December 1, 2004

Triple-0 Stratocaster
Original triple-O Stratocasters are plenty rare. This one-serial number 0006-is certainly not the sixth Strat off the line, but it dates to July 1954, the model's premier year. It was made during the first few months of production of any kind, and three months before the Strat's first "official" production run.

Does the serial number have any special significance? Maybe. This guitar was reported to have once belonged to Arthur Smith of "Guitar Boogie" fame. Smith told current owner Paul Wells that while he did receive a Strat from Fender's East Coast representative in the early days, he couldn't confirm that this is it.

"My TV show was out of Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Fender representative-I don't remember his name-was a big fan, and he said that every time Fender built something new, he wanted me to have one of the first ones," remembered Smith.

The very earliest production Stratocasters-from about April through the early summer of '54-had "mini-skirt" knobs of a brittle plastic often mislabeled Bakelite, round (not oval) holes on the tremolo spring cover plate, serial numbers on the cover plate rather than on the neck plate, and they came in curve-sided cases.

This one has the round holes and mini-skirts (the third knob is a replacement), but it also has a neck-plate serial number and a tweed rectangular case typical of slightly later guitars. The original pickup covers are still in Wells' possession, but they had virtually disintegrated, and were replaced.

Aside from the fabulous one-piece body with its distinctive chevron grain patterns, details include a honey-colored neck tint, a signature by "Caroline" (apparently a Fender worker at the time), and the initials "T.G." penciled on the end of the neck, signifying the guitar was inspected by longtime Fender craftsman Tadeo Gomez. The code numbers on the pots are 304424: The 304 identifies the manufacturer as Stackpole, the next digit signifies 1954, and the last two digits indicate the 24th week (mid June). This clue does not pinpoint the exact date of guitar production, however, as the pot was likely on hand for a while prior to installation. In any case, all clues are consistent with the 7-13-54 date penciled on the body. (For more on pot code numbers see Clay Harrell's excellent website at provide.net/~cfh/pots.html.)

- Tom Wheeler  

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