1983 Fender Stratocaster Elite

CRAVE Guitars says…

Thumbs up: Very unusual and immensely versatile, electronics, aesthetics, weight, condition, different from the norm, scarcity, OHSC

Thumbs down: The antithesis of the pluses make it an anathema to Stratocaster purists looking for vintage architecture and tone

Decree: A careful balancing act between traditional and modern that failed to ignite the imagination of players at the time, now deserving serious re‑evaluation as a genuine cult classic

Model Description:

So much has been written about the history of the venerable Fender Stratocaster that it’s not for retelling here, so let’s take a closer look at the original Stratocaster Elite model. Fender only produced The Elite Stratocaster, Telecaster and Precision for two years in 1983 and 1984, during the period often referred to as the ‘Dan Smith’ era. Dan Smith attempted to restore Fender’s ailing reputation by giving instruments a vintage look and feel while also bringing in many innovations to appeal to the modern player. At first glance, the Elite doesn’t appear at all radical. However, there is very little that is ‘normal’ about the Elite. The headstock harked back to the original slim design with unobtrusive truss rod adjustment. The rosewood fingerboard on this example is a vintage‑style ‘slab’, rather than the later veneer type. The neck profile is shallow, the fingerboard quite flat and the frets are medium, giving it a very modern feel. The oft‑derided 3‑bolt neck plate reverted back to the more traditional 4‑bolt version, here engraved with ‘Fender Elite’. Then there are the 3 covered noiseless pickups with active electronics. The usual 5‑way pickup selector switch has gone, replaced with 3 on/off buttons, one for each pickup, giving it combinations not possible with any other Stratocaster model of the time. The two tone controls comprise Fender’s propriety MDX (MiD‑range eXpander) boost and TBX (Treble/Bass eXpander) circuits. Elite Stratocasters were normally equipped with a Freeflyte vibrato although a few were released with a hardtail version with top‑loaded strings. The familiar Stratocaster jack plate is also no more, with the socket relocated to the lower body edge. In fact, the only connection to the Stratocaster template is the overall iconic outline. As you can imagine, the Elite was not popular with conservatives looking for a ‘vintage’‑style Stratocaster and it didn’t last long. However, many of the features have appeared on other models since. Production of the original Elite series effectively ceased when CBS sold Fender to a management buyout. All in all, the Elite proves to be a very interesting and unique model in Fender’s back catalogue and therefore of great interest to CRAVE Guitars. Original Elites are quite rare and this unusual variant is now beginning to become collectable. There was a temporary ‘Made in Japan’ version in catalogues from 1983 to 1986. There is no direct lineage between the original Elite and the models launched by Fender in 2016 that revived the ‘Elite’ moniker.

Guitar Description:

If you’ve read the model description, you’ll realise that the eccentric Stratocaster Elite unlike any other Stratocaster before or since. This all‑original example from 1983 is in wonderful condition with only a few minor bumps and nicks here and there and the Olympic White is gradually fading to a lovely ivory colour. The rosewood fingerboard contrasts beautifully with the finish and is a delight to play. It is also noticeably lighter and slinkier than many of its immediate predecessors. It may be personal taste but I prefer a hardtail Stratocaster to a vibrato‑equipped one, so the absence of the Freeflyte vibrato is not a huge issue, at least for me. Sound wise, the Elite is a Stratocaster on steroids being both intuitive and hugely versatile. The novel pickup selection allows the ‘all‑on’ and ‘neck‑and‑bridge’ (and ‘all‑off’/’kill switch’) combinations that a standard Stratocaster can’t match and in such a straightforward fashion. Pure genius and heresy at the same time. The battery‑powered active preamp makes the most of the all‑new Alnico V noiseless pickups (with an additional noise‑cancelling dummy pickup to reduce hum) adding a beefy punch when needed. The Elite isn’t all brawn, as it can also do sweet and subtle. Those active tone controls make it very flexible. For Stratocaster aficionados, it retains many of the tones that fans are comfortable with but in a modern package for those looking for an alternative to the standard. Many commentators suggest that the Elite sounds more like a humbucker­‑equipped guitar but I reckon that it sounds like a gutsy Stratocaster with powerful but largely familiar Fender‑like single coil tones. The Elite concept brazenly makes no attempt to recreate a vintage Stratocaster and you’ll have to make up your own mind whether that is a good or bad thing. If you are prepared to look beyond Leo Fender’s original Stratocaster blueprint/straightjacket, then there is an awful lot to like about the vintage Elite. This one also comes with its original Fender U.S.A. ABS hard shell case. I admit that I have been won over and I have become a big fan of the nonconformist, short‑lived and underdog Fender Elite series. A Stratocaster that was – and to some extent is still – ahead of its time. Who says CBS‑era Fenders weren’t up to scratch?


  • Made in Fullerton, California, U.S.A. in 1983
  • Alder body finished in Olympic White polyester
  • Maple bolt‑on neck with mahogany ‘skunk stripe’
  • Standard 1980s headstock with silver ‘Fender’ logo
  • Original Fender‑branded tuners
  • Scale length 25½” (647mm)
  • Unbound ‘slab’ rosewood fingerboard with 21 frets and white dot markers
  • Bi‑flex truss rod
  • 4‑bolt etched ‘Fender Elite’ neck plate with ‘Micro‑Tilt’ adjustment
  • Original chrome hardware
  • Original Fender Freeflyte™ top loading hardtail bridge
  • 3‑ply white/black/white scratchplate with white pickup covers
  • Original trio of noiseless single coil Alnico V pickups (plus noise cancelling dummy coil)
  • 3 on/off push‑button switches, one for each pickup
  • Unique original white Fender‑branded control knobs with ridged black rubber grip rings
  • On‑board active 9V preamp with MDX (mid‑range) and TBX (high‑range) tone controls
  • Edge‑mounted jack socket
  • Weight: 7lb 11oz (3.49kg)
  • Original Fender U.S.A. ABS hard shell case


  • Ty Tabor (King’s X)


The Fender Stratocaster Elite’s features effectively served as a working prototype for the Eric Clapton signature model introduced in 1988 as well as the Richie Sambora model in 1991 and Buddy Guy version in 1995.

Detail Gallery:

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