar a number of times and in his own words, the guitar "played pretty well."

The Guitar's Current Whereabouts

In 1990, John sold it to a private collector, who still owns the guitar to this day. Although it was originally billed as “The $1,000 Guitar”, it is quite clearly worth substantially more than that sum now. In a recent article in the U.S magazine, Guitar Player, the Lucite Strat« was described as “The most valuable non-celebrity solidbody Fender« ever made.”

As interest grows in vintage and collectable Fender« guitars, it may well be time for the Lucite Strat« to go on display once more.

Thanks to Tom Wheeler and John Sprung for their assistance in writing this article.