Recent research has demonstrated that electrostatic sensors can be applied to the measurement of rotational speed with excellent repeatability and accuracy under a range of conditions. However, the sensing mechanism and fundamental characteristics of the electrostatic sensors are still largely unknown and hence the design of the sensors is not optimised for rotational speed measurement. This paper presents the mathematical modelling of strip electrostatic sensors for rotational speed measurement and associated experimental studies for the validation of the modelling results. In the modelling, an ideal point charge on the surface of the rotating object is regarded as an impulse input to the sensing system. The fundamental characteristics of the sensor, including spatial sensitivity, spatial filtering length and signal bandwidth, are quantified from the developed model. The effects of the geometric dimensions of the electrode, the distance between the electrode and the rotor surface and the rotational speed being measured on the performance of the sensor are analyzed. A close agreement between the modelling results and experimental measurements has been observed under a range of conditions. Optimal design of the electrostatic sensor for a given rotor size is suggested and discussed in accordance with the modelling and experimental results.