Official: the Fender Strat is the world's greatest guitar

The curvaceous body has been caressed by figures such as Jimi Hendrix, The Strokes and even Tony Blair over the past half century - and now the Fender Stratocaster has been named the world's greatest electric guitar.

As it celebrates its 50th anniversary the Strat, which startled with its innovative design, has been named the "ultimate" guitar by experts at What Guitar? in a list to be published this week. Second place went to the Gibson Les Paul.

Many of the greats swear by their Strats. Eric Clapton's Strat which he used to record Layla reached a record $497,500 (£317,000) at auction and Clapton says of the guitar: "I would challenge anybody to come up with a better design for a guitar. The Stratocaster is as good as it gets."

Hank Marvin credits the Strat with the distinctive sound which is washed across the finest moments of The Shadows, and the guitarist of The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr, has given the instrument new-found cool by adopting it as his plank of choice.

Stephen Lawson editor of What Guitar?, said: "It looked so different from what was around at the time. It was contoured and more comfortable to play. These curves made it look so much more modern. It is almost like a work of art, but at the same time it is a really wonderful instrument.

"It has three pick-ups, while most other guitars had only two, and that gave it a much greater variety of sounds - something most guitarists have explored.

"It's one of those instruments that can be used for anything from country to rock'n'roll. It's got one of those distinctive sounds that people will always come back to."

Sales of the Strat are on the up. In 2002 Fender sold around 50,000 in the UK and Ireland, and by last year that was up by roughly 8,000. The forecast is that around 63,000 will be sold in 2004.

Jon Gold, the senior vice-president of international sales for Fender, said: "Guitars are cool again at the moment, but these things are cyclical. The Strat really did change the face of music. There are other iconic designs, but the Strat is the one that changed it for everyone."

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