Fender vintage - standard? Wot standard?

I've always delighted in the fact that Leo Fender was a radio repairman and not a luthier, and that the Gibson versus Fender debate could also be seen as an argument over traditional luthier skills versus a funky engineer's inventions.

Where Gibson used animal glue and 'set' necks, Leo Fender used screws. Where Gibson used exotic musical tonewoods, Fender used the plentiful, cheap and reliable Alder (I know, and the occasional Ash - when did Gibson ever use Ash?). Leo Fender's eye was focused on simple production methods, so the Strat and Tele headstocks were straight inline with the neck, whereas Gibson angled the headstock away from the neck to get a clean break point where the strings went over the nut. Leo solved that problem on his own designs by adding a little restrainer to hold the strings down low on the headstock. Clunky, but it worked.

The classic Fender 'floating tremolo' is a case in point. From a luthier point of view, it's an ugly piece of engineering tech, which uses 26 (count 'em) bolts and screws, all requiring individual adjustment to get optimal performance. And yet Gibson struggled for years to find an elegant competitor (Bigsby anyone?).

But this 'engineering' approach to guitar construction is the real joy for any guitar player who wants to tweak their instrument. Don't like the neck on your Fender instrument? Just buy a replacement and bolt it in. Want to change pickups or pickup placement? Just get a new pickguard and/or pickups, all the electrics are mounted on the plastic pickguard.

And the most astonishing thing is that 50 years after the first Strat was produced, almost all of the measurements are still exactly the same. Or at least, that's what I thought.

One of the things that has bothered me about Fergus (AKA the 'James Bisset Fiftieth Anniversary Edition' strat) is that the top and bottom strings seemed very close to the edge of the neck. If I'm a little too vigorous with the strings, they fall off!

So I measured the string spacing on the Jap Hank Marvin that I'd based Fergus on and compared it with Fergus. Quel Surprise! The Fergus Fender Strat vintage bridge and the Hank Strat vintage bridge didn't match.

Can you spot the difference? Fergus is on the left and Hank erm... isn't.

strat guitar bridge comparison

If you look carefully, you'll see that the space between the edge of the bridge plate (what everything is mounted on) and the string saddles is greater on Hank than it is on Fergus (ie the string spacing is tighter on Hank than Fergus - leaving more space on either side).

And here was me thinking that Strat vintage bridge == Strat vintage bridge.

It transpires that you need to look out for string spacing too - measured from E to E. And not only that, you need to measure your string spacing using America's antiquated reliance on imperial measurements.

It would appear that my 'Strat vintage bridge' is 2 3/16" string spacing when what I need is 2 1/8" string spacing.

At least I hope so. Have you ever tried to measure sixteenths using a steel rule and a pair of reading glasses?