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Iconic Mods: Why David Gilmour’s Famous Black Strat Is so Special
How much of the Pink Floyd guitarist’s go-to instrument is still original?
By Mike Duffy
Heavily modified and experimented on since he first spotted it at Manny's Music in New York City in May 1970, David Gilmour’s black Stratocaster has become the stuff of legend among guitarists and diehard Pink Floyd fans.
A Standard Fender Stratocaster, "the Black Strat," as it's affectionately known, came from the Fender factory finished in black, but it had been sprayed over sunburst and was fitted with a maple neck.
He played it live at the Bath Festival in June 1970, and it quickly became his main guitar and a cornerstone of Pink Floyd’s ethereal, psychedelic sound, appearing on landmark albums The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), The Wall (1979) and 2015's Endless River, in addition to David’s acclaimed solo albums David Gilmour (1978), About Face (1983), On An Island (2006) and Rattle That Lock (2015).
David Gilmour Plays the Black Strat at Live 8 in 2005
Over the years, the Black Strat underwent many changes and modifications, as Gilmour and longtime equipment and guitar tech Phil Taylor were often experimenting with its neck, hardware and electronics. In fact, Taylor wrote an entire book — Pink Floyd: The Black Strat — A History of David Gilmour’s Black Fender Strat — documenting its chronological history.
One of the first mods Taylor covered occurred in December 1971 and consisted of changing out the standard volume knob to a silver one similar to one on a guitar made for him by luthier Bill Lewis.
“This was an attempt to replicate the feel of the volume knob on David’s Lewis guitar, which had a rubber banding around its circumference,” Taylor wrote. “It made a subtle difference by making a more tactile, smoother and easier operation of the control whilst playing.”
The knob was subequently removed after the filming of the groundbreaking concert film Live at Pompeii later that year.
More mods followed, such as the fitting of seven different necks, multiple pickup swaps, tuner adjustments and the installation of an XLR socket (followed by its eventual removal). In the summer of 1974, the guitar acquired a black 11-hole pickguard, thus assuming its darkest and most famous incarnation and earning its enduring nickname.
The current Fender Custom Shop version of the Black Strat includes a Fender 1983 ’57 reissue "C"-shape neck, a shortened vibrato arm measuring 4.25", a 5-way pickup selector that replaced the original 3-way in 1985 and the guitar’s original Fender synchronized tremolo bridge, which was re-fitted in 1997.
In the electronics department, the guitar boasts custom hand-wound neck and machine-wound middle pickups, both wound to exactly match David’s 1971 originals and only available on the David Gilmour Signature Strat guitars, plus a Seymour Duncan bridge pickup to replicate the custom SSL-1C pickup that was installed in late 1979.
Do you want to get your hands on a piece of history? Shop the David Gilmour Signature Stratocaster here.