Stratocasters: The Romance Begins

I BLAME Gypie Mayo – no doubt about it. I was obsessed with Telecasters for ages, but then I had one, and the more I watched Gypie wailing so impressively on his Fiesta Red 62 Strat with Dr Feelgood, the more powerful became the jones for a Strat. I really fell in a big way for the gorgeous Fiesta Red JV Squier 62 reissue hanging on Hodges and Johnson’s wall – an acquaintance made repeatedly over a few months of lunchtime visits, the guitar plugged into a little “Rivera design” Super Champ Hodges also had so seductively sitting there. In the end I didn’t buy the Strat, rationalising (as if any of this is in the least bit rational!) that I already had a nice Fender guitar, so what I really needed was a decent Fender amp to plug it into. Each carried a £225 price tag and on this occasion, the amp won. (I still have the Super Champ and it’s possibly my single most coveted bit of musical gear. I could have sold it five times over – and for a LOT more than I paid for it – but sorry guys, I’m NOT selling!)
It didn’t stop my obsessing over Strats, though and not that long afterwards, I did buy one, though not, the red JV Squier.

Not actually my 1989 Squier Strat, but a very similar one from about the same time

7. Squier Japan Strat

In 1989, my dear friends Sue and Dave Harper decided to get married. Sue, wonderful woman that she is, decided she wanted to give Dave something REALLY special as a surprise wedding present – a Gibson Les Paul, no less! And who did she ask to procure said present? Yep, you guessed it.
It occurred to me that since I was venturing out into guitarland holding serious guitar-buying folding, I might be able to broker a deal on a Strat while I was at it. Guitar Village in Chadwell Heath was more than happy to oblige. Sue got her Lester, Dave got an amazing maple and mahogany surprise on his wedding day and I got my Strat. Automatic Slim also got to play at the wedding, just about the only wedding gig I’ve every enjoyed – I wouldn’t play one now for all the money in the world!
My new Strat was a rosewood board, Japanese Squier in that peculiar, ivory-ish, off-white colour Fender call Olympic White. Not Fiesta red, but it looked a hell of a lot like the one Stevie Ray Vaughan, by then was my new guitar idol, was playing on the cover the “Live Alive” album. The only fly in the ointment was the modern-looking tuners on the headstock – they didn’t stay long, replaced with of a set of Gotoh Kluson copies that were too small for the holes in the headstock. No problem. I just wound Sellotape round the mounting bushes until they were nicely wedged in. (I later discovered you could buy special adapter bushes, but my method worked fine.) A secondhand set of Fender American Standard pickups followed a while later.
This was the guitar with which I made my first forays into the world of the blues jam – bursting with enthusiasm, if not all that much guitar virtuosity. I was playing this Strat when I shared the stage at the old Chelmsford YMCA Tuesday jam with a very young Guthrie Govan – showing off a black Ibanez Jem and WAY too many notes for the blues! To my shame, I was so affronted I strode over to the frizzy-haired guitar-god-in-the-making and tugged the jack lead out of his guitar in mid-solo! I’m not that ashamed, though. It makes such a good story, and Guthrie, lovely chap that he is, has laughed about in the past when I’ve run into him.

8. Owen’s OTB Strat

BY 1990, my Stevie Ray Vaughan obsession was truly taking root. Owen, who had started playing guitar a few months before, also liked him. The guitars, the pile of amps, the boots, the hats, and of course, the passionate, incendiary playing – easily enough to turn an impressionable ten-year-old’s head. Then it all came crashing down along with that bloody helicopter in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, that August Bank Holiday. Devastating news, easily on a par with Don MacLean’s “bad news on the doorstep”, a generation or two before.
Owen had been given his first electric guitar – a bright red, pointy-headed Charvette – as a birthday present that May. Now I decided to create an surprise Christmas present…as close as I could get it to a replica of SRV’s famous, battered Number One 1959 Strat. The sunburst body came from a Japanese copy I found in a small ad in Burnham. Six weeks of scraping, sanding and stripping away the paint gave it me a reasonable resemblance to Stevie’s. A nice new Schaller neck, a set of Gotoh tuners, a black pickguard with Owen’s initials in sparkly plastic letters, the old pickups from my Squier and the crowning glory – a genuine vintage (1964 I was told) left-handed Fender tremolo bridge – finished it off a treat and he was a VERY happy boy on Christmas morning!

Owen on stage with the guitar, aged about 14. This would have been one of the many gigs The Rockin’Armadillos played at the Juke Joint, Basildon

It was my first attempt at putting together a guitar and all things considered, it came out pretty well. Talk about staying power! That Strat was Owen’s main instrument for a good five years. He played it on countless Rockin’ Armadillos gigs and on the band’s first album and at Pebble Mill Studios for our first Paul Jones session on BBC Radio 2. Eventually, he pensioned it off in favour of a Lake Placid Blue bitsa he put together from parts from various Squier and Fender Japan guitars we came across. I blame you for this, Eddie Tatton!

Extra mojo: The guitar was autographed by Stevie’s rhythm section, Tommy Shannon (back of the headstock) and Chris “Whipper” Layton (back of the body and now more or less rubbed off) when we saw them play the 100 Club with Storyville in the late 90s. (Kudos to “Whispering” Bob Harris, the show’s MC, for ushering us into the dressing room to meet the band and get O’s guitar signed. Kenny Wayne Shepherd was hanging out there, too and was really taken with the Strat. He and Owen spent 15-20 minutes swapping licks on it in the corner!)

Thus abandoned, the OTB Strat languished forlornly under my bed for a good ten years, the victim of a crude attempt by Owen to glue in a taller nut for slide playing, until I decided to resurrect it, replaced the nut and decided it might be fun to take it out occasionally. That was the point, of course, at which Owen, by then about to head off to the US with Purple Melon, took a shine to it again. It ended up going to the States with him, as one of the three or four guitars in his shipping allowance.
He still occasionally plays it, though the SRV livery is long gone, as are the original pickups. I was especially chuffed that he took it on the road with him when he played with Tal Wilkenfeld on her six-week North American stadium tour, opening for The Who. Not bad for a little boy’s Christmas present…
PS: As bonus – a clip of Owen playing some gorgeous, ethereal slide on the guitar on the “No Guitar is Safe” video podcast:.
https://youtu.be/iBh4QFnL_ZE 

Owen aged 15 – around the time he won Guitarist magazine’s Young Guitarist of the Year competition
On stage with the Rockin’ Armadillos, approx 1998 – that’s my Fender Super Champ in the background, pointed sideways because the speaker is disconnected and the amp is actually driving the Leslie cabinet I built for Owen
The guitar, somewhat modified, with Owen playing it on tour with Tal Wilkenfeld’s band when they opened for The Who in football stadiums right across the USA and Canada.

9 Tokai rosewood-board sunburst Strat

There are a good few guitars I regret getting rid of, this is most definitely one of them. I only had it for about six months. This apology for a picture is the only image I have of it, unfortunately. I found it for sale in a music shop in Colchester for a price that was a bargain at the time and roughly a quarter of what it would fetch today. I can’t honestly remember how I came to part with it. I just hope I turned a profit!
Clearly an attempt to bridge the gap between vintage and the contemporary craze for horrible locking trem systems, it had had all the locking gubbins removed by the time I bought it, though the fittings and the rather non-traditional bridge remained. That aside, it was a damned good guitar and if I had it now, I would, no doubt, have switched out that bridge, put in some tasty pickups and played it occasionally.
But I don’t. C’est la vie!

Published by 43guitarsandcounting

I'm a musician, studio owner, writer and former specialist broadcaster of far too many years experience. I started writing and posting this daily blog on Facebook at the beginning of the Lockdown for something to do and it took me something like 19 days to run out of guitars to talk about!

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