PHOTO: ©Steve Gladstone/ Brian D. Hardin / theendofpictures.com
What happened when Robbie Robertson bronzed a '54 Strat?
By Mike Duffy
Who would have thought that a guitar preserved in actual bronze would still be playable, let alone iconic? But that’s exactly what happened with Robbie Robertson’s 1954 Stratocaster, an instrument that gained worldwide notoriety when it was featured in the 1978 Martin Scorcese concert film The Last Waltz.
Robertson began his career primarily playing Strats, but it was a Fender Telecaster that colored much of his early work with Bob Dylan and the Band.
In the early 1970s, Robertson returned to the Strat. In particular, a red model from 1954 that he played throughout Dylan’s 1974 Planet Waves tour.
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Accustomed to performing with the two-pickup layout of the Tele, however, Robertson noticed that while on stage with the Strat, his plectrum would nick the guitar’s middle pickup.
So he replaced it with a left-handed pickup and moved it lower on the body so that it nudged the bridge pickup, which made it look like a humbucking pickup, all engaged by the three-way switch that was common on pre-1977 Strats.
While the modified pickup placement was eye-catching, the Strat earned its legendary status after it receieved a bronze coat. It wasn’t just painted bronze. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer actually dipped it in molten bronze before performing the Band’s final concert on Thanksgiving day, November 25, 1976.
Not only did the bronze shell offer a thicker sound, it also added about 10 pounds to the instrument, more than doubling its body weight. Though due to its weight he switched to another guitar late in the show, Robertson used the bronze Strat throughout much of The Last Waltz, forever pairing the bronzed work of art with its artist.
Robertson later modded the Strat in the 1980s with a tremolo before handing it over in 1995 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for display.