LESSON: Intermediate or Advanced
Complete English grammar course
Intermediate / Advanced English Reading Lessons
Lesson 1 (60 minutes)
5 minutes Conversation and discussion
30 minutes: Reading
20 minutes Writing
5 minutes Conversation and discussion
Read the text below then answer the questions below:
The History of the Fender Stratocaster: The 1950s
The Fender Stratocaster is the quintessential electric guitar—a worldwide archetype; the basic form that leaps to mind at the very mention of the phrase electric guitar even among those who don’t play. Maybe that’s because it was so well designed to start with that it has existed largely unchanged for 60 years now, allowing it to become an ingrained form in the minds of successive generations.
VOCABULARY: QUINTESSENTIAL, ARCHETYPE, LEAPS, MENTION, INGRAINED, SUCCESSIVE,
Ubiquitous and essential, the Stratocaster has transcended its original intended purpose as a tool (a stylish one, at that) to become such an archetype. It has risen above its everyday function to become a cultural symbol for creativity, individuality, artistry and more than a little exuberant rebelliousness. Been that way for quite a while now.
VOCABULARY: UBIQUITOUS, TRANSCENDED, EXUBERANT, REBELLIOUSNESS,
But it wasn’t always like that. The Stratocaster had to earn its place, and it happened neither easily nor overnight. It took quite a while, in fact, because if it’s true that the guitar was so well designed from the start that it has basically remained the same for six decades, it’s also true that it was so well designed that it was ahead of its time by at least a decade. Indeed, for about its first 10 years or so, the Stratocaster patiently bided its time while the world caught up with it.
VOCABULARY: PATIENTLY, BIDED, OVERNIGHT,
Let’s go back to that original era and have a look at the early years of what would one day be the world’s greatest electric guitar.
Fender had made promising inroads into the stodgy old U.S. musical instrument industry by 1953. A scrappy little post-war West Coast upstart that was only seven years old and led by a taciturn self-taught electronics tinkerer, Fender had already introduced two revolutionary instruments—the Telecaster and Precision Bass guitars—plus a full line of well-regarded steel guitars and a small handful of loud, rugged and stylish amps that were the best available.
VOCABULARY: INROADS, SCRAPPY, UPSTART, TACITURN, SELF-TAUGHT, TINKERER, WELL-REGARDED, RUGGED,
Fender was small in the early 1950s, but clearly going places, and it’s possible that Leo Fender turned his attention in earnest to a new electric guitar model to succeed the Telecaster and compete with more upscale competitors as early as 1951. Work on elements such as new pickups and a new bridge was certainly well under way by late 1952. Long-held conventions of design and method meant little if anything to Leo, which likely goes a long way in explaining the genesis of an instrument as extraordinary as the Stratocaster. Perhaps author Tom Wheeler put it best when, in his indispensable history The Stratocaster Chronicles, he asked:
VOCABULARY: IN EARNEST, UPSCALE, PICKUPS, MEANT, EXTRAORDINARY, INDISPENSABLE,
“How was such an ultimately dominant product created by a newcomer to the business who seemed to have several strikes against him? Leo Fender wasn’t a serious musician, had little background (or interest) in the traditional crafts or lore of instrument building, and was even less interested in associating with the old-boy network of acquaintances who ran the major guitar companies and might have helped him get on his feet.”
VOCABULARY: ULTIMATELY, DOMINANT, SEEMED, STRIKES, BACKGROUND, OLD-BOY NETWORK, ACQUAINTANCES, GET ON HIS FEET,
It’s not like Leo Fender was trying to be radical and revolutionary. A practical person, he just wanted to build a better guitar. He and his closest staff spent long hours developing and perfecting the new model, which quickly shaped up to be its own instrument rather than an improved version of the Telecaster.
Guitarist Rex Gallion, seen here in Leo Fender’s lab in early 1954 with a very early Stratocaster model, is often credited with suggesting the guitar’s comfortable contours.
VOCABULARY: RADICAL, STAFF, SHAPED UP, CONTOURS,
The new guitar certainly owed several design elements to its predecessor, though, and as late as early 1953 its body shape closely resembled that of the Telecaster. In spring of that year, however, new arrival Freddy Tavares sketched out a new body shape that sleekly adapted Leo’s balanced two-horned shape for the Precision Bass. The new guitar thus combined features of Fender’s first two instruments of the 1950s, and in another important development in early 1953, Fender sales chief Don Randall came up with a name for it: the Stratocaster.
VOCABULARY: OWED, PREDECESSOR, THOUGH, RESEMBLED, SKETCHED, SLEEKY, TWO-HORNED,
To compete with more high-end instruments from other manufacturers—particularly Gibson’s Les Paul, introduced in 1952 in response to what Randall once called the “plain Jane” Telecaster—the Stratocaster was a marked step up in design and innovation for Fender. It had not one or two but three pickups, with switching and controls that created great tonal versatility (although, curiously, the switching configuration allowed only three of several possible pickup combinations).
VOCABULARY: PLAIN-JANE, MARKED STEP UP, INNOVATION, CURIOUSLY, SWITCHING, CONFIGURATION, TONAL, VERSATILITY,
A triple-pickup configuration wasn’t the Stratocaster’s only first. The Telecaster sounded great but wasn’t especially comfortable to play because its squared-off body dug into the player’s body and picking-hand forearm. Guitarist Rex Gallion is often credited with suggesting that a solid-body guitar didn’t need squared-off edges since it didn’t have an internal sound chamber, and with asking Leo himself, “Why not get away from a body that is always digging into your ribs?” The Stratocaster was consequently given rounded edges and deep body and forearm contours that made it remarkably comfortable and added to its sleekness.
VOCABULARY: TRIPLE PICKUP, SQUARED-OFF BODY, DUG, FOREARM, SOUND CHAMBER, CONSEQUENTLY, ROUNDED EDGES, REMARKABLY,
The development of the Stratocaster also saw a notably elegant touch in Fender’s first use of a sunburst finish, which was included at Randall’s insistence to give the guitar a more high-end look. This consisted of two then-common paint colors—a brownish-black outer hue called dark Salem, which graduated to a golden inner hue called canary yellow. Sunburst finishes also conveyed the extra advantage of lessening the apparentness of mismatched wood grain in the ash bodies, which typically (but not always) consisted of two or more pieces glued together.
VOCABULARY: NOTABLY, SUNBURST FINISH, INSISTENCE, HIGH-END, THEN-COMMON, HUE, CANARY YELLOW, LESSENING, APPARENTNESS, MISMATCHED, WOOD GRAIN, GLUED,
The Stratocaster’s greatest innovation, however, was its bridge. In response to player feedback on the Telecaster, Randall wanted the new guitar to have some kind of vibrato system, and Leo was eager to better the designs by his former business partner, Doc Kauffman, and by his contemporary, Paul Bigsby. The vibrato system had to offer solid tuning stability without compromising tone, sustain, player comfort and ease of use, and Leo immersed himself in the task with his customary focus.
VOCABULARY: INNOVATION, VIBRATO, EAGER, TUNING, TONE, SUSTAIN, IMMERSED, TASK, FOCUS,
Read the text and answer the questions below.
Write 150 word summary of the history of the Fender Strat. In your text include a selection of perfect tenses and at least two examples of comparatives and superlatives.