“Dylan Goes Electric” Stratocaster Found?
PBS History Detectives investigate New Jersey woman’s guitar …
Has the Stratocaster famously played by Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965 been found? Hit PBS show History Detectives reported its finding on its July 17, 2012, season premier.
Has the infamous “Dylan goes electric” Stratocaster been found?
Yes, according to the History Detectives. On the July 17 season ten opener—and 100th episode—of the hit PBS series, the show’s intrepid investigators concluded that New Jersey resident Dawn Petereson does in fact have the actual Fender Stratocaster with which Bob Dylan famously appeared onstage at the July 1965 Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island—causing folk purists to cry treason and creating a monumental moment in rock history.
Controversy immediately ensued on the news that History Detectives had authenticated Peterson’s guitar when the Dylan camp promptly disputed the show’s findings; responding that Dylan still has the Stratocaster he played at Newport in 1965.
If Peterson’s guitar is in fact the genuine article, the rock world can celebrate an extraordinary find of truly enormous musical and cultural significance. At the least, the instrument would be valued at half a million dollars.
Dylan’s July 25, 1965, onstage appearance with the guitar was a pivotal and, at the time, controversial moment in rock history. The audience of folk purists at the festival that day who were accustomed to seeing Dylan in a blue work shirt and wielding only an acoustic guitar were shocked when he strode onstage in an orange shirt and dark leather jacket and brandishing a Stratocaster—an electric guitar. And he was backed by an electric band. The set was supposed to last an hour, but Dylan only made it through “Maggie’s Farm” and “Like a Rolling Stone” before boos from the audience prompted him to leave the stage, crushed. He returned shortly afterward and turned in a solo acoustic set, but the die was cast, and history had just been made.
Little was known of the Stratocaster Dylan played that day, and in the intervening years, no one seemed to know what happened to it. Which brings us to the History Detectives.
“We’re about to investigate one of the potentially biggest finds we’ve ever made on History Detectives,” said investigator Wes Cowan at the very beginning of the show.
In the episode, Cowan and fellow investigator Elyse Luray introduced Peterson, who showed a sunburst Fender Stratocaster she said had been in her family for more than 40 years. The story goes that the guitar was left (in its case) aboard a Lockheed Lodestar aircraft piloted by her father, Vic Quinto, immediately after Dylan’s 1965 Newport appearance. Quinto had been enlisted as a private pilot for Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary; and other acts in the mid 1960s.
Peterson said she was told that, at the time, her father contacted Dylan’s management and tried to get them to pick up the forgotten Stratocaster, but met with no response. Hence, the guitar then spent nearly half a century in her family’s attic.
Peterson’s case is a compelling one (no pun intended). Her father was confirmed in the show to be Dylan’s pilot for a while in the mid 1960s, and the Stratocaster’s case is stenciled with “Property of Ashes & Sand Inc.,” which is in fact the name of the company Dylan formed to administer his tours. The case also contained a dozen pages of handwritten lyrics that were authenticated as the work of Dylan himself by a Dylan expert appearing in the episode. Finally, there was the guitar itself, which certainly appeared to be in the right ballpark—a Stratocaster bearing serial number 31324; flat-wound strings; a May 2, 1964, neck stamp; and a sunburst finish and rosewood fingerboard that stood up well to close photographic scrutiny of Dylan onstage at newport.
Compelling factors all, but still a daunting challenge considering that Fender made thousands of sunburst-finish Stratocasters that look just like it.
Initially skeptical of the guitar’s authenticity, Cowan and Luray threw themselves into unraveling the mystery with their customary entertaining thoroughness, enlisting a small team of experts including a Newport-era Dylan roadie and noted author/musician/historian Andy Babiuk (Beatles Gear author and Chesterfield Kings bassist/songwriter), whom Luray visited at his retail guitar shop in Fairport, N.Y., Andy Babiuk’s Fab Gear. It was Babiuk’s comparison of details in the guitar’s wood grain and fingerboard—which he likened to a fingerprint—to close-up photos of Dylan onstage with the guitar at Newport that convinced Luray and Cowan that Peterson did indeed possess a truly remarkable piece of rock history.