Fender guitars are iconic, they have a look, a look of sleek refinement that says play me and play me loud, ply me subtly and play me well. For many people of a certain age their first awareness of the Fender Stratocaster was on the cover of the 1957 Chirping Crickets album on which Buddy is clutching his guitar. Two years earlier Buddy walked into Adair Music in Lubbock and traded his first electric guitar for a brand-new Fender Stratocaster – back then they cost a shade over $300
Four years later on the cover of the first Shadows album Hank Marvin is holding, admittedly not as visibly, his Stratocaster that he had bought because of seeing Holly’s on the Cricket’s album. Ask just about any British guitarist that came after the Shadows and most every one will admit to having been impressed with Hank’s red and white Stratocaster.
Before the Stratocaster there was the Telecaster, the first solid-body electric guitar; the initial single-pickup production model appeared in 1950 and was called the Esquire. It’s known for its bright, rich, cutting tone, referred to as the telecaster twang as well as its mellow, warm, bluesy tone. It all depends on which pickup, is used – “bridge” pickup for the twang and “neck” for the mellow tone.
In the early days it was country musicians that favoured the Telecaster. James Burton who played with Elvis and Rick Nelson was one of its early stars. Eric Clapton played a Tele while he was with the Yardbirds and Blind Faith. King of the Chicago Blues, Muddy Waters was another who favoured the Telecaster as did Stax man Booker T and the MG’s guitarists, Steve Cropper and Albert Collins. At the Beatles last ever live appearance, on the roof of the Apple building, George Harrison played a custom made Telecaster. Jimmy Page played one on the solo on ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
The Stratocaster came along in 1954 and so sixty years later it has been a mainstay of rock bands and just about every other kind of band ever since. Today you can buy an Eric Clapton signature Stat, along with ones endorsed by Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Ritchie Blackmore and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. If you want one like Buddy Holly is holding on the cover of the Chirping crickets album there’s a 60th anniversary commemorative Stratocaster that is retailing on the Fender website at $1500.
As soon as you hear the opening notes of Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans of Swing’ played of course by Mark Knopfler you know it’s a Strat, the tone gives it away, but you need to be a guitarist of Mark’s stature to make it sing so well.
Eric Clapton used his Stratocaster he called ‘Brownie’ on the Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs album. Eric had bought Brownie at London’s Sound City while touring with Cream in May 1967 for $400. It has an alder body, two-tone sunburst finish, a maple neck, skunk-stripe routing and black dot inlays and was manufactured in 1956 and the serial number is 12073 and can be seen on the cover of his solo album Eric Clapton. In June 1999 Clapton sold the guitar at Christie’s in New York City to help raise funds for his Crossroads Centre. Brownie sold for $497,500 becoming the most expensive guitar ever sold at the time only to be eclipsed by Clapton’s other favourite guitar Blackie on that sold for $959,500 in 2004. Brownie can be seen at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington.
Another iconic Fender track is the Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’, it’s Keith Richards the riff-master at his very best. In 1981 when the band played Hampton Coliseum ‘Satisfaction’ was the encore. Mick draped in his Union Jack/Stars and Stripes cape and with with Keith riffing and hundreds of coloured balloons showering down from the roof, a fan charges on stage. Keith swerves, the fan comes back for a second pass and in an instant Keith whips off his Fender and smacks the guy round the head with it. The fan stumbles, security escort him from the stage and Keith carries on as though nothing untoward has happened. Despite the attack the Telecaster stays in tune. According to Keith, “The damn thing stayed in tune, and this is the greatest advertisement for Fender that I can give you.”
We have put together a 60 track playlist in celebration of Fender and aside from what we’ve already mentioned there’s music from Pink Floyd with Dave Gilmour’s memorable soloing on ‘Comfortably Numb’, Joe Walsh in his James Gang days, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Cream along with many other tracks, some well known, some not so well known. What do you think we’ve left out?[spotify http://open.spotify.com/user/udiscover/playlist/4llQq4HySENzqxF6HyFBA8]