Originaly came with a maple neck, though in 1959 it was stock with rosewood. Fender was sold to CBS in 1965, and begining in 1966 the Stratocaster was given the "fat" headstock, a choice of a maple or rosewood neckboard, and a remarkeable loss in sound quality arose. Sale to Fender employees around the mid eighties saw most Stratocasters produced in Japan, though from late '86 to about '89 the American Stratocasters were considered as high a quality instrument as the originals.
Stratocasters now come in all shapes and sized, good and bad. From the introduction of the "Fat Strat" humbucker (which would probably have Leo doing 50 RPM's in his coffin), to the new hideous "Bick Block" Strat geared towards metal heads.
The tone of the three-single coil solid-body guitar is bright and sharp in the bridge pickups while fat, warm and rounded in the middle and neck. The tone and overall design of the guitar is attempted to be copied by almost all major guitar companies, included Leo Fender's second company formed in the eighties, G&L guitars. G&L has the only right to do so becuase they were also produced by Leo Fender, who died in 1991.
The single-coil pups in the Strat also caused a great deal of discharged feedback, though "phased-out" positions could be reached and are now stock in the five-way switch, allowing a reverse-coiled pup in the middle to cancel out some of the feedback discharge, leading to a "quiet" guitar, though the Stratocaster is by all rights a "noisy" guitar. This feedback was used to the advantage of the playing styles of guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, who would jump on and pound the Stratocaster to create loud and animalic howls and screams.
Today, the vintage Stratocaster market is strong, with the 50's one-peice maple "V Neck" Stratocasters selling in the $35,000 - 50,000 range while the early sixties peices go within $20,000. Japan has a large amount of American pre-CBS guitars, happily enough these traditionalist Japanese musicians like to actually play their guitars, giving these Americana relics a very nice home, unlike some American collectors who stock them on shelves inside their houses and never even learn how to play the guitar.
Contrary to some belief, the highest quality Stratocasters are still made here in the United States. The best are made under either the "American Vintage" series or the Custom Shop "Time Machine" series, which both excitingly recreate vintage Stratocaster designs to the original specs, including the now-expensively outdated Nitrocellulose Lacquer finish. More wealthy artists also have the Fender Custom Shop produce one-of-a-kind guitars specifically to their own wishes and designs. These "dream" guitars are even ordered by players Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton.
If you buy a vintage, early post-CBS, or modern "American Vintage" or Custom Shop "Time Machine" guitars, you are getting the best of the best.