Ten Iconic Fender Guitars


The Fender Custom Shop recreated Jimi Hendrix’s infamous Olympic White 1968 Stratocaster in 2003.

Ten Iconic Fender Guitars

By Pauline France

Beyond merely being musical instruments, guitars can become highly coveted and revered objects. Much of that reverence comes not just from the instruments themselves, but from their role in the songs and stories of those who played them. An instrument may be remarkable in and of itself, but it can be rendered as much more than just an assembly of wood, metal, plastic and paint depending on what a player does with it.

With that in mind, here’s a list of Fender-wielding guitar heroes and some of their most revered instruments.

Clapton’s Blackie was recreated by the Fender Custom Shop in 2006.

Jeff Beck’s 1954 Esquire. This 1954 Esquire became Beck’s property when he convinced Walker Brothers guitarist John Maus to sell it to him in 1965. The innovative and influential guitarist tore up track after track with the elegantly elemental guitar during his youthful mid-’60s tenure with the Yardbirds, and later presented it as a gift to pickup guru Seymour Duncan. Duncan subsequently loaned it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for public display, and the Fender Custom Shop unveiled a masterfully meticulous re-creation of the guitar in 2006. Watch Beck play “I’m a Man” on it with the Yardbirds on U.S. television in 1966 here.

Roy Buchanan’s 1953 Telecaster. Nicknamed “Nancy” by Buchanan, this 1953 Tele is in enviable condition for a guitar that’s nearly 60 years old. The enigmatic and eccentric Buchanan was one of the world’s foremost yet unsung Telecaster masters, with jaw-dropping feel, tone and technique that resulted in some of the world’s most distinctive electric guitar music. Nancy now belongs to vintage guitar collector Mac Yasuda and is on display at the Fullerton Museum Center in Fullerton, Calif. Watch Buchanan play blues-y excursion “Soul Dressing” here.

Eric Clapton’s “Blackie.” Undoubtedly one of the most famous electric guitars of all time, “Blackie” came to be in 1970 when Clapton pieced together parts from three late-’50s Strats he bought from a Nashville music store. He recorded and toured the world with his custom-built guitar for 12 years, creating some of his most famous solo work with it. Clapton eventually retired the guitar, and ultimately put it up for auction in 2004 through Christie’s to raise funds for his Caribbean treatment and rehab clinic, the Crossroads Centre. Guitar Center acquired the prized guitar, placing a winning bid of nearly a million dollars. Watch Clapton’s slow hands work some magic on “Blackie” here.

Buddy Guy’s Polka Dot Stratocaster. This guitar received its distinctive polka dot finish at the request of Guy himself, a famously flamboyant electric blues master who wanted an instrument that reflected his personal style and panache. Polka dots did the trick. And when it comes to searing, screaming, seminal electric blues, nobody connects the dots like Guy, a massively influential figure in the blues and rock worlds. Behold it in its full glory right here.

Rory Gallagher’s 1961 Stratocaster. We’re hard-pressed indeed to think of another Strat as thoroughly beat up as Gallagher’s battered ’61 model, which he put to such phenomenal use throughout his acclaimed and highly influential career. The Irish blues-rock master bought the guitar—reportedly one of the first Strats in Ireland, if not the first—at Crowley’s Music Store in Cork in 1963, and modified it heavily over the years. Most notably, though, Gallagher literally wore most of the sunburst finish right off the guitar; a process hastened by the fact that he had a rare blood type that made his sweat unusually acidic (and he was a charismatic performer who sweated buckets in concert), leaving quite a lot of bare wood after years of heavy use. It was his favorite instrument, and he played it almost exclusively until his death in 1995. The treasured guitar now belongs to younger brother Dónal Gallagher. Watch Gallagher tear through “Tattoo’d Lady” on German television in 1979 here.

David Gilmour’s “0001.” Let’s be clear here—Gilmour’s 1954 Stratocaster was not the first Stratocaster ever made, but its “0001” serial number nonetheless makes it a highly unusual instrument. The guitar was previously owned by pickup maker Seymour Duncan, who sold it in the mid-1970s to Pink Floyd guitar tech Phil Taylor. When Taylor needed money a couple years later for a down payment on a home, Gilmour acquired the guitar for an undisclosed sum, using it from about 1977 onward on various Pink Floyd recordings and on work with Paul McCartney and Bryan Ferry. See it in action here.

Gallagher’s 1961 Strat was also taken on by the Fender Custom Shop, released in 2004.

George Harrison’s “Rocky.” Well before Harrison’s self-applied psychedelic paint job, this Stratocaster began life as an early-’60s custom-color model (Sonic Blue), which the Beatles guitarist acquired in early 1965. Sometime between the spring 1967 end of sessions for landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the famous “All You Need Is Love” global telecast of June 25, 1967, the Stratocaster underwent a radical transformation in the form of a new multicolored psychedelic paint job. Harrison himself was the artist, using dayglo paint and nail polish. It acquired a few other colorful touches in 1969, when Harrison applied the guitar’s nickname, “Rocky,” to the headstock, painted “Bebopalula” on the upper body and “Go Cat Go” on the pickguard. Harrison never parted with the guitar, and it remains in the possession of the Harrison estate. Harrison describes the artwork here.

Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Olympic White Stratocaster. Among the many Strats that Hendrix played, one of the most well known is the Olympic White 1968 model he so famously used at the Woodstock festival in New York in August 1969. The audience there witnessed perhaps the most extraordinary performance of the entire festival when Hendrix launched into his explosive and historic rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Hendrix also played it at the 1969 Newport Pop Festival in Northridge, Calif., and at what turned out to be his final performance, at the Isle of Fehrman in Germany a few days before his death in 1970. The guitar is now on display at the EMP Museum in Seattle, the city where Hendrix was born and raised. Watch Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” performance from the Woodstock film here.

The Fender Custom Shop released a tribute model of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Number One in 2004.

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One.” Vaughan tore through the 1980s like a tornado, seemingly singlehandedly restoring electric blues to the top of the charts with blistering Stratocaster work that remains as revered and influential today as ever. He played several Strats, but his beloved 1963 model was his “Number One.” He bought the guitar in Austin, Texas, in the mid ’70s and proceeded to create some of the world’s most powerful and acclaimed electric Texas blues with it until his death in August 1990. The guitar now belongs to acclaimed artist and older brother Jimmie Vaughan. See the guitar here.

Bruce Springsteen’s Esquire. This guitar is familiar to millions because of its prominent appearance on the cover of Springsteen’s magnificent 1975 breakout album Born to Run. It’s also seen on the covers of Live/1975-85 (1986), Human Touch (1992), and Greatest Hits (1995). Although the addition of a neck pickup makes it look like a Telecaster, make no mistake—this is an early-’50s Esquire (’53 or ’54 according to the Boss’s camp). A heavily worn blackguard beauty, it’s so revered among Springsteen fans that it even has its own statue in Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey. Watch the Boss wield his Esquire right here.


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