Saleen Fender 15

Meet The Fender Stratocaster 1 & The Supercar That Inspired It

  • The ultra-sleek Fender Stratocaster 1 is inspired by and modeled after the Saleen S1.
  • A gorgeous red, the guitar is the work of Fender Principal Master Builder Ron Thorn.
  • Decisions, decisions! We are not sure which one we like more: the car or the guitar!

At first it might seem like an odd paring, a guitar company in collaboration with a boutique car outfit, but in the case of Fender and Saleen, it makes a certain amount of sense. During the recent National Association of Musical Merchants (NAMM) Show in Anaheim, California, Fender revealed a custom guitar that is as much a hot rod as what Saleen turns out.

Guitars & Fast Cars

Fender really needs no introduction. If you don’t know who they are, just look at any rockstar, and half of the time, they’re paying a Fender. Likewise, Saleen, although a small company, is well known among gearheads worldwide for making hotter versions of Ford products when they are not manufacturing, racing, and winning with their own homegrown sports cars.

Every year, Fender does a run of special guitars and custom one-offs for the NAMM show. NAMM is for guitar makers what the Detroit Auto Show (NAIAS) is for people like General Motors. It is the place to demonstrate just how good you are. This year was no different with the Fender Custom Shop showcasing their latest innovations. They’ve got new pickup designs, wiring schemes, new finish processes, wood combinations, and more. But what is of main interest to us here at Automoblog is one of the creations cooked up by Fender Master Builder Ron Thorn.

Fender Custom Shop Principal Master Builder Ron Thorn with his Fender Stratocaster 1, based on the Saleen S1.
Fender Custom Shop Principal Master Builder Ron Thorn with his Fender Stratocaster 1, based on the Saleen S1. Photo: Fender.

Beyond Just Limited Edition

Sure, there’s the normal “Limited Edition” series that celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Fender Broadcaster, and the Jimmy Page Signature Telecaster, described as a “faithful recreation” of the guitar Jeff Beck once gave Page. But here specifically, we’re talking about the 2020 Prestige Collection Strat. Listing at a not-cheap but probably seriously worth it $33,000, Thorn’s Fender Stratocaster 1 looks exactly like the car that inspired it.

Turns out that, like a lot of rock and roll types, Thorn has always loved fast cars. By his own admission, he was taken by the design parallels of both the Fender Stratocaster and Saleen S1 supercar. So Thorn cooked up this one-of-a-kind start that combines elements of both. The result is called the Stratocaster 1.

“Fender Custom Shop and Saleen Automotive are two titans in their respective industries – both producing top gear and high-performance products in Corona, California,” Thorn explained. “Being an automotive enthusiast, I’m absolutely thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with the legendary Steve Saleen and his amazing team.”

Fender Stratocaster 1: Design & Construction

This ax is finished in a striking Saleen Candy Apple Red. Yes, that is a great color for a guitar, but it’s much more than a paint job. The Stratocaster 1 also features a hand-laid and hollow carbon-fiber body, so it’s extremely light. Thorn also added a roasted alder center block and a hand-carved maple top. I think what Fender means by “roasted” is that the alder is heat treated to increase the density and, in effect, boil out the moisture and pitch still found in the wood.

Beautiful Lines & Carbon Fiber

The neck is quarter-sawn roasted maple with a carbon fiber round-lam fingerboard (12-inch radius), and with medium (curiously) jumbo frets rather than the normal super-jumbos. I want to, one day, ask Thorn more about why he went this route. The neck is topped off with a matching carbon fiber headstock overlay that is flashy and practical (if you want to think about stuff like damping headstock resonances and such).

“The new Saleen 1’s beautiful lines, carbon fiber construction, and other unique details were the inspiration behind the design and construction of the Stratocaster 1,” Thorn said. “It was an extremely challenging yet fulfilling build, utilizing methods, materials and concepts new to both the Fender Custom Shop and myself.”

Saleen S1 Graphics

Extra Equipment For The Stage

The electronics package gets its own special Saleen design touch with the high-output TV Jones Power’Tron Plus bridge pickup. There’s also the new custom “6-Stack” bridge and a handmade Strat 1 tailpiece. Both are new Fender innovations that give the guitar a sleek custom look and tone. No word whether Fender will start putting these on other guitars, but they could.

There’s also the matching custom Strat 1 pedal board with volume, tone, and wah-wah controls. Fender says this enhances the player’s “driving experience” showing they still have a knack for making puns just like Leo Fender did back in the 60s.

Invitation To Shred?

I’d love to tell you how the Strat 1 plays and about the intricacies of its sound, but for some reason, Fender has not sent me their $33,000 guitar, so I really can’t speak to that. Actually, you know who they should send it to? My friend Ronnie. Son of a respected drag racer, Ronnie quit his career as a state chemist to become an award- winning BBQ chef, then ditched that to become a luthier of considerable talent.

Ron and I have been playing since high school, and he can spank the plank with the best of them. He’s a hot rodder and a guitar maker, so he’s the guy to ask. So really, Fender should just go ahead and ship out that Stratocaster 1 to me, and I’ll hand it off to Ron. We’ll let you know what we think. You can contact us here.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz

Photos & Source: Fender Custom Shop, Saleen Automotive.