PHOTO: Getty Images
Read how H.E.R.'s amazing clear Stratocaster was made and see who else played their favorite Fender gear on stage at the Grammys.
By Mike Duffy
One of the most talked about performances at the 61st annual Grammy Awards also featured one of the most eye-popping instruments.
Los Angeles' Staples Center was buzzing for singer/songwriter H.E.R. - nominated in four categories including Best R&B Album, Album of the Year, Best New Artist and Best R&B Performance - and the California native absolutely delivered. H.E.R. brought the room to their feet with a soaring rendition of her mesmerizing ballad "Hard Place" while playing a fully clear Stratocaster.
The unique guitar was hand-made by Fender Custom Shop Master Builder Scott Buehl, who only got word of the project a week prior to Sunday's show.
It all started when H.E.R.'s camp reached out to Fender Artist Marketing Manager Moya Nkruma to inquire whether a clear guitar could even be made. Nkruma went to Fender Senior Vice President of Operations Ed Magee, who promptly called the Custom Shop.
An instrument like this - a show-stopping, one-off guitar that's not just fully functioning, but also sounds great - would typically take a month to create. But the Custom Shop mobilized.
"I asked the crazy question, 'Can we do this in a week?'" Magee said. "They came back and said they could do it. They went in 100 percent on it."
Buehl, who had made instruments out of acrylic before, jumped at the opportunity and worked on nothing but this unique guitar for an entire week. It wasn't easy - acrylic is a delicate material that can crack as holes are drilled or the body is shaped through a milling machine. It's also a heavy material, but Buehl was able to keep the weight down to only 10.5 pounds.
"Acrylic can be difficult and unforgiving, so I had to take the time and be methodical about my approach," said Buehl. "It's not my first time around the block with that material. It likes a lot of coolant and a slow feed rate when it's being cut or drilled. If I rush things, it melts. It's super precise, but I really like working with it, because I know how to keep it happy."
In addition to the expertly shaped body, H.E.R.'s Grammy Strat was also outfitted with a clear pickguard from Buehl and custom wiring from Fender Master Builder Apprentice Carlos Lopez.
Throw in a comfortable maple neck, and only did it have a stunning appearance, but it also sounded like a dream.
"I really appreciate everyone's compliments on the outcome and the support I got from my colleagues," said Buehl. "It was a great experience. It's clear as glass and came out looking like a jewel. I just hope the artist enjoys performing with it."
To Magee, the fact that this guitar even made it to the stage with H.E.R. - who took home awards for Best R&B Performance and Album - is a testament to the talents of the Fender Custom Shop.
"When you talk about needing to get the impossible done, this is it," he said. "There's above and beyond, and then there's the impossible. But they literally dropped everything that they were doing to get this out. The impact of that effort was that millions of people were able to see this amazing artist pick up this instrument and make incredible music."
But H.E.R.'s clear Stratocaster was just one of the many Fender instruments dotting the stage at the Grammys.
During a collaboration with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Post Malone got attention for a sparkle Custom Telecaster that looked sharp in its white binding. RHCP bassist Flea stalked the stage with a signature Flea Active Jazz Bass in stunning Inca Silver, and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer had a trusty Strat slung across his shoulder.
All in all, Fender was very well-represented at the 2019 Grammy Awards with instruments as iconic as the Grammys' gold-plated gramophone trophy.