The Stratocaster introduced into the popular market several features that were innovative for electric guitars in the mid 1950s. The distinctive body shape, which has become commonplace among electric guitars, was revolutionary for the time period, and for the first time a mass-market electric guitar did not significantly resemble earlier acoustic models. The offset waist, double cutaway, elongated horns, and heavily contoured back were all designed for better balance and comfort to play while standing up and slung off the shoulder with a strap. The three-pickup design offered players increased versatility and choice in tone quality over earlier one- and two-pickup electric guitars, and a responsive and simplified vibrato arm integrated into the bridge plate, which marked a significant design improvement over other vibrato systems, such as those manufactured by Bigsby. All of these design elements were popularized and later became an industry standard due to the success of the Stratocaster.
Over the years, countless variations of the Stratocaster have been made. The modular nature of the guitar, with its easily removable components, left players and luthiers to perform numerous modifications to their own guitars, changing out pickups or necks to fit the needs of the player. Fender has released numerous models with different pickup configurations, and has made other small modifications to the electronics and components of the base model, such as changing the initial 3-position selector switch to a standard 5-position selector switch, as well as other small cosmetic changes to things like tuning pegs and types of woods used in various parts of the guitar.
The archetypical Stratocaster is a solid-body electric guitar with a contoured asymmetric double-cutaway body with an extended upper horn; the body is usually made from alder or ash. The neck is usually made from maple and attached to the body with screws (often referred to as "bolts") and has a distinctive headstock with six tuning pegs mounted inline along a single side; the fingerboard may be maple or another wood, e.g. rosewood, and has at least twenty-one frets. The Stratocaster's body is front-routed for electronics, which are mounted in a plastic pickguard. Most Stratocasters have three single-coil pickups, a pickup selector switch, one volume control and two tone controls. Pivoting "tremolo" bridges are common, balanced by springs mounted in a rear cavity, and the bridge has six individually adjustable saddles whose height and intonation can be set independently. The output jack is mounted in a recess in the front of the guitar body.