I recently got the chance to spend an afternoon up in London, catching up with Herb from the Citizens, and taking in the exhibition of guitars put up for sale by David Gilmour. In the old days, we’d spend hours in the various guitar shops on Denmark Street in London, checking out what was on offer. One way, at least, to get to try many different models of guitar. Nowadays, with so many music stores seemingly closing, and with the rise of online shopping – it all seems much more generic, and harder to keep up with what players and manufacturers are doing with guitars. It’s certainly more difficult to find places where the owners don’t mind you trying loads of different things out. And if you happen to be interested in vintage stuff – how often do you get the chance to even look at a 1950’s Broadcaster in the flesh? – let alone play one. Or play “spot the difference” between 1950’s, 1960’s and later specification Stratocasters?..
So the exhibition of David Gilmour’s guitar collection at Christie’s was a perfect opportunity to “lose ourselves” for an afternoon. Of course – at some point, our discussion was bound to turn to potential purchases. “If you had the cash… which one…?” Personally, I’d long admired the Black Strat. From my teenage years – that guitar had been played on some of my favourite albums. Gilmour’s tone is, for me anyway, the ideal sonic example of a Fender Stratocaster. And when I was young – that’s all I ever wanted to own and play.
But £150,000? Estimate. Wow! And some…
I went to the exhibition with the idea of building a replica Black Strat already in the back of my mind. But the question was whether to attempt a faithful replica of the original, or to concentrate on the specification, and get the full, shiny, “how much blacker than black can that get? – answer – none more black,” authentic gorgeousness of a shiny new, fully specced-out Fender Stratocaster?
In all honesty – I’m still torn. In reality, I’ll probably eventually have to follow both paths. Just to satisfy the different challenges involved in building both. I got to thinking about how Gilmour’s guitar has changed over the years. If I was to go for a replica – what period? What version of the Black Strat would I be dealing with? It has changed and evolved so much over Gilmour’s career. Certainly – if I was going to properly reproduce the full history of the guitar modifications, and all the authentic wear on the original – then I’d have to work with a replica body and neck for a start. There’s no way I could begin to justify getting hold of original Fender parts and then just, – you know – trashing them. And that’s an important consideration. Proper specification pickups and parts for a Black Strat are going to be hard to find and, likely, prohibitively expensive. Do I want to spend big on authentic components, only to mount them on a knock-off body which may, or may not, turn out to be good enough quality? Isn’t there a danger that, in concentrating on the cosmetics, the end result just doesn’t come even close to capturing the sound, and some of the feel of the original?
If the Black Strat is, as I think it probably is, my ultimate Stratocaster – then perhaps I should start out, and try to identify the very best parts I can get hold of. Parts which might begin to combine to build a sort of “character” replica. If I can gradually track things down, and knock them off the shopping list, then I can slowly assemble my own version of Gilmour’s iconic setup, and hopefully capture some of the authenticity in terms of both look and sound.
Of course – Fender have already produced an “Artists Series” Signature version of the guitar. It’s a reliced, Custom Shop version – produced by Fender in collaboration with Phil Taylor – Gilmour’s long-term guitar tech. In fact, the exhibition at Christie’s had no fewer than five of the original prototypes for the Fender replica series on display. Of course – they’re no longer available from dealers. Second hand – I reckon one of the Fender Signature series guitars would probably cost at least £4000 these days. Who knows what keen collectors might pay for the prototypes at the Gilmour auction in June? Surely, I should be able to to build a pretty comprehensive partscaster version, from quality authentic parts, and for less outlay?
In putting projects together so far, I’ve learned how to use some of my practical skills to concentrate, mostly, on the construction and finishing aspects of putting together electric guitars. Like with most building projects – Quality In, at least gives you the chance of achieveing Quality Out. It’s virtually impossible to achieve a quality end result if you start out with poor materials and components. With the Jimmy Page, “Dragoncaster” – I took the decision to buy in some top specification pickups, and started with the best body blank I could source – hoping my construction and finishing would be good enough to act as a good foundation to build on. This time – with the Black Strat – the pickups and electronics are so specific – I want to try and make sure the quality and finish of the instrument is well up there from the beginning. If I can put together a Stratocaster using authentic Fender parts, and incorporate into it the exact pickups which give Gilmour’s original some of it’s mojo – then the project will, for me, be the ultimate exercise in custom building and upgrading. To the point where I will be putting together a candidate for my “ideal guitar”.
So – as with most projects – the first bit starts with plenty of research, and an ever-changing shopping list. Having seen the original, and having read up as much as I can about the various modifications and specifications of the original Black Strat – it’s a slow process of ticking off what is available for each of the component parts from current Fender production catalogues and other, high quality, custom and upgrades suppliers. A process of sourcing, tracking down and finding current, compatible versions of all the various components – to come together and approximate, as closely as possible, the original. Some of this will have to be imported directly from Fender, or from suppliers in the USA. Leaving all thoughts of relicing for a future, possible project – it seems to me, that a shiny, new iteration of the current setup of Gilmour’s Black Strat is the standard to aim for. The iconic combination of maple neck, black body and black pickguard – brought together with the same distinctive pickup combination, to provide authentic Gilmour looks and tone.
This will likely be a bit of a long term project. Most parts are either expensive, rare, or hard to get hold of. No point rushing it, but I’m looking forward to pushing on and bringing it all together. It’s one of those projects that gradually comes together over time, while you get on with other things. When I’ve completed it – who knows – maybe I’ll take it and relic it? It’ll be interesting to see what the original fetches at the auction in June, and how close a partscaster job can come to capturing the look and sound of the original icon.